1.23.2016

Money Talks - Determining Your Value

My student, Emiko Inskeep, created this image of me
Dancing for a full-time company is a great gig, but it can really leave one lacking maturity when it comes to self-determining one's value. Most company dancers pay into a union from the first day they step into the studio that denotes their rank, seniority, and pay (and if they don't, they are at least offered a pre-determined contract). The union takes on the challenging and, often, uncomfortable responsibility of negotiating these factors and what their value is. The dancer's choice is clear cut. Do I accept the rank and pay that has been offered to me? It is a simple yes or no answer. As freelancers, we are rarely offered this luxury, as we must negotiate our worth and salary on a regular basis. How does one determine their asking price for a job, often considered the marker of how much value they bring to an organization?

First things first, we need to approach this question from back to front. How does one determine their value? This is a difficult question. Dancers are trained from a young age to keep their mouths closed and their egos humble (at least verbally). One could look at many factors in their career to determine their worth. How many years have I danced professionally? What companies have I danced for? How diverse is my experience? What is my repertoire? Am I female or male (not that this should be a question, but it is a commodity-based reality of the dance world)? While these are great questions to ask oneself prior to entering the freelance world, the truth of the matter is that you don't get to determine your value. You only get to influence the perception of your value.

Each dancer's true value is fluid, especially as a freelance artist. It is easy to feel that your worth is the same across the board when you dance for a company regularly at a consistent rank. But there are situations that can alter that consistent value, as well. For instance, if a new director steps in, your value changes. If you leave your company as a Soloist and join a new one, you may not be asked to join at the same rank. Your value, unfortunately, is not fully declared by you or your dancing. Instead, it is determined by the opinions of those who are responsible for hiring, casting, and paying. Only you get to choose if you accept that valuation.

Now that you have decided to find work outside of a negotiated company contract, you are forced to come to grips with the fact that your value is not a simple, concrete determination. Still, you have to decide what you consider your lowest value to be. I'd like to say that your highest value should be the marker to pay more attention to. But in our underfunded dance world, it is more important to have a base integrity value. This is the marker that will determine whether you accept a job or not.

When I first started taking freelance work, I thought that my base value was in line with the negotiated weekly rate that I received while dancing with Pacific Northwest Ballet. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that my cushy, big-company paycheck was not my lowest asking price for most of my gigs. While I had a lot of great experience on my resume, I learned that my original base rate needed to be the minimum wage I had to make in order to cover my monthly bills. I knew that I couldn't work a job that didn't cover these costs out of pure practicality. Unless I had a cushion of money from a feast-period of work, I could only accept work that met this minimum.

While I didn't ever ask for my baseline rate of pay, I knew that I would only consider work that I could negotiate to that rate or higher. It took me a period of time to increase my value in the eyes and mind of future employers. A great deal of that bettered perception in value, surprisingly, didn't come from the additional experience I was getting as a freelance artist. The experience was there. Instead, my value spiked the more popular this blog became. As I grew a following on this platform and began to have a greater social media presence, employers started seeing me as a more experienced and trusted commodity. All of a sudden, I went from a dancer who was quietly accruing achievements and experience to somebody that could be seen visibly as valuable and trustworthy in my work and credentials. Essentially, my value increased in the opinions of others.

Once I began to get more exposure as a freelancer, I was able to bring my base value up to a higher rate than my original minimum-to-pay-my-bills rate. While my rate had improved greatly over time, there were a few experiences where I had to rely on my base wage during famine-periods. While this became less common, there were still a few gigs each year that I would take at my lower rate. I did this for multiple reasons that ranged from wanting to dance with a certain choreographer to just wanting to be working. So, as you can see, my value became fluid dependent upon the time period, work load, and experience offered by dancing with a company.

An additional item to note when considering your value, determinations may also depend on the financial state of a company. If one company has a smaller budget than another, their lower monetary offering may hold the same bearing as another company with better fiscal options. For instance, while one company may pay you $800/week to dance with them, you may not be their highest valued dancer. But if another company offers $500/week, you may be their highest paid and valued dancer. All organizations are not created equal. For instance, when I danced with the now defunct Alaska Dance Theatre, I was the highest paid artist at $530/week. While it was far below my minimum asking price (they supplemented my salary by giving me classes to teach in the school), I knew that they were doing all they could to give me the highest value that they had available to offer.

Now that you have a gauge to determine your value, you can go into negotiating pay from a few angles. I prefer to let the hiring organization make their own offer of payment. My reasoning for this is because I like to have an idea of what the organization has to work with. If I go into a negotiation asking way too high, it may turn the organization off from wanting to work with me. But if I go into the negotiation asking way below what the company was considering, it hurts my bottom line. It's not so much that I'm losing value. Instead, being able to create a cushion of cash flow helps me pay my self-employment taxes at the end of the year, pay off debts that I accrue during famine periods, and keep myself inspired to continue working in this challenging career-style.

