Learning to dance while becoming a dancer

Learning to dance while becoming a dancer

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Learning to dance while becoming a dancer identity construction as a performing art
Caudill, Matthew A
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[Tampa, Fla.]
University of South Florida
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Subjects / Keywords:
Professional socialization
Identity construction
College students
Performing arts
Sociology of art
Dissertations, Academic -- Sociology -- Masters -- USF ( lcsh )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent) ( marcgt )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


ABSTRACT: In a university undergraduate dance department, students seem to be learning more than pirouettes and pas de bourees; students are learning how to construct their identities and present themselves as 'dancers'. As they progress through their undergraduate careers, the students are not only developing technical skills, but they are also learning the ins and outs of how dancers look, speak and behave. Based on three months of observation and in-depth interviews, it seems that developing into a dancer requires developing into an individual who shows unique commitment both to him/herself and to the art of dance itself. While many of the students enter the university focused on increasing their technical prowess measured in terms of turning ability, elevation in leaps, and flexibility, the older students in the program seem to be focused more on finding their own - individualized - standards of excellence, which frequently have little to do with technical 'tricks'.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2005.
Includes bibliographical references.
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by Matthew A. Caudill.

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Learning to dance while becoming a dancer
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b identity construction as a performing art /
by Matthew A. Caudill.
[Tampa, Fla.] :
University of South Florida,
Thesis (M.A.)--University of South Florida, 2005.
Includes bibliographical references.
Text (Electronic thesis) in PDF format.
System requirements: World Wide Web browser and PDF reader.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Title from PDF of title page.
Document formatted into pages; contains 77 pages.
3 520
ABSTRACT: In a university undergraduate dance department, students seem to be learning more than pirouettes and pas de bourees; students are learning how to construct their identities and present themselves as 'dancers'. As they progress through their undergraduate careers, the students are not only developing technical skills, but they are also learning the ins and outs of how dancers look, speak and behave. Based on three months of observation and in-depth interviews, it seems that developing into a dancer requires developing into an individual who shows unique commitment both to him/herself and to the art of dance itself. While many of the students enter the university focused on increasing their technical prowess measured in terms of turning ability, elevation in leaps, and flexibility, the older students in the program seem to be focused more on finding their own individualized standards of excellence, which frequently have little to do with technical 'tricks'.
Adviser: Maralee Mayberry.
Professional socialization.
Identity construction.
College students.
Performing arts.
Sociology of art.
Dissertations, Academic
x Sociology
t USF Electronic Theses and Dissertations.
4 856
u http://digital.lib.usf.edu/?e14.1024


Learning to Dance While Becoming a Dancer: Identity Construction as a Performing Art Matthew A Caudill A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Department of Sociology College of Arts and Scien ces University of South Florida Major Professor: Maralee Mayberry, Ph D Spencer Cahill, Ph.D. Donileen Loseke, Ph.D. Date of Approval February 1, 2005 Keywords: Professional Socialization, Identity Construction, College Students, Pe rforming Arts, Sociology of Art Matthew A Caudill


Acknowledgments I would like to extend my most sincere gratitude to Professors Maralee Mayberry, Donileen Loseke and Spencer Cahill, whose advice and co mmentary was invaluable in the development of this the sis. Most importantly, their Socratic natures allowed for a document that was made much stronger by their contributions, yet still very much my own intellectual product. For these and other reasons accumulated over the past two years, I am in their debt.


i Table of Contents Abstract ii Introduction 1 Methods 10 Learning to Dance 13 The Setting 13 The Schedule 15 Self Reflection 23 Technique and Talent 25 Becoming a Dancer 37 Performances (fo r Selves and Others) 38 Eccentricity 54 Conclusions 63 Notes 70 References 71


ii Learning to Dance while Becoming a Dancer Matt Caudill Abstract In a university undergraduate dance department, students seem to be learning more than pirouettes and pas de boures ; stu dents are lear ning how to construct their identities and present themselves as dan cers. As they progress through their undergraduate careers, the st udents are not only developing technical skills, but they are also lear ning the ins and outs of how dancer s look, speak and behave. Based on three months of observation and in depth interviews, it seems that developing into a dancer requires developing into an individual who shows unique commitment both to him/herself and to the art of dance itself. While many of the students enter the university focused on i ncreasing their technical prowess measured in terms of turning ability, elevation in leaps, and flexibility, the older students in the program seem to be focused more on finding their own individualized sta ndards of excellence, which frequently have little to do with technical tricks. Over the course of their undergraduate careers, the students


iii also devote less and less of their class time to performing for each other and more to introspection and self exploration. All of this is also reflected in their ways of dress and classroom interaction, as well as their relationships with the faculty.


1 Introduction Oh, youre a dancer I know that I am not alone when I say I have heard that sentence more t imes than I can count. My r e sponse is rarely negative, but it has always made me feel that I have become something of a side show oddity to be examined with a co m bination of curiosity and bewilderment. Just why is it that dancers seem to be viewed so diffe rently from people such as accountants or healthcare workers? Is it because we have chosen to dedicate our e n ergy to a pursuit that offers so little in the way of financial reward? Does it come from an unspoken sense of titillation aroused within a culture dom inated by conservative religious traditions regarding people who spend so much time expressing themselves physically (numerous religious orders throughout history have placed prohibitions on dancing out of fear that it might provoke too much physical p assion (Lee 1983))? Do we talk or behave differently than the average Joes and Janes of the world around us? Who knows? Another fascinating question to examine, however, is the poss ible role dancers themselves might play in causing people to think of them in the ways they do. Do dancers either knowingly or unknowingly


2 behave in ways that perpetuate the image that others hold of them? Do they do this with other dancers as well? How might these behaviors reinforce dancers perceptions of themselves and each other? If so, how exactly do they accomplish this? These are the questions that I explored in this study. By closely observing and speaking with pre professional dance students, I examined what ideas they had about how dancers think and behave, and ho w closely their own thoughts and behaviors corresponded with these beliefs. I also looked for clues about how their thoughts and behaviors evolved to become more like the dancers they saw themselves to be. In effect, the process of professional socializat ion is the process of learning to assume and assert a particular identity. A law student, for example, must not only learn the intricacies of the legal system, but must take on the attributes and mannerisms that will allow the student to identify her/himse lf as a lawyer, and to present him/herself to others in a way that will cause them to recognize him/her as such. According to West and Fenstermaker (1995), a particular identity is an ongoing interactive accomplishment (p. 9). In other words, an identit y cannot simply be put on and then taken for granted; those who claim a particular identity must continually display particular qualities which will maintain the validity of that claim. Particularly for those who claim a particularly unique identity, it is important to esta b-


3 lish boundaries that separate them from everyone else, co l lectively form a sense of group consciousness that they are indeed unique, and then continually negotiate and reaffirm those boundaries to maintain their unique status (Taylor and Whittier 1992) The boundaries described here are not concrete, physical ones, but symbolic boundaries which demarcate a specific social space r eserved for those who possess and can affirm the identity in question. As stated by Bourdieu: to exist wit hin a social space, to occupy a point or to be and individual within a social space, is to differ (1998, p. 9). Ther e fore, those who seek to claim a particular occupational identity must demonstrate that they are different from those who ca nnot claim the same identity. Dancing is similar to other occupations in a number of ways: there are skills and knowledge to acquire; there are shared unde rstandings about what is and is not appropriate when doing your work; and there are professional associates with wh ich you must interact on a regular basis. The social science literature is full of studies about identity construction and socialization in fields from medicine (Smith and Kleinman, 1989) to mortuary science (Cahill, 1999), but unfort unately there is a dea rth of resources on such topics among artistic o ccupations. With this study, I hope to begin the process of filling that gap.


4 There are a number of aspects of artistic identities addressed in this particular study. First, there is the idea that dancers p ossess high levels of what Bourdieu would call cultural capital or a socially priv ileged set of preferences, tastes, durable cognitive structures and schemes of action (Bourdieu 1998, p.25). Dancers, and artists in ge neral, seem to maintain their cultur al capital in spite of their rather bleak financial pro s pects as potential performing artists. Indeed, the median income in 2002 for the approximately 37,000 professional dancers in the United States was $21,100 (BLS 2004). To provide a reference for compa rison, the median income of primary and seco ndary school teachers another group of workers that is often regarded as unde r paid was $44,367 for the same year. Add to that the fact that the number of professional dan c ers looking for work is expected to g reatly exceed the number of paid positions available over the next 10 years, and the financial outlook for profe s sional dancers does seem uncertain at best. (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2004) The combination of high levels of cultural capital and low level s of financial reward might lead to a sense among dancers that what they lack in economic advantages they make up for in artistic sophist ication and personal dedication, and while lamenting their financial hardships, they can assert the cultural value of t he work they have chosen. Max Weber might even refer to dancers and artists in ge n-


5 eral, for that matter as a negatively privileged stratum (1946). A ccording to Weber, those who endure hardships or might be regarded negatively by more elite members of s ociety often believe that they will be compensated in other ways. For example, those in oppressed religious groups might feel that they will be compensated for their sa crifices on earth with paradise in the afterlife. For dancers, compens ation might come i n the form of emotional satisfaction or artistic reco gnition, or some other less concrete benefits. Similar sentiments r egarding the value of intangible rewards over financial rewards have been expressed among child care workers (Murray, 2000) who stated that the affection and interaction they receive from the children they supervise was compensation for their relatively low wages Second, there is the romantic notion of the artist as genius: Genius is seen as an internal gift of nature, a special and specially distributed talent or election that occurs naturally in some but that cannot be explained. Inte rwoven with the deve l opment of the modern conception of genius and creativity is the development of the modern system of the fine arts. (E l dridge, 200 3) This idea might find several expressions within a group of dancers. First of all, it could possibly be used to explain away differences in abi l ity among various students in ways that might not be found in other, more practical occupations. Or, perhap s, dancers may choose not to invest in this idea in order to maintain a belief that they can be as good as anyone with the proper dedication and practice.


