1.27.2015

Five Qualities Every "Dancer-preneur" Needs

As each day passes and I interact with more and more professional dancers, it seems like we are in the age of the entrepreneurial dancer. Some artists are starting their own dancewear lines, while others are creating their own fitness programs. Perhaps, this trend is due to fear of the brevity of dance careers. Or, maybe, we have past generations to thank for empowering us to follow them after they became entrepreneurs outside of their performing careers. Even many dancers that are living the age old tradition of joining a company seem to feel the pull of guiding their own career as a freelancer. Being an established freelance dancer and choreographer, like myself, is surprisingly entrepreneurial. Most of my days outside of the studio are spent developing my brand, promoting my product, and selling my services. Not everybody is up to the challenges of running their own business, whether creating a physical product or selling your dancing. Here are five qualities that every Dancer-preneur should have in order to have a successful career as a freelancer:

(Photo: Shalem Photography)
1. Leadership: Any dancer that is looking to launch a career as a freelancer needs to show signs of a leader. Spending a career with a company requires a certain level of submission. But as a freelancer, you will find yourself in a handful of situations that require strong leadership skills. First, a dancer needs to be strong enough to put themselves out there for employers to hire. Often, dancers are brought into a school or company to show students/company members what it means to be a confident, professional dancer. In order to own your own business, whether you are selling yourself as a dancer or selling a product, it is important to show confidence in that service/product and to convince employers that you are a leader. When you can lead, you will get hired.

Stress Control?
2. Stress Control: Getting to lead your own career may sound like an ideal situation. But there are many challenges and stresses that go along with finding your own work. In a great deal of work environments, you get out of your work what you put into it. Unfortunately, this is not how the freelance world exists. More often than not, you are putting in 1000 (yes, one-thousand) percent of the work and only getting 50-75 percent in return. When you have poured all of your time, energy, and heart into something and your bank account is continuing to dwindle, stress levels can blow through the roof. Whether looking for work, negotiating a contract, rehearsing, nursing injuries, performing, getting paid, surviving financially until the next gig, or a multitude of other items, it is necessary that you are able to handle the sometimes insurmountable stress that is involved in being an entrepreneurial dancer.


3. Social Media Expert: Love it or hate it, we live in a day and age of social media. When I first started using Myspace, people used to talk about what a waste of time and energy that was social media. Often, I heard, "I'd rather be living in reality than sitting on my computer." While I don't disagree with this statement, I have always been rather attached to networking sites. Today, there are people in the international workforce getting hired with large, rewarding salaries to sit on the likes of Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, Instagram, and innumerable other sites. If you are a freelancer, you are unlikely to be rolling in the dough. So, you need to find inexpensive ways to promote yourself. The easiest way to do this is through Facebook fan pages, Youtube videos, blogs, personal websites, and much more. I know for a fact that I would not have had any success as a freelance dancer if it weren't for my social media skills.

Romeo & Juliet w/Fort Wayne Ballet (Photo: Jeffrey Crane)
4. Compromise: As mentioned in the first important quality of this post, leadership is necessary to become a Dancer-preneur. Many of our great leaders have set themselves apart from the crowd with their ability in handling compromise. The challenge of being a leader is knowing when to give a little to get a little. When negotiating a contract, a dancer must approach their potential employer with care about the financial health of the company. At other times, dancers may need to give up some of their professional expectations to work for a choreographer that they have always wanted to work with. Knowing when and when not to compromise is, perhaps, one of the most defining qualities of the best independent contractors.

Performing "Maan Singh" (Photo: Oberon's Grove)
5. Determination: One quality that is naturally found in most professional dancers is determination. In order to guide your own business, you must have gritty determination. Only if you put every ounce of your being into finding and/or creating work can you have a career built from an entrepreneurial spirit. Keep in mind that even if you throw every bit of yourself into your business, it won't always succeed. But the more determined you are to make it work, the better your prospects will be of experiencing a successful, freelance career.


What qualities would you add to this list? 