While some organizations immediately offer financial considerations, I have found that admin who are in charge of offering a rate are often just as uncomfortable as dancers in talking money. It has been common to have employers ask me to tell them my fees. If I have to do this, I have come to learn that it is best to let the organization know that my fees are negotiable from the start. This let's the company know that I am willing to work with them on finding a pay scale that works best for both of us.

As you can see, it is important to approach the freelancing lifestyle with a sense of fluidity. Many of us feel worthwhile and confident because of our own perception of our value. And I continue to encourage dancers to feel this way. But freelancers can't approach negotiating work purely based on their own idea of their value. One must be willing to judge their financial value separate from their perceived value. Attaching your worth to the height of your paycheck will do nothing but affect your ability to enjoy the work that you are doing.

1.16.2016

New York Called

My view from the Bolt Bus as I wrote this post
Nearly 15 years ago, I sat in the backseat of my mom’s car with my luggage packed in the trunk and stars in my teary eyes. We were waiting in line to pass through the bottle-necking entrance of the Lincoln Tunnel. I had just completed my final year of pre-professional training at the School of American Ballet, was embarking on an exciting career journey, and had just offered goodbyes to many friends that I still remain close to today. While I was sad to say goodbye to my friends and to move on to the next stage of my dance life, I wasn’t crying for either of those reasons. I knew then that it would be quite awhile before I called the city that I felt so closely connected to home. The city that inspired me to work hard. The city that showed me art mattered. The city where I grew from child to man. There I was, in the back seat of the car talking out loud as if the city had ears, “One day you’ll be home again. I’ll be back!” Well, I’m not one to say things that I don’t mean. Today is that day.

Awhile back, I wrote a post titled “New York Calling,” where I considered the fact that New York seems to hold some strange gravitational pull for any artist that calls themselves dancer. At that time, I was caught in the middle of my freelance performance career floating from gig to gig with little direction but the wind. I wasn’t necessarily getting much work in the city, but I was receiving little sparks of possibility as I began dreaming of settling down from traveling for a little bit. While I started feeling that pull to return a few years ago, circumstances just seemed incorrect or impossible to move the hour and a half hop, skip, and jump north of my hometown.

At one point in my life, I would have probably just run with my gut feeling and moved to the city without furniture, job, or care for how I was going to make something happen. But things changed at some point along my artistic journey. When I first met my partner, I gave him the daunting ultimatum, “Don’t make me choose between you and my career...because I won’t choose you.” After agreeing to this intense consideration, he moved to Seattle to be with me (I claimed 2 weeks after he moved that I was auditioning to leave PNB, which took nearly 5 years to actually happen) and later relocated to Philadelphia for the next stage of my career. But by the time I started realizing Philly wasn't working out, I couldn’t choose between him or my career. He had already given up so much just to be with me, so I needed to give him a chance to develop himself and his career. So, I’ve freelanced out of Philadelphia for 4 years and ignored the pull of the dance capitol.

I came to a realization in the last year, mostly brought on by my first extended period of time staying home in Philly the first half of 2015. During my time at home, I did everything that I could possibly do to find inspiring work and connect myself to the greater Philadelphia professional dance scene. I sent applications to teach at pre-professional training programs, I applied for a ballet master position with PA Ballet, and I reached out to find a way to be a part of the greater ballet scene the city has to offer. At one point, I even applied for a week-long collaboration residency that placed Philadelphia-based artists with others in different genres. My rejection letter was kind, but I was disheartened by the feedback that stated, "It seems you are more interested in meeting artists than collaborating with them."

While there were moments of hope, I was left to go back to my regular way of working; creating my own inspiration and traveling the country to places that valued my work. By the time this summer had passed, I began craving outside inspiration and a place to call my artistic home. And it just seemed that Philly wasn't going to offer that to me. I knew what I had to do. But I was afraid to say it. I was afraid to ask. I was afraid to give myself permission. What if I moved to New York?

I spent much of the fall season working on my Core-ography project and developing my AK-BK Intensive Winter Workshop in Anchorage. But New York was on my mind the whole time. Slowly, but surely, I realized that I had to make this happen. During a quick visit to the city right before heading up to Alaska this past December, I mentioned to a good friend that I have freelanced with in the past that I was looking for a place to live. I was just catching this friend up on what I was doing. And, by chance, he happened to have a room opening up at his apartment.

Fast-forward a little over a month later, and here I am (I started this blog on the bus and finished after I settled in) laying in my brand new bedroom, staring out my window at the beaming George Washington Bridge, and smiling after my first day as a new resident of this incredible city. What am I going to do now that I'm here? I don't know. But I am so excited to have hope, possibility, and dreams staring me straight on. I look forward to looking back at this post down the road and seeing where this risk and adventure takes me.

