By Payal Parida
“Hey, my name is so and so and I’m majoring in pre-med, what are you studying?”
“Hi there, my name is Payal and I’m a dance major?”
“Oh, um, that’s interesting I guess, what’s your other major?”
“I mean how can you even make a career out of that, I know my parents would kill me, so what’s your backup plan?”
The conversation you read above is something I’ve encountered multiple times. The unfortunate part is that the majority of judgement I’ve endured is from people of my own ethnicity. I understand that pursuing a career in the arts is considered “unrealistic” and far from the norm within the South Asian community, but when did it become acceptable to be unsupportive of alternate career paths?
I’m Payal Parida, a sophomore at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor studying dance and entrepreneurship. I define myself as a proud advocate of the arts and to those that don’t understand why we pursue this career, let me educate you on who we are, what we do, and why we do it.
The University of Michigan Dance Department nurtures educated, well-rounded students who are passionate about their craft. Therefore, our curriculum involves technique-based dance classes that are strictly physical along with history of art, history of dance, anatomy, body knowledge, composition, music theory, english, etc. People hold the misconception that being a dance major means you can only become a professional dancer, but a bachelor’s degree in fine arts opens many more doors. We’ve had dance majors become dancers, choreographers, and educators, but physical therapists, psychologists, doctors, and entrepreneurs too. Your major does not depict the job you get; my entrepreneurship professor majored in mathematics and then went into business. I remember him saying “I didn’t pursue a career in math, but what I learned about problem solving, logical/divergent thinking, and work ethic helped me with my career in business”. It’s not about what you major in, but what you gain from it.
I had the pleasure of discussing how two friends deal with the stigma around their career choices in the arts. Triya Mahapatra is a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, majoring in media and cinema studies. Triya and I both related to the questions, “How do your parents allow you to do this?” and “What’s your backup plan?”; she had incredible insights on how to deal with this. She mentioned, “People judge the field because they don’t know what happens inside,” and people automatically assume “it’s easy or I have it easier”. We both understand why people have this thought process. Due to the fact that while most of our friends are studying for exams, we are constantly creating projects, it does not seem as laborious. Though the way we are tested in our field may be different than most, it doesn’t mean our work ethic is any less than others. Triya mentioned that her curriculum involves designing TV posters and photography projects along with learning about the history and effects of media. We agreed that many individuals don’t understand that what they see on the screen is only one part of the job. It’s not about fighting back, but educating those who are misinformed that what we do isn’t simple and we deserve respect for our career choices just like those who pursue STEM careers. I also had the pleasure of talking to Vidushi Shrivastava, a student at the University of Cincinnati, majoring in journalism and finance. She is also involved in pageantry, modeling, dance and more. She noted that “…generally the South Asian community has a long way to go with the judgement for pursuing the arts and I try to generally associate myself with positive energy and people who support me, but you’re gonna get the haters and it’s because they are so close minded and I either get ‘Are you sure about that, seems like a risky career?” or ‘That’s so cool!’”. Vidushi also mentioned how “Beforehand I didn’t see the arts or journalism as a viable career because I didn’t know how much I could do with arts. I was surrounded with people with a fixed mindset, but I branched out and I’m glad I did ‘cause I saw possibilities that I never thought existed”. The job market grows day by day with diversity/uniqueness, so being able to bring something different to the table opens doors for you.
It is terrifying. It takes courage to be bold, take risks, and do something out of the ordinary. Triya, Vidushi, and I are lucky to have reliable support systems and we recognize that we are fortunate, but ultimately our future is in our own hands. For that reason, I encourage pursuing a career that you hold genuine passion for. Both of my parents told me “When you’re older we want you to look back and have no regrets, so go for it and if it doesn’t work out at least you can say you tried”. Make your dreams fit your reality and if you want it bad enough you must fight for it. Before judging, it is important to realize that every career path deserves equal respect and recognition. We are not just fighting for our dreams, we are also fighting for our respect.
Youtube link: https://youtu.be/oKvVjrt8buA