1.22.2015

Video Break - My Choreography - Pas de Deux from Distinct Perceptions


Proud director of these four talented students from Alaska Dance Theatre
This past weekend was quite exciting for me and a few kids from Alaska Dance Theatre. After months of preparation, two of my students placed in the top 12 in the Junior and Senior Contemporary divisions at the Youth America Grand Prix semi-finals in Philadelphia. We also had our male competitor win 3rd place in the men's Contemporary division. To seal the deal, I was recognized with a special award for Outstanding Choreography. It was a very exciting weekend for all of us. Who knew that dance was alive and well in Alaska ;-)

It's been awhile since I've posted a Video Break from my writings. So, in honor of our success this past weekend and to fulfill your ever-growing curiosity about my choreography ;-), I am posting the complete pas de deux from Distinct Perceptions, a ballet that I choreographed at the National Choreographers Initiative this past summer. Enjoy!


1.11.2015

How Much Should I Get Paid?



Today, I’m going to discuss a topic that I’ve mostly avoided since starting this blog. It’s not that I’ve avoided talking about money because I’m afraid to share my worth. It is more that money, in this funny dance world, is a very complicated matter that isn’t always affected proportionately by worth and experience. With each experience that we have, our value should grow. But in the dance world, you can be offered to dance in two works of equal value in the same time-frame with the same company with one year in between them and get offered grossly disproportionate sums of money that, in reality, should be a marker representing your true value as an artist. Beyond that, there is always a chance that a dancer will underestimate their worth because they are afraid that they will be turned down for work. For these reasons, salary talk for freelance dancers is a tricky, fickle beast.

Most people would avoid putting their yearly salary out there for the public to see. I don’t feel it would be effective for me to announce my freelancing salary, but I am happy to share that when I left Pacific Northwest Ballet; after 7 years in the corps, collecting unemployment during lay-offs, and working as a union representative, I was making over $60,000 yearly. It was a cushy job that had great benefits and showed a personal investment by the company in my dedication to my workplace. Each year, whether I got bumped up in status (Apprentice, Corps, Senior Corps, Soloist, Principal), I got a seniority raise that loosely represented my accrued value to the company. Once I left PNB and started freelancing, I didn’t really know what to expect when it came to salary.

When I first started taking freelancing work, I would generally accept the financial offering of whomever was willing to hire me. Whether I was getting paid per show or per week, I wasn’t comfortable negotiating my own fees and I didn’t really understand how to properly define my worth. At the start, it was challenging for me to go from making $1,325 per week to being offered $400 per week. I often felt like I was selling out on my true worth. But what it came down to was this. Do I want to work or do I want to sit on my ass looking for work that made me feel like I was being compensated at my appropriate value?

I was lucky that I had my partner talking me through this challenging period. He kept reminding me this, “You built yourself up to the level that you were at with PNB and that took some time. You can’t expect to jump into freelancing and for everybody to treat you just like that. You need to put in the time and effort as a freelancer and build yourself back up from the beginning.” This advice turned out to be quite true.

People don't just hand you things! (Abby Relic & me wasting time backstage during rehearsal at PNB)
My first season dancing in multiple shows of the Nutcracker, I made less than half of what I make at the moment. Where I used to take whatever offers came my way and leave negotiation for my pay out of the equation, now I have a set rate that is generally non-negotiable (whether per week or per show). If my rate can’t be met, then I will pass the gig on to a friend that may need to build up their freelancing portfolio. While it wouldn’t be wise to share my rate publicly, I will note that I feel that after nearly four years of freelancing, I am getting paid somewhere near what I think my value is as a national-level Principal Guest Artist.

As for programs outside of Nutcracker, this is a completely different story. While I definitely do negotiate my rates for weeks of works and performances, it is trickier to determine what is acceptable for my services. My first freelancing jobs were somewhere within the range of $400-$600 per week or $500 per show. Most of the work that I performed ended up being on a weekly rate (which I always try to negotiate in the event of injury. If you get injured during a three-week rehearsal period and are getting paid per performance, then you are not getting any compensation for the work put in). The challenge of this period was that I couldn't afford to pay all of my bills, saving for self-employment taxes, and paying off debt that I had accrued during off periods at that rate. I took the work because there wasn't a great many calls coming in and because I was afraid to negotiate a different wage that might have changed the opinion of the director offering me the gig. During this period, I essentially ate up all of my savings that I had built before leaving my cushy job with PNB.

