Who Are We?
The following article originally appeared in theDancers Over 40 Newsletter
Many of our careers span over fifty years of dance, but we have been around since the first Greek tragedy. You have probably seen us many times on stage and never noticed us, but we are sure that we have performed for thousands of people. We could have been on stage more than the stars of the shows we were in. Some of us have been in at least 17 or more Broadway musicals, and ballet companies to boot.
Many dancers started their ballet lessons around eight years old, taking one class a week. By the age of ten they may have been taking three classes, and at twelve, if they were serious, they took ballet and tap five times a week.
After a number of recitals many decided the stage was where they wanted to be. Some managed to graduate high school early and headed to New York City, and began taking classes in all the disciplines. After many auditions, if we were lucky, we got our first job but continued our studies. The competition was fierce and we had to stay one step ahead of the others. Many have not made back the investment of time and money spent on getting on stage.
Not yet 50, finding work was difficult, and yet we could still dance better than most. Yes, we all felt the pain and it was harder to do the routines, but the audience didn't see it. Dancers know that their professional lives will be short, but it is still hard to say good-bye to the stage.
A ballet company or Broadway musical couldn't exist without us. Although other performers respected our devotion and skill, many members of the management felt we were an added expense.
In the late thirties, forties and fifties, dancers were paid $25 and then later $65 a week. Dancers didn't get a per diem, pension, health insurance or unemployment insurance. In the ballet companies one had to buy their own makeup, tights, dance belt and sometimes shoes. On the road the hotel rent had to be paid by the individual dancer, and the room was shared by many others. This act of sharing created the term known to gypsies as "Ghosting." Also the rent had to be paid back in New York City. Because of the unions things are much better now.
With every new show we became members of a large family. Sometimes it was a dysfunctional family, but fortunately that was the exception rather than the rule. We remain true friends with many of these family members over the years, and the bond we have is our love of the stage.
Chances are you have never seen us as an individual, only as a part of a large ensemble. Yet we go on year after year happy to be working. Of course we all wanted to be stars, but none of us would change any part of our lives for any amount of money. Who are we? We are the girls and boys of the chorus. Yet nobody knows our name.