Helping Dancers Prepare For A Post-Performance Career With The Background Dancer, Jason Yap

Podcast

June 25, 2021

PTR 91 | The Background Dancer

 

Dancing is so much more than performance on stage. Jason Yap, creator of The Background Dancer podcast tells us why. Joining Susanne Puerschel on the show, Jason discusses how he created his podcast to help dancers prepare for a post-performance career. Ever think that arts and business don’t jive well together? Think again! Of course, you need to learn about entrepreneurship. But once you do, you can easily offer your services and be rewarded justly for it. Are you ready to level up offstage? Jive in!

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Helping Dancers Prepare For A Post-Performance Career With The Background Dancer, Jason Yap

We have Jason from The Background Dancer podcast here and I am so excited to have this conversation. I was already on his podcast and we went way over time. It was a fulfilling conversation with him. The Background Dancer sheds light on critical aspects underpinning the dance and performing arts industry through topics ranging from management, entrepreneurship, education and technology. Host Jason Yap details fascinating and useful information to help deepen your knowledge of all things offstage while exploring and preparing together for a post-performance career. We all know it’s going to end at one point and then what are we going to do? Somewhere, somewhat many of us have been in that position. I know I have been afraid of it during my entire career. Without further ado, here is Jason.

Jason, I am so grateful that you are here. I have been looking forward to this particular time because I know our conversations are always juicy. Thank you for being here.

Thank you so much, Susanne. That is a wonderful introduction. It’s such a pleasure and honor. I’m a fan of your work and your show. The stars aligned that brought us together. I’m looking forward.

I’m going to share something. When I got your message, I was the one reaching out to you to see if you would be open to collaboration. I feel sometimes fear gets in the way so much that we would hear a no and we are not even taking action. We had a conversation about how hard it sometimes is to make these connections because people tend to be fearful. I spent my entire week so far following up with people that I have invited. I hear a lot of, “I’m so busy, I’m sorry, I couldn’t, but this is happening. This is a call to action for everybody and that includes me. You don’t have to take it on but for all of us, forget about your fears. The worst that you can hear is a no or the worst that you can say is no. More power to you if you are saying no versus not answering or ghosting anybody. Set your boundaries, live within them, and stand by who you are, who you want to be and what you want in life.

To add a bit to that, I’m quite fortunate to say that I have been rejected a number of times in my life. I would rather be rejected as well so that you can understand and dive deeper into the psychology of that. Only if you get rejected would you understand or even try to perceive yourself in the other person’s footsteps. If they came back to you with reasoning or something like that and you go, “I don’t think that matters.” Whatever explanation they give, it’s like, “What is the mindset there? What am I to this person? What value do I bring to this person?” I think that’s fascinating.

We will get into psychology, which you are an expert in. However, we are going to break the ice a little. We are going to show what you are outside of your podcast. I’m going to ask you a few questions. Do you play or watch sports ever?

Yeah.

I would have never pegged that.

I am diehard sportsman. Before I started dancing, I was very much an athlete. It’s primarily football. I’m a huge football fan and basketball. These two things. Badminton a little bit because my country is good at it but other than that, that’s pretty much it.

Dancing full-time is a pinnacle for anyone who is aspiring for a dance career. Click To Tweet

Born and raised, and where do you live now?

I’m born and raised in Malaysia. My hometown here was not the place I was born in. I moved to the East Coast. Now, I’m in Slovakia. That is like sixteen hours flight away from my home, a couple of seas and a completely different culture altogether.

Have you ever taken any personality tests?

Absolutely. I released an episode on my podcast titled Rope a D.O.P.E. That’s the DOPE personality test which stands for the Dove, Owl, Peacock and Eagle personality test. That was the first personality test I ever took when I enrolled on my Psychology degree, that was my first degree. Throughout that, I took too many tests.

Enough of that. I don’t want to know anything about myself. What season is your favorite?

