4.19.2015

Creating Your Own Project series - Fiscal Sponsorship

"How Philly Moves" photo shoot (Photo: JJ Tiziou
Freelancers are more likely to start their own projects than company dancers. While those with company contracts spend much of their time focusing their energy towards getting promoted, freelancers often have extra time to flex their creativity muscles. For many years, I have been focused on simulating the season of an annually contracted dancer through my freelance career. As I traveled the world from company to company, I watched many of my other freelancing friends create their own projects. Well, now that I've settled down in Philly for the past 3 months, I've had more time to develop my own ideas and see where they take me. In a handful of coming posts, I'll be sharing more about a project that I am creating. But for the time being, I'd like to discuss fiscal sponsorship, an important aspect of raising funds for your own projects. 

When I first started brainstorming ideas to give myself a platform to work more on my choreography, I knew that I would need to navigate the tricky technique of fundraising. I don't like asking people for financial support and have always had great pride in my ability to do things on my own. But when it comes to major arts projects, very few artists can execute their plans without a solid base of funding. Most people's first fundraising thought darts straight into the land of crowd-sourcing (like Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Rockethub, which I will discuss in a future blog). While this method of fundraising can be a great supplemental tool, there are many more strategic and fruitful ways to fund a project. 

Initially, the people that are going to provide the base of funding for your work will be your friends and family, as well as people that have shown previous interest in you as an artist. But without the ability to offer tax-deductible donations, you are unlikely to field sponsorship beyond $100. Most people don't mind giving a small amount of money without much benefit for themselves other than the gratification of giving and seeing somebody else's passion project come to fruition. Anything over $100 will be difficult to field without a benefit for the donor. What is the best perk you can give somebody who wants to offer a substantial gift? A tax deduction.

How does a lone individual like me offer tax-deductible donations when I am my one single entity. I'm not prepared to start a non-profit organization or field a board for my very first try at self-producing my art. In all of my research over the past few months, I have found that there is a way that I can offer such benefits to anybody that is inspired enough by my work to help commission my process. I can do this through fiscal sponsorship.

Fiscal sponsorship is when a not-for-profit organization (often 501(c)3) offers a pathway for funds an individual raises to be filtered through their company back to the creator in order to help them offer tax-deductible benefits to donors, often for a fee of 5-10% of the donation amount. Essentially, donations are legally funneled through the organization to appear as if the company is receiving the gift.

Beyond the benefit of receiving tax credits on donations, fiscal sponsorship also allows an individual to apply for grants in a way that they couldn't have before. Again, using the umbrella of the sponsoring non-profit, one can reach out beyond seeking offerings for individuals and apply for grants that are only available to not-for-profit companies. Using fiscal sponsorship, you can open many more pathways to receive larger amounts of funding to make your project a reality.

How do you find an organization to fiscally sponsor you? I did a great deal of research on my path to funding my work. After checking out a handful of potential sponsors, I settled on New York Live Arts (often referred to as NYLA). In order to apply for sponsorship, I had to sign up as an Associate Artist ($100 fee). From there, I had to write a proposal. This included information about my project, its mission, a loose timeline, a budget, and how I planned on raising funds. Once I submitted all of this information, I had to travel to New York City for an in-person meeting to discuss specific details of my project. I was lucky enough that NYLA was happy to fiscally sponsor me with no further questions beyond my proposal.

While I set my sights on NYLA for sponsorship, there are many other organizations that help artists gain a non-profit-like status. Among those I researched were Fractured Atlas and The Field. These organizations regularly offer fiscal sponsorship to artists. Along my path, I also found that you can reach out to any non-profit organization and request that they allow funds to be allocated through their organization. If you have a relationship that could open up this door, be sure to have clear terms on how this set up will work in writing. Every organization will be different in the percentage of funds they keep for helping you out,  how long it takes for that money to be released, how you apply for grants, what type of grants you can apply for, and much more. Be sure that all of this is clear before you sign any contract. Also be aware that you will be responsible to pay taxes on the money that you raise. Keep tabs on your expenses to make sure that you deduct the expenses to minimize how much you have to pay back at the end of the year.

Fiscal sponsorship is a god-send to many self-creating artists like myself. It is very unlikely for most individuals to receive larger donations without offering something to funders beyond your final product. With fiscal sponsorship, you not only open up the possibilities of greater funding, you vastly expand your pool of grant applications. If you ever consider creating your own work; whether for one show, a tour, an installation series, or anything else that inspires you, definitely look into connecting with a respectable non-profit organization that will allow your funds to be stream-lined through their system.

4.06.2015

Catch Up on LOFD - Previous Posts List

When I started writing Life of a Freelance Dancer, I knew that I wanted to place my writing in the simpler, old-school format that blogs used to be in when I first started reading them over a decade ago. I like the simplicity of having a continuous stream of thought flowing from page to page without the distractions of a home page that looks more like a website than a web log. While I am still quite happy with the format that I have chosen to write in, I do understand the lack of accessibility can make it difficult to look back and see what blog topics have already been written. Keeping this in mind, I want to help my newer readers out and refresh my dedicated readers memories by offering this list of all of my previous posts. Enjoy!

