Guest post by Gregory Day
Gregory Day is a dancer living in Chicago. His experience in dance spans ballet to ballroom, including US and World titles. He is a United States National Judge for ballroom, an examiner for DVIDA, a dance teacher for amateurs and professionals, a dance school owner, and formerly a dance competition organizer. He also has a B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management of Northwestern University. Find him at facebook.com/johngregoryday or twitter.com/gregoryday or chicagodance.com
How have my motivations changed during my career as a dancer ?
Why do any of us dance? What keeps bringing a dancer back to the studio day after day? We all have our own very personal reasons why we dance and what motivates us changes over time.
I’ve been blessed to have a long career as a dancer with experience performing as a ballet and modern dancer and competing on the ballroom floor. I’ve had both strong internal and external motivations and I want to share some of what has inspired me to continue to dance
The Pleasure of Movement
I was first drawn to dance by the sheer athletic pleasure of the movement. Having a good ballon, it took me a while to learn not to jump as high and as long as I could. It took me a few years until I realized that I should be leaping musically. Dance was fun and challenging. I enjoyed learning and getting better.
Admittedly, as a straight male dancer, there is also a strong external motivation: women are interested in a man who dances, and the ratio of men (especially heterosexual men) to women in dance classes is highly favorable to men. I wasn’t interested in taking advantage of the circumstances (and I didn’t date any dancers until I was almost 30) it is just strong positive reinforcement to have the encouragement, curiosity and interest from women.
Get a Job
While pursuing my university studies (initially as a math major), I made the decision to pursue a career as a professional ballet dancer. At that point my motivation was to get into a ‘good company.’ Persistence was critical and making sacrifices for the art came into play. All my choices: lifestyle, diet, training, family, relationships and everything were focused on achieving the goal. I still enjoyed the experience of dance, and the self-improvement, but there was also the frustration that comes along with a laser focus on a goal that was only partially under my control to achieve.
My feelings in getting hired for the first time out of an open audition were probably more of relief than a sense of accomplishment. I finally would be able to make a career of dance!
Becoming a Dancer
As a working dancer, there are many different motivations, but at that time my principal inspirations were the aspiration to excel, to become an artist and to give the audience a good show. I wanted good castings since getting roles translated into opportunities to dance and grow. Being in class satisfied the joy part of dancing and getting roles satisfied the desire to improve.
Somewhere along the way, dancing became about expressing emotions and feelings, making the music come alive and focusing on all the details that are so important to a dance achieving its full potential.
I enjoyed working as part of a team. Some of the best experiences were creating and dancing contemporary choreography as a group of men. I also enjoyed my experiences with contact improvisation and I really loved partnering. This led to me moving into the competitive ballroom world.
Being a Champion
It was here that I discovered what is called cabaret or exhibition and I knew that I could win a title as United States Champion. That became the motivation. In the pursuit of this goal, I made sacrifices in my dancing. My perspective was (and still is) that in entering a competition one does what is required to win the competition not what will satisfy a sense of artistry in dance. Some artistry is required, but it is very different from doing choreography from an artistic motivation or even from a motivation of pleasing a general audience. A majority of judges need to be won over.
My goal was to be the best I could be and to be considered the best at that moment in time. I wasn’t expecting that becoming a champion would change my life because by then I knew that all the accolades and accomplishments wouldn’t change the fact that the work is done outside the public eye and as long as we dance we will always be returning to the studio. I do enjoy the memory of having people stand up in the middle of our routine both at the United States Championships and at the British Open to watch me go into a full split holding my partner over my head. That night in the Empress Ballroom at the Winter Gardens of Blackpool, England we received the extraordinary praise of multiple standing ovations from one of the most knowledgeable of dance audiences.
As a result of these achievements, we were hired to travel around the world to do shows. I was concerned on delivering performances good enough to meet the expectations that the audience would have.
For the Love of Dance
Now, after retiring from competition and performing, I still compete in a Pro/Am dance partnership (think Dancing with the Stars). I truly enjoy dancing with my beautiful partner and I want to dance as well as I can so she can achieve her goals. But my motivation has really come full circle: I dance now for the love of dance, for the sake of the pleasure of dancing and to continue learning more and maybe still get better despite the challenges of now being an older dancer. The pleasure of dance is much deeper than just the athletic pleasure, as it was when I was younger. With partner dance, there is also the joy of a connection with another person, communicating and sharing feelings without words.
Dancing, when it feels good, is like one of those days when the sun smiles down and brightens my life.