After a year of freelancing, I started making more sense of my negotiation strategy. When a company would low-ball me for my salary, I would tell them the absolute minimum figure that I had determined I needed to pay my bills, save for taxes, and put a little in savings for time between gigs. I knew it would be easier to negotiate my rate without feeling uncomfortable asking for more if I told the directors that it was the minimum for me to survive month to month. This went over well and showed that I wasn't greedy. The funny thing, though, is that my first job offering with the Colorado Ballet at the young age of 18 was for $500 per week. With nearly ten years of experience, I was traveling around the country begging companies to pay me just a little more than that base salary.

After my second year of freelancing, I started to realize that my work, my blog, and the validation that my product was very good was becoming better known. When work started coming my way, it was very rare for job offers to come in at the lower end of my survival number. Only two non-Nutcracker gigs came my way that were below the level of salary that I was regularly accruing. I finally hit a place where I felt that my value was being appropriately assessed. In the end, the reason that I chose to take those two jobs with a lower salary rate was because I was more interested in the experience than negotiating myself a higher salary. I was interested in working with the companies, directors, and choreographers that were involved in those programs. I also didn't negotiate with them because I was concerned that negotiating would deter them from holding their offer to me for work.

I always wanted to work w/ this lovely lady! Amy Seiwert running rehearsals at Alaska Dance Theatre
One tricky aspect of obtaining work as a freelancer is negotiating mindfully without overstepping the comfort zone of your possible employer. While many directors have a moderate range of flexibility with their financial offers, others have no wiggle room in their budget. Depending on the director and how much they want/need you, you could get what you want or turn them off from working with you. For instance, if you are working for a gig that will include 8 dancers and all of the dancers are being paid the same rate, it will be more difficult to negotiate a higher wage. Yes, maybe you have a bigger resume then them, but is it fair to pay differently if you are all performing the same load of work? There is no right or wrong answer to this, but there are exceptions. Often directors wont be comfortable giving preferential treatment to one dancer over another. Sometimes, it is beneficial to ask if there is any leeway in a company's budget before asking to negotiate. In these instances, you can only be hopeful that the director is being honest instead of tight-pocketed.

In the end, it is up to the dancer to assess their own value. Look at your experience, look at your recent work, and look at your monthly financial needs to determine what is an appropriate amount to seek. If you danced with a small regional company, don't go out looking for over $1000 per week. If you have a bigger name company on your resume with famous roles in well-known ballets, it will be easier for you to negotiate up. Even those dancers sometimes have to build their freelancing portfolio before they can survive off of this kind of work. Know your true worth, and not your ego's worth. And know that your true worth is malleable dependent upon the budget of the people offering you a job. Unfortunately, our arts world doesn't exist on the same plane as the sports or major for-profit worlds work. Don't accept work away from home (b/c if you are home, you can work multiple gigs, teach, etc.) if it doesn't cover all of your monthly bills, travel, and housing. And do your best to be thankful to those employers that offer you work at a rate that is too far below your standards. While you may feel offended by a low-balled offer, they may be in a building phase and trying to get, you, one of the best dancers they know. Take it as a compliment!

Always be gracious - Dancing Romeo w/ Fort Wayne Ballet (Photo: Jeffrey Crane)

12.30.2014

My 2014 Highlights - Best in a Year of a Gypsy Dancer

This year FLEW by!!!
This year has been a very fascinating year for me. I have had some really high high's and some really low low's. From experimenting with what it would feel like beyond my performing years to living like a gypsy in, sometimes, frightening situations, it has been a wild year that has shaped and formed me into the person that I am today. As 2014 comes to an end, I surely have grown by leaps and bounds and am very different than I was when it started. Instead of looking back at the times that challenged me, I'd like to remember the moments of greatest growth, change, and achievement. I hope you enjoy and that you are looking forward to another year in the Life of a Freelance Dancer in 2015.

In costume for Company C's gala performance
1. My year in dance began quickly and abruptly. After spending the first few weeks of 2014 worrying that I wasn't going to find any freelancing work, I got an emergency phone call from Company C Contemporary Ballet. They needed a principal caliber dancer to replace a company member that was injured earlier that day. If they couldn't find a replacement, they were considering cancelling their shows. After four different connections had suggested they reach out to me, I received the call to fly out almost immediately, learn two ballets in 4 days, and have my San Francisco debut at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. It was quick, exciting, and quite rewarding.