View of George Washington Bridge from my bedroom window

1.11.2016

Catch Up on LOFD (Vol. 2) - Previous Blog Posts

There are lots of exciting things happening as the new year begins. From finishing up Core-ography's Share Your Story fundraising campaign to moving to NYC this week, and being asked to be a part of an exciting project. There is even more exciting news on its way in the next few weeks that I can't quite announce yet. While I can't share this news yet, I am making a preemptive move and updating my past list of blogs for those of you who are joining the freelancing party. I have been blogging about the freelance lifestyle for nearly 4 years at this point and the topics I have written on are vast. Catch up on LOFD and peruse what has come before. And please stay tuned for new content soon. 

List of Previous Blogs:
 
124. See Blog Posts 1 -123 Here

125. "Create Your Own Project" series - Fiscal Sponshorship

126. Teaching at Peridance Capezio Center - May 6, 13, and 16
 
127. "Create Your Own Project" series - Writing a Fundraising Letter

128. Core-ography gains attention in Philly Magazine

129. "Create Your Own Project" series - Writing Your Own Budget

130. Travel Post - It is Only an Airport - CALM DOWN!!!!!

131. What Have I Been Up To? - AK-BK Contemporary Ballet Workshop

132. "Create Your Own Project" series - Make a Crowdfunding Campaign

133. 8 Things You May Not Know About Me

134. Cultivating Your Outgoing Personality in New Work Environments

135. A Positive Look At My Recent Failure

136. Help Core-ography Meet It's Goal - Final 3 Days of Fundraising Campaign

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

138. Core-ography - "A Global Dance Storytelling Project" Preview

139. Presenting Core-ography - "A Global Dance Storytelling Project"

140. Giving Everything For Your Art (or Not)

141. Core-ography - Our New Artist Preview and Choreographer's Vlog

142. Core-ography Explores Coping with Death

143. Letter to My Teenage Self

144. Core-ography Takes on Substance Abuse

145. 8 Gifts My Career Has Given Me

146. Share Your Story Campaign & My 12 Favorite Experiences of 2015

147. 16 People Who Have Greatly Influenced My Life

12.31.2015

16 People Who Have Greatly Influenced My Life

I always get on list kicks during the month of December. It's just too much fun making lists to culminate each year. Without apology, I offer you my final post of 2015, which happens to be another list. This year started off great and ended great. It began working with students from one of my favorite communities (Alaskan dancers) and has ended the same way. While I am spending my free time here in Anchorage attempting to see the Aurora Borealis, I am passing the time waiting for them to appear by writing this.

Please enjoy my way of welcoming 2016. In no particular order, here are 16 people who have greatly influenced my life! Enjoy!

My mom with her Husband Jerry
1. Robin Kerollis Napiecek - I mean, come on! What good, gay, jewish mama's boy wouldn't add their mother at the top of this list? OK, maybe I'm not really a mama's boy anymore, but my mom is surely at the top. While she is currently my biggest (and most promoting) fan, she has also been my greatest support since birth. When this little suburban boy of the 1980's wanted nothing other than to dance beside little girls in pink tights, my mom didn't blink an eye to put me in a dance class. Most parents where I am from would have probably deterred their son from taking part. If I showed passion, commitment, or excitement, my mom made sure that she did everything possible to make sure I was fulfilled, even if it meant that she couldn't afford the finer things in life. Now that we are both adults, I succeeded in becoming a professional dancer, and she has improved her quality of living, she is still my number one fan and makes sure that everybody knows it!

2. Larry Rappoldt - The first artist that I met who truly showed me what it is to love your art was this man. At the age of 5, my mom hired Mr. Rapp to teach me how to play the piano. We spent time together nearly every week for 12 years. From weekly piano lessons to joining his middle school concert band, this gentleman inspired me to be passionate about music. I remember the first time I noticed him swaying back and forth as he played a beautiful solo. I asked him if he swayed to match the beat and he responded, "I sway because I feel the music inside my body and it moves me." This moment changed the way I saw music and has probably influenced me more than I realize. I wouldn't be the same dancer, choreographer, or artist if I hadn't worked with this wonderful teacher.

Ms. Kim
3. Kimberly Martin - Ms. Kim (though she is now Mrs.) was my main ballet teacher from the ages of 13 to 17. While she was integral to my training during those years, she has remained an important part of my life. When I was offered the Interim position to direct Alaska Dance Theatre, she was the first person that I called for advice. Kim is a kind, generous person who taught me that you get to choose your family. When I was 16, my mom chose to keep me home after I was asked to attend the Houston Ballet Academy's year round program. I was devastated. Kim stepped up and made sure that my year didn't go to waste. She put a futon in her spare bedroom (over an hour away from my home) and offered me a second home to live on weekends. After her Friday ballet class, I would travel to Wilmington, DE, where Kim gave me private coaching during every available hour that the weekend held. Not only did Ms. Kim let me live with her, she drove me to dozens of summer intensive auditions and helped my family by providing ballet slippers and tights for my training. Still to this day, there are few people I look up to, respect, and appreciate more than Ms. Kim.

