Letter to my younger self and fellow young ones starting off the dance/artists career.
Dear young ones.
I can see you are very hungry and passionate young lads full of energy and hope. The career you have chosen is one of the riskiest and hardest ones no specific success format. It does come with a lot of challenges because you will be convinced that all you need is talent and passion and you will be successful.
You seem to be very stubborn and you don’t like reading because it’s boring and it’s wordy. I get it and I feel your pain so, STOP here, please. Don’t read more. Go do something fun like watching a funny video clip, watch people run a marathon blindfolded, watch YouTube music clips or tittle-tattle call it gossip in groupies.
If you have insisted on reading, be ready to hear what you don’t want to hear or what others might not tell you.
Starting with the most important tool, which is the body, it requires the most attention. You are unlucky that you are born in a place with almost zero free pro-dance studios/spaces. You will dance on concrete, car trucks, woollen carpets, bars with broken glasses, stages full of wires and nails, stony soil, uneven grass this will take you somewhat far because all you want is make an impact on community, money and exposure but it will come with a cost! Real injuries (knees, broken ankles, hands, limbs etc.) Oh, you think you will have life insurance, good luck that’s a myth you will not afford it.
You will eat really bad food, like chapati and beans (kikomando) for days and days, with unboiled water, not a variety of vegetables in your diet, and when you fall sick because you are broke, you will not afford medical bills, it will be a struggle pulling finances from all ends. If you have been good to people, some will come in to help otherwise you will struggle in the hospital and your family will abandon you because they also don’t have.
Oh, and by the time you discern, rent will be due and you will become liverish. Did I mention whatever family you have will be expecting financial support from you? Oh yes, you will always avoid them. You will enter a restaurant and you will only be able to afford just a meal without a drink and you will sidestep some types of restaurants.
Are you still following? Looking for gigs, You will be turned down at dance auditions, you will even think you are such a terrible dancer forgetting that auditions have specific formats and individuals that might not understand your style or might be looking for something different.
Maybe you don’t need that audition. You have to take as many as possible to learn and increase your opportunities. If you are a bad dancer you will be lucky to have friends that will tell you the truth so that you can become better.
You will have a small network of friends who are mostly dancers, and yet dancers are not the ones going to pay you for the shows, you will be too comfortable spending time with them and not take any efforts to make real friends outside of the dance community especially folks in different careers, marketing agencies that can actually pay you or present gigs. Some shallow minded network of dancers will discourage you to find real mentors and role models outside their community.
I see, you will think dance is only an art and you will forget that dance is a business as well; You will become a solo dancer, be part of crew/group/collective or start one but you will not pay taxes, you will not be registered, not have a personal TIN number.
Not market your entity or lobby for funds. Your logic will tell you that if you are talented and you do a good job people will look for you. You will not have a simple business model canvas. What does this even mean? So you will be waiting for some saint to call you for a show or the dance leader to find you a gig, this is the real suicide that will lead to your silent financial death, not the dance move called suicide.
Are you sure you want to hear the next stage? Okay, let’s talk about the styles of dance you are doing before it gets ugly.
This scene is constantly changing and the more you spend time being in someone’s shadow the more you will struggle to discover your real style; you will work with a few different choreographers, teachers once you learn some dance steps and movements you will go do a few music videos, a few gigs and fade completely.
The once praised dancers will flatline if you don’t constantly keep your dance skills in check. You probably think you are a good dancer/artist and you think that’s enough, your social media “friends “comment on all your posts and praise you for being the best. But you forget that the best and most successful dancers are not the most talented dancers and probably not the loudest on social media.
oh! And the fun part begins, if you have managed to hang on with the reading, the next part will be so easy to take in.
Because of art/dancing, you might be in shape and you will attract a lot of young girls/boys oh my! This
will be such a journey, you will also chase over them tall short, dark, cream, black, white, pink and yellow. This will be your downfall. You will have unprotected sex and end up with quite a number of children struggling to sustain them. You will spend all your little pennies on women, alcohol and drugs. Move from bar to bar becoming known for that howlers life.
You will find someone who will want to love you and build you but you will not even notice this and throw him or her away. Oh did I mention HIV, hepatitis B, Herpes, syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases are real? Remember you cannot rely on silence to tell that folks are dead sick. Protection will have to be key.
You will be a part of community/crew etc. The sense of belonging will be right and you will forget that your heads/leaders are focused on building their personal CV, careers and searching for survival. People will pose both phoney and pukka to help build you, fight for you and your rights. In the beginning, all will be good, fake praises and flattery will avail when you are needed. As the vagaries of people appear you have to be very careful.
Because when you start to discover your self and outgrow the tribe, by questioning tradition and starting to take total ownership of what happens to your life without anybody thinking for you. The tribe will disown you, backstab you and you will get extremely disappointed but this is normal in this art community just be ready to smile when it happens. Pick up your rags and remember that it is not how many times you are knocked down that counts, its how many times that you get back up.
If you were a woman I would tell you to be extremely vigilant of the older dancers and men who will befriend you just to use you. Place you in a tribe, not because of your skills but just to fill in the gap of female representation since audiences would love to see some female flesh dancing. You will meet promoters that will promise you performance spots just to get to your pants, your family will be against you, that that’s not a real job for women.
When you mention you are a dancer people will think you are just a bar stripper and you sleep with all the musicians in the music videos you dance in. Fewer opportunities will avail to you because you will be considered weak and not sexy any more as you age. But since I am not talking about gender let me go back to the flow.
You will spend so much time trying to please everyone and doing a lot of free work because it’s human to help. You will forget your worth since it will be turned the other way, comments like its exposure for you! Because of us, that’s why you’re doing better!
We have seen you as a kid! Completely forgetting what your efforts have built. You will arrive at a stage where you are not sure who your real friends are and where your strength is. With this, same spirit, you will listen to haters and take their words serious forgetting that their overall aim is to have you give up on your dreams and if you can’t handle being talked about you are not ready for success.
Performing on stage alone will not sustain you financially, in fact, the earlier you realize this the better off you will be, you have to learn other skills most dancers teach and facilitate dance classes that’s how they earn a living but still not enough.
You will not want to develop other skills by thinking dance is the only way out. Stop and focus on learning something else that can back up your dance this is a crucial part, my young fellows. Well, let me stop here, for now, to give you some time to reflect and come back to you in part two with some ideas to bypass this.
Abdul ‘abdanger’ Kinyenya