Photo courtesy of Scillystuff
As a young girl growing up, I used to take 20-30 hours of different dance studio classes a week, aspiring to join American Ballet Theatre or New York City Ballet someday. I’ve practiced everything from ballet, hip-hop, salsa, pointe and beyond. And while dance continues to be my passion to this day, in high school I soon shifted from prima ballerina to Anita or Mimi from two of my favorite musicals (West Side Story and Rent.) My path changed yet again as I entered college when I chose to write, produce and act in films, so I shifted again envisioning myself as the new Tina Fey, Katherine Bigelow or Eva Mendes.
Much to the dismay of my college counselors who didn’t have a major designed to fit all my varied interests, and inspired by all the options available to me I also tried singing, guitar, photography, publicity, journalism and even finance. In short, I had every sign of The Dabbler Syndrome.
The Artist with Dabbler Syndrome:
- Likes to “try on” new and different interests
- Commits to each endeavor, but continually seeks new challenges
- Doesn’t care for definitions like “dancer”, “theater kid” or “trumpet player”
- Finds it difficult to explain the above to adults (family, teachers, non-dabbler people) who want you to “focus”
- Sometimes feels confused or guilty for “dabbling”
Photo courtesy of theCCLC
If you can relate to the above, the most important thing you should know is: IT IS OKAY. Although the word dabbler can seem reductive and a bit demeaning, I mean it in the best sense. I am exploratory by nature, interested in many things and once I’ve grasped the essentials of a course of study I always ask myself the question “What’s next?” Think of it as trying all the food at a buffet. Why would you settle for just a sandwich when you could have a banquet?
Unlike careers like medicine or law, which have pretty defined educational and professional stages, milestones for artists can vary from one person to the next. While some artists admirably dedicate all their time to excelling in one art form, being passionate about multiple art forms can be equally fulfilling. Is it harder to define? Sure. But if you’re a dabbler, you probably don’t like definitions anyway, and you are up for the challenge. Here are some tips to embrace being a dabbler, and learn how to deal with misconceptions you may run into.
The Dabbler Solutions:
1. When you try new things, don’t give up just because others have been practicing for longer than you have. Everyone starts somewhere and has a different path.
*Fun facts: Academy Award winner Denzel Washington studied Biology and Political Science in college before he first acted in a YMCA staff talent show. Coco Chanel was a cabaret dancer before she started designing in her mid-20’s.
2. Each endeavor you try is a learning experience: playing in a large jazz band teaches you something different than taking an acting monologue workshop.
3. If you try something and don’t like it, that’s a good thing. Sometimes knowing what you don’t want is more helpful than knowing what you do.
4. Whether you dabble in two art forms or six, know that every art form requires discipline and patience.
5. Find mentors or artists who may have some similar interests as you, so you can have some form of guidance.
Arts “Dabbler” Syndrome
Remember that life is about the journey, not the finish line, so don’t give up when your journey seems longer or different than everyone else’s…ENJOY IT! Check back with me post-college and see if I was “cured” of my “dabbler syndrome” and was able to reconcile all my varied interests or better yet, maybe that’s what graduate school is all about! In the meantime, embrace the “dabbler” in you!