2. After spending a week with Company C in Walnut Creek and another week in San Francisco, I found myself traveling quite a bit. Between January and December, I spent at least 24 hours (and up to 3 1/2 months) in San Francisco, Walnut Creek, Fort Wayne, Lafayette, New Orleans, Baltimore, Oakland, Los Angeles, Irvine, New York City, Anchorage, and am now flying as I write on my way to Seattle to close out the year. It has been a crazy year to say the least. When I look through my Instagram page, I'm still amazed at the multitude of places I visited this year.

3.  One of the most rewarding performances I had this year was dancing the role of Romeo with Fort Wayne Ballet. I only had a week to learn the entire three act ballet, which at times felt like an impossibility. Luckily, I had a great partner that I instantly connected with and we turned out a miracle of a performance in an extremely short period of time. I also found a new level of emotion in my dancing, as I was able to tap into places that I didn't even know I had. I never thought I would have the ability to genuinely cry onstage.

Fort Wayne Ballet's Romeo and Juliet w/ Lucia Rogers (Photo: Jeffrey Crane)
4. While I don't always end up living in the most ideal of conditions while traveling for work, every year I have the pleasure of meeting some really fantastic people that open their doors for me to live with them. Another reason that Fort Wayne was also so rewarding was because I got to spend two weeks with my hosts, the Possemato family. Not only did they provide a beautiful home. They treated me like family and made sure that I was more comfortable there than I would be even in my own home. Also, right prior to that, I got to spend a few days in San Francisco with my host mother from my time in Los Angeles with Barak Ballet.
Swamp tour w/friend and former colleague William Lin-Yee

5. One of my favorite gigs this year was dancing with Lafayette Ballet Theatre in Louisiana. While I have reconnected with a great many past friends since I began freelancing, I haven't had the opportunity to dance with any of my former colleagues from Pacific Northwest Ballet. Through the kindness of my friend Lindsi Dec, PNB Principal, I was connected and given the opportunity to dance besides three friends that I haven't seen since leaving Seattle.

Touring a New Orleans cemetery
6. To sweeten the deal in Lafayette, I was able to extend my trip and fly out of New Orleans. I had never been to this gem of a city before and, let me tell you, did it catch me off guard. I lived on the edge a lot last year and visiting New Orleans was probably one of the most daring trips I took. I jumped on a Greyhound bus for 2 1/2 hours and booked my hotel while wheeling my bag through the downtown area as I walked towards the French Quarter. Before I was in my hotel room (which was right in the heart of Bourbon Street), I already had a hand-grenade in hand. I had been traveling and working so much, that I didn't plan one part of the trip or do any research. I just showed up and let the magic of this musical city haunt me and take my breath away. I can't wait to go back and experience the magic that this city has to offer!

At Company C gala w/former SAB peer, Chantelle Pianetta
 7. One very special part of this past year was the fact that so many of my friends and colleagues supported me in my efforts to obtain work this year. As I stated above, four people suggested me as a replacement to dance with Company C in San Francisco. I also obtained work through the kindness and trust of friends in Louisiana, Oakland, and Anchorage. As I've stated in past posts, it is your connections and your network of friends that carry you through this unique career. I am so grateful to those friends!

8. While I didn't get to perform in the final performances with Oakland Ballet (I did get to dance in the Bay Area Dance Week and Oakland Art Murmur), I did have the wonderful opportunity to work with Robert Moses. Robert really threw me out of my comfort zone during the 5 weeks I got to work with him. He taught choreography in a style that was very challenging for me and at a lightning fast pace (I tend to start learning slow and catch up halfway through). The first few days, I felt very let down, as I was left out of much of the creative process. Then, all of a sudden, Robert had me perform my own interpretation (with improv) of a solo he had taught me. From there, I had a duet that opened the ballet, a few solos, and closed the ballet. Throughout the nearly 20 minutes of his new work, I only left the stage for about 2 minutes and was featured throughout. This was an amazing accomplishment for me, as I felt that I was struggling so greatly that he wouldn't end up using me at all. This was my greatest disappointment in suffering my injury.

One of the houses I stayed in (on left) while couch surfing in San Francisco
9. While my time trying to find a place to lay my head during the challenging period where my housing fell through with Oakland Ballet was the absolute lowlight of 2014 (and perhaps my entire career), the sense of humanity and kindness that I received from pure strangers that let me stay in their homes for periods of time was definitely an important lesson. I would probably be one of the last people to welcome a stranger, let alone letting them sleep in my home. But it was the kindness of the many people that took me in that really restored my faith in people and showed me that there really is so much good in this world.

