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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"What's Your Day Job?"

We should be so lucky.
(Courtesy of

This question was posed to a friend of mine, a professional dancer and dance/fitness teacher, right before she was due to make a dance performance. It was an innocent question from one of the production staff people in charge of getting information from the performers.

It puzzled her because she was doing what she loved doing, it just so happened to also put food on the table.

Pressed for a reason why a professional dancer would need a "day job", the staff person replied, "I have to introduce you as _________ (fill in "accepted" occupations like doctor, chef, etc.) and that dancing is just a hobby."

The infantile in me would have easily blurted back, "Jealous much?"

It brought one thing to focus: there is a notion (I don't think it is limited to the Philippines) that you can have something you're passionate about, and you can have work that pays the bills, but you can't have both.

People who write, dance, take photographs, anyone who is in the arts, feel this viewpoint more acutely. There seems to be a belief that once you mention that you are an artist, it must be qualified by the word "starving". Or more accurately, the qualifier isn't needed, it is implied and understood. Hence, the question asked of my friend.

The underlying message being, you don't expect me to believe that you actually make a living doing that?!?

It also explains the following scenarios:

People expecting you to take their pictures because you have a camera in tow all the time as a photographer. Gratis.

People expecting you to "show us a dance or two". For fun.

People telling you to teach a movement based class. For an hour. For free.

People making pakiusap (asking a favor) to do their graphic design needs, anyway "it's very simple only."

All the while, everyone else is making a profit out of your art, the one they insist on pooh-pooing. The one that parents like to remind their kids of as "useless" and something that "will be a dead-end." The one that is seen as a "lowly" job, one that credit card companies would perennially raise their eyebrows on.

I am reminded of one of those posters in Facebook that reads: Do something that you love, and you'll never work for a day in your life.

You see, the one thing artists have is passion. What artists do tends to be personal, because a part of them is invariably stamped on their "work". Whether it is a composition, a recital, a mural, a feature article. It isn't a job where you can "copy and paste" from somebody else - well, you can, but they're called plagiarists, and something very much frowned upon in a field that prides itself as having practitioners who can claim the word unique in everything they do.

And, I would wager, artists have a work ethic that can be described as intense. Rethinking a sentence over and over to properly convey a thought, doing a pirouette so many times the dancer's toes start to bleed but having to do it to give a perfect performance, I personally know of so many artists who are almost obsessively perfectionist in the way they approach what they do. It runs counter to some of the portrayals in media of artists who are shiftless bums with no aim in life.

I wish we had a better appreciation of the arts and how it speaks to our inner lives. Until such a time comes to pass, this view that the arts are something to "pass the time away" while slaving at your "day job" will prevail. The changing of the current viewpoint should be started by parents and schools, who should nurture talent when it manifests. Children shouldn't be given negative messages like "your talent is worth nothing", unless one was a sadist. They should be encouraged.

And I wish to differentiate it from the current obsession of young people to become artistas (celebrities). Yes, they dance, sing, act, but the companies that mold and train them do so in the view that these people are products, and are doing the "training" in order to sell records, movie tickets, etc. The prevalence of reality shows that are supposed to showcase budding actors and singers worries me, as most of the time, the "winners" are determined by text-voting, a clear cut indication that their "appeal" is more important than the actual talent they supposedly bring to the table. The siren song of fame proves to be irresistible, judging by the number of young people who line up to be part of these shows.

Back to my friend who was asked the title of this post. She declared that dancing was her day job, much to the wonder of the person soliciting the information from her.

If only everyone was so fortunate to be doing what they love best for a living.


  1. Beautifully written post! You truly depicted the reality we have in our country today, a sad mentality. I'm one with you in your hopes that someday this society will learn to view people who are doing what they love with passion.

    1. Thank you, Rojae. It will take time, to change the prevailing view of art as something on the side. No wonder we pay so little to artists because that is how we value their work. This needs to change.

  2. Hi. I stumbled onto this post because of a friend's blog and this almost drove me to tears. :) I'd like to think I'm doing what I love for a living and this totally reached out to me. Especially the favors. There is a special place in hell reserved for people who say "Madali lang naman yan diba?" when asking for a favor.

    I write for video games not in that review sort of way, but in the stuff that actually goes in the game sort of way. I'm really happy to be doing what I love for a living, (writing AND making video games) and when I tell people what I actually do, they're like, "No really, what do you DO for a living?"

    Or worse, they'll give me a sad smile like they pity me.

    1. Hi, Nikki, thanks for your comment. I felt your passion for what you do and how some people view it, as if it was trivial. There are many of us, I'm finding out, who choose the path that our parents or "society" wouldn't approve as proper, and I for one am glad. It's time that we assert our individuality and not so much (from a cultural standpoint) bow down to what others think we should be doing.

      It's up to each of us to claim pride in what we do. The happiness we get from it is the biggest bonus :)

  3. I was asked the same thing by a student when I was teaching college (and was a freelancer). And I said, "Well. I'm a mermaid."

  4. I learned a lot of lessons here. Great perseverance.