Growing up in Malaysia, I was there for about 23 years before I moved to Hong Kong. That was the first time I ever lived outside of my country. Malaysia does not have seasons. We are summer all year long, the Mediterranean. I’m pretty much a cop-out here. Maybe autumn is quite nice. Spring is usually people’s favorites, I would feel. Autumn for me is like you are getting into the wintertime but it’s not really wintering yet and past the hectic summer months. I would say autumn. If I ever meet somebody whose name is Autumn, I would marry that person.

Just putting that out there, ladies. What is your favorite food?

It’s Malaysian noodles for sure. I’m a noodle man.

PTR 91 | The Background Dancer

The Background Dancer: If you love something enough, it’s no longer a sacrifice; it’s part of your life.

 

What’s your favorite animal?

I love cats.

You are a cat person. What is your astronomical sign?

I’m a Virgo.

Who was your role model growing up?

Two people and they were both sportsmen. They originated from my two favorite sports. Basketball, the late great Kobe Bryant. Football, my favorite team in England, Liverpool Football Club, Steven Gerrard, the captain back then. If it wasn’t them, I’m thinking of a big tech company. I’ll say Steve Jobs probably runs quite close. Maybe that.

I do relate to Steve Jobs. Looking at what he has done and how he did it in many ways, even though he may not be the best to be around at times, there is no “It can’t be done mentality. I absolutely admire that. Walk us through your journey a little bit. I know a few things about you but I want you to share, how did you get to dancing and where did that come from?

Would you give me permission to go all the way back?

Sacrifices are there to motivate you to fight for a cause. Click To Tweet

Permission granted.

Fret not because I have not been in the dance industry for that long anyways so thank God. My story wouldn’t be too long-winded. I have only been dancing for several years because I was a sportsman. My first dance class was when I was sixteen. I was reaching the end of my athletic career or interests. I was hitting the nadir at that point. I was like, “I need something else to invigorate myself again.” I had an invite from a friend and took my first dance class in a ballroom, Latin. I never thought that would be as fun as it was. I picked it up pretty quickly and kept going. At some point, Michael Jackson died and the whole role was making tributes for him, including me. I was like, “Let’s get on.”

Do you have this on film?

Somewhere back in my archive or something just mimicking. Everyone was doing it. It was so hot and I wanted to jump on the bandwagon and getting on the act. Dance settled in my life at that point. I was like, “Let’s do this. It’s quite fun.” When I was eighteen, I remember watching cable bundle on television and came across So You Think You Can Dance. I was like, “What is this?”

It’s like a revolution to see that coming up. It gave dance and ballet even permission to exist and to be something your average person could consume.

At that time, it was already season 4 or 5, I remember. All of my dance role models started off from that show. I can remember a couple of them like Robert Roldan was one of my favorite in season 7. Young Kent, the little boy from the farm in season 7. I love those people. You have Travis Wall and all these big names there. All these people dance in different types of genres. They come into the show and became something else. So You Think You Can Dance really inspired me.

After watching that show, I was like, “I need to take dance a bit serious now.” I modeled my life after that show. I went into every single genre, paid for every single class and did five classes a week in every single genre, anything you can think of, tap, jazz, contemporary, ballet, modern, even singing classes. I was like, “I want to be on that show.” At the time, my country, for some reason got licensing to do two seasons of our own series of So You Think You Can Dance. I was aspiring to be on that show. It never happened because it got canceled after two seasons and that was it. I was like, “Fine.”

The turning point was when I started taking ballet classes. I was eighteen. I graduated from high school and I was like, “Nobody likes ballet.” A lot of people talk about it. I had a lot of friends leaving ballet instead of going into it. I was an eighteen-year-old, stiff, athlete guy going into ballet. I remember I was stepping into the center and my teacher was like, “I think this is a bit too late for you. Don’t you want to consider other stuff?” I was like, “Yeah but can I at least try?” That filled me. I was dancing around almost five-year-olds.

I wanted to take a dance degree immediately after that but I did not have the skills necessary to do so. I went into my first degree in Psychology and continued on the sides, learning ballet, taking exams at a time, RAD as well, going through the motions and making sure that I had some technique just in case. All this time, I’m always questioning and putting out that question like, “What if?” I never knew if that dream could still happen at some point. I was doing hip hop and a lot of ballet. I hated ballet but I was forcing myself to go to classes because I knew that technique would be useful at some point.