10. Sometimes, I feel like California is beckoning me to move to the state. I spent a total of three months in the Bay Area (San Francisco, Oakland, and Walnut Creek) and Los Angeles this year. I love these cities so much and am so happy that my career brought me to these communities for such extended periods of time this year.

I missed him, especially.
11. After my injury in California, I got to come home to Philly to recover. While it definitely wasn't a highlight to be injured, getting to spend 7 weeks at home was extremely valuable for me and my partner. Not only did I spend this time healing my body, but I used it to heal my mind and reconnect with a more normal lifestyle. This was the longest I had been home since the summer of 2012.

12. Perhaps, the biggest highlight of my year was being selected as one of the four choreographers for the National Choreographers Initiative. I had applied to NCI two times prior to being accepted into this prestigious workshop experience. It was a very humbling honor to be selected besides three amazing choreographers; Philip Neal - former New York City Ballet Principal dancer, Gabrielle Lamb - 2014 Princess Grace Award winner for choreography, and Garrett Smith - a young, prodigious choreographer currently dancing with Norwegian National Ballet. After three weeks of work with some amazing dancers that were hired from ballet companies across the country, I got to present my first nearly full work (I'm waiting for a commission to create the final movement) since I left Seattle in 2011.

Dylan Keane, Jackie McConnell, & Evan Swenson rehearsing my ballet @ NCI
13. While I was at NCI, I got the phone call from Alaska Dance Theatre asking if I was willing to move to Anchorage to be their next Artistic Director. I never applied for the job and I wasn't sure if I wanted to transition out of performing full-time. So, I was lucky that I needed some more time to heal my body and that they were willing to let me take the job on an interim trial. While, in the end, I chose not to stay on full-time as Artistic Director, getting the experience of running the artistic operations of an organization, influencing the community to feel inspired about dance, and training the young, talent of the Last Frontier was truly an invaluable experience that will only push me further on my hopeful path to becoming an international representative of ballet and dance.

14. This year, I achieved a handful of goals that I have been working towards for many years. All the way at the beginning of the year I was featured in an article for Dance Magazine. Twice after that, I was featured in Dance Informa Magazine. I also found myself featured on a major blog with over 60,000 subscribers as one of 49 Creative Geniuses Who Use Blogging to Promote Their Art. It was an honor to be listed besides names like Daymond John (Shark Tank) and Will Wheaton, among others. I also scored an agent to represent me for choreography after showing at the National Choreographers Initiative.

Sunset along the Seward Highway outside Anchorage
15. One thing that I haven't really shared on this blog is that while I love the work that I do, there is an insane amount of pressure and stress involved in being a traveling dancer. The lack of familiarity, having to prove myself immediately upon arrival, not having the comfort of home to return to, the instability of regular income, the hustle of finding work, constantly learning choreography at breakneck speed, and much more can be wildly stressful. Over the last year, I developed severe anxiety and stress symptoms, to the point where I had a lump in my throat (for nearly 6 months), stress palpitations, and severe insomnia. Having the stability of nearly four months of work in Alaska gave me the break that I needed to relax a bit and relieve my stress. Getting to return to the same home every day and not wondering where the next paycheck would come from really helped me find my way back to a healthier place. Also having a roommate that I really bonded with and easy access to breathtaking, healing natural beauty helped. Three years of non-stop travel definitely requires extended breaks in one place here and there (even if it isn't home).

16. Lastly, I feel like this is a highlight of every year for me. I got to reconnect with so many friends that I haven't seen since my training days. As a national freelancer, moving from company to company, it is amazing to see so many friends that I trained beside who have become incredible, talented artists. This dance world is so small and it is so rewarding to revisit past memories and create new ones through art. Beyond this, getting to meet and dance with so many new artists is equally gratifying. Now, I can add them to my tight knit network and continue this cyclical ballet pattern.

Going away party at Alaska Dance Theatre
I can have a tendency to focus on the negative or on items that I feel need to be fixed. I feel it is only natural for most dancers to think this way, as it is how many of us were trained to achieve the feats that we have accomplished. Looking back on this list of my 2014 highlights, even with the challenges that I faced,  I really must say that this was a pretty damn successful year. Cheers to even greater successes in 2015! Happy New Year!