6 This is not to imply that the notion of genius is reserved solely for those of artistic talent, as genius is a term found in numerous di sciplines and occupations. However, artistic genius does seem to o ccupy a unique place in discussions about talent. Howard Becker (1982) discusses perception of artistic genius as a particularly elusive qua l ity that ver y few possess, and those who do not possess it are unable to acquire it. This stands in contrast to fields such as law (Granfield 1992) and medicine (Haas and Shaffir 1987) where the acquisition of skills and knowledge, while surely aided by talent, is a p roduct of dil igent study and practice, rather than a rare, divine gift. More than once in my own life I have been informed of the sense of obligation I should feel to my a r tistic gifts. Many of my teachers, both in and out of the art world, have infor med me that those who possess artistic talent are somehow destined to a life in the art world. I can remember my twelfth grade calc u lus teacher saying to my mother, Sure, hes good in math, but he o b viously is meant to be an artist. With that statement, she seemed not only to be implying that my a rtistic abilities trumped any other apt i tudes I might have, but also that my artistic ability was also co m pletely different from my math ability and the two could ce r tainly not be in any way related. In fact, w hile most of the other smart kids in my school were meeting with cou nselors and advisors about their my r iad career and educational options,


7 my career path was a l ready taken for granted without consultation or advice. Another notion that goes almost han d in hand with the idea of artist as genius is artist as eccentric. According to Howard Becker: At an extreme, the romantic myth of the artist suggests that people with (artistic) gifts cannot be subjected to the constraints imposed on other members of soc iety; we must allow them to violate rules of decorum, propriety, and common sensein return society receives work of unique character and invaluable quality (1982) Those invested in this particular idea might believe that they have a sort of license for a ll sorts of eccentric behavior. One can easily ima gine how tempting this might be. Also, it would be interesting to see how many people take on more unusual or eccentric qualities to e mphasize their claim to an artistic identity. If many people believe tha t dancers (particularly great dancers) are prone to eccentricity, then how could someone who adheres to mainstream social rules of beha vior and appearance be a dancer at all let alone a great one? The popular opinions about the inborn genius and ecce ntricity of artists, though, might lead one to question how someone might achieve a dancer identity. This can become problematic, for if the dancer places too much emphasis on their innate, or natural ability, how can those who lack it ever hope to succ eed? I suspect that dan cers will have different opinions regarding the degree of nature that comes into play in their descriptions of themselves, but that all will


8 find some way to include agency in the discussion. This will likely co ntrast the responses of seminarians (Kleinman 1984) and student social workers (Loseke and Cahill 1986), who seemed obligated to frame their ch o sen fields as reflections of their natural dispositions. Another potential avenue for discovery is how opinions about what consti tutes good dance are expressed within such a setting. A ccording to Becker: Wherever an art world exists, it defines the boundaries of acceptable art, recognizing those who produce the work it can assimilate as artists entitled to full membership, and den ying membership and its benefits to those whose work it cannot assimilate. (1982) Therefore, those who view good dance the same way as the art world in which they work enjoy additional cultural capital within the group, which entitles them to the benefits of membership (including a role in deciding what can be considered good dance). One can see how it would behoove anyone seeking membership in the dance world to align their own opinions and qualitative assessments with those a lready established in the d ance world. Again, looking at how dancers examine each others work could provide some fruitful observations in this regard. Those who go to medical school not only need to learn the tec hniques of medicine, they must learn to be doctors (Smith and Klei nma n, 1989). Mortuary science students must learn not only the techn i-


9 cal skills of the trade, but the emotional ones as well (Cahill, 1999) If this is the case, then those who study dance must also learn to be dancers in the sense that they must exhibit the types of traits and behaviors that help them to identify themselves and to be identified by others as such.


10 Methods The site of this study was a dance department in a large public university in a medium sized southern city. The department in que stion was well suited for this study for several different reasons. First, this department has a strong undergraduate dance program that has been nationally recognized on more than one occasion. Therefore, most of the dance majors intended to pursue dance as a career, which made the dancer identity particularly salient for them. In conducting my research, an ethnographic approach seemed most appropriate for gaining insight about the ways in which the dan cers interacted. I observed dance classes and rehearsals four days a week for an entire semester, and spent time observing and speaking with dance students during meal breaks and other spare time they might have had. During all of these times I recorded my impressions and observations in the form of notes whi ch I later compiled and e xamined, noting common themes and particularly illustrative examples. I also conducted in depth interviews with eight of the students (which amounts to about ten percent of the enrollment of the depar tment ), which I later transcr ibed in full. The students I interviewed


11 comprised were mostly juniors and seniors, although I did get to speak with one sophomore. This was not incredibly surprising, as dance st udents are not considered fully matriculated dance majors until they reach a particular technique level, which generally occurs during or just before the junior year. As a result, although there were a number of first and second year students, they were not yet officially consi dered dance majors. I must admit that I was disappoin ted that none of the male students agreed to be inte r viewed, as there were only four male students in the department during the semester I co n ducted my research, and none were available. I was able to observe them during classes and rehearsals, however, an d i n cluded notes on their behavior in all of the observations I made of them The absence of their voices is nonetheless r e grettable. An additional source of data for this study arises from the setting and circumstances of the study itself. I actually rec eived my unde rgraduate degree from the very department that I studied, and while that was several years prior to my research, I was still familiar with the faculty and the general departmental structure. Therefore, I was in a unique position to make some a utoethnographic contributions to this research. As a veteran of the program, I was able to compare the dancers impressions and experiences with my own and to question the students more thoroughly during interviews about what they were


12 saying. My own memor ies of the undergraduate dance experience also helped me to understand those things that seemed to be the most i mportant to the dance students, even if they might seem inconseque ntial to an outside observer. In sum, the data I collected illustrated the p rocesses I sought to examine quite thoroughly, and brought several new facets of the dancers experiences to my attention that I had not considered prev iously. The sources of this data were sufficiently varied and the findings themselves consistent enough from source to source to tell quite clearly the story I was hoping to tell: how a student becomes a dancer.


13 Learning to Dance The Setting The dance department at University offers two degree programs, a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree focused on performan ce and choreogr aphy (modeled after traditional conse r vatory programs), and a Bachelor of Arts degree that allows a student to take courses in one or more other departments in preparation for work in other fields related to dance. For example, those student s who express an interest in c a reers in arts administration can take courses in business administration or in other art areas to better pr e pare themselves for such positions in the future. The depar t ment also offers a dance minor, though the students who c hoose this option are often r e garded less seriously by the faculty and other students. In general, however, there is little appreciable di fference between the BFA students and the BA students, and many that I talked to had vacillated between the two tracks at for at least some of the time they were in the d e partment. The department holds all of its classes in a three story building near the visual art, theater and music buildings. On the ground floor, there are two dance st u dios, a small room devoted mainly to electronic


14 equipment such as video and audio r e cording devices, and the mens and womens locker rooms. The second floor of the dance building houses the faculty o f fices and a conference room where most of the departments academic courses are held (e. g. Dance History, Se n ior Seminar). On the third floor there is another dance studio and a large storage closet where much of the departments costume supplies are kept. The building is a t tached at one end to the colleges two theaters, a moderately sized black box theater, and a larger, traditional pr oscenium theater. The locker rooms on the first floor of the dance buil ding also serve as the dressing rooms for performances held in the black box space, while the proscenium the a ter has its own dressing roo ms in the basement. Dance majors spend most of their time at school in the three studios, as this is where technique and choreography classes, as well as rehearsals are held. I can recall many days as a student where I was inside a studio from 8 AM until 9 PM, lea v ing only for bathroom breaks and to pick up a meal. Even at meal breaks, for the sake of convenience, I ended up eating either in the hall or in one of the st udios while rehearsal was in progress. There was, of course, a depar tmental rule that pro hibited eating in the st u dios (ants were an ongoing menace in the building), but this rule was bl a tantly ignored by all of the students and most of the faculty. The one or two faculty members


15 who did try to shoo dancers into the hallway to eat were only oc c asionally successful, and the dancers generally just ate a little more s ecretively for a day or two. The Schedule Dance majors must maintain an intense schedule of classes and r e hearsals. The general logic behind the amount of time that dancers spend in the studios is that dance is a discipline that is learned through practice. To become a dancer, one cannot si m ply think about dancing, write papers about it, or research it; a dancer has to dance Dance is not just a mental exercise, but a physical one as well. In order to ex ecute the steps that are called for in a particular piece of choreography, dancers must develop the appropriate muscles a dancer cannot learn how to do a pirouette by reading about it, it must be pra c ticed. A lot. In addition, the de mands of dance technique are very intricate and specific. This means that dancers must spend their time practicing with someone else to o b serve them and point out what they are doing correctly and incorrectly. Dancers often hear the phrase, this feels di fferent than it looks, meaning that simply trying to imitate a mov ement will not necessarily produce the appropriate muscular action. It is therefore important for dan c ers to have someone observing them to correct any mistakes in body alig n ment or muscle e ffort, in order that


16 dancers avoid developing bad habits, which at best are aesthetically unappealing, and at worst dangerous. For e x ample, if a dancer is learning a movement entailing falling to the floor, fai l ure to release the back and neck muscles pr operly can make the fall look stiff and aw kward something difficult to see yourself if you are in the process of falling. Add i tionally, failing to release those muscles at the right time can cause the fall to go awry and lead to various injuries, which c ould result in time spent not dancing, perhaps the most dire cons e quence of all. For dance majors on either degree track, technique class is the fou n dation of their training. Technique classes run for two hours each (they are scheduled for 1 hour 50 minute s, but the teachers almost always run over), and students generally take two of these classes a day. Dance majors enroll in technique class during every semester they a t tend the university, and their performance in these classes is one of the most importan t aspects of their standing in the program; dancers are only pr o moted to the next level with the approval of the faculty. The rest of a dancers day is filled with other classes such as choreography and dance history, which are also held in the dance build ing, and rehearsals for performances, which gene r ally last until 8 or 9 PM.