1.  What is it like to work as a freelancer?

2. How do I get work?

3. Dancing in the Last Frontier

4. Adjusting to new environments...fast!

5. Returning to my roots in Providence

6. Preparing for "limited" rehearsal gigs

7. Living with a host family

8. Dancing out of your comfort zone

9. How to pack for short-term & long-term gigs

10. The #1 question people ask

11. Picking the right pic

12. Choosing your home base

13. Summer Slow-down

14. Breaking out of my niche

15. Guest blogger - Boston Ballet Principal Lia Cirio - World Ballet Competition Gala

16. Freelancing isn't all glory

17. Working with what you have

18. A home-base experience - Dance Fusion

19. Guest blogger - Multidisciplinary Miami-based freelancer Priscilla Marrero - "Miami Light Project" experience

20. Continuing to better your technique in open class or on your own

21. How to negotiate a contract

22. Freelancer doesn't mean free

23. Freelancing her way to a company contract - Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Casey Taylor

24. Experience Post - "Works & Process" @ the Guggenheim - Avi Scher & Dancers

25. Why Nutcracker season is so important

26. Things I've learned freelancing thus far

27. Meet your link to getting hired - Lauren Menger

28. The importance of your freelancing friends

29. How to find and obtain health insurance

30. The importance of taking breaks

31. Ashlee Dupre - NY-based Musical Theatre freelance artist

32. Exciting news from Life of a Freelance Dancer

33. How to make your own performance reel

34. Making it work - My hurricane Sandy rehearsal experience

35. CONTACT: A networking event connecting freelance dancers

36. How to cope with the holidays away from home

37. Surviving Nutcracker - Act like a professional, think like a student

38. In the spirit of the holidays - Part 1 (8 wild moments)

39. In the spirit of the holidays - Part 2 (12 of my favorite moments)

40. Happy New Year - Retreat yourself

41. My failure in designing my own website

42. Please vote for "Life of a Freelance Dancer" to be top blog (No Longer Active)

43. Freelancing while in a relationship

44. My go-to warm up

45. Dos and Don'ts of freelancing

46. LOFD exceeds 10,000 views

47. Take advantage of opportunities

48. Video Break - Performing as Cassio in "Othello" w/Alaska Dance Theatre

49. The mental game of freelancing

50. Staying in the loop

51. Doing your taxes as an independent contractor

52. The fine line between submissive and aggressive

53. The best advice I've gotten (Life of a Freelance Dancer turns 1 year old)

54. Video Break - Performing "The Nutcracker" grand pas de deux

55. Returning to Providence

56. Have I been forgotten?

57. Social-media whore vs. savvy

58. Get in CONTACT with your community - 6/25/13

59. Emotional health - Cultivating things you enjoy

60. New York calling

61. The overwhelming feeling that I ALWAYS need to be in shape

62. Clearing up the fear of going to classy events

63. CONTACT (2nd edition) - In case you missed it

64. Memorable moments

65. Dancers and decisions in their dancing

66. The main pitfall of a freelance dancer

67. The art of continually reinventing yourself

68. Why artists are expected to have little self-value?

69. What I learned during my week off social media

70. The rules of taking open class

71. Sometimes I write articles for website design companies

72. Why 30 is a frightening age for most dancers

73. Freelancing is rarely forever

74. Finding your comforts in a hotel

75. Is it ever appropriate to burn a bridge?

76.  In the spirit of the holidays - 2013 edition

77. Check out my article in Dance/USA - Freelancing and Nutcracker season

78. The 12 shows of Nutcracker

79. The Principal problem

80. LOFD makes Dance Magazine

81. HIRE ME!!! - Desperation vs. Patience

82. The glory and challenge of young success

83.  LOFD listed among 49 creatives geniuses

84. Emotional training in ballet

85. Contract talk - Important items to have In writing

86. The replacement dancer

87. Falling ill as a dancer - Taking care of yourself

88. It's a Freelance Life video

89. Dancing in fear

90. The reinforcement gig

91. Travel post - Extending your trip following a gig

92. The frightful first day of work

93. Performing for no reviews

94. How to approach issues appropriately

95. Being the significant other of a freelance dancer

96. The, sometimes, life of a choreographer

97. Injuries: How to handle injury & preventable factors

98. Healthy competition - From student to freelancer

99. Create your own blog

100. 100th post - 100 things that inspire me

101. A freelance dancer's summer dream - National Choreographers Initiative

102. Should artists be shamed into taking "normal" jobs?

103. Stress-free travel tips from an "Economy" jet-setter

104. How to survive burn-out

105. Video Break - My new choreography reel

106. Why post so openly on social media

107. The rules of company class

108. Using independent contracting as a trial for full-time employment

109. How failure and risk helps me succeed

110. Reacclimating to home after being away

111. Why blog when it brings me no income?

112. Dance Informa magazine interview - Dancing multiple Nutcracker gigs

113. Using teaching to supplement your salary

114. 12 reasons dance is my religion

115. My 2014 highlights - Best in a year of a gypsy dancer

116. How much should I get paid?

117. Video break - My choreography - Pas de deux from Distinct Perceptions

118. Five qualities every "dancer-preneur" needs

119. Is it ever appropriate to sue a company

120. So you think you can freelance?

121. The art of self-promotion on social media

122. MRI talk - What is it like to have an MRI?

123. 8 ways to renew your inspiration

3.27.2015

8 Way to Renew Your Inspiration

Whether you are dancing in a full-time company or have taken to running your career on your own as a freelancer, there will be times that you may feel like you are losing your motivation. Sometimes, it can be a slow period when it comes to casting and, at other times, it can be the challenge of finding inspiring work. There are many experiences throughout a dancer's development that can push oneself off track to enjoying a sustained and successful career. Often, dancers just need a new perspective or experience to get them on the right track to building and growing their passion. Below I've listed a handful of ways that I have given my dance career motivation a shot in the arm.

- Youtube:

One of the best innovations to change the dance world was the creation of Youtube. Now, I know that this social media platform which focuses on short videos was never meant to specifically work as a venue for dance, but it has surely changed people's access to quality dance footage. When I was a kid, if I wanted to seek inspiration, I either had to raid my dance teacher's video cabinet or look at still pictures of dancers in periodicals. Today, if I want to see an inspiring performance or check out a specific artist, but don't have the money to pay for tickets or travel, I can easily search for the most inspiring performances online.