12.25.2014

12 Reasons Dance is My Religion

For some reason, the holidays always put me in the mood to make lists. Best and worst lists of the past year, lists of things I'm thankful for, and lists of my hopes and wishes for the coming year. Well, I'm not going to resist that urge this Christmas. I am a Jew living in heavily Christian country, so I tend to love celebrating both holidays. And since Chanukkah is officially over on this here Christmas morning, I have decided to create a list in honor of the 12 days of Christmas. Since I am not really religious at all, and I appreciate celebrating all types of holidays, I have decided to create a list with a twist. With all of that said, I bestow upon you the 12 reasons dance is my religion.

1. Dance has been a part of my life since I was a very young age. When I was 2 years old, I kept running into my sister's dance class. After a few frustrating interruptions, the instructor of the class saw an opportunity. Instead of reprimanding the parent of the child, she invited me to stay in class if I could behave. And I did. From that young day of my life on, I have been immersed in the ways and the morals of dance.

This little boy couldn't stay out of his sister's dance class
2. Walking into a dance studio every day is like walking into a place of prayer. Every morning, I begin my morning ritual of plies, tendus, jetes, and beyond. Or, in a non-religious sense, plies are like my morning coffee and the rest of barre is like my breakfast.

3. Even my every day activities are ruled by dance. I think before anything that I do, "How will these activities affect my dancing." Exercise, risky activities (skiing, rollerskating, horseback riding, etc.), drinking with friends, sleep, etc.

Maria Chapman - So inspiring
4. Those people that I hold in highest esteem are my mentors and fellow colleagues that are professional dancers. I don't worship these people, per se, but I have more respect for them, their work ethic, and their inspiration than most anybody else.

R&J (Lucia Rogers) w/Fort Wayne Ballet (Photo: Jeffrey Crane)
5. When going through a difficult experience, I turn to dance to express myself, heal my wounds, and fill myself with joy.

6. While many religions learn the basis of their faith from ancient scripture, a great deal of learning is taught through oral tradition that has been passed on through the generations. Dance, like religion, is one of the last traditions that is almost completely passed on orally and ritually from generation to generation.

7. I give all my glory to my art!

8. No place on earth is more sacred than a stage or a studio.

9. Just like the holiday season brings families together in the name of religious events, ballet brings dancers together for something special every time they begin preparing for a performance. I have always felt a warm holiday-like bond by the end of a performance series.

Returning to Rochester City Ballet's Jessie Tretter for Nutcracker 2013 (Photo: Josephine Cardin)
10. I have an ongoing joke that I am going to create a religion called, "Exercism," or the religion of exercise. It would be a glorious religion! It makes you feel good, it treats your body and soul well, it inspires people to do good, and makes us all-around better people. Cheers to Exercism!!!! (I joke)

11. Just like there are multiple sects of religions, there are multiple sects of dance. Ballet has classical, neo-classical (Balanchine), and contemporary ballet. You can even break down these forms into smaller denominations; like Vaganova, Cecchetti, Bournonville, French school, Royal Academy of Dance, etc. Non-ballet sects have spanned from modern to post-modern, tap, jazz, contemporary, and beyond. While some followers of these sects of dance only hold values for their one form of dance, dancers display the most inspirational openness to joining and sharing in other forms of dance. In the spirit of collaboration, exploration, and growing one's idea of dance, most dancers are open to crossing into other belief systems of dance. If only we could experience this in religions across the world...

12. Even if I turned my back on dance, it will always be there waiting to accept me back with open arms.

Guesting in my home dance school's Nutcracker last year (Photo: Marla Kaine)
I'd like to wish all of my readers a happiest of holiday seasons!

12.18.2014

Using Teaching to Supplement Your Salary

Teaching a contemporary class
Most dancers that identify themselves as independent dance artists need to have some type of backup plan to sustain themselves during off times, supplement their income, or throw some extra spending money in their pockets. While a handful of dancers choose to make some of their income working at a restaurant, as a barista, and at other non-dance jobs, I wouldn't be afraid to make the claim that a majority of freelancers use teaching dance classes to supplement their dancer salary.

Some dancers teach because it seems like the most obvious and practical way to work in their field when they aren't dancing in a studio themselves. Whether they are or aren't passionate about passing on our art, it is much more lucrative to teach an hour and a half dance class than it often is to work in other fields. Luckily, for me, teaching has never been an unfortunate necessity to help supplement my income. I have always known that I wanted to teach and freelancing has only allowed me to incorporate this aspect of dance into my schedule.