17 This leaves dance majors with very little time to spend outside of the department. While university students certainly have general ed ucation requirements to fulfill, rarely is a d ance student able to take more than one non dance course per semester, and many opt to take at least some of these courses du r ing the summer, when their dance schedules are much less busy. Therefore, dancers tend to spend the majority of their time with ot her dancers. Whereas someone m a joring in one of the more traditional academic disciplines will take classes with a variety of other students from different majors in buildings which might house several different departments, and o f ten have their evenings and weekends more or less under their own control, dancers have the majority of their waking hours sche d uled for them, and those hours are almost exclusively spent in the dance building with other dance m a jors. Such a large amount of time spent in a build ing occupied almost exclusively by dancers can certainly be viewed as a way to establish a collective identity. Dancers can certainly use their relative isolation as a way of being different from other dancers, which, as stated by Bourdieu (1998) above, is one of the fundamental requirements to claim a particular identity. Also, the walls of the building set up both a phys i cal and symbolic boundary, which further establishes a sense of colle c tive identity, as described by Taylor and Whittier (1992). The


18 t ime spent in the studio, then, becomes not only necessary for lear ning to dance, but also for establishing oneself as a dancer. This intense schedule and the stresses that go with it are co mmon targets of complaint among nearly all dancers, and the dance rs at Un i versity were no exception. Bianca a senior, expresses how such a sche d ule can cause dancers to develop a sense of isolation from other pe o ple: B (laughs) Life? I really dont have a life outside of dance. Esp e cially now, I think its gotten worse. There are so many things going on, and you want to focus on your art and you want to focus and thats what most important here right now, and then after that is work because I have to live and su p port myself. So social life is really kind of gone, e specially this year, Im really feeling it. I go to school all day, I go to rehearsals or I go to work, I get home at midnight and I read. Its just this continuous pattern Bianca definitely feels that the demands of her major differ from those of other lines of endeavor. She certainly believes that other students in other areas have more free time than she does, and that her schedule can often be difficult to unde r stand for those whose calendars are not as full. Felicia recalls how this sort of schedul e affected her before she even a r rived at University, and how her schedule limits the type and number of frien d ships she is able to maintain: F I remember growing up being so jealous of all my friends who were into sports and this and that because they w ould be, like, my core group of girlfriends and they would all be on the track team; and it was like I ran track up until like 6 th grade,


19 and then 7 th grade I started and had to quit, because it was too much. And I had to make a choice and I chose dance. U m, I was happy with that, but there were those times when I felt left out, you know? So I think it goes in between feeling left out and enjoying what I chose, you know? I think, my social life, I think thats just a part of college, but maybe more so being into dance because its so much more time involved. Socially ou tside of here like, other than the people I go to church with, for church things, I really I dont meet too many people that o ften. You know? (laughs) M Do you find yourself hanging out w ith dancers all the time? F Yeah, I mean, which is OK. (laughs) Sometimes I get sick of the topic; its what you all have in common. Felicia also alludes to some of the conflict that dancers often feel when thin k ing about their busy schedules. There i s frustration with the lack of free time and friends, but she also acknowledges that this is the e ndeavor she chose, and accepts the sche d ule as part of what it is to be a dancer. Bianca and Felicia both expressed their feelings about one of the most fu n d amental aspects of a dance majors life: the sense of total immersion in their ch o sen field and isolation from others outside that field. Dance majors at the university spend the vast m a jority of their waking hours in a building dedicated to dance with oth er people ded icated to dance. This sort of immersion, both perceived and exper ienced, places dancers in the position where their primary social co ntacts are with others who share their professional a s pirations.


20 This situation suggests several latent funct ions that are pote ntially impo r tant to the construction of identity. First, so much contact with like minded others can lead to a sense of their special status as dancers, much like the medical students studied by Smith and Klei nman (1989). Additio n ally, d ancers also serve as the primary audience to test and compare deve l oping identities, resulting in a situation where many of the traits deemed most important to dancers are likely to be influenced by dan c ers, rather than non dancers, who may hold very diffe rent impressions of how dancers should think and behave. Echoes of this idea can be found in dancers common r e frain (repeated by Bianca above) that non dancers just dont unde r stand at all. Other dancers, of course, do understand. As a result, such a sc hedule continues to be considered quite natural for dancers, and those in the department accept it without significant resi s tance. Moreover, the schedule itself establishes and maintains boundaries between dancers and non dancers, as well as reinforces the idea that dancers are diffe rent from non dancers. The ongoing nature of this schedule helps to ensure that the dancers (and others) are continually reminded of these differences, and thus becomes a way of maintaining this sense of di fference (West and Fen stermaker 1995) The heavy schedule and lack of time to spend with others ou tside of dance is a requirement with which all dancers must learn to


21 cope. In this sense, it becomes something of a shared ordeal (Lortie 1968) which dancers can use to affirm their identities and provide ev idence of their dedication to their art. That is, if an exhausting schedule of classes and rehearsal is a r e quirement for being a serious dancer, then the evidence of such a schedule can help to assert that a partic ular dancer is indeed serious. Also, lack of such a schedule can raise questions about a dancers dedication and/or abi l ity. The intensity of a dancers schedule even seems to be built d irectly into the dance curriculum. For example, the lowest levels of technique class meet only twice a week, while the highest meet every day. Ergo, as a dancers technique improves, s/he is expected to ded icate more time to developing that technique. There are other re a sons for this increasing intensity, of course. For example, in the low er levels more recovery time might be needed between workouts, so that u nderdeveloped muscles might have a chance to grow more properly, as opposed to the higher levels, where correct musculature is taken for granted and the emphasis is more on stylistic s o phistication. Whatever the reasons, dance majors experience a definite i n crease in studio time as they progress through the program. Another way schedule demands increase for developing dancers is that many of the younger students spend less time in rehea rsals. Since department concerts only fe a ture a limited number of students,


22 generally the more advanced students are selected to perform. As a result, the upper level students spend a great deal more time in r ehearsals than the lower level students do. Com bine this with an i ncreasingly heavy class schedule, and the effect is evident: the farther along dancers move into the program, the more time they are e xpected to devote to their art. Again, the sense of difference is co nstantly established and reinforced and even intensified over the course of the degree program. For dancers, though, such a schedule is more often than not a ccepted as a part of life, and such a shared ordeal can even become a defining cha r acteristic of a dancers identity. I remember that I often saw this dense schedule as a sign of my dedication to my art. I felt quite certain that I was not just another average student, and many others would have been co m pletely overwhelmed by the amount of time and exertion that a dancers life takes. Indeed, several of my friends at the time expressed that they could not understand how I could spend so much of my time and energy in the pursuit of one e ndeavor. I must also confess that I probably d e voted more time than I really needed describing the ri gors of my profession, primarily in pu rsuit of the amazement that others expressed at my passion and dev otion to dancing. While this sort of cultural capital probably offered little in the way of tang i ble exchange value, it certainly brought me a great


23 dea l of pride and sense of co m mitment to my work. By examining the bemused expressions of my acquaintances as I described my schedule, I was assured that I was def i nitely not an average Joe, and that I possessed something truly uncommon in my passion and de dication to dance. I found that it was not even nece s sary to prove to people that I was even a good or successful dancer; they were convinced that I must be by the level of devotion I demo n strated Sel f Reflection Probably the most apparent thing that n on dancers might notice about the studios was the wall of mirrors. To dancers, these mirrors are completely unremarkable, as they are consi d ered necessary in a traditional dance studio for students to examine their mov e ments and placement. While there are certainly teachers on hand to guide the students in how their muscles and joints are supposed to be working, mirrors enable a dancer to see what their teachers are explaining on their own bo d ies. The relationship between dancers and mirrors takes on a lov e/hate quality in most studio environments, and mirrors have been blamed by dan c ers for problems with body image and by teachers for poor performance intensity (Get out of the mirror! is a common r efrain among dance teachers who are trying to coax studen ts to stop


24 examining their bodies and pay more attention to the expressive intent of a movement phrase). While the relationship between dancer and mirror is not a focus of this paper, it still seems i m portant to mention as it is such a ubiquitous part of a dance students life, and certainly reinforces the importance of appearances within the dance world. Ce rtainly vi s ual factors are important aspects of the presentation of self (Goffman 1959) among the dance students at the University. There were student s I interviewed who defined the mirror as a central figure in their dance experience, however. Annie used her rel ationship with the mirror as a sort of metaphor for her development as a dancer: A I mean, dancers are looking at themselves in the mirror al l the time, so I come in Im very self conscious and like unsure of ever y thing and so, the first two years I didnt have a horrible time but I kind of had a hard time figuring out what the heck I was doing and had a lot of doubts about how good I was or if I was ever going to do anything with myself Elizabeth also brought up the mirror when I asked her about whether she felt dance was a more stressful major than others: E I definitely think so, because the whole aspect of us sitting there staring in the mirror, saying am I skinny enough, am I good enough, am I sitting up straight enough, is my appea rance OK? Having to satisfy the status quo of what were su pposed to look like as dancers. And then, our appearances really do matter. In a desk job they jus t see your writing or your work on paper or in a computer. They dont really see who you are in your writing or your work and things. I think thats really em otionally stressful, because you really have to maintain you have to base your life around some of those aspects


25 In Elizabeths quote as well, it is interesting to note that who she is is ev i dent from her reflection in the mirror. Whereas someone working a desk job can presumably hide their true selves behind their work, Elizabeth feels that da ncers cannot. This is a looking glass self (Co oley 1983) in its most literal form. In this case, the dancer is not just taking on the perspective of a n other; s/he is actually evaluating his/her own reflection from a critical pe r spective. While the idea i s to focus on the correct plac e ment and usage of muscles and bones, there are much more general and personal evaluations going on as well. From these examples it seems that, for many dancers, the mirror is more than just a technical aid. It is a tool for s elf reflection in a more pe r sonal sense, as well as self scrutiny. The daily interaction with the mirror becomes another shared o rdeal for many of the dancers in the department. Many of the dancers in the department have their favorite mirrors, insistin g that in diffe rent studios the mirrors distort the reflection differently. More than one dancer has referred to the fun house mirrors in a partic u lar studio. It is interesting to note, however, that each dancer seems to have a di fferent assessment of ex actly how their reflection is distorted. One dancer might say the mirrors in studio one make her look larger on the bottom than she really is, while another i n sists that they make his legs look overly skinny. These sorts of discrepancies seem to be unimpo r-