Bob Rizzo
4. Bob Rizzo - When I was 15 years old, I was taking a workshop at a suburban Philadelphia studio that featured some guy from New York City who had been on Broadway, produced educational dance videos, and taught on faculty at New York University. While I took his class thinking he was some guy, I quickly learned that he was much more. After taking Bob's workshop, he took special interest in me and showed me that he was not only a spectacular instructor, but a great person and mentor. Over the next few years of my teenage life, Bob flew me to multiple venues to assist him in his workshops, let me stay with him in his Upper West Side apartment, and taught me the ins-and-outs of the New York dance scene. While I didn't end up following the same path that he had been cultivating me to take, Bob played a huge part in inspiring me to become the dancer I am today.

Katrina Killian
5. Katrina Killian - Not every pre-professional student is lucky enough to find a mentor that is wholly invested in their future. Through the School of America Ballet lecture demo series, I found Katrina. After only working with her for a few weeks, this wonderfully energetic woman took me under her wing and made it her mission to make sure that I had a fruitful career. She selflessly poured her heart into my training, guiding me through the challenges and rewards of training at a world-class dance institution.

My Danya!
6. Daniel Loya - I didn't want to put him near the top because mom should always get first mention and he doesn't like the spotlight. But, obviously, my soon to be husband and partner of 10 years grabs a spot on this list. Not only has Dan been my partner in life, but he has been my best friend, my mentor, my guide, and my rock. I can't imagine too many husbands that would willingly support their partner traveling non-stop for over 4 years to let them fulfill their career and dreams. All of my decisions are filtered through him and he makes me a better person by allowing me to be me and do what I love. I look forward to legalizing the bond that we already share over Memorial day weekend in 2016.

Visiting Ray last year
7. Ray Hoekstra - Every gay man should befriend an older gay man that has thrived before them. The first week that I met Dan he met Ray while watching me perform with Pacific Northwest Ballet, where Ray was a donor for the company. A month later, Dan forced me to meet Ray between a matinee and evening show in the throes of Nutcracker season. While I was reluctant to skip my daily Nutcracker nap, boy was I glad that he connected us. Ray, nearly 40 years my senior, became one of my closest friends and the person I looked to when I needed a role model to follow. Whether learning about being gay in times when people like me were persecuted, how to order a meal at a fancy restaurant, what it was like to watch your loved one's get sick during the AIDS epidemic, how to order a classy drink, or how to give back to the organizations that you believe in, Ray has always been the epitome of a classy gentleman. I have been so honored to have this man as a friend and I look forward to passing his legacy on as I grow older (and younger, just like him).

Cathy Moran
8. Cathy Moran - Ms. Cathy didn't run the first dance school that I attended, but she directs the school I grew up at and where I became passionate about dance. Not only did Cathy give me the gift of dance through a scholarship that allowed me to take classes my family would have never been able to afford. She showed me what it was to be a generous woman who is purely invested in her students. When I needed a male teacher to guide me, Cathy found one. When I needed to see what the world had to offer, she told me to try out other dance schools without jealousy. When I needed to make a mistake and quit a class to attend my 8th grade school dance, she offered me caution and understanding towards a decision that eventually guided me even closer to dance. Ms. Cathy cultivated a place where I was able to grow, be myself, and fall in love with my art form.

Kelly & me (Left: 1987 & Right: 2015)
9. Kelly Wolfe - This lovely lady and I go all the way back to the womb. Our parents were pregnant with us at about the same time. After we were brought on to this Earth, we had pictures in the paper of our diapers being changed, ran around farms playing games, and spent many of our waking hours together. Around the age of 5, the women's group that brought our parents together dissolved and, for some reason or another, our parents stopped meeting up with one another. Aside from one time, Kelly and I didn't see each other for nearly a decade. Then, on the first day of high school, we found each other to be in the same first period history class and reunited. Even after nearly a decade without communication, we picked up where we left off. To this day, we are still in close contact even though we live across the country from each other. Kelly is somebody who has always understood, trusted, supported, and believed in me. She is always that person who drops anything to make sure that we get to spend time together. If I had one female soulmate in my life, it would very likely be this lady.

