Presenting Core-ography: "A Global Dance Storytelling Project"

Core-Artist Lauren Fadeley (Photo: Alexander Izaliev)

Happy World Ballet Day! Nearly six months ago, I was taking the train back from teaching in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I had been sending my choreography out to companies to share my work in hopes of being hired for commissions. And while many of them expressed interest in my work, I hadn't realized that most companies have their seasons planned 2-3 years in advance. While listening to the sleepy drone of the train chugging along the tracks, I thought to myself, "How do I continue to fine-tune my craft, while staying true to myself throughout the process and product?" At that moment, I thought of you, my readers of Life of a Freelance Dancer.

For years, you have gotten to share in my career wins and hear about my losses and darker experiences. At times, people have vocalized their discomfort that they felt I had crossed the line in sharing my personal life. But what has kept me writing over the years have been those people who reach out to me and says "Thank you for sharing your story. It helped me through a difficult time and let me know that I wasn't alone in my situation." From all of this, Core-ography was born.

My hope for this project is that our incredible artists will share deeply personal experiences to help viewers worldwide understand that we all share in life's challenges. And in response it will help inspire people to express themselves more freely.

Please enjoy the premiere of our first mini-documentary in my Core-ography web series. Listen to Pennsylvania Ballet Principal & Capezio Athlete Ambassador Lauren Fadeley share her journey in joining New York City Ballet at the young age of 16, quitting the company 2 years later after suffering an injury, attending college, fighting through clinical depression, and finding her way back to her art form. Be sure to watch through the entire interview to see her dance a beautiful choreographic expression of her life-defining experience.

We have already received attention from Pointe magazine and on the Balancing Pointe podcast. I am so excited to see where this project goes. Enjoy and be sure to subscribe to our channel to receive updates as we tell 11 more incredible artist's stories!


Core-ography: "A Global Dance Storytelling Project" - Preview

Over the past few months, I've been writing a "Create Your Own Project" series as I have been developing my own project, Core-ography: "A Global Dance Storytelling Project." Well, I've definitely been creating over the past few months. And now I am finally in a place where I can start showing you the fruits of my efforts. After working hard to gain fiscal sponsorship, determining my budget, reaching out to friends and colleagues for private donations, and running a successful crowdfunding campaign, I finally made it into the studio to create my art. Enjoy this preview of my recent week interviewing, choreographing, and filming Pennsylvania Ballet Principal Dancer Lauren Fadeley speaking about how she fell out of love with ballet, quit New York City Ballet, and slowly found her way back to the beautiful art form of ballet. Enjoy!



LOFD Reaches Major Milestone - How My Life Has Changed Since I Began Freelancing

Screen shot from editing - Core-ography Core-Artist Lauren Fadeley
I know it has been awhile since I've posted, but a lot has been going on. Nearly two weeks ago, I successfully ended my first public fundraising campaign for Core-ography, where we surpassed our $6,000 goal by nearly $300. This allowed me to begin working with my first Core-Artist this past week. I spent nearly 10 hours interviewing, choreographing, and filming Pennsylvania Ballet Principal Lauren Fadeley. Beyond all of this, I was named a finalist in the prestigious McCallum Theatre's 18th annual Choreography Festival. This means that I will be heading to Palm Desert, CA with two dancers to perform my pas de deux from "Distinct Perceptions" and compete against the likes of 9 other established and emerging choreographers. What an honor!

Now, I know that all of the above may seem like major milestones (which they are), but today I am here to discuss a significant achievement that we just reached together. Almost 3 1/2 years after being thrust into this freelance lifestyle and beginning this blog to share my journey and knowledge as I learned the ropes, Life of a Freelance Dancer has officially reached 100,000 views. Back when I started writing the first of these 137 posts, I never imagined that I would have an audience reading from as close as the United States to as far as Australia. Dancers and freelancers alike from the United Kingdom, Phillippines, Russia, France, Japan, India, and beyond, check in regularly to see what is happening in my life, my art, and my mind. I am so appreciative of my audience and the support that I have received from you. A GREAT BIG THANK YOU to all of my readers for helping me achieve this milestone!