PTR 91 | The Background Dancer

The Background Dancer: There is such a great supply of artistic talent worldwide but very little demand for their talents.

 

True enough, after I graduated after three years, I auditioned on a whim and I was accepted. I was like, “I was accepted into The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts on a full scholarship as well because they had that program that assisted all these much older dancers who may not have had a good background upbringing in dance. They supported them financially and encouraged more men in dance. I was one of the lucky few who got in. I danced for four years, majored in contemporary, minored in ballet. When I graduated, I did another whim. I bought a ticket, flew to Europe and auditioned for two companies at a time. One took me in and a few years later, I’m here in Slovakia. I’m in a full-time contemporary dance company. It’s a state-funded company. It’s called Divadlo Studio Tanca, which translates to theater dance studio.

It’s the dream come true because I feel like dancing full-time is a pinnacle for anyone who is aspiring for a dance career. I have been a freelancer myself for a little while before going into my dance degree. I was like, “That was fun,” but full-time, you have been a full-time dancer yourself. It’s a completely different level. It’s a different mindset and a very different level of commitment. People always ask like, “Who do you dance for? Do you dance for your boss? Do you dance for your colleagues?” I was like, “The only thing I truly serve is the dance like the commitment to the art form, the discipline, the sacrifice.” One day, hopefully, not needing to say it’s a sacrifice. It’s your passion and a part of your life. That is the long story short, from Malaysia to Hong Kong and now to Slovakia.

Let’s get into sacrifice. That’s a very interesting topic. I’ve heard many people say that it takes a lot of sacrifices to become a dancer. I’m going to go from my own experience. I understand that somebody that is not in our shoes may see it as sacrifices to spend long hours, to not maybe have a weekend, to do all the things that we have endured during our becoming and our careers as dancers. I find that these were never sacrifices for me. It never felt as such. However, I find that the line between sacrificing and the pain that we’re seeing in the industry, that is bubbling up out of every open door, out of every lid, it’s being labeled as a sacrifice. I find the line is dwindling a little bit and I want to get into this. Why not? When you say sacrifice, what does that mean to you?

I want to reference one of my most crucial mentors. His name is Joseph Gonzalez. He is a professor at The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. He’s a fellow Malaysian himself and also owns a dance company. He once said something very important to me. I asked him. I was like, “How do you do this?” He has been in the industry for over 40 years. He has done almost every role. I was like, “Resilience and endurance are the common themes about a dancer’s journey.” He said, “I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing. If you love something enough, it’s not a sacrifice.” It’s part of your life. Firstly, it’s true. If you think about it at a deeper level.

Secondly, it takes so much to shape that mindset that it’s quite easy to call something a sacrifice if you’re not enjoying it, if it brings you some level of pain or if it takes away some level of pleasure. Dance does that a lot, whether it’s muscular pain or time consumption pain. For me at least right now, that’s my personal experience, distance from your loved ones. I can easily label all of these sacrifices and to some degree they are sacrifices. It’s very much in the nature of the work that we do. We are investing quite a lot into this art form. It is only through this manner can we gain any fulfillment and reward because it’s a very high-level art form. You can do it to any level. It’s a scalable one as well but people who have dreams to become the best at what they do. Everything needs to be upped the ante. You have to contribute so much of your time and effort to something.

What does sacrifice mean to me? I would say everything that I said. I thought about them as sacrifices. Sacrifices are there to motivate me that I’m fighting for a cause, that I’m not just doing this for myself. At some point, sacrifices will transform into something else. It’s a very temporary mindset. It starts from a sacrifice but once you master that state of mind, this comes with a lot of shaping and refining of your lifestyle. You are managing your lifestyle. Sacrifice will slowly transform into the fabric of your life. Do I want sacrifices? Do I need to go through sacrifices? Absolutely. It’s a big part of everyone’s lives, but use that to further your cause, to sharpen your focus and deepen your purpose. That is what sacrifice means to me.

