I stood staring at the casting sheet. I felt others jostling around me for a better look at the board, but I couldn’t bring myself to move. Where was my name? I had wanted so badly to be in this piece – I had been dancing all summer, I had felt strong in the audition, and this ballet required heavy acting – my strong suit. So where was my name? I searched the casting sheet one more time, hoping there was a mistake or oversight, but knowing in the pit of my stomach that I had not been chosen for the part.
Pursuing a dance career without encountering rejection is entirely impossible. Yes, a ballet career brings glittering triumphs on stage, artistic fulfillment, glamorous galas, and the satisfaction of honing your craft each day. Yet, the shadow side of these glorious perks is the constant battle with rejection. The risk of putting yourself out there, whether auditioning for a summer program, a company, a new piece, or just taking class, is being told you are not good enough.
This feedback is all too easy to interpret as “I’m not a good enough person”. This faulty translation accounts for the deep heartache and intense struggles accompanying rejection. The ballet world requires such a high level of dedication that personal identity can become inextricably linked with professional identity. “I’m a dancer,” I’ll say, as I introduce myself to a new acquaintance. There’s nothing wrong with being proud of our profession: We spend an immense amount of time dancing, our lifestyle must support our intensely physical job, and the art form is all-consuming. Yet, the first step of dealing with rejection is to remember we are not our profession: We are human beings who dance.
… remember we are not our profession: We are human beings who dance.
The second step of dealing with rejection is accepting that being turned away doesn’t doesn’t necessarily mean you lack any talent as a dancer. Rejection only means that you don’t fit the vision of that specific choreographer or director or teacher on that specific day. With this in mind, the intense pain of rejection can lesson: Rejection need not be an internalized failing but is merely a combination of factors that didn’t quite align. Perhaps I was strong, I did dance well in the audition, and my acting ability was recognized, but my movement style was just too fluid for the choreographer’s idea of this particular character.
… being turned away doesn’t doesn’t necessarily mean you lack any talent as a dancer.
So I pulled myself away from the casting list. The third step of dealing with rejection is seeing what opportunities open up as a result of the roadblock. I looked to the schedule and saw I could go understudy a rehearsal for Clara in Nutcracker, a role I’d always wanted to dance and wouldn’t have had the ability to learn otherwise. Later that night I rented the movie of the ballet we had auditioned for and realized that my interpretation of the character was totally different than she was portrayed in the film. In the future, I would learn to do this type of research in advance to approach auditions with a better idea of what the choreographer desires. The next day I peeked into rehearsal, watching the woman who had received the role I so desperately wanted, work through the new choreography. I still felt twinges of jealousy, but also saw the unique quirkiness and total commitment she brought to the movement. That confidence and full investment was something I could definitely take into my next audition.
Rejection is hard and uncomfortable. But it should never be devastating. It’s an opportunity to remember that you are still a wonderful person, that dance is an extremely subjective art form, and that losing out on one role or one job may in fact create an opening for a different, just as valuable experience. The final step of dealing with rejection is to realize that you are never alone – every dancer experiences roadblocks and obstacles. In fact, if you are going to be a ballet dancer, you can relish the experience of rejection and use it to connect with your colleagues: It’s one thing every dancer will be able to relate to!