- Mentors:

Climbing mountains w/close friend & mentor, Boyd Bender
One thing I know for sure is that I would never have had a career if it weren't for a handful of very special adults that took interest in offering me opportunities and advice in my journey from pre-professional to professional. While I am now a full-fledged adult and completely in charge of my own career, when times get hard I know who to turn to. Maybe it was your first dance teacher, a former dancer, a former colleague, a random arts connection you met at a donor party, or a multitude of other people. These people are often the best to turn to for inspiration, as they probably have inspired you many times in the past.

- See a show:

This one can be tricky. A few months ago, a friend asked me if I was going to see a certain performance. I told them, "No. Being injured and seeing a show would probably only be depressing." Well, a few weeks later, I finally decided to see a dance performance and was really glad I had done so. Very few dancers were inspired to have a career without having seen some type of professional performance. If you are feeling a little uninspired, dress up, grab a drink, and go be a spectator in the audience. It may help you find the inspiration you are looking for. 

- Take class from a new teacher:

Sometimes, a lack of inspiration is purely situational. This can happen a lot when you are dancing in a full-time company, taking from the same instructors all the time. When I was a kid, I used to take class from multiple teachers a week. Then I would leave for the summer and have a whole new set of teachers. Add in master classes, summer program auditions, and pre-performance warmups, I had a variety of options to take class. Often, in a company, the instructor options are very few, especially if you live outside of New York City. Many dancers won't leave company class because they are afraid that the Artistic Staff will think that the dancer isn't taking class. If you don't live in New York City, where it is common to go to Steps on Broadway to warm up for your day, do some research about instructors and classes offered in your area. If you are concerned about your boss being upset, maybe try out their class on a day off. Often, a dancer only needs a new perspective to gain new inspiration.

 - Hang out with dance friends:

If inspiration is lacking, sometimes you need to be reminded of who you are. There is no better way to do this than to spend some time with friends who are involved in and equally passionate about your art form. Whether you are sitting and talking about dance or just enjoying the energy of other artists around you, your friends will understand and inspire you to continue growing.
  
- Take class in a new style:

When dancers are students, they often dabble in a multitude of different dance styles. As a youth, I remember thoroughly enjoying differing styles of dance, like Salsa, Flamenco, African, Hip Hop, Irish Step and more. Then we become professionals and we tighten up greatly. One thing I have found, as a pro, is that once we become very good in a niche of our art, we become afraid to step out of that niche and do something that we aren't as good at. Young students have no problem throwing themselves into a class and looking/feeling imperfect. But professional adult dancers tend to stay in their own style and fear looking bad in another. Well, give that up and run to a dance studio to take a hip-hop class or a salsa class. New inspiration is rarely found on a one-way road that you drive down day after day.

- Visit New York City:

This may not be a possibility if you are on a tight budget or live too far away, but a nice visit to New York City is often enough to light that fire that every dancer feels when they visit the Dance Capitol of the World. A few weeks ago, when I was having a less than inspiring time trying to figure out my injury, I hopped on a bus to spend a few days in this amazing city. Almost every professional dancer has some connections here. You can accomplish essentially every topic listed in this post in a short trip. Walk around, feel the vibe, see a show, take from a new teacher, try a new style, hang out with dance friends, and so much more. A trip to New York City is like drinking a few shots of espresso all at once!


- Take a few weeks off:

If all else fails, maybe you just need to take a few weeks off from your art. If you don't have the funds to do this, either start saving or ask around for random, small jobs (Task Rabbit, Craigslist, friends&family, etc.) that may be able to support you so you can take that break. Don't take a few weeks off without a plan to reenter the dance world because it may lead to more time off than you planned, which may be more damaging to this cycle. Plan how you will occupy some of your time and don't put the physical and mental stress that dancers are known to place upon themselves. If you do this appropriately and effectively, you'll come back hungry for more. As they say, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder."

3.10.2015

MRI Talk - What Is It Like to Have an MRI?

Maybe you've noticed, maybe you haven't. I haven't been sharing much about my performance experiences this season. The reason for this is because I have barely performed since the 2013-2014 dance season. I spent the end of this past summer and all of fall in Anchorage directing Alaska Dance Theatre. Upon returning, I coached a few of my students successfully through the Youth America Grand Prix semi-finals in Philadelphia, taught a handful of master classes, started sending out my choreography in search of commissions, and am working on another choreography project that I soon hope to share with you all. A lot is still going on in my freelance career, but my 2014 - 2015 season has been more about growing outside of my performance career and healing my body.

Coaching one of my students for Youth America Grand Prix at the Alvin Ailey studios
I've had injuries before, just like every professional dancer I know. But my most recent injury has been much different than any I've had in the past. While the initial injury was extremely painful and immobilizing, unlike other injuries, I have never had such an odd recovery period. In the past, I have seen marked improvement with rest, physical therapy, and time. But this time around, my gains have been marred by multiple steps back in pain and inflammation.

With my current injury, I seemed to be on the right track to recovery with physical therapy and my continuing obsession with maintaining my core strength. But when I came home from Alaska and had difficulty finding practitioners that would accept my Alaskan insurance, I was forced to continue treatment on my own. I kept up my exercises and saw a chiropractor regularly, but my pain was continuing to come back. And it was coming back stronger than it was before.

This graffiti I found in Philly perfectly represents how I felt
What I found particularly odd was that I still had my full mobility and range of movement in my body. I was taking ballet class, struggling through the first few combinations until I was warm. Then once I got warm, I could do most anything without pain, except lift my leg behind me. By the time class was over, I would feel good for about 20 minutes before my back would start to seize up. It got to the point where I couldn't sit for more than five minutes.

What confused me even more about this injury was that I couldn't figure out how to take care of it. I had been dancing in pain for some time, so I took a week off. When I took that week off, the pain got worse. So, I assumed that keeping blood flowing through those achey muscles must have benefitted them. I finally decided to take an entire month off in the middle of February and was lucky to finally find a practitioner that would treat me with my insurance.