I loved how you reframed it when you were talking about it as an investment in yourself, into your own fulfillment and your happiness. That for me sits a little bit more comfortable because what we are seeing is the line of sacrificing oneself, your dignity or your respect for the art form. It’s dwindling and it’s almost expected. There are all of these things that you have to do in order to call yourself a dancer but where are you giving yourself up as a person or as a human being? Where is the sacrifice that you are taking? Where is it not needed but something we assume is needed in order to become? I’m going to leave that right here. By the way, if you haven’t subscribed and listened to The Background Dancer podcast yet, I highly recommend you do. Where did this idea come from? Why are you so passionate about what is coming after a dancer’s career when you just started? Where is your thinking?

That’s exactly what The Background Dancer podcast is about. It’s about the post-performance career. It’s about maybe during performance career, everything that is related to not dancing. All of this started during my last year at The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. I initiated a project called Stage. This project like any other project was to manage a curatorial project. I got to manage a little group in the art collective and we went about organizing all kinds of events.

What that taught me was there is such a supply of artistic talent worldwide and there is so little demand for their talents. I started to wonder, is this because of the existing infrastructures? Is it because of the landscape? Where can I draw and trace the line towards? Why are we churning out thousands of graduates every single year? At least half of them remain jobless even after 2 or 3 years. It’s dependent on many factors. It’s depending on what the graduates want to do as well. Do they want to go into a performing career? If they do, is it a full-time one? Is it a part-time one? It doesn’t matter but there are variances to all these things. Everybody wants to do something different.

Focus on your audience. Bridge the gap between the content creator and the content consumer. Click To Tweet

The key question still for a lot of people is, what my next path would be? I can draw references from a lot of my peers with whom I graduated. Even when I was graduating, I did not know clearly what my next path would be because the window towards what we are taught to do is so small. When you go into a conservatory and an academy, 90% of the time they would hope that you become a professional dancer in a company. That is the goal. That is all there is. I have never heard of any academy or a university that teaches someone to be a dance something else, a dance educator, a dance technologist. Hopefully, there will be more like that in the future because dance is a very performative act.

To embody and embrace dance in its entirety, you have to perform. I got that. I totally understand. I was so close to quitting dance when I graduated from the academy because I thought that there is such a limit to what my body can do. The message that I wanted to convey to the world that dance is more than something on the stage. I felt there was such short-termism about that. Once every production is done, we talk about it for a maximum of a week and that is about it. I started drawing comparisons to other industries, technology, business and movies. Why do these things remain in people’s memories much longer than dance could? I don’t understand.

If I put a laptop in front of you and you get to choose between watching Netflix and English National Ballet, you would definitely choose Netflix. Why not English National Ballet? I was like, “Something has to be done in order for the dance to seep into the full chain of activities in everyday life.” Can there be a point where dance becomes a necessity? If you look at it from all the art forms in the world, it’s the only one that you can clearly say is a universal language. The theater isn’t a universal language because it’s language-dependent. Music, you need an instrument in order to sound. Dance is body language. It is the most pristine of art forms because people started dancing back already from the cave days and the old ages.

First of all, if you are in dance training, I can guarantee you that you know so much more than stepping on stage and dancing a piece. The training is robust and diverse. It’s that 90% of the time, you don’t get to use anything else. I wanted to raise awareness and go, “What if we all very importantly and collectively could create this ecosystem where we have experts across the field and the industry? Leaders, experts and game-changers that would step up and broaden a sector enough to be able to hire people and allow people to belong, depending on their most valuable skill sets in technology, business, health and fashion.

You are talking my language. I am buzzing over here. I don’t want to keep going but I have a sticky note right here on my computer that says, “Ballet and dance is a luxurious necessity that everyone feels worthy to consume.” When you said, “Would I choose Netflix over English National Ballet?” Absolutely because I can identify myself in a movie, in a rom-com, drama and history documentary more than I can identify myself right now in somebody turning Temperance, so skinny that I’m afraid that they are going to fall over and are an empty shell. I am not saying that everybody is that way but it is not relatable to many where Netflix is relatable to many.

