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The Professional

Women are always fifty steps ahead. We specialize in dissecting today every possible concern of distant tomorrows. The advantage is that when tomorrow comes we've already worked through every aspect of the issue and know exactly how we feel.

What do people mean when they say “professional dancer?”

I used to know: a professional dancer is someone who is not me. A professional dancer is someone who walks this earthly vale with the rest of us but actually hails from Mars (or Venus), is genetically blessed with magical superpowers, lives a life totally alien from anything I know, wears clothes completely unlike mine, speaks a language I don't, hangs out with famous stars I would never dare even smile at, keeps hours totally unlike mine, and never actually talks out loud.


Except that it turns out professional dancers are born and bred in all kinds of places, not all of them exciting, and they have Facebook pages just like ordinary people. It turns out nobody except for Everybodysfavouritedancer is born knowing how to tango, and even the genetically blessed have to learn and puzzle and struggle and bumble along just like the rest of us. And their lives...can be very different from mine, but not necessarily; there's a wide range. By now we all dress exactly alike, by day and by night, we wear the same shoes, we have the same clothing requirements and the same tastes. And by now I'm making inroads on that language thing, and unfortunately I know numerous professional dancers who do speak my native language and not the other one. Professional dancers probably hang out with more famous stars than I do and more frequently, but every day the black-and-white gets greyer and more walls crumble down as I build up long-term social relationships with more and more of these people, all at different levels of notoriety, and get to know them as real people. ….Some professional dancers stay up late and wake up late, but some are like me, diurnal creatures who readily admit that sometimes midnight feels like just-shoot-me-now levels of done-with-the-day. —And, incredibly, when not dancing, professional dancers talk just as much as ordinary people! They have voices, and they use them to express themselves, converse, and get needs met!

….One day my son announced that he was a professional artist. Why not, I thought. I'd love to see his work in galleries! His father however quibbled that he was not a “professional”, thus leading to consulting of dictionaries, who tell us that a “professional” is someone who earns the bulk of the money they live off of by plying a certain trade.

So...a professional dancer is someone who supports themselves, or mostly supports themselves, by money they make from dancing or teaching dance.


Except that a professional is more like art—hard to define but you know it when you see it. When I think of the professional dancers who are my friends, yes, some of them make the majority of their money from dance. But most of them don't! In fact of the two who instantly leap to mind as “the first professional dancers I really got to know as people and as friends,” the bulk of their money does not come from dancing, even though by rights it should. But they are definitely professionals, to the core. And of the people I know who are Definitely Professionals, every single one of them (other than Jorge Torres and Everybodysfavouritedancer's little sister) has at least one other source of income, even when they're well known and travel all over and have lots of highly-viewed YouTube videos. The engineer. The tour guide. The hotelier. The graphic designer. The illustrator. The one with the significant other. The milliner. The therapist. The biologist. The exercise teacher. The hairdresser. —Almost all of these people lead double lives. I also lead a double life. Nothing different there.

But...a professional dancer is someone who spends all their time dancing. Right?

That's true for some of them. But for many others, it isn't. Can't have a double life if you're putting it all in one place, after all! And what about practicing? Some professional dancers practice seven hours a day. Some a lot less. Some only admit to a few minutes of practice. They are presumably quite concentrated minutes.

But a real dancer is someone who dances every day. Right?


I learned that definition from a real martial artist who came into my life right when I was wondering if I was a “real” dancer or not and people were starting to ask me if I was a “real” dancer and I had no idea what to tell them. He, beautifully, said, “oh, you're a dancer? Are you a real dancer—I mean, do you dance every day?”

And then I knew what a real dancer was and I knew I was one.

Real and professional are like brandy and cognac. All professionals are real (or had better be), although not all reals are professional.

But what about quality? Professional dancers have a significantly higher level of skill mastery and significantly more raw talent than I do, right? They all dance much, much better than I.