After months of pain, struggle, and frustration, I was finally able to get a much overdue MRI yesterday. Having this type of imaging of my injury would finally give me a clue as to what has been happening in my body since October. As I prepared my MRI-seasoned self, I had to remind myself what I was getting into before I went through with the process.

Anybody that has had an MRI could quite easily scare you to death by explaining the procedure. Most people wince at the prospect of being shoved into a coffin-like tube of cacophony. But if you understand what you are getting yourself into and mentally prepare accordingly, you will have no problem acing this scan in a shavasana-like state.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine, or MRI
What exactly is an MRI? MRI stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Essentially, this style of imaging, or looking inside your body noninvasively, is like a much, much more detailed X-ray (without radiation) for whichever part of the body needs to be studied. According to the Mayo Clinic website, an "MRI is a technique that uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create detailed images of the organs and tissues in the body." While I could go into more detail about what exactly happens to make an MRI scan work, I'd prefer to move on to the experience of getting an MRI.

Before I left home for my appointment yesterday, I left all of my jewelry at home and took out my earring. Since magnets are used for these scans, you can't have any loose metal on your body. I don't know exactly what would happen, but I imagine some Matrix-like shit going down where you are lifted off the table from your ear. All kidding aside, you seriously can't have any metal on your body. There are questionnaires about pace-makers and signs about watches being destroyed. So, make sure that you leave most of your valuables at home before you head to the facility to be seen and speak up if you have any metal objects inside your body.

After arriving you will answer questionnaires about general health and metal objects in your body (shrapnel, pace-maker, etc.). Then you will be moved into a changing room to put on a gown or pair of paper shorts, which depends on the part of your body you are having scanned (I only had to put on paper shorts and got to keep my underwear, socks, and shirt on). Once you've changed and locked your belongings in a locker, you will be brought into the MRI room.

There is no specific protocol for being prepped to get your scan done, but I will give you a general idea of what happens. You will be asked a few questions that you have probably already answered, like, "Are you wearing a watch?" Then, you will be given ear plugs to put in your ears, which you will want to make sure are secure before you are put into the machine. Sometimes, facilities will have headphones with music. Once you are prepped, you will be asked to lay down on what looks like a table without legs. When they ask you if you would like a blanket, say yes. Take the blanket whether you want it or not. It gets quite cold and lonely in there.

Is it an MRI machine?
Once placed on the table, you will be scrolled into a very tight, cannoli-like tube. If you have severe anxiety issues relating to small spaces, be sure to ask your doctor before your appointment about possible medication (usually valium) to calm your nerves for the procedure. One of the last things you will be told by the technicians before you can't see more than the creme-colored ceiling of the machine will be, "Stay as still as possible." Any movement by the patient can distort the imaging process. If you move too much, it will only extend the amount of time you are stuck in the tube. Usually (but not always), you will be given a panic button in one of your hands to squeeze if you start to feel overly claustrophobic or present symptoms of a panic attack. Relax! You won't need to use this. I suggest keeping your eyes closed as the technicians put you into the machine and just keep them closed until they move you out of the machine.

If it seems that this procedure is already stressful enough, you are given those earplugs early on for a major reason. Very few things in life, besides concerts and airplanes, can mimic the sound of an MRI machine doing it's job. According to the California Institute of Technology, an MRI is so noisy "because its magnetic field is created by running electrical current through a coiled wire—an electromagnet. When the current is switched on, there is an outward force all along the coil. And because the magnetic field is so strong, the force on the coil is very large." Essentially, you are in a small space with an overzealous magnetic tap dancer practicing like there is no tomorrow on the tube you have found yourself in. While many people find this noise unpleasant, I close my eyes and choreograph movement to the techno sound of the electromagnetic noises passing over (and through) my body. If you focus on something other than what is really happening, the time passes much more quickly and you will be out of the machine before you know it. 


If you are able to stay still and manage your fears and phobias, most MRI's don't really last too long. And, honestly, they really aren't that bad. The worst thing that could happen is that they have to pull you out. You are not stuck inside the machine. Once you are finished, you are brought out of the tube and can go about your day as if nothing unusual happened to you. You will either be given a CD or physical scans of the part of your body that was being reviewed. Be sure to bring these with you to your next doctor appointment.

An MRI scan (not my own)
As for me, I was lucky enough to get my scans looked at only 24 hours (this morning) after I had them taken. Since this injury has been so odd and lengthy, I went into my appointment prepared for some pretty bad news. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the doctor tell me that I will recover and be out of pain again. Honestly, I had convinced myself that I would be given the career-ending injury conversation. While I still need more rest, therapy, and work to recover, I should be able to dance again and live my life without any pain (beyond normal dancer aches). While I may not be able to perform for the rest of this season, I will dance again. Perhaps, the best news I've heard in a long time! So, for the time being, I look forward to continuing to push my choreography, pass on my craft, and share my stories.

Can't wait to move like this again (Photo: J.J. Tiziou)


2.28.2015

The Art of Self-Promotion on Social Media

In the past, I've written about how I became a regular social media user and how it can be used to help promote oneself. It has been nearly two years since I talked about the fine line between being a social media whore and a savvy self-promoter. And since that time has passed, my approach to marketing myself online has changed greatly. Absent from that post was the logic behind the presentation of my product and art from platform to platform. Now that my readers have a better understanding of why I use social media, I'd like to give a bit more information about my approach from within each tool that I use to make my work visible, known, appreciated, and employed.