How are we going to make a dance? There are 7.8 billion dancers in this world. We all dance at some point. It doesn’t need to be a professional but how can we make it relatable again to everyone? When are we stopping to make it so elite and not understandable? Let’s take StoryBrand, the book. You need to have a hero, a guide and another person. It’s so important and we don’t have that in ballet because we are taking it out centuries ago. Combining all of this is the answer for making it something that in 100 years, we are still being able to put it on. Why are we only having so many companies? Why isn’t that a business? Let’s make it a business. Let’s shut our ego. The ego is so heavy and it’s the biggest overhead the arts is carrying until now that we are forgetting what we are here to do.

It’s quite funny that your background is in classical ballet and I come from a contemporary dance background. There is such an antithesis like an antagonistic relationship between the contemporary dance world and the ballet world. You know this more than anything else. If I look at contemporary dance in America or Canada, it’s very different from what they do in Europe. I wish it was not this way but unfortunately, classical ballet has become quite the meme of dance with regards to how everything can improve on. You always use classical ballet as the basis where things went wrong. It’s true because first of all, you have to give credit to the world of classical ballet. They were one of the pioneers of any art form and any dance form. Becoming a professional dancer back then, the system was to become a professional ballet dancer. When you are a professional ballet dancer even now, there is such prestige to it.

Look at the whole wide world right now. Kids are going to ballet centers at the age of five. They don’t go to jazz or contemporary tap dance centers, not many. Most of them go to ballet centers because of the princess thing, the whole hero prince thing and it’s wonderful. The fantasy world lives on. Yet again, why just the ballet world? I always ask this question like, “Is the ballet world the only thing that’s going wrong?” Of course, not. It’s the whole ecosystem, but the ballet world can teach us a lot of things. That is for sure. One of the things and I heard about this on your show as well, is why not treat ballet companies as a business? Absolutely run profit and not be an NGO or a social enterprise. We need those things but run it like a profit-based company, then more importantly focused on your customers and audience to bridge that gap between the content creator and content consumers. We have a lot to do and that gave me the impetus to start a podcast, mainly to talk about these things and to raise awareness. When I set out my thematic framework for the podcast, I was going through some of the topics that I could talk about. Within ten seconds, I had ten major categories. It was like, “Wait, that was not that hard but I don’t see all of these things talked about.”

This is very much relevant to all content creators and entrepreneurs, you always start with wanting to find something. You want to identify a service. If it’s not existent, you create it. If you can’t find XYZ, you create XYZ and A. I was looking up a lot of all these things. I’m huge on management and entrepreneurship and I couldn’t find anything related to dance at the time. Now I could. I was like, “Let’s talk about it.” That opened the flood gates. The Background Dancer was inspired by my own experiences of always being in the background when I started dancing. My teacher would say, “Go to the back. We don’t want to see you. Just dance at the back for a bit.” I’m still contributing. That very much is the message of the podcast. You are always contributing. No matter where you are, you’re always a piece of the puzzle. You just need to find out how much of that piece of that puzzle you want to be part of.

PTR 91 | The Background Dancer

The Background Dancer: Be the game-changer. Step in and broaden a sector wide enough to hire people and allow them to belong depending on their most valuable skill set.

 

Do you remember when we talked about entrepreneurship? I asked you to count a full sequence that I wrote out around entrepreneurship in one of the books when I participated in the mastermind. “Entrepreneurship is about going first and taking risks, about thinking big and planning globally, about not being satisfied with where you are, and always being curious how you can improve. Get up and rack some great attitude. Try new things. Question the status quo. Don’t rely on colors within the lines or do things the way it has always been done. I can’t believe I wrote this.

Way to go, Susanne. You coined the term. I’ve never heard anyone said it but you coined the phrase like, “Entrepreneurship is not a job. It’s an attitude. It’s a mindset.” When you say entrepreneurship or businessmen, that scares the hell out of dancers and artists alike. The word business does not conciliate with artists at all. I was like, “No. Don’t worry, it’s not a job. It’s an attitude and a mindset.”