26 tant, as long as everyone agrees that the mirrors are not an accurate reflection of the dancers actual appearances. Technique and Talent The primary technical disciplines dancers study are ballet and modern dance. Each of these areas is divided into five levels: Fund amentals is the most i n troductory level, and is usually populated with non majors or those who the faculty feel need intensive re training; levels I IV progress in intensity from there, with only the most a dvanced dancers gaining admission int o level IV. In fact, level IV mo dern had only 12 students the semester I o b served them, and ballet IV had even fewer than that. Placement in technique class is of paramount importance to dance m a jors. For example, a BFA student must reach level IV for at least one seme s ter in their area of concentration (Ballet or Modern), and level III in the other area. In addition, for a student to off i cially be considered a dance major in the first place, they must reach level III in one of the technical disciplines. I t is important to note that one does not move to the next level after achieving a passing grade in the pr evious level (as a student might move from Stati s tics I to Statistics II). Each level is repeatable, and students only move up with the a pproval of t he faculty. There are, of course, other courses required for


27 the degree, but technique class is the only one which determines a students overall standing in the department. Most dance majors enter the program in levels I or II, and often take several seme sters to a dvance to levels III and IV. Due to the selectiveness of the u p per levels, very rarely does a student reach level IV in both Ballet and Modern (those who do so are gene r ally regarded as stars of the department). Since placement into the variou s technical levels is so important in the official status of students in the department, it plays a prom inent role in the students evaluation of themselves. This can be pa rticularly difficult for students first entering the department, as Eliz abeth, a jun ior, illustrates: E The ballet technique, everything was just completely diffe rent than what I was taught. Id never taken modern before, so when I came here, it was like this huge new experience that I was taking and they were like, Youre not good eno ugh for that. M Did that feel weird to you to be evaluated like that? E Yes. M How did you react to it, internally? E It really discouraged me the first year because I was put in Fundamentals. And then I was just talking to a lot of people in t he studio, like older members, and they were like, oh, I was in Fundamentals, dont worry. If you just work really hard you can, like, move up in levels and theyll take you more ser iously, and so I just started working really hard and doing all these ou tside classes at different studios around the place and they event u ally moved me up.


28 As Elizabeths comments illustrate, there is a definite stigma assoc iated with the Fund a mentals level. The dance students all know that Fundamentals is the lowest level o f technique, and it is the course in which those who are neither trained nor s e rious about dancing are typically enrolled. Also, moving up is a definite jump in status within the department, and it is generally the goal of all dance majors. Placement in technique class can also serve as an affirmation of a st u dents ability (or potential). For students like Deborah (a senior), who had initially been majoring in another discipline, placement can affirm that a f u ture in dance might be possible: D So then when I came here, the faculty placed me in the level I in both modern and ballet. That said to me that, all right, itll be I can actually major in this. Even though Deborah was initially placed in level I, she took that placement as an affirmation tha t she did have potential as a dancer, and used that affirmation as part of her decision to pursue a dance d egree. One thing that this sort of emphasis on technical placement seems to create is a rather troubled relationship with the idea of ta lent. Mos t of the dancers I inte r viewed had a very difficult time trying to summarize what the word even meant. All of them, though, felt quite strongly that their ideas about talent had changed since they a rrived at the university. The general theme among those I interviewed


29 was that when they were younger, their ideas about talent tended t oward more athletic, skill based assessments of ability. Elizabeth e xpressed her earlier ideas about talent in this way: E For a very long time, I thought talent was about tech nique, and how well you lifted your leg and how well you did piro uettes, and just basic common technique moves Holly expressed her early impressions very similarly: H before I got here, probably talent to me was more tec hnique based, and who could do so many turns, or who could jump higher or jump longer Holly and Elizabeth were certainly not alone in their initial assessments that talent was very much a set of physical capabilities. In fact, every student that I interviewed expressed the same ideas. Ideas about talent begin to take a different form, however, once the students spend some time in the university program. In general, talent b e comes a much more complex concept, which may or may not include phys i cal prowess. Holly, for example, continued her description of talent in this way: H Being here and performing more, the performance aspect of someones talent has come to me. Um, and the expressiv eness as well as the tec h nique, and just their abilities Felicia attributes her changing attitude about talent at least partially to her exposure to modern dance: M Have your ideas about talent changed, since you were younger and in the studio scene?


30 F Yes. Because I was never exposed to modern dance, and like, you always think you have to have fi ve pirouettes, you have to have this, you have to have that, and just like realizing that dance and just like the arts are so much broader. And just because its not like some grand ballet trick, you know? Whatever the reason, talent definitely takes on a different mea ning at the university. None of the students denied in their interviews that they were still wor k ing to expand their physical capabilities, but they also did not think that such abilities were the only measure of their worth as dancers. Esp e cially for those who felt that their physical abilities were not exceptional, other aspects of dancing became more prominent. Elizabeth, perhaps as a result of her initial placement in the Fundamentals courses, started to think about ways that she could e nhance the steps that she was executing: E when I got here, I was seeing, because I didnt have the technique, I had to rely on other things. And so I, that whole image of talent shifted to what my own personal body could do and how much talent I could hold by conveying my emotions or doing little n u ances of, like, maybe my leg wasnt high enough, but maybe I could reach my arm with to make it look better. The whole talent thing didnt like totally change, b e cause I saw dancers that maybe didnt have the technique but looked better than the dancers that had the technique, because they really got into the movement and explored it. What Elizabeth started to do might be simply described as adding more embellis h ments to her movement. After examining the resp onses from the other dancers, however, it seemed to me that Elizabeth was describing one tactic among many that dancers might describe as ma k ing the movement her own.


31 Dancers are continually encouraged to add themselves to the mov e ment. This might tak e different forms for different dancers, but in general the idea is to i n corporate elements of the dancers individual personality into the steps that are given in a combination. To cite a rather extreme example, I can recall early in my first tec h nique cl ass an instance where the instructor gave us a series of relatively simple steps to execute, but pr o vided us with no particular way to approach them not even a set of counts. She then i n structed us to make our own phrase out of the steps she gave. The pu rpose was to demo nstrate how a single set of steps can take on countless qualities when the dancer infuses them with her/his own personal style. This might explain why so many (in fact, all) of the dancers I i nterviewed framed their current ideas about ta lent more as individual stylistic attributes than universal gifts. Deborah responded this way when I asked her about talent: D Yeah, um, no I dont (laughs). And I hate, almost hate it, as a term because everyones talent is different, just like their persona l ity is different. When I asked Bianca about how she thought talent manifested itself, she r e lated that talent could take many forms, and physical skill may or may not be included at all: B I think one of the interesting things is that we sometim es think of talent as the dancers who are really proficient in some kind of tec h nique, and just extraordinary in their skills. And then you realize that talent comes in different packages, its


32 not just about technique. Because there are people that are c reatively, that I think were exce p tionally talented and were gifted in choreographic aspects and pushing the boundaries, and they really werent the most skilled dancers in terms of pointing toes and triple pirouettes and everything, but they could make ou tstanding pieces and youre still drawn to them as dancers, because they have a power and they have a pa ssion inside them. So, I really dont know how to define talent anymore, because I think its hard to just say talent is tec hnique or talent is chore o gr aphic. There is another interesting attitude about talent that seemed to recur in most of the interviews that I conducted. In general, there was a definite tendency for dancers to characterize themselves as not ha ving a great deal of talent, even while t hey were asserting that talent was something that was very individually variable. When they were discussing their relative lack of talent, the dancers generally seemed to be referring to the idea that talent existed in the realm of physical ability (flexib ility, strength, balance, etc.), as opposed to talent being an individual and highly variable attribute. As I listened and considered their thoughts more carefully, I b egan to wonder if the dancers claims to a lack of physical ability could indeed furthe r their claims as passionate and hard working individual dancers. In other words, a dancer who is lac k ing in natural gifts yet still manages to become a successful performer must be extremely dedicated and passionate about her/his art. Indeed, several of those I i n terviewed seemed to employ this particular approach in describing themselves. Annie provides an excellent e x ample of this approach:


33 A Um, I kind of think that that word (talent) is emphasized too much, because like, me personally, like, I don t have a lot of the natural stuff youre su p posed to have, you know what I mean? I think that once you get onto this level, its not as much about talent an y more its about your drive and your want and your need for it. I think that like in my experience w hen people would say, oh she has all this natural talent, that made me feel like I would never make it because I didnt have that natural talent. I dont think its as impo r tant I think its a good thing, but I dont think its as important as ev e ryone makes it seem like it needs to be. Bianca made similar points when I discussed talent with her: B For me, I strive for; my vision of talent for myself is just to be a well rounded all encompassing dancer whos knowledg eable of everything. Of course I w ant to push myself to better my tec h nique and skills, but I wouldnt know how to describe natural talent, because I dont feel like Ive had natural talent. I think I had to work really hard my whole life to build what I have now. I don t consider myself talented now. I think its a hard thing to label, especially on yourself. There is, of course, the issue of modesty, and a dancer who brags about how talented s/he is certainly does not gain much in reputation or status. Ho w ever, in a department where mos t of the students would be considered talented, it seems that there might be more than mo desty at play. One possibility is that the notion of talent as a natural, essential qua l ity might actually lessen the perceived work ethic of a particular dancer I n deed, one does not have to look far to find dancers whose accomplishments are minimized by characterizations such as, she doesnt even have to work at it, or it just comes so naturally to him. It is also not uncommon that two dancers will use the e xact same


34 characterization of each other. In ge n eral, though, the label of talent is one which dancers describe as desirable while at the same time d enying any claim they might have to apply it to themselves. Of course, the dancers to whom I spoke were certainly willing to provide ev i dence that they were talented and then allow me to draw my own conclusions. In my interviews, I generally started out by as king each dancer about her/his background before coming to the Un iversity. Each had their own list of places and disciplines they had stu died, but most of them added a bit more. At some point during their d escriptions of their backgrounds, most of the dancers offered clues to indicate to me that they had been more advanced in some way as compared to o thers their age when they were growing up. Deborah provided a good example of this practice in her interview: D I danced from like 7 or so until I was about 14, stopped dancing. I went all the way to d o ing pointe. I was the youngest in an adult class, I was like a tee n ager in an adult class These hints were generally very subtle, but were definitely common. Holly even elaborated on this idea by combining her accomplishments with ev i dence of her dedication, and even alluded to the fact that a former te acher felt it was stupid that she did not major in dance. H When I was twelve I was dancing with the 18 year olds, you know? We had to bring in teachers from out of town, because we were like an hour and a half from anywhere, out in the mi ddle of n o whe re and my junior year I started driving out of town for classes, and for my senior year I was going three times a week, driving almost two hours each way, you know.


