Cover of Passionate Work by Ruth Horowitz
Passionate Work
Choreographing a Dance Career
Ruth Horowitz

August 2024
324 pages.
from $32.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503638860
Paperback ISBN: 9781503639607
Ebook ISBN: 9781503639614

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Excerpts and More

Corps de ballet literally means the "body" of the ballet company, and it refers to the group of dancers who are not principals. Another large group of dancers puts together portfolios of work, often across several dance companies. These categories of dancers typically don't have name recognition and yet comprise the majority of professional dancers today. The ways that they stitch together careers, through dedication, grit, and no small amount of skill – and the reasons they have for doing so without the promise of fame or fortune – are telling of broader trends that shape the precarious labor of professional dance, and creative careers more generally. In Passionate Work, dance hobbyist and sociologist, Ruth Horowitz captures their stories.

When creative labor is studied, it is often thought of in opposition to more conventional work, and the primary metric that distinguishes them is passion. Professional creatives are not working in the traditional sense because they are following their passion. By tracing the careers of such dancers, Horowitz troubles the binary understanding of passion and work. A career in dance requires both, and approaching her subjects through this lens allows her to explore their strategies for sustaining passion through the ups and downs of a career. Horowitz explores how dancers evaluate the rewards and challenges of a notoriously underpaid, and uncertain profession.

Horowitz considers major dimensions of a career in a performing art, documenting each stage in a dancer's life. Above all, she shines a light on the strategies used to achieve a sense of biographical continuity in a world often marked by discontinuity and rupture.

About the author

Ruth Horowitz is Professor of Sociology at New York University. She is the author of several books including, most recently, In the Public Interest: Medical Licensing and the Disciplinary Process (2013). She describes dance as her favorite "after school" activity.

"Passionate Work is compellingly written, deeply researched, and analytically sophisticated. Horowitz provides the deepest sociological analysis of the work lives of middle-level ballet dancers that has yet been written. With its unique focus on these dancers within a world of organizations and reputations, this book permits us to think through a significant and esteemed (if occasionally problematic) cultural domain with deep data and a novel perspective."

—Gary Alan Fine, Northwestern University

"This is a well-researched, clear-eyed account of the nuts and bolts of what a career in dance entails. Horowitz takes dancing, and dancers, seriously, and regards the profession as a passionate occupation but also as work, with everything that entails: effort, time, financial investment, and often, disappointment. Passionate Work answers many questions about what it means to be a dancer, including some we didn't even know we had."

—Marina Harss, author of The Boy from Kyiv

"Horowitz illuminates the working lives of dozens of contemporary ballet dancers, both those employed in companies and the freelancers she calls "portfolio dancers," masterfully depicting what it is to be a professional dancer in an age of labor precarity. Through their voices we experience their daily struggle to build a career, balance creativity, collaboration, health, and friendship. and maintain a viable sense of self against all odds."

—Lynn Garafola, author of Legacies of Twentieth-Century Dance

"An illuminating study of dancers' careers, their uncertain, often precarious paths, and their many challenges, both demanding and rewarding. Qualitative sociology at its best."

—Pierre-Michel Menger, author of The Economics of Creativity

"'Dancers who didn't become stars' take the stage in this valuable sociological study.... Horowitz sheds fascinating light on how the dance world capitalizes on the passion of its laborers."

Publishers Weekly