Personal Website: (http://barrykerollis.com/)

One of the most important social media tools that any independent artist can and should have is their own personal website. I spent about six months reading up on how to start a free website using Wordpress. But instead of sitting down to execute this necessity with the vigor of an overeager scholar, I kept putting it aside like a teenager writing a major term paper. I was overwhelmed by the task and could never bring myself to experience the tedium, as well as the trial-and-error involved in creating your own website from scratch. So, when I received a fan page suggestion from Lyquid Talent and their website design firm, I reluctantly jumped at the chance to pay somebody to create a website for me. This was, perhaps, one of the smartest things I ever did for both my art and product. This was due to the fact that, in this day and age, anybody who is trying to sell any product or service is basically understood as untrustworthy without a website. Whether it is true or not, without some type of online presence that displays and validates your product or service, people will move on to work with somebody else who has their information posted online. My assumption in the reasoning for this is that people generally don't have the time to put in too much effort to determine if they want to reach out to somebody via phone or email to get the information that they need to make a business decision. They want an internet-based visualization of what you have to offer. From there, they will likely decide whether to pursue you further for your services.

To maximize my possibilities of being hired, I have to put enough information on my website to let whomever is seeking to hire me see what I have to offer.  I am not only a dancer, but I am also a choreographer and a teacher. For this reason, my website includes biography, resume, photo gallery, video gallery, review, calendar, and contact me pages.

When you first pull up my site, I have photographs that change every few seconds on my home page. I selected a variety of pictures that represent me completely as a dancer. There are classical, contemporary, and pas de deux images, as well as a headshot. From their initial viewing, this shows the viewer that I am well-versed.

On my biography page, I include a thorough, but briefer synopsis of my background and achievements as a dancer, choreographer, and instructor. On the next page, I have a complete (and possibly overwhelming) resume page. I choose to keep this resume so full because the initial resume I send out in my contact email is usually catered to the job that I am applying for. Since I send out resumes for work in three different areas of dance, it is important that I provide sections of my resume for each of these areas online.

Beyond that, my photo and video galleries offer a hearty variety of images and reels that best show my work. The review section is used to validate my work through the eyes of critics. My calendar is used to keep those interested up-to-date on what I am up to and those who want to hire me to see if I am available. And lastly, the contact me section is to offer a pathway to get in touch with me without giving away my personal email address.

Personal Facebook Page: (https://www.facebook.com/bkerollis)

I mostly prefer to keep my personal Facebook page between my friends, acquaintances, and myself. I rarely accept invitations from somebody I don't know and I never accept invitations from students I have worked with under the age of 18. I like to keep this as my own private space that isn't completely open to the public for viewing.

When I self-promote on Facebook, it is more often to let my friends know what I am up to or to reach out to my vast network of professional artists. If I can keep my friends and professional connections updated on what I am doing and keep my work in the back of their minds, they may be more likely to suggest me for opportunities if they hear of an employer in need of an artist. For example, if Jimmy hears that Johnny Dance Company needs a talented dance artist for their upcoming show, they are less likely to think about mentioning their freelancing friend Freddy, who doesn't have Facebook and hasn't been in touch for over a year. But if Freddy posted some pictures and status updates about how much he loved freelancing with another company and Jimmy saw that in his Facebook feed, he is more likely to remember that Freddy has been freelancing and suggest him for the job.

It is important to be cautious on Facebook about how much you self-promote. I find that it can be difficult to skate the thin line of helpful versus obnoxious self-promotion. Yes, you should post about that exciting award that you won. Yes, you should post that you will be dancing for a choreographer that you've dreamed of dancing with for years. But, if you find yourself posting new pictures of yourself dancing each and every day, your friends are going to get annoyed. I have seen instructors who work at drop-in studios that pay based on the number of students in the classroom who have posted videos of combinations and reminders that they are teaching 2-3 times per day, every single day for weeks on end. If you share the same type of information way too often, you are more likely to get people clicking the block button than you are to get them in class. Keep Facebook just as personal as you do professional. It was originated as a way to connect with friends.

Facebook Fan Page: (https://www.facebook.com/LifeOfAFreelanceDancer)

Let's talk about that one time I posted a status update that probably upset a few of my friends. In a matter of about 3 days, I had received five requests from friends to LIKE their new Facebook fan pages. The only problem was that their fan pages were strictly seeking fans of themselves. Now, don't get me wrong. Many of my friends deserve to have huge followings of fans. But, unfortunately, we aren't players on a sports team and a majority of our fans are our family, friends, and a small portion of the regular audiences that come to see repertory performances. So, to be completely honest, there is absolutely no reason (today) for me to make a Facebook fan page for Barry Kerollis.

I do have some friends that do have Facebook fan pages for themselves and rightfully so. These people are legitimate stars and have balletomanes from around the world seeking their personal Facebook friendship, often when the dancer has no connection to the person. This is a good reason to create a place for fans to keep up to date on the professional happenings of an artist. But when it comes to most of us dancers, we should stray away from asking for likes to boost our ego. Your friends and family can keep up to date with you on your personal Facebook page. Plus, it will save you a lot of work.

Instead of having a personal Barry Kerollis Facebook fan page, I have created a page for Life of a Freelance Dancer. And to save myself the time and energy of constantly updating this page on top of all of the other social media that I do, I only post links to individual blog posts. This leaves a place for people who just want to scroll through the over 100 articles I've written since I started blogging nearly 3 years ago.

Youtube: (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2j6KkpvAkJaEiVnCAUhijg)

A picture can be worth a thousand words. But a video may only be worth two, yes or no. It is invaluable to any dancer/choreographer that works as an independent contractor to have quality videos on a video sharing site like Youtube or Vimeo. Beyond the fact that an employer gets a true representation of what you look like in a performance or the style of works that you create, video sharing sites also save artists thousands of dollars. Where it used to be fashionable to send wasteful big yellow envelopes stuffed with your CV, photographs, and DVD reel, it is now much more acceptable to send an email with your website, CV attachment, and link to a reel. This saves you the cost of purchasing DVDs, printer ink, and other materials, as well as shipping costs. It also may save you money by covering auditions without the need to pay for a flight.  Find good video-editing software or ask a friend with editing experience, and post your best work online. Be sure to keep it updated (which I am in the process of doing over these next few weeks).

