Insight Into A Dancer’s Life
By Jamie Cohen
Emotional strain, multiple injuries, career threatening decisions and life altering situations, these are only a few of the unstated side-effects of living the life of a dancer. Many people say a career in the arts is a path of life that is chosen for you by a higher being. It is a wonderful craft in which not everyone can excel. But if you ever get the opportunity to watch a dancer perform, you would never know about those side-effects, because there is nothing more beautiful than watching a this craft onstage.
Kelly Lafarga, a senior at Marymount Manhattan College in New York City, agrees that dancing is something “You just do.” Lafarga grew up in Miami, Florida and started dancing at the age 3, and continues to do it successfully today. However, life for her isn’t the beautiful picture that many see.
“A lot of the time when people think about dancers, they believe that’s so cute to get in little costumes and tap across the floor. People don’t understand that dancing is a serious sport that pays your bills just like every other job. But when you’re a dancer your career is over by the time you’re 35,” Lafarga says.
It’s a pessimistic stance that Lafarga expressed, but when listening to her reasons why, you realize that dance for her is a love story, the kind of love unimaginable, and a forbidden love.
“I went through my phases of trying different career paths, but when it came down to it, the way I live and breathe is through dance, not science or singing, but dance. When I would come home from a long day, I would always choreograph my stuff, even if it was 3 am,” Lafarga said. “I always have to dance. And I think the reason why I wanted to try other stuff was because I know that to be a professional dancer, there isn’t longevity or security in that profession but it’s something I can’t refuse.”
It breaks your heart listening to her talk about dance and the limited amount of years she has cast upon it, when asked why the 35 year old retirement plan, you can see the worry in her eyes as she tells the saddest part of her story.
“I’ve already messed up my ankles in high school, my shoulder and recently I hurt my spinal cord. All of that means, taking time off from working, which means less exposure, missing out on choreographing and of course…losing a paycheck. If you don’t take time off to heal, you’ll hurt yourself even worse and then have to take more time off. If you do take time out, you’re missing out on learning newer techniques and jobs,” Lafarga said. “In this line of work, knowing the latest dance moves or techniques is exactly what gets you more jobs. In this industry if you don’t know your stuff, you’re yesterday’s news. It’s a catch 22.”
Lafarga tries not to think about the future too much, that’s what she’s in school for, a safety net to catch her at her 35-year mark. But for her, retirement from professional dancing is a worst-case scenario. The more comfortable Lafarga feels, the more optimistic she becomes about her future.
“There are many people who do retire at a really young age, and that’s the limit you need to live by, with the logic of knowing how things could turn out,” she says. “If my life goes to plan, I won’t be retiring for a long time. I want to choreograph. I want to bring dancing to another level. If you have the drive and motivation to push the level of art that you’re at then you need to push forward. I have that motivation. I have the drive to change the world when it comes to dance, how many people could say that? So 35 isn’t so much a retirement marker as a larger reason to push myself to do great.”
Lafarga lives by her word. She goes to physical therapy three times a week for her spinal cord, and she does yoga for her other injuries. She’s found that with a lot of rest, and as little stress as possible, her dancing career is expanding, and when you hear about her life, you can tell it’s about to explode.
“I just finished dancing in a movie a weeks ago, then a week before that another movie,” she says. “Besides that, I’m in my theatre company, Rhapsody the Company. And besides that I’m a backup dancer for Eve.”
Eve is a huge star in the hip-hop industry, a sure sign that Lafarga’s talent matches her loving personality. So, while Lafarga is realistic in her future, she still marches on towards bigger things, and right into the spotlight.