Jock Soto w/Wendy Whelan (Photo: Paul Kolnik)
10. Jock Soto -When I went to the School of American Ballet, I had given up a Corps de Ballet job position with Colorado Ballet to train at my dream school. Soon after I had shifted my move from Denver to New York, Peter Martins selected 7 advanced level male students to move up into the now defunct elite level of the school, Special Men. When the list for this group of men went up, I was devastated to find that I had given up a job and didn't make the cut. Immediately, Jock stepped up to the plate and guided me forward. He suggested I attend the lower level Intermediate classes he taught, stood by my side correcting me at barre, and offered me valuable advice to push forth. By Thanksgiving break, I had heard the great news that I was being moved up into that elite level class. I have this man to thank for that.

Leigh Witchel
11. Leigh Witchel - The first time that Leigh and I were introduced was shortly after my School of American Ballet workshop. He was sitting in the audience to review the show (link here) and I happened to briefly run into him in my post show bliss at the old Lincoln Center plaza. I didn't really get to know Leigh until I returned to the east coast in 2011 to perform at the Guggenheim's Works and Process series, where Leigh acted as moderator for the event. During rehearsals, Leigh pulled me aside and reminded me that we had met years ago and that he had warmly enjoyed my graduation performance. After this, we began to cultivate a relationship that has grown into a great friendship. Over the past few years as I have drifted, floated, and soared around the country, Leigh has acted as a friend, confidante, and mentor to help me through highs, lows, and in building this new stage of my career. While I have many people interested in what I have been doing in my career over the past 4 1/2 years, I have not had many people interested in helping cultivate me into a better person, dancer, choreographer, businessman, and artist. Leigh has been a careful, caring, and honest guide mentor as I find my way as a maturing artist.

Abby & me in Swan Lake at PNB
12. Abby Relic - Mine Cootah! Don't ask. Abby and I have known each other since she was a Professional Division student and I was a Corps member at PNB. While we didn't connect closely during her first period living in Seattle, we got close quickly after she moved back to Seattle to join PNB after dancing in Portland and Cincinnati. As an adult, Abby has been one of my closest friends. She is smart, she get's me, and she is one of the only people who can truly make me belly laugh. As our friendship has grown, Abby has taught me how to accept people for who they are through both example and love. Her outlook on life is beautiful and she exudes warmth and joy to those around her. Plus, she has the laughter of a child!

Claudio Munoz teaching at HBA (Photo: Bruce Bennett
13. Claudio Munoz - This teacher who made this clean mouthed teenage boy scream "FUCK" at the top of his lungs as he landed a double tour definitely showed me what it means to be passionate about teaching. While Claudio has unconventional approaches to teaching, my time with him during my first summers away from home at Houston Ballet Academy put me on the right track to have a professional career. Whether using my voice to show the force of movement or screaming at me until I got it right (then giving me a hug to let me know that he was always on my side), Claudio intensely supports his students through their final years of training. When I need to find a way to get through to a student, I often imagine how Claudio would go about the task.

14. Chris Thomae - As I've mentioned before, I didn't grow up in a family with great financial resources. And like I have said in previous posts, I was definitely raised by the village. Chris was a strong force in my village. While I first met him as a kid in the masculine discipline of Tae Kwon Do, Chris was interested in all things culture. He loved dance, food, theatre, and more. Coming from the suburbs and having limited access to culture, Chris made sure that I sampled things like Vietnamese food, saw plays at the local theatres, learned how to play pool, and knew to read books that shared opposing views to my upbringing. While we are no longer in contact, Chris helped develop my hunger for new culture and openness towards the unknown.

Lauren & me
15. Lauren Bentley -I first met Lauren when we were in pre-school together. After switching schools in second grade, we ended up crossing paths again when we were in the same sixth grade class. We had a childhood love affair and broke up a few months later, which kept me from talking to her for nearly a year. After that year had passed, I quickly came to my senses that we had to remain close friends because we were always on each other's side. In eighth grade, Lauren and her mom generously introduced me to New York City by letting me tag along for a bus trip to see a Broadway show and to explore the city. As we moved through high school, Lauren was one of the few people that I would hang out with outside of dance classes. When I graduated from SAB, Lauren's family came up to New York City to support me in the city that they introduced me to. While we don't see each other as often as I would like, I know that wherever I am, she is exuding that quiet, calm sense of support that she carries with her.

Grandmom
16. Bernice Beck - My grandmother passed away about a decade ago. She had a head of silver hair, a voice like Patti and Selma from the Simpsons, and a love for tradition. What she loved more than tradition was me. Along with my mother, my grandmother would support me even if it meant taking the shirt off of her back. She would do everything possible, including sending letters to friends and businesses to help support me on my way to become a professional dancer. She was at every performance and would sit in the audience shouting my name as the curtain dropped. This woman was the epitome of family and support.

