It’s OK to Major in FIne Arts
When you settle on a college major, should you follow your passion, even if it means less job security? Or should you choose a path toward financial stability, even if it means less creative freedom?
Turns out, these objectives don’t always cancel each other out. Jennifer Gerber, a full-time “cast member” at Walt Disney World, is one of many fine arts majors making a living doing what she loves.
Gerber started dancing as a little girl, but only once she attended Booker High School, a performing arts school in Sarasota, did she realize that she could do it for a living. There, Gerber also took advantage of every opportunity to push herself, including AP and dual enrollment classes, student government, and community service.
This drive and curiosity bolstered her success in college as well. Gerber started at Sante Fe College in Gainesville before transferring to USF, where she refined her technique in a conservatory-style curriculum. The transfer was tough, and Gerber thinks she pushed herself too hard in order to prove that she belonged: “I should have done it for myself, but I have no regrets. I learned a lot about myself and my values.”
These values — drive, curiosity, generosity, and communication — all complement her studies in fine arts. She says, “Dance is an art form that is present and fleeting; I’m always astonished when I let the choreography flow rather than forcing it. In my daily life, this translates to the ability to wait and not make snap decisions, and the ability to learn through observing others.”
After graduating in 2018, Gerber studied abroad in France (where she was born) with the USF Dance in Paris Program. She “viewed it as a transition from college to ‘real-life.’” This time inspired Gerber to apply for “a slew” of scholarship and grant programs, which taught her an important lesson about working in the arts: “You will hear ‘no’ more often than you will hear ‘yes.’ Don’t let this deter you.”
These days, you can find Gerber performing
at Walt Disney World. She applied because Disney pays performers a living wage, and she wanted to start paying down college debts. Disney entertainers are also union members, which means that most of them kept their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Performances were put on hold, and the artists temporarily displaced to other positions, but Gerber will remain with the organization while exploring the possibility of freelance work and collaboration.
Gerber is proof that it’s possible to major in fine arts and make a livable wage. It’s not an easy road, she warns. “Your instrument is your body, which begins to deteriorate over time, and dance is both costly and time-consuming.” Still, she says, “Dance is how I learn, how I reach, how I move forward.” Dance is Gerber’s life.
Her best advice? “Don’t pursue a career in dance
just because you enjoy it. Do it because you have no choice.”