Professionalism

This blog is about something that has been eating into my mind off late. It is also a question that a lot of people have asked me and one that I wish to pen my thoughts about. What does it mean to take dance as a profession? 10 years ago, this was a big no-no, something that was frowned upon. 1000 years ago, being a devadasi was the highest social status. Now what…?

A profession is defined as a paid occupation, especially one that involves prolonged training and a formal qualification. The second part of this definition holds more than good for dancers. You cannot even think about taking your art as a profession unless you have years of training to back you up. I have seen so many artists who train for a few years and take up dancing professionally. They burn out in a few months.

As a performing artist, being trained in your art form is the bare minimum. It does not even begin to cover all the qualifications you need to make it. To be a performing artist – one needs to keep themselves physically fit, dedicate themselves to daily incessant practice, master the technicalities of their art form, understand the theory and history of where their art comes from. They also need to have a some basic music, tala and cultural background. These are things that hard work and focussed studying can get you. Then there are those things that cannot be taught – creativity, thinking outside the box, researching for new work, making art fresh, accessible and engaging to an audience without compromising on the cultural root values of the art form.

Assuming one somehow masters and conquers all these things. Then comes the toughest task of actually presenting your art to an audience. Finding a suitable platform to present your work is a skill that requires constant scouting, networking, socializing with the “right” circle, promoting your art, social media marketing and creating new fresh content to reach a wider audience. A job of 3 MBA graduates if you ask me. I almost want to stop and give the poor artist an intermission. But does it stop here? Of course not. IF only it were so simple. An artist must also be able to make a creative videos, posters, an engaging description, an eloquent speech and creative content in order to promote your work. Every organizer simply expects these things to be ready before they can consider giving the artist a platform.

Of course, its always easier to hire “professionals” to do all these things for you. But where are the funds going to come from? Most organizations that invite artists, conveniently say that they are providing a “platform”, “exposure” and “opportunity” by giving us a “chance” to perform. While all these might be true, who is going to acknowledge the fact that we spend years of our lives investing in our art forms physically, mentally and monetarily? Do we not deserve an acknowledgement that this is our profession? Do we not deserve some kind of pay back for all the blood, sweat and soul that we have put in to our work? Do we not get some respect to the fact that this is our profession and asking to be paid in return for our work does not mean that we are arrogant or stuck up? I can’t even begin to understand why people try to make an artist feel guilty for charging a performance fee.

I don’t actually know what it means to make a profession out of your art. Art is something that surpasses all materialistic needs, is indescribable, abundant and unmeasurable. A life long relationship that you can love and cherish. Does it have to come at a price? I for one, find myself most content when I just go to dance class, get to dance all day long, learn and be myself with my art. Not worrying about where its headed or how I will cover my expenses for the month. If only this were enough. Sigh.

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