Boyd hanging out w/Puck in the physical therapy room
(LAST MINUTE NEW YEARS EDIT!!!!!! In my AK-BK Intensive Winter Workshop exhaustion, I was racking my brain to come up with this list of lovely people. And I realized that I missed one person that really means a lot to me and has made a huge difference in my life. And in the spirit of the new year and starting on a positive note, why not turn this list into 17 for good measure. This important person that I left off my list is none other than the wonderful Boyd Bender. Boyd came into my life right after I moved to Seattle to join Pacific Northwest Ballet. He works with the company as their virtuoso physical therapist. While Mr. Bender's purpose with the company is to keep dancers onstage, he functions as an integral process to the dancer's mental health. During my time with the company, Boyd quickly became much more to me than Bender the Mender. Growing up with a handful of male figures in my life, I still never really felt like I had a true father figure. The kind of man that is my idea of a true man; thoughtful, calming, generous, caring, funny, and in control of his emotions though unafraid to be emotional. Boyd came into my life when I needed a father figure to show me how to be a man. I'm much the adult I am today thanks to this guy! Happy New Year! )




12.15.2015

'Share Your Story' Campaign & My 12 Favorite Experiences of 2015


I can't believe that we are halfway through the holiday season. Thanksgiving has feasted, Chanukkah has lit, and it is 70 degrees outside. Well, since things are really starting to warm up, it is time that I announce Core-ography's SHARE YOUR STORY interactive fundraising campaign.

Starting today and continuing through January 15th, Core-ography wants to hear your story! To take part in this campaign, we are asking our audience to make an array of donations to share a short, personal memoir. Watch the video above or read below to see how you can become a part of Core-ography! Donations can be made by clicking here and are tax-deductible. After you make a donation ;-) read below to see my favorite 12 experiences of 2015 in honor of the 12 days of Christmas.

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Donation Options

$25 Donation - Offer your "One Sentence Memoir" to be shared on "Life of a Freelance Dancer" blog
$50 Donation - Offer your "One Sentence Memoir" to be shared on Core-ography Channel Youtube video (plus lower donation level perks)
$100 Donation - Offer your "One Sentence Memoir" for 10 second video of choreography expressing your story (plus lower donation level perks)
$500 Donation - Offer your "Five Sentence Memoir" for 30 second video of choreography expressing your story (plus donation perks at $25 & $50 level)
$2000 Donation - "Core-Donor" level includes Signed Pointe Shoe from Core-Artist, Skype session with Choreographer and Core-Artist, and all of the perks at $25, $50, and $500 donation levels.

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My 12 Favorite Experiences of 2015

One of my shots of the Liberty Bell
1. While not necessarily exciting, one of my most important experiences of 2015 was to stay home for 5 months. Okay, maybe I visited New York City a few times. But it is so close to Philly and I have so many friends in the city, that it really never feels like traveling. I seriously needed some downtime to rest, recenter, and reinvent. My years of freelancing burnt me out, left me exhausted, and gave no central place to ground myself and call home. I learned a lot about myself during these few months at home and regained a healthy outlook on moving forward in my career and life.

2. Many of my New York City visits had me traveling to guest teach at Peridance Capezio Center. Ever since I first visited the center of the dance world at the age of 15, I dreamt of instructing at one of the city's great institutions. It was not only a huge accomplishment, but a great honor!

My kids at Youth America Grand Prix
3. Building and protecting a ballet career is often a selfish act. This past January, I brought 4 students from Alaska to compete at Youth America Grand Prix as their teacher, choreographer, and coach. While we went into the competition with no expectations, 3 of my students placed in the top 12 of their divisions and I was awarded the Outstanding Choreographer award (by Wendy Perron, no less). For the first time since I was two, I wasn't working towards improving my performance career. Yet, it was equally, if not more gratifying to be a support system to help the future of dance succeed.

4. Speaking of Alaska, I developed my own summer intensive in Anchorage this past June. Isn't that insane? I developed my own summer intensive. In Alaska! One doesn't enter a dance career thinking they would say such words. But, it's true! And it was glorious. Beyond the endless light, non-stop dance, and glorious natural beauty, I finally got to enjoy Alaska on my own terms. Glacier tours, Bear tours, visiting Homer, and more. This was definitely a trip that goes down in both the career and personal history books.

The birthday boy at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens
5. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Danya and my trip to Miami definitely sits atop this list of experiences. While we have both tagged vacations on to our travels for work, we have not taken a legitimate vacation for the sake of vacationing since moving to Philadelphia in 2011. Well, celebrating Danya's progression into his 40's was more than enough reason to make this happen. During our time in Miami, we enjoyed South Beach's beach culture, traditional Cuban food in Little havana, and the palatial Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. But walking through the slowly gentrifying Wynwood Arts District's somewhat seedy streets to view hundreds of murals by street artists proved to be our most worthwhile adventure.

