Individual to use their talents to serve and instruct the community at weekend dance events, and potentially improve the lives of those you encounter. Must be willing to travel to the four corners of the globe, meet lots of interesting people, and see incredible sights. Must not like routine and working in an office setting.
Oh…and you get paid to dance Salsa, Bachata, and Kizomba!
Sound good? Do you accept the position?
Well if you do then you’ve just signed up to be…(bongo beat)…a traveling latin dance instructor!
Aside from the incredibly exciting job description…what exactly does that entail?
Over the past few years I’ve spoken with and interviewed several instructors who literally spend every weekend on the road teaching dance in a location other than their home locale. Popular dancers with extensive travel schedules such as Carlos Cinta, Albir Rojas, Terry Taliaut, Charles Ogar, and Edie “The Salsa Freak”, among many others. As I became more involved in the “latin dance media” (so to speak), I began to wonder what their lives were really like. I discovered that although all instructors have different and unique experiences there do seem to be common lifestyle threads that create the pros and cons of…“The Lifestyle of A Traveling Dance Instructor”.
Hard to maintain a relationship: I’ve heard it numerous times, so I will start with the relationship aspect. Being in a committed relationship or even starting one is hard for many traveling professionals, but particularly for dance instructors. First, your source of income is often dependent upon traveling to different events and usually in a different location every weekend. Most (if not all) relationships need time to cultivate and develop a connection, and weekends for many couples are an opportunity to catch up on quality time. Not for traveling dance instructors…that’s when it’s time to work. Weekend nights for them are spent at socials dancing, not going to movies or hanging out at home eating pizza and chillin’. Promoters and organizers aren’t going to pay for significant others to travel (unless they’re the primary dance partner), so most weekends are spent away from their partners.
This leads to the second component…Temptation.
Let’s be honest. Our dance community is filled with lots of attractive and sexy people. This obviously doesn’t mean it’s rampant with immoral heathens who are just waiting to pounce on the vulnerable dancers in relationships…but, like all other professions, feelings such as loneliness, boredom, and periodic randiness do occur, and the more you’re on the road, the more the opportunity to stray presents itself. If you’re single, you can meet someone great in one city…and be 3,000 miles away from them for several months. It’s a tough part of the job.
Unhealthy Eating: Another common struggle of being a traveling dance instructor is diet. If they’re fortunate and working with a great organizer then your meals are taken care of. With that said, it’s not as though these meals will be the most calorie friendly.
Fast food and snacks are somewhat standard while traveling as home cooked meals aren’t readily available. Dealing with changing time zones, weather, and the aforementioned sleep deprivation can be tough and sometimes all an instructor wants to do is eat and sit in their room and “veg out”. Most dancers can get away with it because (a) they’re young (you can probably count traveling latin dance instructors over age 40 on one hand) and (b) the job inherently consists of basic exercise and movement so that helps maintain a certain level of fitness.
Discipline. Discipline. Discipline. That is a trait that most successful traveling instructors have in order to stay healthy.
Pay/Compensation: Organizers aren’t getting rich off events and workshops…and neither are instructors. I think most non-professionals know that dance instructors do it “for the love of the game” and not to be wealthy. The advent of the “latin dance congress” is a fairly new phenomenon (first Puerto Rico Salsa Congress in 1997), and it has allowed many dancers to extend their careers or find work that in the past simply wasn’t available. Today’s traveling latin dance professionals are definitely benefiting from there being over 400-500 Congress style events each year, but it doesn’t mean the money is falling from the sky. There are certainly instances where a dancer doesn’t get paid for their services, and the latin dance elite aren’t immune to occasions where they don’t get compensated. There are also ambitious instructors who want to travel to teach and some are willing to work for free at events so that they can gain exposure. This is definitely a source of contention among instructors who feel all should be paid for their work. The instructors I’ve spoken with realize the job is fun, but you have to be a competent business person to make it over the long haul.
Sleep: If you want to become a traveling dance instructor then you’d better be hot, because you’re not going to get much
beauty sleep. Just kidding on the attractive trait, but not on the sleep. Instructors learn how to catch naps in airports, planes, trains, couches, and, of course, the back seat of cars. Also, in hotels between group classes and private lessons. (Insert tired emoticon).
If you’re working a weekend event then be prepared to be up early to teach classes even after you’ve danced until 4am at the socials…in order to fulfill the wishes of the promoter and attendees.
Edie “The Salsa Freak” Williams, – I learned to sleep on airplanes, trains, ships, boats, and automobiles, not as a choice, but as a necessary requirement.
The Good Times:
Meet lots of interesting people: It seems like most of the popular dance instructors can easily meet that magical 5,000 limit. Which limit am I speaking of? The friend finish line that Facebook has imposed on its users. The opportunity to develop friendships with people from across the globe is an exciting proposition for those I’ve talked with. Perhaps most instructors don’t immediately recall meeting half of the people on their list, but it does speak to how many people they come into contact with during their careers. Most instructors get work via word of mouth and networking, so it definitely helps to be a people person and a social butterfly.
Charles Ogar, Inspiring new people in different places almost every week is amazing. It’s humbling to have people look up to you and invest their time and energy in you.”
Travel: Travel may be the most rewarding aspect of being a traveling instructor. Getting to experience new places and cultures is a highlight for most professionals that I’ve asked. It’s particularly exciting for those who are in their early 20s or 30s because they haven’t entered life stages in which relationship, kids, or financial obligations to others are a big part of their lives. Most plan their schedules about six months in advance so there generally aren’t any surprise trips. Freedom has its rewards…
Dream Job: Most traveling instructors I’ve spoken with love their jobs. Some don’t. But most do. Despite some cons most I’ve spoken with wouldn’t trade their nomadic work life for a cubicle any day of the week. If dancing wasn’t a passion then most of them wouldn’t have succeeded because the job is hard.
Along with the both the pros and cons of the life they still have to find time to practice and keep up with their craft. The dance world is competitive and all instructors know there is someone waiting in the wings to replace them if they don’t perform.
Carlos Cinta, The separation is in the preparation.
Both A Pro and Con…Somewhere in the Middle:
Public Figure Status: Most traveling instructors have achieved a certain level of success, and, therefore, are more subject to public scrutiny than most of their peers. This is often both a huge positive and equally large negative. It’s a positive simply because of the exposure that leads directly to continued work. Instructors who have achieved a certain status in the eyes of the community and audience certainly have an advantage when it comes to picking events and getting work. Pro dance instructors are niche superstars. 95% of humans in this world wouldn’t know who Eddie Torres is…but those with any awareness of Salsa history would know of him and would like to meet him.
The negative is fairly obvious. Haters. Critics. This is quite true in any job that is readily available for public scrutiny via outlets such as Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. But unlike professional sports, politics, etc…those that don’t like an instructor can have a direct impact on what others think. Check any popular dancers YouTube videos and you will inevitably get comments like ‘they suck. that’s not real (insert dance here), ‘I know dancers who are way better than them’, or any number of other negative attacks. Dance is art. Art is subjective and for pro dancers it’s pretty easy for criticism to spread whether it’s warranted or not. And, unfortunately, many professionals get drawn in to online arguments about their dance skill, substance, and teaching.
The life of a traveling dance instructor, like most professions, has its positives and negatives. The job can be demanding physically and emotionally, but it also can be incredibly rewarding and I think most who have achieved their dreams of traveling and teaching wouldn’t trade their dance shoes and passports for anything.