With all of this said and done, I want to reward you with some great content. I've been thinking about what to write for this post for awhile, as I noticed we would hit this marker at the beginning of the month. After much thought, I determined it would be best to share with you how my life has changed since I began freelancing, and writing this blog

My last day at PNB onstage w/Maria Chapman
Let's go back to the beginning. When I moved to Philadelphia on June 17th, 2011, I had big dreams. I was taking a huge risk, leaving Pacific Northwest Ballet to join the fledgling, more contemporary Ballet X. By joining this organization, I cut my former salary down by nearly 2/3's, cut my guaranteed work weeks practically in half, and gave up all of the benefits that came with a big company contract. Why? Because like most artists do, I wanted to stretch myself as far as I possibly could. If you had told me that 4 years later I would be completely in charge of running my own career, traveling the country regularly, creating my own projects, directing organizations, and much more, I would have probably laughed in your face. Little did I know at the time that I would stretch myself in ways that I couldn't have imagined.

When I first moved to Philly, I was used to having a regular schedule. In Seattle, we had a Monday through Friday work week. We would begin class at 10:15 am and end our rehearsal days at 7 pm. I assumed things would be the same. But when I started freelancing, things changed drastically. All of a sudden I was in charge of my own technique, seeking work, negotiating contracts, self-promotion, marketing, staying in shape, and much more. I went from only having to show up in the studio to doing every aspect necessary to have a chance to show up in the studio and perform. I went from stretching in the morning, taking technique class, and rehearsing all day to never having a moment to breathe. After nearly 3 years of barely ever taking a day off, I had too much. This was one of my first major freelancing lessons. I started to burn out and displayed symptoms of severe anxiety. Today, while I still live the same lifestyle that I began four years ago, I have learned to nearly always take Sunday completely off for myself (today being an exception to write this exciting, timely blog). By giving myself Sunday, I take some pressure off myself and have a chance to relax and refresh for the upcoming week. Dancing for a company, a two-day weekend was a given unless we were performing. Today, a two-day weekend happens maybe once or twice a year.

Another part of my life that has changed drastically since crossing the country to try something new is my mobility as an artist and my perception of what encompasses a long period away from home and my partner. I have this really bad habit of getting what I ask for, but not exactly how I thought I would get it. When I left PNB, I was really interested in making travel a part of my art form. When dancing at PNB, we rarely went on tour. This was something that I had always imagined would be a part of my career. When I joined Ballet X, there was talk that the company would have a few opportunities to tour each season. I never made it long enough with the company to attend any tours outside of the performance at an APAP conference in New York where I sustained the injury for which they eventually fired me. But once I began to freelance, things changed drastically.

Performing @ the Guggenheim (Photo: Matthew Murphy)
My first few freelancing gigs had me excited to travel, but nervous about leaving my partner for very small amounts of time. When I performed at the Guggenheim's Works & Process series, I wasn't too worried about being away from home for 3 weeks because my partner was to join me in NYC for a week in the middle. Next, I danced for the first time with Alaska Dance Theatre for 5 weeks. Again, I was lucky that my man joined me right in the middle of the gig. So, the longest we had been apart at the time was less than 14 days. I remember being so upset when I was invited to dance with Festival Ballet Providence and found out that we would be away from each other for over 3 weeks. It was the longest that we had ever not seen each other since we moved in together in 2006. Today, I have been away from home for nearly 4 months and the longest we have gone without seeing each other has been 2 months. It is hard and not my favorite part of freelancing, but we make it work for us through regular phone and skype sessions, a relaxed approach to communicating, and the advice of a counselor.