35 And I wasnt going to go to school for dance; I was going to go to school for jou r nalism, and my dance teacher told me that that was stupid (laughs) Elizabeth, on the other hand, was more open about being more a dvanced as a younger student, and admits some concern when she a rrived at the Un i versity and was no longer at the top of the class: E At my studio, I was in all of the advanced classes, the best one in the advanced classes. And when I came here, I got put into fund a mentals, so it was really hard. And the technique was completely di f ferent. While Elizabeth admits some difficulty with her perceived change in status among her fellow dancers, she also offers a possible explanation why this might have been the case (the difference in technique). These simultaneous assertions and denials of talent provide an e x ample of Goffmans (1959) presentation of self. The dancers were definitely working to cr e ate an impression that would make me think that they were better than average, but that their ability was achieved through dedication and hard work, rather than simply the product of natur al ability. It seems that for these students, the idea of the artist as divinely ordained creative genius held much less value than the ar tist as devoted, passionate craft s man. However, it seems that a certain notion of natural talent still e xists, and t he dancers would certainly like for others to think that they possess it. Perhaps the dancers thoughts about the concept of talent, then, could be described more accurately as increasing in complexity.


36 Since the idea of i n nate ability is so connected to t he romantic notion of artistic genius, many dancers (myself included) might still be unwil ling to completely abandon it. At the same time, accepting the idea of talent as entirely predetermined robs the dancer of her/his agency, and negates all of the dedi cation and effort that is so central to the dancers experience. Therefore, framing talent as a development of natural potential through passionate work allows dancers to showcase their own agency and still allow for a certain degree of romanticism at the same time.


37 Becoming a Dancer As they progress through the program at University, young dancers are working intensely to learn the technical skills and history of dance. At the same time, though, they are developing the attitudes and behaviors that wil l help them to define themselves as dancers. One of the aspects of this evolving process of identity construction has a l ready been introduced: the evolution of increasingly complex ways they begin to interpret the word ta l ent. In this section, I will di scuss other ways in which dancers set themselves apart from non dancers. First of all, the dancers develop ideas about how to present themselves to each other and to non dancers in ways that distinguish dancers from the more general population. In additio n to learning new and more complicated ways to evaluate talent, dancers begin to adopt styles of dress which, whether intentionally or not, serve to disti n guish them from students in other disciplines at University. Also, through their interactions with th eir instructors the dancers develop an a pproach to technique which places more emphasis on individual expre ssion than external standards of perfection. Finally, they develop strategies to explain and account for perceptions that dancers and other artists are eccentric. These methods of self identification, and


38 possibly others, describe a process that is separate from although i ntertwined with learning to dance: the process of becoming a dancer. Performances (for Selves and O thers) It goes without saying that any study of people involved in a pe r forming art must i n clude some examination of the art of performing itself. As I spent more and more time observing the dancers at Unive rsity, however, I quickly realized that many more performances were happ ening outside the walls of the theaters than happened on stage in front of paying aud i ences. In fact, the actual time the students spent performing on stage was miniscule and much less interesting than the performances the students gave both in the studios and around the campus. My use of the term performance here does not refer to formal stage productions, but to the more everyday types of performances described by Goffman (1959). This dramaturgical approach suggests that individuals manage through app earance and interaction the i mpressions and expectations they want others to have about them. By establishing and managing the impressions they make on non dancers and each other, the dance students can help to ensure that their unique identities (and pub lic perceptions thereof) are maintained.


39 I am reminded of my first orientation as a new dance student when I began my study at Unive r sity. For our initial meeting, all of the new students in the various pe r forming and visual arts were grouped together. A s we were b e ginning our meeting, one student walked in late. Upon her entering the room, the leader of the meeting said, I can tell by looking that youre a dance major. Everyone in the room laughed, but I initially did not unde r stand exactly what made a dancer so easy to find, even in a room of other artists. As I progressed through my degree program, though, I began to figure it out. It b ecame even more apparent when I began observing dancers as a sort of outsider myself. D ancers are relatively easy to distinguish by the way that they tend to dress particularly on the occasions that they are able to leave the studio for the more common areas of campus Since most of their time on campus is spent in the studios, dancers usually opt not to completely r emove their dance attire, even when venturing out of the building If a dancer does leave the building, they will more often than not remain in their leotards, and sometimes their tights, and simply layer some sort of easily removed garment over them. At t he lunch hour each day for example, there was a group of anywhere from fi fteen to approximately thirty dancers who stayed in their black leotards and tight hair buns (a requirement in morning ballet), donned pajama


40 bo t toms or sweat pants and san dals, and ra n off to the student dining area, which is a relatively short walk from the studios. While pajama bo t toms and sweat pants are certainly not unheard of on campus, it is uncommon for a group of students to be traveling t o gether in these garments wearing ne arly identical black leotards and hairstyles. Also more common among dancers is the tendency to custo mize their outerwear. While the dancers were certainly free to leave their clothing more or less in the same state in which they bought it, dancers al m ost always modified their clothing in some way. A t shirt might have the collar cut out or the sleeves removed, and sweat pants are frequently cut off at the knee. In addition, dance majors clothes often look relatively worn and outfits more thrown toget her, appea ring more to have come from a thrift store (if not actually having been purchased at one) than a d e signer shop. There are a number of possible explanations for the dancers war d robe, as I discovered through a variety of casual interactions. Mos t students offered a rationale that such clothes are simply more convenient, since dancers leaving the department tend to have to r eturn to it relatively quickly and changing clothes completely is simply impractical. I was fortunate enough to begin my obse rvations at the beginning of the academic year, when quite a few students (especially freshmen) took the time to change from their tights to street clothes


41 and back again over their lunch breaks. By the end of the semester, almost none of the students bo thered to change at all, and the ones who did were generally leaving the building for the rest of the day. Another reason provided which relates to the tattered and ha phazard nature of dancers attire is that dancers often wear these clothes to afternoon M odern classes and r e hearsals, ( which have much less strict dress codes than the morning classes ) and their clothing r eceives a fair amount of punishment from rolling on the floor and the other movements dancers practice regularly. This also served as just ification for the customization of pants and shirts; it was simply a matter of facilitating movement or allowing for quick changes. For e xample, there were several students in each class who began wearing two or three shirts in order to stay warm, gradual ly removing them as the exercises intensified. The students would often do this in the mi ddle of an exercise, which provided justification for cut sleeves and necklines. One dancer even noted about a new shirt, I feel like Im choking in this collar. The next time she wore the shirt, the collar had been removed. Justifications such as those listed above might be grouped in the category of structural components which served to reinforce the idea of dancers as different. This could be thought of in much the same way as the medical students studied by Haas and Shaffir (1987),


42 whose occupational attire (in their case, hospital scrubs), helped to cement their identities as future doctors. To extend this idea slightly, perhaps the types of alterations dancers perform on their attire serve not only to distinguish dancers from non dancers, but to help make i ndividual dancers unique from one another (a point upon which I will elaborate later). Several students admitted, however, that the alterations to their war d robe were based at least partially on vanity I just think they look better like this, said one first year female. This is just how I am, stated a second year male student, in a context which implied that his attire was an expression of his personality I must confess that I prob a bly relate more closely to this approach than any other, as I still have several pairs of the brightly colored pajama bottoms that I always chose for classes, a deliberate contrast from the dark, mon ochromatic sele c tions of mos t of my classmates. While dancers generally re gard their manners of dress as insi gnificant or attribute them to more practical causes, their attire seems to have become a sort of unofficial uniform for dancers when they are not in the studio While danc ers are easily recognizable in a classroom or rehearsal by their tights and other apparel, maintaining as much of this appearance as possible when outside the studio might also serve to reinforce the public image that dance majors are recognizably di f-


43 feren t from other students. Wearing tattered, mismatched clothes can certainly add to a boh e mian image, and/or the notion that dancers care less about clothing than their pr o fessional aspirations. While none of the students stated these ideas explicitly, the students nearly unan i mous adoption of this particular dress code leads me to suspect that it might provide another source of evidence for them to claim a dancer ide n tity Instilling Individuality Just like any other undergraduate program, the bulk of the lear n ing process for dance majors at University occurs in the clas sroom or in this case the studio. It is in the three studios where the dancers learn the fundamentals of correct ballet and modern dance technique, musculoskeletal anatomy, choreograph y, and other conve ntions required in learning to dance. Howard Becker even uses dance as an example when he discusses the importance of conventions in art worlds: When a particular convention can be taken for granted, when almost everyone involved almost a lways does things that way, anyone with experience in the art can be counted on to know that basic minimum Thus, most modern dance, designed not to be like conventional ballet, ends up presupposing that r ecruits will have had some ballet training and have a c quired the muscles, habits, and understandings that come with such trai ning. (1982, pp. 56 57)


44 If this were all that occurred in class, the dance classes at University would seem altogether unremarkable, as the students first and for emost are lear n ing the conventions of dance; the same conventions which dance students learn ev e rywhere. The students are exposed to more than a set of technical co nventions, however. They are interacting with their faculty, individuals who are already professionals in the dance world. Similar to medical students (Smith and Kleinman 1989), whose faculty provided exa mples of how to confront the emotional demands of their work, or st udents of mo r tuary science, who became acquainted with the rhetoric of death denial and public ignorance (Cahill 1999, p. 114) and how to confront it through examples set by the instructors, dance majors at University received guidance from the faculty not only in the conve ntions of dance, but also the most important qualifications for claiming id entities as dan c ers. What then becomes important is examining not so much the conventions of technique but the artistic priorities the faculty members are communicating when they teach. As I observed the different levels of modern dance, I was interested to find a relatively clear progression of instructor expectations as the dancers advanced. As I moved from levels II through IV, the instructors were not only presenting more di fficult steps and sequences, but they were also asking for more and