Let’s go there. I want to help everybody unveil that this is a belief that I carried for so many decades with me. Why are we carrying that belief? What is it deeply? What’s the root? What’s the bottom of that iceberg? We’re so apprehensive of taking on any business strategies or even looking outside of the dance or the art bubble to what are successful companies doing. What could we learn from Steve Jobs? What could we learn from Google, Netflix or Disney? What do you think is it? You are the psychologist? You know.

I would start with maybe my own personal experiences. I remember when I was still quite young. I was going into my first degree at the time in 2021. I’m still very much a novice on the dance floor. My uncle asked me, “What do you think business is?” He asked me to do a business degree and I said, “I’m going to do a Psychology degree.” He was like, “No. Try to do a business degree.” I was like, “I don’t like business.” He asked me, “What do you think business is?” I was like, “It’s money. It’s figures.” He was like, “No. The fundamental idea of business is trade.” That’s it. I think there is a misunderstanding. It’s a huge misconception of what business can be or what it is.

When you attach that to the world of arts, what we are always trying to create in the arts is so subjective that something as quantifiable as figures and money becomes very much the threat of diluting this subjectivity. In subjectivity, we can find artistry. That is how we make a living. It’s to be able to coin different artistic ideas and then own them and go, “This is my idea. This is my artistry.” Everything else has a number to it and arts cannot accept that. The fact that it is something that gets created and also can be translated into a quantifiable form or data. That’s the apprehension of accepting arts as more than self-expressive tools or ideas like entrepreneurship and business.

First of all, we need to acknowledge the fact that we don’t get taught a lot about business in arts education. You have to take an extra Master’s out of that or something like that. We all go through economics and stuff in high school but when you go to a dance degree, very few of them teach you how to be an entrepreneur. If you talk about Economics 101, I was talking to a whole lot of financiers and economist students, and all these kinds of people as well. They said, “Jason, don’t freak out when I say entrepreneurship or economics or these huge words and jargon. Business is I provide a service and you consume the service.” Is there a supply? Is there a demand?

Business in its entirety is very much applicable to everything, including the arts. If there is a ballet company, there is a supply. If there is a little city that the ballet company is in, that is your demand. I think we are already entrenched within that. We are already embedded within that system, Economics 101. Everything is economics. We just don’t see that way as of now. Is this going to continue? I think it is. The movement starts now to shift that mindset, reshape and reframe it. Don’t use big words anymore. That’s not the way to educate. Let them say, “It’s a trade. It’s offering your services and being rewarded justly for that.”

Business equals trade. Many ways we could take that. I should have taken notes because there was so much good stuff in there. I would love to add to this. From my personal experience, I always thought that business is in the way of creating art. Business is so structured. It’s so black and white that there is no room for creativity. I have learned that it is the opposite that there is so much room for creativity and clear and beautifully set boundaries that business does bring to the table. It also brings sustainability to the table if we look at it from a different perspective and ask the better question. I find it so intriguing how you got to where you are now by simply asking yourself the question always and forever, “What if?” What if it has nothing to do with black or white. What if it has always to do with the gray. In the gray is where we grow, innovate and become more. I feel that the arts could step more into the gray in order to explore what the next century is going to look like. Are we going to repeat the last century? Are we going to repeat all of that or are we going to start creating something different? Something that can invite more people in.

It’s accessibility.

Entrepreneurship is about going first and taking risks. Think big, plan globally, and never be satisfied where you are. Click To Tweet

Tony Robbins or is it Bob Proctor? One of those geniuses said that your ability to earn is always equated to the ability of how many people you are impacting. If an arts organization only relies on one stream of income and that stream of income is putting on performances in a theater that holds 1,200 or 2,600 people, that limits your capability of producing an income, where if you would open up your customer base and your fans, imagine what you could bring in. If you would lift that curtain, if you would extend your walls, letting go of that belief that you are only worth off being paid if you’re performing on a stage, then you would start making a difference. You would then be able to start, “What if? What could that look like? Is there a way we could make this happen? Has anybody else done it yet? No. Fine. I will go first. I will try it. I fail. I will still do it.” This is the mentality, taking out the “It has to be perfect and say, “We are going to take messy action and we are going to try our very best to make it work. Who is with us?”