On the traveling front, I always imagined myself touring to major cities with the company I danced for headlining in this organization's productions. But the past four years have instead featured me traveling to cities large and small, near and far, all on my own. Up until this past June, in fact, I hadn't been home for longer than 7 week in 3 1/2 years. In this time, I have danced, choreographed, and taught in New York City, Anchorage, Long Island, Providence, Philadelphia, Rochester, D.C., Myrtle Beach, Los Angeles, West Virginia, Ventura, Walnut Creek, San Francisco, Fort Wayne, Lafayette, Oakland, Irvine, Little Rock, and a few more that I'm probably missing. I used to be afraid of traveling to smaller cities. I assumed that the people would be conservative in nature, the culture would be limited, and that I would run out of things to do. This is one place that freelancing has really changed my perception. Nearly each place that I have worked has shown me that, while in differing stages of development, there are amazing people and places almost everywhere in the country. I hope to expand my perception of this outside of our country in the near future!

My last day as Interim Artistic Director of Alaska Dance Theatre
Another area of my life that has changed greatly since I started freelancing has been my awareness of what I am capable of creating. As a dancer, you are expected to be submissive. Most dancers are always following the lead of somebody else, often dreaming of the day that they grab the wheel of their career. I guess I was lucky that I didn't have to wait for this to happen. When I was left without a company to call home, I had no choice but to take control of things, create my own opportunities, and expand my experience. Again, if you told me 4 years ago that I would direct Alaska Dance Theatre, choreograph for the National Choreographers Initiative, create my own summer intensive in Anchorage, teach at Peridance Capezio Center, write my very own popular blog, throw networking events for freelancers, or create a film project, I would have looked at you like you had 20 heads.

Many days, I just can't believe that I have experienced and made the things happen that I have. While my stress and anxiety levels have increased ten-fold since I began living the life of a freelance dancer, I wouldn't take back getting the chance to see where my mind and body can lead me. Even with all of the challenges that I have been through over these difficultly fruitful years, the opportunity to lead my own creativity and career have defined me in ways that would be impossible under the culture and structure of most dance companies. And while I miss that structure and safety net provided by working for an established organization, I will continue to value my freedom while I stay in this career-style. Thank you again for sharing this journey with me as I find my way through joy, struggle, and creativity. And CHEERS to the years of this to come!

Thanks for joining me on this journey to 100,000!!!!!


Help Core-ography Reach It's Goal - Final 3 Days of Fundraising Campaign

Hey LOFD fans! I want to leave a little note here that we are in the final 3 days of our fundraising campaign for our Core-ography project. We are only 1/3 of the way towards meeting our $6,000 goal and need your help! Would you be willing to make a donation of any size (they start at $10 and go up from there). If each of my readers donate at our minimal donation-level, we can easily meet our goal. We have great perks for donation levels from getting your name mentioned in the credits as a donor to skype sessions and personalized choreography made just for you by me! LOFD receives over 100 views daily from the United States to India, and all across Europe to South America!

You can follow this link (CLICK HERE) for more information about the project or to make a "tax-deductible" donation. Below, you can see all of our high caliber artists. Each of your donations help support telling these incredible artists life-defining stories.

Please consider helping us finish off this campaign with a bang!

Bridgett Zehr - Freelance Artist (former Principal w/English National Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, & Houston Ballet)
Brooklyn Mack - Principal w/Washington Ballet (former Principal w/Orlando Ballet & dancer w/Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre Studio Company. Princess Grace Fellowship Winner. Medalist - Varna, Jackson, Helsinki, Boston, & Korean International Ballet Competitions)
Lauren Fadeley - Principal w/Pennsylvania Ballet & Capezio Brand Athlete (former New York City Ballet, Indiana University, Academy Award-winning film Black Swan)
Andrew Brader
- Complexions Contemporary Ballet (former Houston Ballet, Los Angeles Ballet, Ballet Met, Die Theater Chemnitz)
Maria Chapman - Principal w/Pacific Northwest Ballet & MPG Sportswear Messenger
John Lam - Principal w/Boston Ballet (Princess Grace Fellowship Winner)
Kiara Felder
- Atlanta Ballet
Cervilio Amador
- Principal w/Cincinnati Ballet (former National Ballet of Cuba)
Shira Lanyi - Freelance Artist (former Principal w/Ballet Israel & Richmond Ballet)
Allen Joseph - Freelance Artist (Glee - TV series, Festival Ballet Theatre, Cupcake Canne)
Kara Zimmerman - Joffrey Ballet (former Senior Soloist w/Cincinnati Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet)
Jessica Daley - Freelance Artist (former Koresh Dance Company, University of the Arts)