45 more indivi dualized interpretations of those steps. They were gradually steering the students away from external evaluations based solely on precise execution and asking them to pay more attention to individual expressive efforts. Different instructors, of course, wi ll have different teaching styles, but the teachers subst i tuted for each other several times and I was struck by how their priorities and interactive styles changed with the level of technique they were teac h ing. The description of the shift in focus from physical execution to individual interpretation mirrors quite closely the students responses to my questions about their perceptions of talent. Just as their descri ptions of what constitutes talent shift from physical prowess to more i ndividualized and c omplex interpretations, so do the priorities within each pr o gressive level of technique. Physical execution remains part of the picture, as it is the common convention of all dance forms, but conventions about what constitutes a good dancer become much m ore co m plex. The Modern II course was taught by Alana, who recently moved to the area after performing with a well known New York based mo dern dance co m pany for several years. The students enjoyed her classes a great deal and spoke quite highly of her outs ide the studio, as she was a very energetic teacher and worked with a very athletic movement style. She kept the pace of the class quite brisk, and spent


46 more time demonstrating the exercises than discussing them. Even when the students were quite familiar with an exercise, she continued to demonstrate for them throughout the seme s ter. When she took the time to explain a concept, Alana usually showed the students at the same time, rather than relying on verbal instructions alone. Occasionally, she would use a student as an exa mple, adding her explanation in terms of what the student was doing correctly or needed to improve. When the students asked questions, they gene r ally were related to how to execute a particular step, or the counts required for a particu lar movement. Occasionally, a student would even correct Alana if she executed a step differently than she had in a previous class It was evident from her actions and statements, though, that what she wanted from the students was more than imitation. She spoke frequently of their need to place more emphasis on the expre ssive efforts behind the movement. As opposed to technical and phys ical similarity, Alana was co n tinually asking the students to look for the intent behind the steps, which might not look the same for everyone. This is a particularly important distin c tion within the progression of dancers through the program; it is important to recognize that dancing a phrase well will not necessarily look the same on every body. Whe never the dancers would lose their timing or sense of unison in an effort


47 to approach a phrase more expressively, Alana would reassure them several times that such variation was acceptable. Thats OK, Thats OK. Just go with the momentum of it, was a typical comment that Alana would make to the class. In other words, dancing well does not equal dan c ing the same as everyone else. T he students in Modern II mimicked Alana very closely, following her steps as she demonstrated them. They also were very aware of each other as the y went through the class. They talked and offered corre c tions to each other in between exercises, and watched each other in the mirror as they worked. There was also a sense of compet ition between the students, which I inferred from their occasional di scus sion s between classes about who was a better dancer. They also seemed to show off for each other occasionally adding extra steps at the end of a phrase and then looking around to see if anyone noticed Their comments and questions were also focused al most e x clusively on the external, physical execution of the steps, and they were very co ncerned with doing the steps precisely as ch o reographed. I saw perhaps the best illustration of the Modern II students awareness of each other during what might other wise be viewed as a momentary diversion one day. Alana had left a compact disc she wanted to use for a pa r ticular combination in her office, and instructed the students to practice the combination while she ran to retrieve it.


48 What several of the students did during her absence i n stead, however, was demonstrate for each other all of the cheesy lyrical tricks they had learned during their previous studio trai n ing. While they laughed and discussed how ridiculous these steps were, it was clear that the dance rs were selecting tricks which they did particularly well. Each was also sure to call attention to herself (all of those participa t ing were female) by calling out something along the lines of, how about this one? before launching into an elaborate sequ ence. When Alana r eturned, the dancers immediately stopped, panting more heavily than they had in several days. The Level III modern class was instructed by Beverly, who had performed for several years before coming to U niversity One of the more veteran fa c ulty, Beverly has become a respected choreographer since she stopped performing, choreographing work on companies in several cou n tries as well as the United States. The pace and energy in her classes is somewhat more subdued than Alanas, creating a mor e intensely focused atmosphere, which she often lightened with her of fbeat sense of humor. Beverlys expectations of the students continued the lessons Alana first tried to instill. Beverly was able, however, to take for granted at this level that the dan cers had abandoned the notion that correctness and unison were associated Her corrections were almost


49 a l ways directed at individual dancers rather than the class as a whole, and even when she did address the class collectively, her comments were exclusive ly about intent and expressive nuances, as opposed to speci f ics about the execution of steps and counts. In general, Beverly approached the students as individuals rather than as a group. This was doubtlessly made easier by the nu mber of students in her c lass (twelve, while Modern II had nearly thirty), but even when she was teaching Levels III and IV combined, she maintained this individual a p proach, though with considerably more effort. She would ask a student how a particular movement felt, and help him or her individually to figure out how to make it more co mfortable. She asked almost as many questions of the students as they did of her, and constantly emphasized importance of individual unde rstanding over precision. The students were also given time to figure things out during class, where Beverly would leave them time to pra ctice a phrase and ask specific questions, as opposed to demonstrating and repeating a combination multiple times. In Modern III, the students attention was much more on the msel ves. They were still concerned with executing the phrases as co rrectly as possible, but correctness was determined more by the cap abilities of their own bodies than external standards. Students at this level also spent the most time looking in the mirror a t themselves,


50 rather than each other It was visibly apparent that they had e mbraced the idea that they did not need to compare their perfor m ances to those of others to determine how well they were dan c ing. They were also much less inclined than the Modern II st u dents to talk to each other or offer corrections between exercises, choosing i n stead to practice more problematic steps while studying themselves in the mi rror. In this way, the Modern III students provided the most literal e xample of the looking gl ass self (Cooley 1983) as they focused on their own reflections and experimented with the phrases while exami n ing the m selves the way that others might. The Modern III students had also developed a stronger sense of self discipline than the students in Mo dern II. Whereas the students in Modern II demonstrated cheesy lyrical tricks when left alone, the Modern III students generally stayed focused on themselves. Beverly occasionally gave them the opportunity to practice independently for several minutes, a nd even left the room one occasion, but the st udents continued to study themselves diligently in the mirror (although several conversations about unrelated topics began while the dancers were practicing). Christopher, who joined the faculty three years be fore, led the Modern IV class. He has performed with companies in New York and Europe and still performs and choreographs independently on a regular


51 basis. Somewhat similar to Alana, he was quite energetic and athletic in his approach, and was quite talkat ive throughout the class as well. He continued the individualistic emphasis initiated by Alana and deve loped by Beverly, and expanded on it even further. When Christopher taught an exercise, he usually demonstrated it only once or twice, and then simply led the students verbally through the exercise a f ter that. In fact, he generally spoke throughout the combinations. Rather than explanations or corrections, though, his i nstructions sounded more like na r ratives. He would offer the students various images a nd impressions, which they were then left to interpret for themselves. The leg unfolds, then everything melts into the floor, were typical of the directions he would give while leading the class. He would generally only mention the specifics of the chore ography when a student would ask him about a step that they did not understand or that felt awkward. He had no problem with doing this, but he was much more interested in seeing their interpretations of the movement than his. The Modern IV students were a t the final step of the individual ization process. They were the least likely to be looking in the mirror at any point in the class, and were the most different from each other in their execution of the combinations they were presented. At the same time, they were also the most dynamic in the way they a p-


52 proached the phrases, which were still quite uniform in terms of ti ming. They also were more talkative than the students in Level III, but their inte r actions with each other and the instructor took the for m of convers a tional exchanges, quite different from the strict question and answer format I observed among the Level II students. For example, where a Modern II student might ask specifically how to execute a pa rticular step, a Modern IV student might comm ent, I feel like I need to do it this way, and that approach would generally be accepted and even attempted by others This sense of independence seemed to be the ultimate goal of the pr o gression through the modern dance classes. By first convincing the students that individuality was accep t able, then leading them to a sense of its precedence, and finally encouraging them to actively i nterpret phrases for themselves, the facultys efforts combined to pr oduce dancers who approached their art as individual s with particular strengths and preferences that may or may not adhere to some exte rnal set of standards. Whether they were performing for each other, their i nstructors, or non dancers, the behaviors and interactions the dancers demonstrated all seemed to progress in a pa r ticular direction: toward a more independent and individualistic approach to themselves and their art. With other students, there was the tendency for dancers to


53 present themselves as different from those in other departments and their attire a sort of unofficial uniform which distinguishes dancers from non dancers. W ith in the studios the dancers go from comparing and competing against each other to becoming independent interpre ters expressing the m selves through the phrases they practi ce. All of this is guided and rei n forced by the faculty, who not only explain how to be a dancer, but also control a st u dents passage from one level to another, ensuri ng that only those who take this particula r approach to dancing find themselves in the m ost advanced classes. Embracing a sense of difference, both from other students and other dancers, seems to be a significant part of the identity the ne ophyte dancers are learning to construct. This is not surprising when one considers the popular notion of what an artist is: The definition (of artist) emphasizes traits of the maker of fine works; it asserts that such works do not get made accidentally, that making great works is not something anyone could do on a good day, that the works get their value from being made by unusual people, of whom there are not many. (Howard Becker 1982, p. 354 355) If this definition is taken at its word, then in order to be an artist, one must be unusual (i.e. different). Therefore, uniqueness becomes a n ecessity, and d ancers must work continually to differentiate themselves from others. Moreover, since unusual people are rare, the individ u al dancer must also distinguish him/herself as different within the field of dance, so as not to be seen as just anyone. In this wa y, dance di f-


54 fers from medicine or law in that dancers must not only show that they are competent and knowledgeable in the conventions of their field, but also that they are unique within their field. As the instructors comm unicated in class, good dance d oes not look the same for everyone, and to dance well a dancer must also demonstrate their individuality. Perhaps this is why talent becomes so difficult to describe; when there is no universal standard for what makes a good dancer (other than uniqueness ), good dancing becomes a very difficult thing to verbalize. Eccentricity Perhaps the widest variety of reactions I encountered when i ntervie w ing the dancers was when I asked how they felt about dancers (as well as other artists) being characterized a s eccentric. Few, if any, of them seemed to feel that they were eccentric people. In fact, most of those I interviewed saw the perception of dancers as eccentric was more a misunderstanding of their field than an actual attribute all dancers possessed. Bia nca, a senior who had attended a magnet school for performing arts as a high school student, related how such a chara c terization existed among her fellow students even then: B Its funny because in high school, theres the kids who were zoned for there, and the arts kids were all called the freaks. It was the zonies and the freaks. So we were already labeled as some kind of character.


