First off, I would like to say that I think the term “rockstar” in this scene is ridiculous and comical.  To my knowledge, I don’t know any instructor who actually thinks of themselves in that manner (as confident as some of them/us seem).  I believe in respecting and admiring talent and great work, but “rockstar” has negative connotations that I prefer to avoid.
Secondly, I want it to be known that I love my job.  There is nothing else that I’d rather do.  The fact that I get to make a living from something I am so passionate about is amazing.  There are few in this world that actually love what they do for a living.  To be able to combine my passion, job, social circles, and hobby all in one package is a gem so precious I can’t even begin to describe it.  Take this into consideration when reading the rest of this article.  I am not complaining.  I am revealing the realities behind the facade.
There are several aspiring dancers out there who wish to become full time, or even part time, instructors.  This article is to help understand what it takes to be in this business.  This information is not only from my experience, but from talking to many of the other instructors.  It can also be informative if you are a promoter.  It is not meant to discourage, but merely educate.

Money: If you like the prospect of making a lot of money, or enjoying fine luxuries in life, this is not the job for you.  Those who do this for a living are able to continue because they love it.  The Lindy Hop and Balboa instructors are the most underpaid partner dance professionals that I know of.  Being a dance professional is a business, but the social construction of this scene makes it difficult to do so.  Keep in mind that we are self-employed and that any health insurance, dental, taxes, etc. are all on our own dime.  Also, if we don’t work, we don’t get paid.  There is no salary, vacation time or sick leave.  We must constantly work and travel to make a living.

Traveling: In the beginning, traveling is exciting.  To go around the world and teach in different states, countries, continents is thrilling.  I still love being in different cities and seeing the world.  Sometimes I’m still in awe that I’m halfway around the globe.  However, traveling takes a toll.  Much of my life is spent on airplanes and in airports.  Much of the sleep I get is in cramped, upright airplane seats (which, by the way, is terrible sleep and most of the time I wake up with sore muscles and a feeling of being hungover without the alcohol).  Traveling certainly takes a toll on your body, and considering this is a business that requires physical demands, it makes body maintenance a constant issue.

Airline Miles:
Some promoters think that we choose particular airlines to earn miles.  I rarely use my miles.  I choose my airline so that when there is a problem, I’m the first one taken care of.  You have no idea how often I’ve gotten out of a jam because of airline status.  Cancellations, delays, bad weather, mechanical problems, strikes in France…you name it.  Also shorter lines at airports and more legroom save on time and body stress.  Remember sleep?  I don’t  (haha…sigh).  Jet lag, long hours during events, travel days, all make sleep a rarity.  Half the time my body doesn’t know what time zone it’s in.  Some of us have to resort to sleeping pills or nighttime drowsy medication to help us adjust or at least have a fighting chance to get some sleep before classes.  Rarely do we get to stay in nice hotel beds.  Sometimes the bedding is barely recognizable as such.

Promoters: There are some amazing promoters out there.  All the instructors talk and know which ones they are.  We love working for them.  They feed us well, give us great sleeping arrangements, don’t complain about our requirements, and take great care in understanding the demands that we face.  Many promoters don’t fully grasp this.  Our job is seen as a luxury, or that their event is a special exception, or that we owe them for hiring us.  They see the cost of running their event, but don’t take into consideration that we are running a business as well.  We are paid for a service (teaching classes and/or performing).  It’s a mutual trade.  If we are pleased with the conditions, it will be easier to make the students happy, which in turn will create a better event overall.  Instead, we spend most of time time fighting for our basic requirements (hourly rates, lodging, travel, etc.).

Events: Teaching is a rewarding experience, but it is exhausting.  After a day of teaching, sleep or downtime is a necessity.  This doesn’t often happen.  Most of the time we are running from class to class, then to dinner, then to the dance.  Once we get back to our lodging we usually only have a few hours to sleep before getting up for the next day of classes.  Often times we are stuck at a dance or classes until the promoter can give us a ride back, which means even longer hours than the students.  It also means getting to classes extra early.  When you are at an event, you are on the clock whole time, 24 hours a day (but only get paid for classes).  By the end of a weekend, most of us are exhausted.  There are also unpaid demands that most promoters expect of you.  Judging contests, level tests, social demos, social dancing for hours each night.  Sometimes you get compensated for these, but not often enough.  It’s a very different experience to be hired for an event than to merely attend the event.  You’re in the spotlight and constantly on the job.  The food is rarely up to par.  It’s very difficult to eat balanced meals while on the road.  Promoters often settle on what is quick and easy.

Life and Home: Being home is a luxury.  To curl up in my own bed, in my own room, is an experience that I do not take for granted.  Most of the time I’m home is to do laundry, repack, catch up on business e-mails, rehearse and get ready for the next event.  It’s not as relaxing as I’d like, but there is something about it that helps me regroup.  Some instructors teach local classes which is even more tiring in between events.  Traveling a majority of the time brings up even bigger challenges…a balanced life.  Girlfriends/boyfriends, friends at home, time for yourself, family are all dynamics that are extremely difficult to maintain in this business.  As much as a loved one can understand what you do and why you do it, it is still trying on the relationship.  Want a family?  How feasible is it when you’re on the road so much?  Not to mention that our traveling schedules are always changing so it makes anything regular at home virtually impossible.

Gossip: Like I said, when you are an instructor, you are in the spotlight.  This means that your private life is never private.  It’s often used as public fodder that gets talked about thru the scene.  I’ve been called many things, both to my face and behind my back.  If you are overly concerned with whether people like you or not, you are bound to let it consume you and destroy you.  Someone is going to dislike you.  People are going to talk about your social life as if it is theirs to decide and they know better.  There are those out there who wish to tear you down.  Some will attack your dancing, some will attack your character and some will attack your love life.  Sad, but true.  It comes with the territory.  Often times it can be false information, or uninformed gossipers, and there is no way to correct it.  Self confidence and the ability to brush off the gossip that gets back to you is the key to survival.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of “So You Want To Be A Traveling Lindy Hop Rockstar?”.