A Positive Look at My Recent Failure

As I sit here at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport patiently waiting for my delayed first flight home to Philadelphia, I can't help but think about my failure in winning the Visions Choreographic Competition at Ballet Arkansas. Five talented choreographers from Boston, Chicago, Oklahoma City, and San Francisco (oh yeah...and me from Philly) convened for a week in the southern state of Arkansas to create a teaser work to present onstage in 11 achingly short hours. We all took this risk in hopes of receiving positive critiques from the judges (amongst them Glenn Edgerton) and to potentially receive a commission with Ballet Arkansas. After a week of planning, creativity, and great effort, my dancers threw themselves into my work and gave a glimmer of what could potentially be a much larger scale piece. Alas, another deserving choreographer won that commission, and I sit here at my gate sipping my Starbucks coffee and writing about my failure. But this failure isn't a bad thing.

The dance world is and has always been obsessed with success. "Wow! She is only 15 years old and she just got hired by New York City Ballet!""He choreographed his first ballet and all of a sudden companies everywhere are seeking him out for new commissions!" "They filled in for a dancer who got injured with only a few hours notice and were almost immediately promoted!" These are not irregular conversation pieces I have come across throughout my dance career. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, these statements have never been said about me. And the reason for this is because those meteoric success stories are so rare that they are unlikely to happen to about 99 percent of us.

So many of us in the dance world dream of rising to the top with an ease of effort and the least amount of failure. But that just doesn't happen as often as we think. Give or take a few, five artists per dance-generation can proclaim these momentous stories all the way to the front page of Dance Magazine or Pointe. So, where does that leave the rest of us? If one wants to move forward, it forces the rest of us to suffer both small and great failures as we pass from success to success.

So, let's take a look at my very recent failure. I really began choreographing back in 2008 at Pacific Northwest Ballet's Choreographers Showcase. Since that first work, I have choreographed for the National Choreographers Initiative, Seattle's Men in Dance festival, the Philly Fringe Festival, Alaska Dance Theatre, multiple other PNB showcases, and won an award from Youth America Grand Prix. Nearly 6 months ago, I decided to apply for Ballet Arkansas' Visions Choreographic Competition. I was drawn to this experience for multiple reasons. First off, any chance to create on professionals is a success. Beyond this, my work would have the opportunity to be seen by a new community, a renowned figure in the international dance community, and some of my national colleagues. In fact, to be chosen out of 31 candidates to be a finalist for this venture was a great success. Do you see where I'm going with this?

When all 5 of the finalist's short works were presented yesterday evening, each of us had already achieved success by making it to the performance stage of this competition. As of 7 PM last night, none of us had failed in our risk of entering to choreograph. But by the end of the night, one choreographer would become more successful at this event than the rest of us. If none of us had actually had the aplomb to put ours work on the line, we wouldn't have had the chance to be successes or failures. At the end of the night, I was a failure. But it was neither a bad thing to fail, nor a negative part of my growth as a dance maker. It was an opportunity to work. It was an opportunity to be seen. It was an opportunity to fail. It was an opportunity to succeed. And without all of these opportunities, I wouldn't learn, improve, refine, and cultivate my art.

With success comes failure and with failure comes success. We, especially in the U.S., suffer from the negative connotation that arrives with the word failure. But interestingly enough, most of those of us who experience the most failure also experience the most success. The two go hand in hand and are quite reciprocal. My success in the Visions Choreographic Competition also allowed for my failure. And in the end, I created a new work, added more experience to my queue, expanded my creative network, and much more. I guess I could say that I am really grateful to have had the opportunity to fail. And with this new experience, perhaps, the next time I will succeed more greatly!


