Texas Tech University

Book Club: Exploring Career Paths in Dance

Rachel Phillips

September 2, 2020

Ali Duffy and her new book.

What do I want to be when I grow up? It's a timeless question we ask of ourselves when we are kids, young adults, and in mid-career. But if your interest is in dance, it's a question that a new book written by Dr. Ali Duffy, associate professor of dance, might be able to answer.

Dr. Duffy explains that the idea for her first book, Careers in Dance: Practical and Strategic Guidance from the Field, published by Human Kinetics in June, came when she noticed a hole in existing literature, especially for students. When mentoring students, she discovered a lack of resources, especially when it comes to career paths. Because much of the existing literature on the subject was lacking in depth and only covered one or two career options, she felt as if she could help. 

"When you realize as a teacher that there's not a published resource to help your students gather the information they need, my work defines the gap and explains how a scholar may fill it," Dr. Duffy says.

Dr. Duffy's book offers a comprehensive resource on its subject that both provides an overview of dance in the United States economy and explores a large range of dance-related careers. For Dr. Duffy, making sure that students know the wide variety of professional opportunities is important so that they may be made aware of the myriad number of options they have when choosing their careers.

"If students don't have all of the relevant and necessary information about our field, they are not empowered to participate successfully in it," Dr. Duffy says. "If they don't know about certain career options available to them – careers that they may be perfectly suited for, but that are not covered in degree programs – then they won't know to pursue those opportunities."

Dr. Duffy's book empowers readers to "take control of the trajectory and success of their careers." Grasping this in their undergraduate or graduate program, Dr. Duffy says, would be more useful than learning it as they go.

She hopes her book will reassure students that a career in dance is absolutely attainable. Throughout the composing process, Dr. Duffy was surprised at how inspired she was about the future of dance, even as it faces challenges such as lack of funding, resources, and governmental support.

"This stubborn cultural assumption about whether it is possible to make a living in dance lingers," Dr. Duffy says. "But I believe that my book legitimizes students' desires and goals toward a career in dance by proving that, with perseverance, it is quite achievable."

Writing the book also informed Dr. Duffy's work as artistic director of Flatlands Dance Theatre, re-emphasizing both the role that organization plays to sustain and develop the field as a whole and her commitment to that company. Companies like Flatlands Dance Theatre offer opportunities for innovation and provide the first professional experience for many looking to pursue a career in dance.

"I discovered that it's really the local and regional organizations and companies – while not as well-funded certainly – that really are positioned and have the freedom to create and re-create innovatively for diverse audiences," she says. "There's an artistic freedom in the local and the regional companies that uniquely benefits students, young professionals, and communities nationwide."

Dr. Duffy learned that she loves writing books and is working on two other projects: a book chapter about interdisciplinary arts pedagogies, highlighting a long-term artistic and educational collaboration with local artist Kristy Kristinek, and a new book, Dancing Motherhood, to be included in a Routledge series on diversity, equity, and inclusion in performance. The idea for Dancing Motherhood came about when Dr. Duffy discovered a lack of writing exploring the intersections of dance careers, pregnancy, and motherhood – another gap in the literature that she has set out to fill.