6. I know many balletomanes won't understand this one. But the fact that I am only performing in one weekend (three shows) of Nutcracker is definitely a highlight of my year. Having at least 300 performances of this holiday classic under my belt, I feel no sadness for the loss. In fact, I turned down a handful of offers. I am still determining where my career is going and letting my body/mind continue to heal from my severe case of burn out.

7. Getting to show my work onstage at the McCallum Theatre's 18th Annual Choreography Festival was definitely a highlight of my year. For years, I have watched colleagues and choreographers I admire win selection into this prestigious choreography competition. I applied for the first time this year thinking that I wouldn't get it. To my surprise, I was selected as 1 of 10 out of 115 applications. My work was performed beside the likes of many choreographers that I share great respect for. While I didn't win one of the 3 prizes given, as somebody who has only recently started to focus on my choreography, I was more than elated to add this to my resume and life experiences.

8. While I have been patiently sending out choreography packages and hoping to gain commissions that allow me to continue creating dance on a large scale, I decided to start my own project (that you've been reading about in this blog). Little could I have imagined that Core-ography would take off as it has. With over 3,000 views, nearly 100 subscribers, and notice from Pointe Magazine and Dance Spirit, I couldn't be more proud of our 3 Core-artists for achieving what we have. I can't wait to see where the new year brings things!

9. This may sound sappy, but it has been really nice to see my cats on a regular basis. It really caught me off guard last year when I didn't see their meowing little faces for nearly 8 months. By the time I settled into my directorship in Alaska last fall, I found myself depressed. At a certain point, I was trying to teach them how to look at a computer screen to Skype with me. This was never very effective.

10. As you all know, I love to travel. Beyond this, I love to add new places to my life experience. While I did spend a nice chunk of time home this year, I also worked in or visited New York City, Anchorage, Homer, Chestertown, Little Rock, Richmond, Los Angeles, Palm Desert, and Miami. I will be spending the holidays back in Alaska for a winter intensive I developed and to create choreography for a handful of students to compete with at Youth America Grand Prix. While most of our time will be spent in Anchorage, Danya, a friend, and I will celebrate the new year in Fairbanks seeking the Aurora Borealis.

Danya working w/interior designer Taniya Nayak on an HGTV pilot
11. It has been greatly satisfying to watch my Danya's business explode over this past year. Months after moving to Philadelphia, he took a risky chance and started his own professional organizing business, Spaces Transformed. Over the years, I have nervously watched his business grow steadily from infant to maturing young adult. This year that all changed as his business grew into a full-fledged, mature adult. I have been very proud of all of his hard work and determination. To experience the realization of his vision has been so satisfying to watch!

12. While focusing on my performance career and freelancing around the nation, I missed out on a handful of common life experiences. Spending time at home has given me a chance to plug back into normalcy (at times) and to remember what it is that connects people to one another. This year I celebrated my second Thanksgiving with my family since I was 18 years old. I watched my close friend (and former School of American Ballet roommate) marry his husband. I lit fireworks with friends and family on the Fourth of July, was with my love for both his and my birthdays, and much more. While the life of a freelance dancer can be filled with excitement and sensational experiences, feeling like a normal person is necessary to keep one centered in their life and art.

4th of July with my family

12.04.2015

8 Gifts My Career has Given Me

Channukah is a bit early this year, beginning on December 6th. It always feels odd when it is this early, considering that American holiday culture climaxes between December 24th and January 1st. I always love to do list posts as we enter the final month of the year. I’m sitting on a Bolt Bus after a few days in New York City, so I have a few hours to write. So, why not create a list post in honor of my people’s holiday.

Chanukkah is called the Festival of Lights, which was birthed as a celebration over oil which burned much longer than it ever should have. In fact, it burnt for 8 whole days and nights. And why it may not be the most important holiday in the Jewish faith, it is marketed as such to compete with Christmas. Essentially, it is done to avoid conversations like this.

Mother: “Chanukkah isn’t really an important holiday, so I’m not gonna buy you any gifts?”
Daughter: “You aren’t gonna buy me gifts?”
Mother: “No”
Daughter: “Fine! Then I’m gonna convert to Christianity to celebrate Christmas and get thousands of gifts!"

Secular Chanukkah Bush
I’m so secular its ridiculous. And I’ve never heard this conversation. I'm looking forward to lighting the candles over the next week or so. And maybe I'll get one or two gifts. But don't worry, I'm gonna give you a gift for every single night of the holiday. I present to you 8 gifts my career as a professional dancer has given me over the years. And go!

1. A Sculptured Body:

Photo: Shalem Photography
I mean, let’s be serious. Who doesn’t want a dancer’s body? We work out almost every day, all day. We hold our legs in the air until they shake because it looks cool. Taking a break for a few days or a week actually means that we are probably still going to the gym every day. As I enter my 30’s, it gets a little harder to maintain. But THANK YOU ballet for giving me a hot bod throughout my 20’s (and hopefully forever)!