Cultivating Your Outgoing Personality in New Work Environments

Jessika Anspach & me (as Puck) getting ready for A Midsummer Night's Dream at PNB
Dancer's personalities come in all shapes and forms. While most dancers have some degree of an outgoing personality onstage, it doesn't always equate to the same thing offstage. As a freelancer, you are constantly thrust into new situations where you may have to step out of your comfort zone, especially when interacting with people. Many times this means that you are entering a new environment every few weeks. With new work situations come new relationships, which also means you will need to reveal your true self more quickly than you would with a full-time position. This is necessary to make a personal connection and more memorable impact. If you don't have a naturally outgoing disposition or struggle with opening up quickly, how does one make this lifestyle of eternal transition and never-ending relationship cultivation comfortable?

I've always been pretty lucky that I was practically born with a knack for interacting with people. As I have gotten older, I have honed this in to a slight degree. But for the most part, I am genuinely interested in getting to know new acquaintances and have developed skills to make a memorable impression quickly. As I've gotten older, though, I find that I tend to shy up the first few days of a new gig as I assess the circumstances that I am entering.

Performing in my work "Gated Lies" (Photo: Bill Hebert)
When I first started tightening up, it caught me off guard. Somebody would talk to me and all of a sudden I would be stumbling over my words. Or everybody would be cracking jokes in the studio and I'd be quietly sitting in the group laughing like a lady in an old-school etiquette class. When I have noticed that I am shying up, I've found that there are a few techniques I can use to let my true outgoing personality come out.

When I'm feeling particularly shy, the first thing that locks up is my voice. Either my relentless stream of words stop flowing out of my mouth (I am infamous for my ability to fill dead air) or I can't seem to raise the volume of my voice. I'm not positive of the reasoning behind this, but my assumptions fall in the range of being afraid to overstep the unique social boundaries of my new workplace through to being consumed by my assessment of the multitude of new people and situations surrounding me. What ends up happening is that I can't seem to tie one string of thoughts together from the five floating around in my head.

Essentially, what it comes down to is that I am likely experiencing sensory overload. I think this happens with many people who have issues with an unwanted stifling of their personality in new environments. In these situations, I will try to eliminate some of the noise in my head and focus on one thing at a time. Or I try to remind myself that every workplace has a particular social order. In entering that new environment, I can't walk on eggshells in fear that I may overstep my boundaries. I rarely do break workplace culture. And when I have actually done so, people are very understanding and forgiving as long as I learned quickly and was genuine in my error.

Another time when I have felt myself pulling back has been when there is another dancer in the room with a larger-than-life personality. This is the type of dancer that cracks all of the really funny jokes or who always needs to be the center of attention. When this happens, I'd rather let that person take control than duke it out for the social spotlight. In reality, I'm only successful at being funny about 10% of the time (depending on your humor) and I feel people appreciate me for many of my other qualities. So, when I find my outgoing self being stifled by one of these personalities, I tend to step into the shadows and enjoy the show or move on to a quieter place to focus on the many tasks that I probably have in my new environment. Essentially, if you find yourself in a similar situation, you need to choose whether to be a part of the act, a part of the audience, or to pass your ticket to someone else and skip out on the show.
Me stress? Never! (w/Elizel Long - Photo: Gutierrez Photography)
One of the most stressful parts of revealing your personality at a new gig can often be that you need to be on at all times. Unless you are in a hotel room by yourself, you have to be on in the studio, in the dressing room, in your host family's house, or with your roommate. It doesn't matter how outgoing you are, if you don't have some quiet time to yourself, you will likely find your personality shutting down when you least expect it. To combat this, I will take some quiet time to myself. In order to avoid situations where I am resting and somebody unintentionally interrupts my moment , I tend to find myself eating lunch, dinner, or sitting at a coffee shop all by my lonesome. When I take some me time, while I'm not in the comfort of my own home or at a regular workplace, I get a better sense of self returning back to me.