Twitter: (https://twitter.com/Bariscos)

Twitter, oh Twitter, How I Hate Thee! I'm not the biggest fan of Twitter and my activity on this social media site shows that. Twitter is the place to do everything that I told you not to do on Facebook. Since posts are short and people's feeds fly by at an alarming rate of missed content, it is generally acceptable to be the biggest self-promotion whore your heart desires. Kind of.

On Twitter, it is acceptable to post multiple times a day, to shamelessly self-promote, and to retweet every good thing that has ever been written about you. The reasoning, I am not sure. But it probably has something to do with the brevity of time that posts can remain at the top of anybody's feed who follows more than 20 people.

The reason that I hate Twitter? While Facebook has a great tendency to create addicts that need to check in with their cyber friends every few minutes, Twitter requires you to interact at the same rate. If you don't have a great deal of followers to whom you post original content for and don't stroke their Twegos with a never-ending stream of retweets, you will not get much use out of Twitter. This social media platform is heavily based on constant interaction and reciprocation. And I just don't have time for that, unless I quit all other forms of social media and stop eating meals. I'm also not a fan of people retweeting more than one or two reviews of themselves that call them out as being geniuses or more. Take note.

Instagram: (https://instagram.com/bkerollis/)

It took me a few years to hop on the Instagram bandwagon. Why? Because I was afraid I would stop doing anything other than breathing and posting pictures on Instagram. I love this platform because I feel that it is the closest way of seeing the world through somebody elses eyes. Not only can I see what my friends do, but I can share a unique perspective of how I view life for others to see.

I have some friends that use Instagram purely to show how fun and unique the life of a dancer can be, while others rarely ever post anything relating to their work or art. My approach to Instagram is to post things that I love and are oddly unique. For this reason, I post on instagram for both pleasure and self-promotion. Due to the necessity to take images and alter them for optimal viewing pleasure, it can be difficult to over-promote on Instagram. This is one reason that I love using this platform.

Blog: (http://lifeofafreelancedancer.blogspot.com/)

Well, if you are here reading this content, I hope you realize that you are on a self-promoting social media platform. I love to write, perhaps, because I like to talk. It is the best way to say everything that I want to say without the interruption of conversation that can get one off track (though I love socializing, as well). Blogging is not for everybody and it is definitely a fine-tuned art. But more than any other platform for self-promotion, blogging defines itself as the most useful tool to reach out to an audience. The reason for this is because, if you can build an audience, you have the ability to share your view, sell your product, and help others. And if you can help others, they will help to validate your product and promote you.

The big challenge in blogging is that you have to be good at it. Blogging isn't just good writing. It is a combination of many things I have already talked about in this post. Writing online requires a unique, authoritative voice. Not only that, you have to develop some type of respect and appreciation from your field. In other words, people need to trust what you say and the validity behind your voice. Beyond that, you need to find ways, usually using social media, to self-promote your self-promoting blog before it becomes popular enough that it shows up for web searches or is mentioned by online publications. For these reasons, I believe that blogging is the most powerful, but difficult to use, form of self-promotion that is currently available online for professional artists like me.

2.19.2015

So You Think You Can Freelance?

Photo shoot at a freelancing gig (Photo: Shalem Photography)
It wouldn't be a typical week if somebody didn't reach out to me about the art of freelancing as a dancer, choreographer, or instructor. Sometimes, I get messages from dancers that have been dancing with a company for a period of time who feel like they need a change of scenery to freshen up their careers. At other times, I hear about dancers that would like to kickstart their career by getting some experience to put on their resume. While I am always happy to offer advice to professionals or hopeful pre-professionals, I find that these dancers don't always come to me having done much research about what it means and takes to be a freelance dancer. To help streamline the process, I would like to offer any dancer that is considering dabbling or immersing themselves in a freelance life these 10 questions to ask yourself before reaching out for advice on how to take the plunge into this challengingly rewarding careerstyle.

1. If you already have a company contract, what percentage of the time are you fulfilled vs. unfulfilled?

I can't tell you how many times I have heard dancers with glorious company contracts verbally announce that they are leaving their company at the end of the current season. Perhaps, they have had a few programs where they weren't casted as they wish or they don't feel appreciated for the time that they have put into an organization. No matter the circumstances behind their feelings, more often than not, the dancer is just venting. And let me tell you, dancers likely bitch more than any other species of human on Earth. With that said, once I left Pacific Northwest Ballet and got some experience in the freelance world, I realized that my lack of fulfillment was more situational than it was complete. I left the company for more reasons than just the stagnant feeling that loomed over my head like the grey, dreariness of the Pacific Northwest. I didn't like the city of Seattle as a home. But looking back at my level of fulfillment, I was fulfilled more than a majority of the time. For me, the less fulfilling moments were overwhelming enough to push me to leave the company. Take some time to assess your fulfillment ratio and consider the amount of work that goes into freelancing, the possibility of fewer experiences (whether more or less gratifying), and how much you value stability vs. artistic fulfillment.

"Oh...Honey...You're gonna be a star" (Danya mimicking Degas)
2. If you are finishing up your pre-professional training, are you honestly sure that you are qualified to dance at a professional level?

Alrighty. I'm just gonna put it out there. When people find out that I have had a successful career with companies large to small, it isn't uncommon for me to get this response. "Oh...How wonderful! You're a dancer! Well, my niece is 17 years old...and, well, she is so talented. She's gonna be a ballerina." I'm usually pretty reserved and guarded with these conversations, as I tend to be too honest and don't have much tolerance for patronizing people. When the photos inevitably come out, I am forced to help the auntie face the reality that their loved one does not have the appropriate skill, body type, or proper training to have a legitimate professional career. This is an unfortunate thing in the dance world. There is no accreditation system to say that a school with poor instruction can't take people's money for teaching poor technique. And when a dancer is the best in a bad school, they tend to think that they are much better than they actually are. Many dancers, unfortunately, suffer from what I call "American Idol Syndrome;" where their projected potential is far different than their true potential. Try visiting a few pre-professional schools, do a few auditions, or watch and compare with Youtube videos. Be realistic and make a decision. Take into consideration, "Is it just a hard year for me to get a job or am I not being offered jobs because I am not qualified to be hired?" 

