By Darian Payne

Blood, sweat, tears, success, repeat. This is the life of the common athlete. Athlete. The word brings up thoughts of football players, baseball players, swimmers, tennis players, and many other things that we have been exposed to for our entire lives. Every four years we watch the olympics, where almost every sport ever played is displayed for the entire world to see, almost. I know of one sport that is often overlooked. It takes just as much training, endurance, and discipline as any other. These athletes are dancers. Dance is an art form and a type of entertainment. Audiences have long gone to the theater to see ballets and performances all over the world. However there is an entire side that they do not see. My dance teacher of 13 years use to always say, “Dancers are artists from the waist up, and athletes from the waist down.” To reach the level of beauty that audiences see on stage they must train long and hard, and even then that may only get you halfway.

Growing up it was not uncommon to hear about little girls who were missing birthday parties, sleepovers, basketball games, or even the football championship just so that they can attend a rehearsal.  Around the age of fifteen is when a lot of young adults begin to think about what they want to do in life. Helene Stapinski, a former dancer, “…like countless other young dancers in professional children’s schools, Stephanie saw her career end in adolescence, a time of rebellion and discovery.” (Stapinski)  This was the time many ballet classes saw a dramatic change in attendance. Even I was put up with the question of whether or not I was going to continue to try to include competitive cheerleading into my schedule or to just focus on dance. I, like many others, was told that if I really wanted to succeed then dance needed to be my only focus.  This video is a trailer from a recent documentary about the Youth American Grand Prix, the largest ballet competition in the world. These kids are all under eighteen years old and have already gone through so much. This is what they trained their whole life for and this is why they dance.

These young dancers go through a lot, but their tenacity is what gets them through. There is an immense amount of pressure that goes into each performance. The job of a dancer is to entertain, and to make the audience feel. Audiences love to see the simple, clean beauty of dancers moving around onstage, but doubtfully stop to think about what they go through to reach “perfection.” All of the pain and athleticism that goes into each piece the overall goal is to hide it all. When a dancer steps on stage they embody someone else, and no matter what the dancer was feeling before hand it all has to be gone on stage.  The dancer must appear flawless and have an essence about them that makes them seem almost otherworldly, perfect. We have all been taught that perfection is impossible to reach, but a dancer must work his or her hardest to get as close as possible.

From the time a young dancer begins her training her body is forced to move in unnatural ways. It is hard work, and takes years and years of training to master. It takes a toll on both ones mind and body which is why it takes a committed dancer to endure. It’s all right when you are younger, but when you start to think about a career there are realities that each dancer has to face. These realities include: height, feet, flexibility, weight, overall size, pre-existing injuries and many other things.Grace Edwards is a Melbourne-based freelance writer with a background in both dance and music wrote, “It frightens me that I can walk into a competitive ballet studio, take a two-second glance at the aspiring young dancers in front of me and predict, with alarming accuracy, who will achieve their dreams and who will not. I may not know them or have seen them dance a single step, but their destiny is writ large in their DNA – in the length of their thighs, the shape of their feet and even the size of their breasts. It’s not right, but it is the reality.” (Edwards) . On top of all of this a dancer has to deal with rejection. The audition process that every dancer faces can take a toll on their self esteem and confidence and only the strong willed can make it through all of the “no’s”.  A journalist in Chicago, “As dancers engage in hard bargaining with their bosses, they raise issues often obscured by the marvel the public sees on stage. Along with sore muscles and gnarled feet are long hours and relatively paltry paychecks brought by the choice to work in the arts, a field known for low pay for the rank-and-file.” [i](Knight) This video shows two dancers, one seasoned and one just starting out, both of whom had to deal with possibly career altering injuries.

I was recently in a piece choreographed by a freshman dance major here at James Madison University.  It is a pieced that I and nine other dancers worked on for about three months. Each piece is rehearsed until about a week before the concert, and then they are auditioned in front of a panel that determines the pieces that will appear in the show. We recently auditioned it and it unfortunately did not make the show.  This piece is a prime example of a dancer’s strength. Each dancer in this dance has found a love for this dance and developed a connection to it’s meaning. They worked long hours and late nights to get this piece to be as good as it could be. It was beautiful, but no matter how hard you work sometimes, for whatever the reason, it won’t be enough, but that never means that you should give up.

Dancing, like most passions, is a way of life. If you want to succeed in anything it takes your undivided attention and so much work. That isn’t a burden though. Anything worth having is well worth the effort it takes to get there and it is never to late to start reaching for that dream.


[i] Knight, Meribah. “Joffrey Ballet Labor Dispute Shines Light on Dance Life.” N.p., 14 July 2011. Web.


Edwards, Grace. “The Body of Ballet.” The Body of Ballet. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2013.


STAPINSKI, HELENE. “Storybook Ballerina’s True-Life Adventure.” N.p., 17 Nov. 2011. Web.