The Real Story: “Discover Your Dance Career” by Catherine L. Tully, Lauren Warnecke and Nichelle Suzanne
But beyond that, Discover Your Dance Career manages to offer that same multi-dimensional ride that great choreography does.
One of the most magical things about the arts is the way that a single work can weave together so many different kinds of engagement, so many different levels of thought. Concert dance is especially rich in this kind of simultaneous, multi-dimensional expression — the same work can be stunning in its visual dimesion, inspiring in its performance, and thought-provoking in its implications. That’s true of other kinds of artistic expression too; a musical composition can have a different richness on different listenings, a great theatrical work can be seen many times and still seem somehow new. It can certainly be true of literature, although it’s less often possible to be so multi-layered in non-fiction.
But there are exceptions. A good example of that is a new book called Discover Your Dance Career. The dust-cover description describes the book as “Insider insight from professionals working on stage, behind the scenes, in the classroom and beyond”, and the book provides an impressively thorough tour through the world of professional dance. The table of contents alone makes for a memorable fly-over, with just short of thirty different jobs that people do in the world of dance. Each section begins with a clear and reliable description of what that job is about, and then features interviews with professionals from that field, who then share their own insights and perspectives on what they do, what they like about it, and how they got there. Sounds like an instructional book, and it is. Sounds like a reference book, and it is. Sounds like some very good dance writing, and it is.
But beyond that, Discover Your Dance Career manages to offer that same multi-dimensional ride that great choreography does. As a resource for students and young professionals, it’s full of instruction. For mid-career dancers or anyone else looking to transition into something new, it’s full of ideas. For anyone in the dance community, it’s a thoroughly informative look into all of the rest of the community. But because it’s all of those things at once, moving through its pages —from one role to the next, from one set of personal experiences to another — somehow has a feeling that’s more like adventure than instruction. That may be because concert dance itself is such an adventure. But it’s also because the three gifted (and very experienced) dance writers who put it together managed to get such relentlessly engaging perspectives from such a rich array of people.
Catherine L. Tully, Nichelle Suzanne, and Lauren Warnecke each have their own very rich histories in a variety of roles in professional dance. In Discover Your Dance Career, they convey their own unabashed and unabated enthusiasm for the whole wide world of professional dance. In their introduction, they describe the book as a ‘career resource’, and it’s certainly invaluable as that; you can probably get the equivalent of a couple of decades of professional experience just by paying attention to the experiences shared in the book. But as valuable as that is, the book is more than that, and it’s best described by its own title, Discover Your Dance Career.
The reason it’s engaging on so many levels is probably because Tully, Suzanne and Warnecke have never stopped discovering their own dance careers, and they wrote a book to show everybody else how to keep doing exactly that.
So how do you do exactly that? Mostly it’s a matter of learning the steps, and steps are something everybody in dance knows about already. Steps are what dance is made out of. So is discovery. So is accomplishment. And one of the hidden resources in Discover Your Dance Career is the effortless presentation by so many sharing professionals of what steps got them from where they were to where they are.
The one thing that all dance professionals have in common is that we love dance, and work together to make sure it can happen. Many, many different and convoluted paths emerge from those simple truths.
We asked Lauren Warnecke to share with us a little more about what went into making Discover Your Dance Career. Here’s what she told us.
Johnny Nevin: For anyone involved in concert dance, or even just interested in dance, Discover Your Dance Career isn’t just a great resource, it’s also a very bright set of insights into the world of dance. Just looking at the table of contents is kind of a rush, because even those of us who are involved in dance rarely get such a comprehensive overview of how rich, and how diverse, the professional dance world is. This very important aspect of the dance community is rarely documented, so it would be interesting to hear your own perspective on this community that you know so well. Why do you think that there is such a broad range of interesting and mutually supportive people in the dance world?
Lauren Warnecke: My favorite quote in the entire book came from Joshua Preston at Ballet Hispanico. He was the Production Manager when we interviewed him, and has since become the General Manager: “The arts are a bit like the clergy,” he said. “If you can do anything else, you should. With that in mind, just be good. Since this is all we can do, we might as well be good to each other while we do it.”
The one thing that all dance professionals have in common is that we love dance, and work together to make sure it can happen. Many, many different and convoluted paths emerge from those simple truths. If you learn anything from reading the book, we hope it’s that there’s no one right way to have a dance career, and that the story you write for yourself isn’t always how it turns out. Case in point: By the time we finished compiling interviews and writing the introduction, several of the people we interviewed had already moved on to other positions, or even shifted careers. If we stopped to update an interview each time someone changed paths, we would never have published the book. But each one is a snapshot of a person’s life and job at the time, and we think that is still valuable to read about.
I’m certainly exhibit A of my answer to the previous question. I’ve dabbled in nearly every field explored in this book …
Johnny: Your own experience in professional dance is much wider than many people realize; you’ve worked in many of the areas that are covered in Discover Your Dance Career, and the same is certainly true of your co-authors, Catherine Tully and Nichelle Suzanne. How did you and Catherine and Nichelle get to know each other, and how did you come together to create this valuable book? It would be especially interesting to hear more about how the three of you structured the work — how you found such an effective way to organize this much information in such an engaging way?
Lauren: I’m certainly exhibit A of my answer to the previous question. I’ve dabbled in nearly every field explored in this book, and if someone had told me when I was 20 that I’d be a dance writer, I wouldn’t have believed it. I met Nichelle shortly after finishing grad school, while looking for places to write about dance online. I discovered her site, Dance Advantage, and shortly after that learned about Catherine’s site, 4dancers, and contributed to both for several years. Nichelle and Catherine pioneered dance blogging. Very few people were doing it, and this was before social media became the primary vehicle for distributing online content. I invited them, along with Tiffany Kadani, Maria Hanley and Zachary Whittenburg, to join me on a panel about dance blogging at the Dance/USA conference in San Fransisco in 2012. The first time we met in person was the day before the panel, and we’ve been friends ever since.
As the digital landscape shifted, it became clear that blogging has a really limited capacity for generating income in a now very crowded space. Catherine is the business mastermind of the bunch. It was her idea to repurpose some of the content we’d produced, that was now deep in the archives of our sites, into e-books. The idea for Discover Your Dance Career also came from Catherine, and just happened to align with a personal shift I made out of full-time academia and into freelancing. So, the timing couldn’t have been better for me to dive into a big project, the largest in scale I think any of us has ever attempted. It took more than three years to bring everything together. Nichelle is our branding expert, so she took the lead on the book’s layout and the online storefront, and is a genius at making everything look beautiful. We’re over the moon with the result, and all of us are extremely grateful to the more than 60 professionals who generously shared a piece of their lives with us.
Discover Your Dance Career is available online from Dance Advantage.
PHOTOS (from top): Excerpts from Discover Your Dance Career and photo of Nichelle Suzanne, Catherine Tully and Lauren Warnecke courtesy of Nichelle Suzanne, Catherine Tully and Lauren Warnecke