2. Discipline:

How often do you see children working quietly, giving 1000%, and repeating physical activities daily until they are almost perfect? In our culture of freedom and expectation of recognition (and not always recognition that derives from hard work), it can be a challenge to find young dedicated children who are focused and driven towards excellency. But you can walk into a proper ballet studio and find groups of children attending class daily, stretching prior to class, moving their young bodies daily through intensely difficult physical feats, and finding joy in the rewards of their efforts. Dance has given me a work ethic that could likely compete with the CEO of any major company.

3. Pretending That I’m Rich:

Baby Barry wearing Prada
These days media loves to pull back the curtains, show the gritty side of our world, and prove that we aren’t all glamourous divas bourre-ing or jete-ing across the stage. But to be completely honest, I’ve had some really glamorous experiences as a dancer and choreographer. I’ve partied in mansions over lakes with live harps playing at the base of winding stairs. I’ve clinked champagne glasses during toasts at gala dinners where a table of 8-10 people goes for thousands of dollars. I’ve sported a $3,000 prada suit for a fashion show. A donor for a company became a great friend and insisted we eat the finest of foods every time we went out for a friendly dinner. And while I currently waver back and forth from comfortable to starving artist, I still get tastes of living in the upper class. The best part of all of this is that my lifestyle with these sips of glamour keep me grounded, grateful, and hungry to achieve more.

4. Travel:

There are many types of dance artists. Company Dancers. Freelance Artists. Those who only perform concert dance, commercial dance, musical theatre, and more. As a kid, I dreamed of joining a major company, partially because I thought it would show me the world. But as the economic climate changed, larger companies ditched a great deal of their tours to protect their indefinite budgets. Once I started freelancing, I never imagined that I would be paid to travel all across the country (still waiting to go somewhere international) without being attached to a company. I am very grateful that dance has given me opportunities to see our great country.

5. Sense of Humor:

Abby playing w/my donkey head from A Midsummers Night Dream
Rarely have I met a dancer without a sense of humor. And when I do, I just can’t imagine how they maintain any passion for our career. Dance is hard. Very hard! And for those that can’t laugh off a fumble onstage, an awkward partnering moment, or a colleague poking fun, I feel sad for their extreme sensitivity. Most dancers I know have an incredible gift for laughing at themselves and finding light in even the most daunting situations. What would I have done if I didn’t look forward to being in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s end of the year blooper reel if something went ridiculously wrong onstage? 

6. Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication Skills:

I recently read this amazing article by John Michael Schert, former Executive Director and dancer with the Trey Mcintyre Project. It perfectly explains a(n) unique quality of dancers that is rarely spoken about. Stellar communication abilities. While dancers need to have quality verbal communication skills to work in the majorly collaborative atmosphere that is a dance studio, their study of expressing oneself without words makes them excellent with non-verbal communication, too. Often, I can take a look at somebody I am having a conversation with and alter how I am interacting based on my perception of their body language. Beyond this, I can use my own body language to add more emphasis to a point that I am trying to make in a conversation.

7. Friends:

It is almost impossible to work in any dance environment without becoming close to your peers and colleagues. Essentially, we are given a mission and asked to work together to solve that mission the best we can. At times, there may be disagreements. But there is a sense of camaraderie, respect, and accomplishment that comes out of working together in a group to achieve a high level of success. All friendships are essentially borne from camaraderie and respect. It is practically impossible not to connect with those sharing this situation with you.

Outstanding Choreographer Award - Youth America Grand Prix
8. Accomplishment:

There is nothing more gratifying in this life then setting your mind to achieve something, doing everything in your power to make it happen, and reaping the benefits of your hard work. A dance career consists of many series of efforts, failures, and successes. It is practically impossible not to have accomplishments in a dance career. And some of them might even be major. But even at the most basic level, every day that you go to class you will accomplish something. It’s that simple.

12.01.2015

Core-ography Takes on Substance Abuse

December 1st has finally arrived. In Core-ography's 3rd webisode, freelance dancer Allen Abrams (also Drag Artist Cupcake Canne) talks about his struggles with substance abuse and the experiences in his life that may have contributed.

While this Core-Artist video is certainly not for the faint of heart, I strongly recommend you watch to see how bravely honest Allen was in talking about this deeply taboo topic. I was deeply moved throughout the entire process of working to create this mini-documentary. And I think you will be, too.


Apparently, it is also ‪#‎GivingTuesday‬! If you like what we are doing with Core-ography, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to help us continue producing all 12 of our dancer's mini-documentaries. A little birdie tells me that one of our dancers recently retired from the stage and is looking forward to taking part in this project ;-) Help us share their stories!