I like to talk about two points. Firstly, there is so much fear to talk about entrepreneurship and artistry. Artists and entrepreneurs, there is a similarity. What is the similarity? It’s simple as hell. Both need to be very creative. Both are problem solvers. The only difference is the type of content that is produced at the very end. In my own progress and development in hopefully, becoming one day an entrepreneur myself, also acknowledging the fact that it being an attitude and a mindset could also result in being a job. I want to be an entrepreneur, earning money out of it. It’s the fact that I was wondering if I became an entrepreneur and started building companies, establishing networks, and what essentially is producing a completely different type of content? Not the ones that get to be staged in theaters. Would I not be contributing to the world of dance?

The environment that we were brought up in to choreograph, to contribute to this archive of artistic abstract, metaphorical, poetic content through the body. That was quite conflicting. I was like, “Would I be even more detached?” That is the wrong way of looking at it. You are actually helping people out. That is what I want to talk about as well. The second point is podcasting. In one of my episodes, I also talked about, this could be quite controversial, the reason why podcasting has become one of the fastest-growing forms of media is the fact that it’s a medium. It’s not the end goal. It’s just a medium. I eventually related dance similarly. What if you could see dance as a medium rather than a product? If you could use dance as a conduit to connect as a communicative tool, wouldn’t that be able to seep into daily life much easier? Instead of consuming dance, can you use dance to consume other things? That was my mindset.

We don’t really need dance but we need media to consume everything else. Dance is just the packaging. I believe there is not one human being who cannot dance in this world. There is no such thing as that. Dancing is the simplest movement available to the human body. It is how you assume that role in your own regard. If we could package dance like that, it is the most accessible automatic inborn facility that we have and you could use that thinking, that ability to access your body, and then go and consume other things, why not? That is very much my thinking of entrepreneurship. Stop thinking of dance as the ultimate content. Think of it as the ultimate tool for your content.

I remembered my question that I had earlier. What book are you reading now?

I have to admit I’m not very much a book reader. I’m an avid podcaster and podcast listener.

Outside of podcasting, dance or arts, what is your go-to? Who do you listen to for inspiration?

My favorite one at the moment is hosted by a guy named Shane Parrish and it’s called The Knowledge Project. It’s very much non-dance. That’s my favorite one. I listened to that then the dance podcasts. That’s the first one. The second one would probably be something called Something You Should Know. It’s general knowledge stuff then it trickles down. I have created a whole category of podcasts and I dedicate each podcast player, for example, Google Podcasts, Podcast Addicts, Spotify, to different types of shows. My favorite one is Spotify. It’s filled with things like marketing school. It’s filled with things like football, something called Postcards To The Future, basically talking about artists from different art fields. There are days that I don’t even want to listen to them, but it’s cultivating that habit that my dance knowledge can only be furthered if I listened to other things that are not dance-related.

This is so important. This is not something that we have been taught in school. It’s the opposite actually. You as a dancer and as an artist will only develop as an artist if you develop other knowledge and that can be anything you want to. If you don’t know yourself, if you just concentrate on the dancer, you will become that bunhead. I was that kind of bunhead because I was under the assumption that if I want to stand tall in a 90-member company, I can only concentrate on being a dancer. I never asked myself that question, “What if?” This is the learning. This is what we are passing on. This is so important. This is why I asked the question. I never used to grab a book or listen to a podcast. I started with that years ago. I was even under the assumption that I’m not able to do that. I need to know it all and “No, you don’t.” Last question, it’s going to be a little bit uncomfortable. Going back to your sixteen-year-old self with knowing what you know now, what would you tell him?

PTR 91 | The Background Dancer

The Background Dancer: You are always contributing no matter where you are. You’re always a piece of the puzzle; you just need to find out how much of the puzzle you want to be part of.