3. What city do you live in?

This may not seem like the most important question, but where you live is quite relevant to being a freelancer. If you live in a small town, do you have access to professional levels classes? Is it extremely expensive to fly out of your airport? Are you able to keep up-to-date on trends? If you want to find substantial amounts of work and make networking connections, it is much more feasible to do that out of a big city that has an established dance scene. You can make a freelance career work from anywhere, but you will likely have to submit to community productions, work your ass off in your online marketing, or spend a great deal of time traveling into larger cities.

4. How do you cope with financial stress?

Unless you are a trust-fund baby or have the luxury of parents that have no problem supporting you well into your 20's, you need to look at your reaction to moments that were financially stressful. If, one time, your car broke down and you just used the last of your paycheck to pay all of your bills, how did you make things work? Did you crawl in a ball and cry until somebody else solved the issue for you? Or, when times get tight, where is the first place that you start to tighten your pockets? If you stopped taking classes so that you could go to the club with your friends, you are likely going to have issues. Freelancers need to be the most savvy financial assessors they can be. And when times get stressful, they need to be able to handle the heat.

5. Have you ever seen a professional contract and, if so, do you understand what most of the legal jargon is saying?

If you are performing in musical theatre or commercial work, you may possibly have an agent. But if you are finding work as a ballet or contemporary dancer, you are highly unlikely to have an agent (Believe me...I considered creating my own agency for freelance concert dancers). Considering the fact that the concert dance world is severely underfunded, you will likely be doing your own negotiating for pay, travel, housing, conditions, and anything else that you are going to need throughout your employment as an independent contractor. While you don't have to understand everything that is written in a contract, you need to know what you are signing. If you have never seen a contract before, consider going to the AGMA website (if you are union) or calling them up to see if you can get access to their contracts (understand that most independent contracting agreements are one to two pages long, unlike AGMA contracts). Otherwise, do some research or consult an attorney or law school friend to help you learn how to read a contract to protect yourself.

6. How do you take care of your body in your current situation? What are your plans to take care of yourself if/when you get injured?

One of my biggest challenges as a freelancer has been taking care of myself after an injury. People may think that they aren't likely to get injured or that they will just deal with it when it happens. Let me assure you that you will get injured if you stick to freelancing for more than a few months. The conditions are constantly changing, you are in unfamiliar working environments, and the work is always changing in style. When I was dancing with Pacific Northwest Ballet and Houston Ballet, we had physical therapy on-site and access to workers compensation, a multitude of high-level health professionals, and enough salary to cover any additional costs. When you freelance, you are on your own. If you don't enter freelancing with an injury plan (practitioners, how to pay, insurance, etc.), like I unfortunately did, it may cost you a job, your rent money, and/or your career. Create a plan and have an idea of what practitioners you can use for different situations.

Me in an old-school modern work - Threnody (Photo: Bill Hebert)
7. What types of works do you want to dance?

So, you are a neo-classically (Balanchine) trained dancer. You want to branch out into more contemporary work. Are you going to be happy leaving Balanchine behind? One thing I miss more than anything else is getting to dance the works of Mr. B on the regular. As a ballet dancer, with few exceptions, a majority of the freelance work that I have encountered either involve dancing full-length classical productions, edgy to post-modern contemporary works, or old-school modern works. If you want to dance the expensive repertoires of Balanchine, Robbins, Forsythe, Ratmansky, Wheeldon, and beyond, freelancing is unlikely for you.

8. You finish a show and your employer is nowhere to be found. Your flight is early in the morning and your rent is due in a few days. What do you do?

Honestly, this has NEVER happened to me. And I am quite grateful for this. But I have been in situations where I have had to stand up for myself. While it is important to attempt to remain as respectful as possible, it is impossible to have a fulfilling freelance career if you are a pushover. Yes, people may like you if you let them do whatever pleases them. But you will likely be unhappy in your work if you feel disrespected or in danger.

9. During extended lay-offs, summer breaks, or time off from school, did you take class? How did you motivate yourself?

One of my biggest fears about leaving a company atmosphere was that I was going to sleep in all the time, eat potato chips and ice cream daily, and get severely out of shape. Without the pressure of coming in to work each day to stay in shape, retain your casting, and (above all) collect your paycheck; do you have what it takes to motivate yourself to take technique class five days a week? A good gauge of this is to look at how you act during lay-offs, holday breaks, and extended times off. Are you the type of person that knows how to take a break to rest their body, but gets back into the studio with enough time to safely prepare for the next rehearsal period? Or are you that dancer that shows up the first day of rehearsal without having taken class for 5 weeks? 

10. What are your finest qualities as a dancer? Where does your dancing need work?

Perhaps, the most important quality of many freelancers is the ability to self-assess one's work. Yes, all professional dancers have some sense of what they need to do to improve themselves. But one quality that many dancers need work on developing is their ability to see what they are good at in the art form. The reason for this isn't only to boost one's confidence on days that they are feeling a bit down. More importantly, freelancers need to know their finest qualities because they need to know how to sell themselves at an audition, in a performance reel, and in an email. If you can't find the good and the bad, it may be challenging for you to improve on your own and put yourself out there to find work.

How Appropriate (Photo: Brian Mengini)
Now that you've taken the time to look over these questions and assess each of them for yourself, you might have a better idea of whether you want to leave your company contract and jump on the bus to freelance-ville. If you still find yourself enthusiastic and inspired about steering your own career, then you know where to get in contact with me for advice!

2.06.2015

Is It Ever Appropriate to Sue a Company?