55 The freak label had already taken hold among the students at the school b e fore Bianca even enrolled, so it is im possible to determine the reasons behind the selection of that particular term. She certainly felt, however, that the perception of eccentricity must have had something to do with it. As our interview went on, Bianca offered some reasons why ar tists might be perceived as eccentric: B I dont know about the eccentricity of it, but I think you tend to be open to a lot of things as an artist. At least for m yself, I try to be very open and respectful, even if I dont like the art, I appreciate that theyve m ade it or that theyve done it and a lot of people are very I mean closed minded is a big term but in a sense they are. To be different, its unusual M Do you feel like artists are just generally accepting of things that would be considered unusual ? B and even if they dont like it, they appreciate it or respect it. I think that sometimes its hard for people to understand that kind of mindset. For Bianca, the perception of eccentricity came from a larger mind set in this case, a sense of open mindedness which she felt was part of the larger art world. Elizabeth, a junior, was even more specific in this regard, and r e lated the idea of eccentricity to her dance training: E I think that artists have different thought processes than normal people. (laughs) The non art based people. I think b ecause were taught t o abstract things and take thing s from ev eryday life and put it into movement or put it into music and so we have a different way of thinking about everyday life. So I think in all as pects thats true, because if youre walking down the street and you get inspired by a tree, and you start making up movement, people are going to think youre weird.


56 Elizabeth and Bianca both shared the feeling that the thought pro cesses r e quired or enco uraged in dancers were contributing factors in the perceptions others had of them. Qualities such as creativity and open mindedness are nurtured and encouraged, particularly in courses such as choreography (where the conventions of creating new and origina l work are learned) which prize uniqueness most highly. Probably the most common answer to my questions about e ccentricity was that the origins of that perception were in the rather is olating life dancers led. In general, everyone I interviewed b e lieved that dancers were often misunderstood due to their relative separation to those outside of the dance world. This was something about which they often had mixed em o tions. Bianca relates this idea in this way: M People dont always get it when you have re hearsal B No, they dont understand! (laughs) That you live in the studio, and that its important to go to rehearsal and to sleep sometimes, because its a rare thing to sleep (laughs). Its hard to understand that kind of life if youre outside of it And also just the way that you spend your time, people dont unde r stand the choices that you make. To go to class every day, to spend all of your time in rehearsal, doing all these things. I think they feel kind of a weirdness because they just dont un derstand the choices that you make. Deborah, another senior, was a little more philosophical about the pe rception of eccentricity, but still felt relatively strongly that perceptions of eccentricity were related to the dedication and passion dancers show ed for their work (which, conveniently enough, was demonstrated


57 by their intense schedule and isolation from non dancers) She was also a little more willing to acknowledge that she might actually po ssess some of the eccentricity that others a s cribed to he r: D Well, you know, the more I read about it, Im starting to realize before, Id be like, oh forget it, thats ridiculous. But now, you know, getting fully into it, I think its true, but I think anybody thats passionate about doing something has th at e ccentricity for it, whatever it is. And because somebody else doesnt have that, thats what they, they its a perception thing. They see it as eccentricity but its somebodys passion for that, then they see it as weird or whatever, but its their p a ssion. Its the same thing as an engineer, whos like all gung ho about creating a new formula. You watch them go to work and youre like what? If youre somebody who is, like, a dancer (laughs). But thats their thing... I definitely feel like I have that, just like that, like, Whoo! You know like, up and a down (laughs). Interestingly enough, the younger dancers in the department were less likely to dismiss the idea of eccentricity as a misperception. Gretchen, for example, is a sophomore and is decidedly less negative about the ecce n tric label. Still, she sees the origins of the perception in the lifestyle that dancers generally live: G Oh yeah. I think that all artists in general are freakin out of their minds! Its like you have to be at least somewhat crazy to like, to get this. Because theres all this whole crap that you do: injuries, like, everything like that. Youre in the studio for hours a day, like, working your ass off. Like, the average pe rson doesnt want to do that, they just want to, like, have their happy little life. Perhaps Gretchen was less bothered by the eccentric label because she saw a close relationship between eccentricity and her dedication to her art.


58 It did seem that people like Gretchen and Deborah, who fram ed pe r ceptions of eccentricity as indicators of dedication or passion, were more comfortable with having those perceptions applied to them. A nnie, however, felt differently, especially when she felt that others u nderestimated her dedication: M when you tell somebody youre a dancer, what kind of rea c tions do you get? A Um, they usually, I dont know. Theyre kind of like, Oh, ok like, I feel like they dont take me seriously, I guess. B ecause its not like a real quote unquote major. But if you j ust talk to me a while, I mean I can get pretty silly, but you can tell Im not like an idiot, so then I think after a while theyre like, Ok M How do you kind of react to that, when you can tell that som e body is kind of going, ohhh A Um, it used t o like really tick me off. I was like, what? This is what Im doing Especially near the beginning, when I was like a freshman or sophomore, and I was kind of thinking is this a good idea, da da da, so then when you get that reaction thats really like (laughs). Now it doesnt bother me as much Annie tended to take the label of eccentricity as a sign that people werent taking her seriously. It seems, then, that r eactions to the l a bel of eccentricity were associated with how negatively or positively th e dancers interpreted that label. Deborah (who, as noted above, was more comfortable with the term) had this to say: D If you say eccentricity, you might think thats a negative, but its not. It could be negative and positive, but thats life, you kno w?


59 In fact, Felicia, one of the seniors, was initially ambivalent about the term: F I dont agree with it. (laughs) I think everybodys unique. I mean maybe for artists it shows more up front, but I think any person that you get to know, they have quir ks, and theres something about ev e rybody. Maybe for certain artists its more out there than other pe o ple. When I probed further, however, she admitted that she too was occ asionally guilty of a little unusual behavior: F my friends and I she was i n the theater program and she graduated like a year or two ago. And we were just hanging out one night, and she started telling me about this on site thing they did with their theater class, kind of like what we do with dance. They had to be squirrels. And so next thing you know and we werent by ou r selves, we were hanging out with other people the next thing you know we were like being squirrels, because I just wanted to experience it, you know? And it was really funny just to see the reactions, you kn ow? As I compared these reactions to my own experience, I found a few commonalities between what the dancers related to me and what I experienced myself. I feel I must admit here that I was labeled ecce ntric at a rel a tively early age, even before I dec ided upon an artistic field as my college major, so my experiences and feelings about the label cannot be completely attributed to my undergraduate exper iences. In all fairness, though, it is more than likely that most artists have contended with at least some form of such a perception since b efore their college days, as well. My relationship with the eccentric label has been one that has moved along a general continuum between total denial and gleeful a c-


60 ceptance, d e pending largely upon the group of peop le with whom I am associating at the time. Like the students I interviewed, I generally r egard eccentricity as a misperception arising from my dedication to my work. However, I am also aware that I have used this label as a sort of cultural capital when I had the feeling that it might work to my adva ntage. It might certainly provide a re a sonable rationale for a particular incident when I might breach certain sta n dards of conduct (well, hes an artist, he cant help being weird), or when I am in the compan y of others who share a belief that eccentricity and artistic legitimacy are somehow related On the other hand, when others are looking at me as perhaps less intelligent or self disciplined as a result of my artistic nature, I am quick to minimize any pos sibly eccentric mannerisms in order to assert that I am indeed a clear thinking, hard working ind ividual. After reviewing the interviews I conducted and my own personal experiences, I found that the ways dance majors reconciled perce ptions of e c centricit y fell into two general categories. First, there were those who a p proached eccentricity as a negative stereotype that did not apply any more to artists than to the population in general. When choosing this approach, the dancers were generally addressing it as a negative term, which others had used inappropriately to account for what the dancers saw as more positive attributes. Bianca, for e x ample,


61 cited her intense schedule and open mindedness as possible sources for the e c centric label. This tactic was t he common choice among those who expressed discomfort with eccentricity as a l a bel. The other approach was more common among dancers like Deborah and Gretchen, who were more comfortable with being d escribed as eccentric. For those who chose this tactic, eccentricity was used as an indicator of their dedication and passion for their art. For them, eccentricity was also not an e s sential trait, but it was used as evidence that they had chosen a path that was atypical, and that r equired more from them than ot her fields. Of course, the dancers were fully free to choose either approach, and as I realized that I do likely alternate between the two depending on the circumstances in which they find themselves. If a dancer feels that a perception of e ccentricity will produce a favorable image in the mind of her/his aud ience, then s/he can acknowledge and perhaps even emphasize those qualities which might encourage that perception. If the opposite situ ation seems to be true, then the dancer can frame eccentricity as a misperception of what would be considered more favorable attributes (particularly dedication and passion). Eccentricity thus becomes a nother tool to manage impressions (Goffman 1959) Whichever strategy the dancers employed, however, all of them chos e to frame perceptions of eccentricity in a way that allowed for i n-


62 dividual agency and emphasized passion and dedication If eccentricity was explained away as a misperception, for instance, then it was a mispe r ception of traits such as social isolation du e to schedule (a sign of dedication) or open mindedness. If eccentricity was more willingly embraced, it was ev i dence of such traits as passion and willingness to follow inspiration. Either way, it was the dancers individual choices, and not their esse n ti al natures, that others saw as eccentric. In a way, this mirrored the attitudes the dancers had developed about talent, which had evolved from purely natural abilities to a mixture of phys ical traits and personal effort as well as their approach to tech nique, which increasingly emphasized the dancers individualism In both cases, the dancers worked to present themselves as independently e xpre s sive and active participants in their own development, as opposed to divinely ordained e c centric geniuses.