I don't always find that I lose certain aspects of being outgoing from gig to gig. But it can be stressful to watch your true self be stifled and take a back seat when there are tons of artistic personalities oozing out of each person in the room. While this isn't always true, I do find that directors tend to have a magnetic attraction to dancers who can hold the attention of an entire studio with a smile, wink, or laugh. It can be stressful entering new work environments regularly. And nobody needs the additional worry of fading into the background or appearing uninteresting or disingenuous. Making a memorable impression is important because you want to stay on employers radars for future work and opportunities. If you find yourself feeling or acting shy, stop thinking so much, show people you are generally interested in their particular environment, and take some time for yourself to rest and recharge your social battery.


8 Things You May Not Know About Me

Look! I got equipment for my project. Thanks Career Transitions for Dancers!
I've been posting a lot about my project, how to make your own, and my fundraising efforts over the past handful of blogs. I'm thinking that it may be time to take a little break from all of this explaining and self-promotion and share a mindless list post. It's been awhile since I've written any random lists for my readers. So in honor of today's change to the month of August, I'd like to share 8 (get it? The 8th month) things that you may not know about me. Enjoy!

1. When I was a kid, I was really torn about my future career. I really wanted to be a dancer. But I was actually equally passionate about becoming a meteorologist. My family used to joke that I would become a dancing weatherman. In between all of my time in school and dance classes, I wouldn't watch Nickelodeon or kids programming. Instead, I would sit glued to The Weather Channel.

I <3 NYC (from my Instagram feed)
2. Even though I was raised only 2 hours away from New York City, I never ventured into its cavernous, skyscraper-ed streets until I was 14. A great friend and her family (we went all the way back to pre-school together and are still friends today) kindly treated me to a day-long bus tour to see the city and a Broadway show (Titanic...It was definitely sinkable). While we saw the show and had a classy dinner, the only thing I vividly remember was taking a rest and sitting next to my friend and her mother at a fountain near Radio City Music Hall, where we people watched for a half hour. When I saw a businesswoman in a classy dress and sneakers running to hail a cab, I knew that New York needed to be a major part of my life. I'm still grateful for that trip today. Changed my life.

3. I lived in Seattle for 7 years and only began drinking coffee during the last 6 months of my stay there. This is one of my biggest regrets in life!

Please meet Psycho
4. When I was 15, my mom was considering getting a new cat. Being a quirky teenage boy, I told her she should name the new cat Psycho. She vetoed that idea. My response? "You wait til I get my first cat. Its name will absolutely be Psycho!" And you know what? Seven years later, at the age of 22, I got two cats and named one of them Psycho.

5. Yes, I'm 31 years old. And, Yes, I watch Spongebob for hours and hours on the weekends!

6. I talk about my personal life a lot on here, but I rarely talk about my family. I'm kind of odd, in a sense, that I don't have a great sense of family. Not that I don't love my family. My parents divorced when I was 1 and my father and his side of the family were never a big part of my life. My grandmother was a lovely lady who had a tendency to hold grudges. So, we never really saw that side of the family either. Aside from my mom, step dad, older sister, much younger brother (11 years), grandmother, and uncle, I had no contact with the rest of my family. To make up for it, I had my dance family. Some of my extended family has reached out to me as I have become an adult, but I found it challenging to accept their immediate love and support when I don't really know them or feel/understand that connection.

My concept of family? Most of them are in there/I couldn't find a clear shot of all of us
7. My partner and I are obsessed with graffiti art and collect vinyl toys. One of our favorite things when visiting other cities is to find street art and stores that sell these quirky toys (like Kid Robot). We have an accrued collection of well over 100 of these fun pieces of art.

Anniversary gift - Art by Lora Zombie
8. I was afraid of small cities and towns until I started freelancing. My entire life has been centered around larger cities. I was raised outside of Philadelphia and have lived in D.C., New York, Houston, Seattle, and back to Philly. When I found out that I was heading to places like Anchorage, Fort Wayne, Myrtle Beach, and Rochester, NY, I was genuinely frightened. I don't know exactly why, but I think I was convinced that people who don't live in big cities were conservative and judgmental of my lifestyle. I'm really glad that I've had the experience of freelancing because it has shown me that these are amazing places with even better people living there!