Let's Not Be Irrational! - Carabosse (Shura Baryshnikov) w/Catalabutte (Gianna Gino Di Marco) w/artists from Festival Ballet Providence in Sleeping Beauty - (Photo: A. Cemal Ekin)
I wish legal issues were never the case in this beautiful world of the arts, but, at times, they unfortunately present their ugly face. Working in an underfunded trade where anybody from the truest professionals to the thriftiest amateurs can put together a production can mean that a multitude of issues can present themselves in the process of getting a dance work onstage. While certain issues may arise from the beginning phases through to the performances of a production, luckily most of these items don't require contacting a third party to reconcile disagreements. When is it appropriate to reach out to legal counsel if certain issues or disputes reach a breaking point?

I am lucky that there have only been two issues that have ever pushed me into considering legal representation. The first time this happened was when I was working with a small, fledgling company as an employee and the second time was after choreographing for a larger-scale small-town production that involved a school. What I have found in my 8 years dancing with large-scale, well-funded companies and my 4 years traveling the country working as a freelancer with some lesser funded organizations is that problems are much more apparent in schools and companies with less money or less interaction with the professional dance world.

A handful of the issues that I have encountered throughout my time as a professional dancer and choreographer relate to money. But there is a surprising number of other items that I have either experienced or watched other dancers experience. A general list of issues that I have seen range from not getting paid appropriately (getting paid less, late, never getting paid at all, not receiving compensation for travel, etc.) to withholding dancer rights (workers compensation for employees). I have had my choreography altered against my knowledge, seen dancers per diem withheld, and watched abusive behavior inside the studio. Whether these items arise because of a lack of professional understanding, negligence, or devious behaviors, none of these actions are ever appropriate. Unfortunately, instead of admitting to these errors and working to resolve the situation, those few employers that committed these acts tend to fight a difficult battle instead of admitting to their erroneous ways.

The best way that I can offer up advice is to discuss the two times that I have considered reaching out to legal counsel. The first time was when a company decided to break my employment because I had been injured. When I got hurt, this organization decided to hide that I had a right to use workers compensation to regain my health. When I had to pull out of a program, the director went into a week-long rage against me and, eventually, fired me for what they claimed was a different reason than that they didn't want to finance the healing of one of their employees.

The second time that I encountered a situation that might have led me to speak with an attorney was when a small-town organization violated a choreography contract by adding their own choreography for a public performance into a work that I had already created. After finding my work on Facebook and not recognizing the movement, I reached out to the organization to resolve the situation. Instead of hearing the sincerest of apologies, I received an angry, defensive response naming articles in my contract where they tried to convince me that they could do whatever they wanted with my choreography.

While these were both very different experiences, there were certain similarities in them that differentiated these behaviors from other situations that may have been testy, but wouldn't be worth reaching out to a legal representative. In both situations, my rights were compromised. The first situation was a legal right as an employee, while the second was a violation of a contract. I have found that it is best to reach out as soon as possible to the source in order to work to resolve a situation. In most occurrences, people are reasonable and willing to work with you to maintain a relationship and make sure that all parties are content. But what made these two above situations distinctly different was the stressed and incensed reactions to my attempt to resolve the situation. When an opposing party responds with irrationality, it may be time to reach out for legal advice.

Irrational Puss n' Boots?
It is never a bad thing to reach out to a lawyer to use as a sounding board for extreme issues within the workplace. Being that I am an independent contractor and my partner owns his own business, we hold legal insurance that allows us to get counsel at no additional charge beyond our monthly fee. When stress, money, intellectual property, and/or passion for your work are involved, it can be easy to get lost in an irrational place. Speaking with a lawyer can help you determine whether your emotional reaction to the situation is legally rational or just protective.

After having a conversation with an attorney, the next step is to determine if you want to take the plunge and enter a legal battle to resolve your case. While there may be some situations that necessitate suing an organization, I have found that it usually isn't worth your time to spend the emotional energy that is required to fight for what is right. It is a sad, sad situation, but people in the arts are generally reluctant to go the lengths that it takes to protect themselves from wrongdoing.

The first reason for this is due to poor funding. This works on both sides. Rarely does an organization have the money to fight a legal battle. It is also rare that a dancer or choreographer has the funds to hire an attorney to represent them. Beyond this, the dance world often lets go of minor issues, which is representative of the submissive nature of dance artists. Lastly, the dance world is so closely connected that if a dancer is to sue a company, other employers may fear hiring that dancer out of fear that they will sue their own organization.

Two examples that I am aware of with dancers suing companies involved two friends of mine. The first situation was when a dancer was representing the other dancers of a non-unionized company. When the organization decided to stiff the dancers on per diem from their international travels, this dancer contacted a lawyer and started working to help the dancers collect their contractually agreed travel pay. At the end of that season, the dancer was not reengaged and lost their job.

The second dancer I know who sued a company was put in a position where they were essentially forced to break their contract. They sought counsel to make the company follow through with paying the rest of their contract for that lost season. While I don't remember whether they won or lost that battle, I heard whispers from others in the new company that we were dancing with blaming that dancer for creating that situation. This seemed odd considering none of us were present in that company when things went down.

Challenging times can make one lose faith in the dance world; a place of beauty, perfection, and dreams. While the modernized world has a system for those who have been wronged to fight to protect their rights, the dance world sometimes feels like it exists on another plane. I don't feel that it is appropriate for me to guide anybody towards seeking counsel. Instead, I can provide information to help dancers and choreographers make their own decisions. I have always been an advocate for dancers and choreographers to protect their rights. This would lend me to offering the advice to fight for them. At the same time, there is a great deal of time and emotional energy that must go into legally resolving situations. Consider how important the violation of your rights is to you and the amount of yourself you are willing to put into a legal battle. Also weigh the possible repercussions, fair or not, that you may experience for trying to protect yourself. While this dance world isn't always fair, it is our passion. And sometimes you need to give up a little of yourself to share in this beautiful place.

It is beautiful, isn't it? (A local sculpture in Philadelphia)