Unfortunately not only is that absolutely untrue, but with every week that goes by, it gets hyperbolically untruer. While there's a whole galaxy of amazing living treasures out there, great masters, brilliant stars, breathtaking physical geniuses, somatic philosophers, and gifts to humanity, the world of Professional Dancers is large and there's a lot of room down there at the bottom full of people who are professionals in the sense that they get paid to dance and teach, but lack both skill and talent. Especially in local outposts far from the Home of the Dance, there are lots of local gurus who do their best but know nothing and can consequently share even less.

It's the way things are.

Professional means you teach instead of studying.


Absolutely not! Professionals are Reals, and Reals take lessons, when necessary, until the end of time. There comes a time when you're studying and teaching, that's the only difference.

….Ok, well, here's one I know for sure. A long time ago, when I had been dancing for six months, a local teacher told me that I had what it took to, eventually, become a proficient social dancer, but I would never, ever be good enough to perform or teach. I just didn't have enough talent. Forget it. So, Professional Dancers are a closed clique that I can personally never, ever join, no matter what.


I used to think so.

And then I got better and many of the people around me who defined themselves as professional dancers started to get not so good (or perhaps, they stayed the same and my perspective changed). And the boundaries blurred and got murkier and murkier. And one day I saw the first woman who had taught me dancing at a milonga. And I thought about how much she had made me cry, not from severe tactics but from unwarranted vicious personal attacks, and how I had viewed her as the Bible of Tango Technique and a great maestra...and I looked at her dance and it was bad! It lacked fundamental technique, somatic awareness, connection, and heart. In other words, she wasn't dancing. And around here she's a highly respected, long-established cornerstone.

If these people are already doing it and everybody believes them, how closed is that clique really?

—The wall came crashing down when I was taking a wonderful lesson with Everybodysfavouritedancer's little sister and her fiancé. They said, hey, all this is just for social dancing, to make ordinary dancing easier! Technique is just to make things work better. ….And then, if you want to do it professionally, you just clean it up a little bit, and there you go.

And as that remark marinated over the course of a couple of weeks, I realized, Professional is, for some of us, a normal, possible option! It's no big deal! Especially if you feel like, “this is just something I have to do, no matter what, and if I don't do it, everything else in my life will suffer and become unmanageable.”

When I don't listen to that feeling, it invariably bites me in the ass.

Maybe Professional is just one more thing I, or we, have to do in order to make everything else possible. When the energetic restrictions involved in not doing it become so great they interfere with the rest of life...when the amount of release and right-fit involved in doing it makes the rest of life flow freely...then maybe Professional is just like putting on your underwear in the morning. It's something you do so the rest of the day can happen right. You're just thinking of everybody's well-being.

The last touch of irony is that I recently saw the woman who told me I could never become a professional dancer, dancing at the competition. And she was bad.

But a last question! Professional means you devote your life to a continual evolution and deepening of your expressive and receptive art form/philosophy, right?

I wish it did. But even the Poet, once the greatest living male dancer, has been coasting on his laurels and doing it for the money lately. Professional doesn't always mean you have a ceaseless thirst for development.

But it should.

Real, on the other hand, definitely does.

So after taking stock, I say this: I am a real dancer. I've learned to accept the little inside voice that says, “this is just something I have to do!” And in the last few days, I've forced myself to try to stop automatically smacking down the other little inside voice that says, with less and less timidity “when the time is right and I'm ready, I need to be a professional dancer!”

I can't stop. The inside hand still comes out and slaps that little voice down, saying, nonsense, that's for other people, you can't do that, you'll never be good enough. Remember what the teacher said: you don't have the talent. And remember what your mother told you! You're too old, she said, and she's right! And look at those women: you'll never be thin enough! If they're picking on The Fairy Queen, who's skeletally thin, you could never dream of such a thing! And remember what else your mother told you: you can't acquire physical skills or language skills when you're as old as you are! So you shouldn't even try.... You don't have time anyway! You don't have seven hours a day to practice, you can't go out every night and don't even want to, and you have other things that are vital aspects of your life! To be professional means to give everything to that one thing and nothing to anything else (says the little smack-down voice)....

But what if I just went ahead and lived my life as it has to be lived, no matter what? And what if instead of artificially damming (or damning) part of the river, I just...let it be, and let whatever needs to happen...just...happen?

And to hell with everyone who tells me I can't.