63 Conclusions Since West and Fenstermaker describe the process of identity construction as an ongoing interactional accomplishment (1995, p.9), then those claiming identities as professionals in a particular field must do so in ways that continually and c onsistently reinforce those identities. In addition, those who claim a collective identity must e sta b lish symbolic boundaries which distinguish them from others who do not claim the same identity, and constantly negotiate those boundaries to maintain a com mon consciousness about what that pa rticular identity means (Taylor and Whittier 1992 ). There are many di fferent ways to do this, and in the case of the dance students at Un iversity, some are more complex than others. Whether it was through the developme nt of their talents, their pe r formances, or their interpretations of eccentricity, the dance majors I o b served and interviewed seemed to be working toward a common goal First, they were identifying themselves as distinctive and unique from non dancers as well as each other Unlike neophytes in fields such as medicine, law, and mortuary science, however, this uniqu eness was not based primarily on knowledge and skills. This makes the achiev e ment of a dancer identity a bit more problematic, as there is no


64 sta n dardized definition for what constitutes a good dancer. This might lend even more significance to the adoption of the unofficial dancers uniform, where recognizable dance attire is maintained even when the dancers leave the studio. The dancers also seemed to share the belief that being a dancer r e quired a significant level of passion. In fact, the word passion was mentioned specifically in every single interview I conducted, and can be found in more than one quote. While passion might seem at first t o be a difficult term to define as well, the dancers had ample evidence to assert that their passion was authentic. The most popular source of such evidence came from the descriptions of the intense schedule dancers were required to maintain, which can be described in terms that any layperson can understand. The dancers also utilized passion as a possible source of perceptions of eccentricity. Even more interes ting is that passion could be used whether the interpretation of ecce ntricity was positive or nega tive. The desire to be seen as unique is not difficult to understand in a field such as dance. As in all the arts, the importance of distinctive abilities and qualities is paramount. As Becker (1982) notes: Both participants in the creation of art works a nd members of society generally believe that the making of art requires special talents, gifts, or abilities, which few have. Some have more than others, and a very few are gifted enough to merit the honorific title of artist.We know who has these gifts by the


65 work they do because, these shared beliefs hold, the work of art expresses and embodies those special, rare powers. (p. 14) In other words, in order to earn the title of artist, one must be unique. The work that they produce, of course, should b e original and distinctive, but the work is also an extension and expression of the i ndividual. Recall Elizabeth, who stated in her discussion about her rel ationship with the mirror that, for dancers, people are seeing who you are when they see your wo rk. Particularly problematic for dancers, however, is the degree of naturalness about the qualities which might serve as evidence of their identity. Unlike seminary students (Kleinman 1984) and those in fields such as social work (Loseke and Cahill 1986) who felt obligated to d escribe their professional identities as part of their individual natures, dance majors are wary of attributing more than a small amount of their identities to natural and inherent qualities. Their abilities and behaviors were not gifts, but products of their own passion and effort. Even in their discussions about talent, where they were unable (or u nwilling) to disregard completely the role of g e netic factors, they were sure to imply how their efforts to develop their i n born potential were at least equally, if not more, important than their natural abilities. If typical beliefs about artists characterize them as uniquely gifted, though, why might the dancers embrace and exploit their uniqueness while denying their giftednes s? There might be more than


66 one explanation for this. The dancers might be expressing their belief in the classic American prefe r ence for hard work and dedication over sliding by on ones talent. Also, giftedness is a much more difficult distinction to draw than uniqueness, which makes the establishment and negotiation of symbolic boundaries between who is gifted and who is not much more elusive to define. Uniqueness, by contrast, can be relatively easy to establish through more tangible evidence such as wardrobe or schedule. While the s e ideas likely play role s in the emphasis of uniqueness and denial of giftedness and there are some themes in the inter views which seem to fit the s e explanation s I am disinclined to see this as sufficient to describe the extensive set of behaviors and beliefs that I observed within the dance d e partment. A more thorough explanation of the significance dancers give to ind i vidual effort and dedication might be found by considering the highly competitive nature of the danc e world outside University. If talent and artistic qualities are i ndeed pre ordained, then those who are destined for greatness would be relatively easy to recognize (an idea which could find support in the increasing presence of teenage profe s sionals) and those without such gifts would be doomed to mediocrity. On the other hand, if talent and artistic pe r sonality are achieved through passion and dedication, then at least theoretically artistic greatness is possible for anyone who


67 shows sufficient passi on and dedication Moreover, those who achieve a r tistic greatness are more justified in taking credit for it than those who simply possess it nat u rally. In a field such as dance, where there are far more people interested in working than there are jobs, there is considerably more hope for su c cess when that success can be achieved. Therefore, I would propose that in the case of the University dance department, a great dancer is not so much uniquely gifted as s/he is uniquely passionate This model seems a more accurate way to account for both the emphasis on individuality and the importance of agency in the development of the dancer identity. Others perceptions about eccentricity certainly fit better if they can be framed in terms of misunderstood signs of dedication and/or personal passion. Instructors also encourage the students to express their individuality and stand out from the crowd, particularly in ways that involve expressive choices about the material with which they are presented. Finally, t a lent becomes a process in which a dance student develops and e x ploits his/her strengths through effort and dedication. At this point, we arrive back at the notion of being distinct, or different. Just like any other occupational group, those who claim t o inhabit the social space reserved for dancers must distinguish the mselves from those who are not dancers. One could argue that the way


68 that dancers seem to do this is not unlike other occupations: a distin ctive manner of dress, and expertise in a set of skills that others do not have. The identity of dancer, however, becomes more complicated than that. Unlike those in other occupations, dancers (and likely all artists) must also distinguish themselves as unique within their particular s ocial world. Bourd ieu d e scribes the role of the artist in this way: The pure intention of the artist is that of a producer who aims to be autonomous, that is, entirely the master of his product, who tends to reject not only the programmes imposed a priori by scholars and scribes, but also following the old hierarchy of doing and saying the interpretations superimposed a po steriori on his work It also means a refusal to recognize any necessity other than that inscribed in the specific tradition of the artistic discipli ne in question (Bourdieu 1984, p. 3) In other words, the artist (in this case, the dancer) is expected to be individually distinct, bound only by the conventions which make her/his work recognizable as dance. Therefore, in order to be a good dancer, s/h e must be distinctive from other dancers, as well. This uncovers an aspect of artistic professions which might di stinguish them from other occupations that have been studied to date. The common occupational standard by which a good dancer is dete rmined is his/her distinctiveness from other dancers. This places the dancer in an interesting quandary; in order to claim a dancer identity, one must assume present a self that is truly unique, and consequently unidentifiable. This is not to say that there are no common boundaries


69 between dancers in general and non dancers, but there is an add itional layer of distinctiveness required in order to be evaluated favor ably by ones peers. Moreover, this additional layer is by its very nature indefinable. This places dancers in a rather precarious place with r egard to maintaining their identity. They must be unique from other dancers, but not so unique that they are no longer recognizable as dancers. Perhaps this is the most difficult dance of all.


70 Notes 1 The ex act number of students in the dance department is imposs ible to determine, as students are not considered fully matriculated dance majors until they reach a particular technique level (usually by the junior year). Therefore, there are a number of students who cla ssify themselves as dance majors who are not officially considered so by the department. The department office manager estimated the e nrollment of the department to be between 70 80 students during the semester I conducted my research. 2 All names used are pseudonyms.


71 References Becker, Howard S. 1982. Art Worlds. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of Cal i fornia Press, Ltd. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: a Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University P ress. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1998. Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor. 2004. Dancers and Choreographers. Occupational Outlook Han d book, 2004 2005 Edition. Av ailable online at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos094.htm Cahill, Spencer. 1999. Emotional Capital and Professional Socializ ation: The Case of Mortuary Science Students (and Me). Social Psychology Quarterl y v62: P p.101 116 Cahill, Spencer. 1999. The Boundaries of Professionalization: The Case of North American Funeral Direction. Symbolic Interaction. V22(2) : P p. 105 119 Cooley, Charles Horton. 1902. Human Nature and the Social O r der. New York, NY: Scrib ners Eldridge, Richard. 2003. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Art Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Ga rden City, NY: Doubleday. Granfield, Robert. 1992. Making Elite Lawyer s. New York, NY: Routledge. Haas, Jack and Shaffir, William. 1987. Becoming Doctors. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.


72 Heywood, Ian. 1997. Social Theories of Art New York, NY: New York University Press Hochschild, Arlie Russell. 2003. The Commercialization of Intimate Life. Berkeley: Unive r sity of California Press Kleinman, Sherryl. 1984. Equals Before God. Chicago. University of Chicago Press. Lee, Carol. 1983. An Introduction to Classical Ballet. Hillsdale, NJ: L Erlbaum Assoc i ates Lortie, Dan. 1968. Shar ed Ordeal and Induction to Work. Pp. 252 265 in Institutions and the Person. H. Becker, B. Geer, D. Rie sman and R. Weiss, ed s Chicago: Aldine. Loseke, Donileen and Cahill, Spencer. 1986. Actors in Search of a Character. Symbolic Interaction. v9 : P p. 2 45 258. Murray, Susan. 2000. Getting Paid in Smiles: The Gendering of Child Care Work. Symbolic Interaction v23: Pp. 135 160 Smith, Allen and Kleinman, Sherryl. 1989. Managing Emotions in Medical School. Social Psychology Quarterly v52: Pp. 56 69 Ta ylor, Verta and Whittier, Nancy. 1992. Collective Identity in Social Movement Communities: Lesbian Feminist Mobilization. Pp. 104 129 in Frontiers in Social Movement Theory. A. Morris and C. Mueller, eds. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Weber, Max .1946. in From Max Weber. H. Gerth and C.Wright Mills, ed s New York, NY: O x ford University Press West, Candace and Fenstermaker, Sarah. 1995. Doing Difference. Gender & Society. V9(1): Pp. 8 37. Zolberg, Vera. 1990. Constructing a Sociology of the Ar ts New York, NY: Cambridge University Press


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