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As an undergraduate dance major at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I fielded my fair share of questions about my education and my career aspirations. Unfortunately, a lot of those questions were fueled by stereotypes about the professional dance world, and they often made me feel like I wasn’t being taken seriously as a student of the arts.

In my experience, the questions/statements below most often followed the phrase, “Oh, you’re a dance major…”. Read more to learn why to avoid these conversational faux pas, and what to say instead.

“…So you want to own a studio/teach/own your own company?”

This statement can imply that a desire to be a working dancer isn’t a “good enough” career path. It also represents a narrow view of professions associated with the dance field.

INSTEAD: Try asking, “What are your professional goals?”

“…Will I see you on Dancing with the Stars/So You Think You Can Dance?” 

Though televised dance shows have increased the visibility of dance as a profession and have boosted the careers of many dancers, they are competitions, above all else. A very small segment of the nation’s dancing population winds up on  such TV shows, and in addition to having impeccable dance technique, the winners of such shows have to be universally likable. It is important to recognize that not all dancers want to enter the commercial dance world, and also that televised dance shows are not a catchall for dancers’ varied interests in technical training.

Also, note that “Dancing with the Stars” is a show that highlights professional ballroom dancers. Unless the dancer you are addressing is a ballroom dancer (or a B-list celebrity), stay away from suggesting that he or she will soon be appearing on this show.

INSTEAD: Ask, “Do you watch any of the dance shows on TV? Which one is your favorite? Why?”

“…What’s your back-up plan?”

This is a terrible question to ask anyone in college (and in life post-academia, for that matter). It implies that what the respondent is pursuing professionally is not sustainable or worthwhile, which is an insult if he or she is truly passionate about the subject in question.

INSTEAD: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything. Change the subject.

“…Show me something.” 

Though dance is a performance art, dancers do not exist in the world purely to entertain. If you wouldn’t ask a math major to do a math problem for you, don’t ask a dance major to show you his or her best moves.

INSTEAD: If a performance is what you’re after, show the person a dance move of your own. Many people become self-conscious about dancing in the presence of a dance major, so your confidence will be greatly appreciated.