 

It’s a simple one. Fail more for sure. I know this gets thrown around quite a lot and like, “Embrace failure and you have to fail to succeed.” It’s one thing to talk about it. It’s another to actually do it. For me, one of my favorite thought models is scalability. The spectrum concept that when I do anything at all in my life, I always look at it from how much. There is a degree to how much intensity value. It’s not black or white. It’s 1 to 10. It’s A to Z. You can choose how much you want to do something. How much, deep, heavy, strong, it’s up to you. When you fail and actively putting yourself in those situations, taking those risks that will bring the potential of failure is scalable as well. If you don’t risk, you probably won’t ever fail but then you don’t get the rewards. You risk more, you fail more, potentially higher reward.

I had to shift my mindset from being afraid to fail to failing enough to actively go, “I want to be in those situations where I could possibly fail emphatically” because I look long-term. I know before I fail, what are the Plan Bs, Cs, Ds, and everything else that could maybe salvage me, even if I failed. The failure is not a dead-end and not to make it too cliché. There were never always be a success story after the failure. Some people fail and that’s it. That is the end of the story. You have to actively build a pathway. Imagine and envision what are the consequences that could arise if you fail and be prepared for that? When I was sixteen, it was, “Don’t ever dare to fail, Jason, because this is your chance.” I always have that.

Before I go on, I want to backtrack a little bit to what you said about dance and accruing knowledge from different sectors. As a person who studied psychology, one of the things I learn a lot is how to empathize with people. The community that I empathize the most with is definitely dancers. I want to say two things about that. Firstly, I empathize with why dancers could be afraid of external knowledge. One, there is a fear of being detached, being take stripped away of one’s belonging. They are not belonging to that community anymore if they subscribe to a different domain of knowledge. You are not allowed to do that. That is fearful.

The other thing is instead of belongingness if you go one level deeper, the ones who are super passionate about their dance community. It’s the fact that if you maybe subscribe to different knowledge, you will not be able to contribute back to that community anymore because you may be let wayward and become a coffee shop owner, a bookseller or some other business that is not contributing to dance anymore. I think that is also fearful. People who are passionate and do not want to even envision succeeding in another sector, and then regret not being able to give back to the dance sector. Actually, that is a joke because if you become rich in something else, you can very easily just start a dance company.

It’s that either-or mentality. We are not looking at the end that there can be so much more. You are not a trader if you acquire more knowledge. You are not a trader to the art form if you have other interests as well. When I entered body school, I had to sign a waiver that said that I would not continue to play the piano, go horseback riding or ice skating. All of these things, I was no longer allowed to do. We are putting this new generation into the boxes that I have been into. This is not how we grow as an art form. This is not how we acquire more knowledge and look at where we want to go as a collective. Yes, to all of this. Thank you for being here, Jason. This is a longer episode. Thank you for your perspective. You are already an entrepreneur. It is not about becoming one because there is no beginning date and end date in that final journey as I see it. It’s the mindset. It’s not the actual you make money. If anything, I think you have a more entrepreneurial mindset than some people that I know.

Thank you so much.

Keep moving and keep going. Thanks, guys for reading.

Thank you so much for having me, Susanne. Let’s continue providing and helping our beloved dance community.

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About Jason Yap

PTR 91 | The Background DancerThe Background Dancer sheds light on critical aspects underpinning the dance and performing arts industry through topics ranging from management, entrepreneurship, education and technology. Host Jason Yap details fascinating and useful information to help deepen your knowledge of all things offstage, while exploring and preparing together for a post-performance career.

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  — Susanne shares a quick thought that came to her after hearing a quote. Who told you that you are not deserving of what you want? She remembers how this feeling showed up in her life and how other people’s limiting thoughts would so easily be accepted as hers. Watch the episode here: Listen to the podcast here:   Who told you that you are not deserving of what you want? And I’m back. […]

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Past Episodes 

There is a better way to pursue ballet at the professional level. Instead of dancers pushing beyond their body’s limits, there is a healthier way to train your body, your mind and your spirit to soar. To become the best at your craft, you must be healthy. The mentality of surviving to make a performance perfect is an old paradigm that needs to change. As athletes, dancers must thrive in order to shine and connect with their audience. This new approach, leads to fulfillment, strength and longevity. It allows you to give more of your heart and soul on stage, creating an unforgettable experience that moves your audience. And that’s the whole pointe. 

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