For that little boy or girl who grew up admiring dancers, artists, musicians, authors, and more, pursuing a career in the arts is a dream come true for them. They saw something they were passionate about and chose to pursue it even if they were not considered to be “secure” jobs. This brings up an important topic of discussion for parents. When it comes to their children, parents want what’s best and for them to be able to pursue a career that has job security, a comfortable wage, and good benefits. Most parents won’t admit it, but the level to which their children enjoy their job isn’t always at the forefront of their minds. So, when their children approach them about pursuing a career in the arts, the conversation typically goes south, and all of the questions and concerns brought forward may discourage children from doing what they truly long to do. The questions and concerns aren’t necessarily wrong, but there is a wiser way of handling this conversation that is both encouraging and helpful in helping your children pursue their career in the arts.
When it comes to a career in the arts, there are many misconceptions surrounding life and the ability to make it in this field. Doug Gay, founder of Br+Music Studios and a musician himself, shares, “the biggest misconception I can think of when thinking about what my young students say to me is that you have to be famous to make a decent living. Another one is that you have to have vast financial resources to ‘make it’ in the biz.” For Gay, it was his own personal experiences that showed that these misconceptions weren’t true. Instead of fearing the uncertainties, Gay worked hard to diversify his skill set and hustled in order to make himself stand out. When it comes to his career, Gay states, “say yes to every situation within your moral compass and comfort zone until you can afford to say no. Hustling is my way of life, as it is in most of my friends’ lives who are successful in the arts.”
Emilia Perkins, a newly minted professional dancer, shares some of the misconceptions that she has seen having recently entering into a career in dance. Perkin’s comments on common misconceptions stem from the ideas surrounding a dancer’s health, diet, and body. Perkins shares, “the narrative has really changed for dancers and their diet. The emphasis is now on sustainability and longevity of the dancer’s career, so that requires that the dancer fuel their bodies in a very healthy and balanced way. Most dancers realize that with a healthy body, they will have more energy for their day and experience fewer injuries. Eating disorders in dance do sometimes still exist, but, thankfully, most companies encourage a healthy dancer rather than a very thin one.”
THE HARD TRUTH
Despite the number of misconceptions that exist, the hard reality is that a lot of the things that people have about pursuing a career in the arts are genuinely real concerns. It is difficult and unpredictable at times. There are other jobs that do provide much greater financial security, and there is a degree of luck that is involved. Perkins talked about how dancers did not make a lot of money and that the job availability is smaller due to the nature of the career and the competitiveness.
These truths understandably bring about a ton of concerns to parents. No one wants their children to walk into a burning building, and that is how many parents look at a career in the arts. They see the uncertainty of these careers and instead push for their children to pursue a more stable way of life. In reality, there is no perfect career path that will provide you with 100% certainty for the rest of your life. So, when your child approaches you about pursuing a career in the arts, don’t respond as if they just told you they plan on opening up a University of Alabama gift shop in the heart of Louisiana.
DISCUSSING THE ARTS
Instead of trying to discourage your children from pursuing a career in the arts, sit down and have a proper and encouraging conversation about it because a lot of these concerns I’ve discussed aren’t dealbreakers. They are stumbling blocks, of course, but life is filled with those. Instead of trying to persuade them to pursue other careers, talk about these hard truths and encourage your children to find innovative ways to overcome them.
For example, dancers may not make a lot of money, but Perkins shares, “you can, in fact, support yourself if you are careful with your budget. Dancers often find other sources of income to support themselves, like teaching or small side hustles like making jewelry or leotards. Most dancers will tell you that those small sacrifices are worth it since their job is actually something that they absolutely love doing anyway, so much so that it barely feels like a sacrifice.”
There is also the concern about how few jobs there are and how competitive it is. In reality, there is going to be competition wherever you choose to go whether it be in the medical field or any other field of work. You shouldn’t be teaching your children to stray away from it; instead, you should be preparing your children for it by encouraging them and pushing them to be better at whatever they choose to pursue. When they make that decision to pursue dance, Perkins says, “support their decisions but educate yourself as well in the dance world so that you can also be helpful in making choices with them down the road. Encourage your dancer to try lots of new styles of dance and to venture out from their hometown dance community.”
You don’t need to fill their head with rainbows and sunshine, though. Some may very well just enjoy doing it just as a hobby or after school activity. Jenny Ballard, a managing artistic director at Theater Baton Rouge, commented, “theatre teaches life skills, such as problem solving, decision making, self-confidence, public speaking, and teamwork. Even if you don’t plan to pursue a career in theatre, the work involved is the basis for so many different jobs.”
For those who do want to make it a career, Gay shares, “don’t discourage them by filling their head with thoughts that the life of an artist is volatile and scary. As a parent of a person who wants to pursue the arts, teach them (or seek out a teacher in their profession of interest to teach them) the benefits of discipline and hard work as well as how to avoid the pitfalls.”