My interest in teaching didn't come naturally. In my earlier training years, I was more focused on the number of pirouettes I could execute than sharing my knowledge of dance with those younger than me. It wasn't until the age of 16 that I really took notice in the importance of having a passionate, caring instructor. Kimberly Martin, or Ms. Kim, was the first teacher that I had that went way out of her way to help me along my path towards becoming a professional dancer. I had many instructors that worked their asses off to get me to where I did, but Ms. Kim was a bit different. When she realized how passionate I was about dancing, she took me under her wing, coached me, inspired me, and even let me live with her on the weekends to extend my training as far as she could. Beyond that, I had incredible experiences with Claudio Munoz during my summers at the Houston Ballet Academy, Jock Soto and Peter Boal at the School of American Ballet, Paul Gibson as a Ballet Master with Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Bob Rizzo of Riz-Biz Productions. As teachers and mentors, these people showed me how giving and unselfish the art of teaching can be. Existing in the somewhat selfish profession of ballet, where you spend countless hours staring in the mirror and working on yourself, I knew I had to find a way to pull myself out of the narcissism involved in self-correcting and instruct those that had similar dreams.

The first time I tried to gain teaching experience was when Peter Boal took over PNB. Sitting in my first evaluation with my new boss and former teacher, I vocalized my interest in developing my chops as an instructor. I assumed that we would quickly bond over this since his teaching had inspired me only a few years prior. It was a bit surprising when he responded, "I think you should really focus on your dancing right now." Nearly, a decade later, I don't necessarily disagree with his opinion. But I still wish that he had given me the opportunity to develop my skills under his tutelage.

It wasn't until a summer layoff a handful of years into my career that I got my first true opportunity to conduct a classroom. I was visiting home for a few weeks between seasons when the director of my home studio called to see if I wanted to teach a few ballet classes for their week-long intensive. I jumped at the chance and nervously developed a lesson plan for the class. Secretly, I hoped that I would show up, leave the paper sitting in the corner, and prove the genius of a teacher that I was on my first try. But in reality, having a written lesson plan helped me out a great deal, as I was no prodigy. Where I think I lacked in experience, I made up for in blind passion.

I didn't have many opportunities to teach outside of, maybe, three more individual classes at home until I began working as a freelancer. The closest I got to working with students would be the three years I choreographed new works on the Professional Division students for PNB's annual Next Step Choreographer's Showcase. While I didn't get to work with this young talent in a classroom setting, I still had the gratification of helping these kids along their path.

Once I started freelancing, I realized how important it was that I find ways to supplement my income. I googled Philadelphia Ballet School, came up with a contact list of training facilities in the region, and started sending my information out in search for work. Only a few schools responded and, of those, only one ended up working out. I was extremely excited to get in the studio, but I was also a bit nervous for my classes. My nerves had gotten the best of me and when the school director asked how much teaching experience I had, I lied and told them that I had three years. The honest truth was that the number three was just a little less than the number of classes I had taught. My untruth meant that I would have to show up with undeniable confidence and avoid any errors in instruction. Luckily, things worked out well. Perhaps, I was kind of a natural.

Adv. Ballet class w/Alaska Dance Theatre (My Students & Pianist)
Over the past 3 1/2 years, I have taught everywhere from local schools to pre-professional training academies and for companies that hold drop-in classes. Recently, I have added professional dancers to the mix; teaching company class for Eugene Ballet, the National Choreographers Initiative, and Koresh Dance Company. All of these have been incredible, but the most rewarding experience I have had in my short teaching career has been working for nearly four months as Interim Artistic Director for Alaska Dance Theatre.

Getting to spend so much time working with my students at ADT, I was able to see the fruits of our labor in working towards perfection. In almost four months of classes, the students that I worked with had exploded technically and grew a great deal as artists. My passion for dance and their trust in my instruction created this incredible atmosphere where you could feel a tingling energy the moment that each class started.

One of my students at Alaska Dance Theatre - When I arrived, her leg was at 90 degrees, knee was bent, & foot wasn't fully extended. This was taken two months later.
I always knew in my heart that I had talent as a teacher. Dance isn't just my vocation. It is my ultimate passion. I immerse nearly every moment of my day in the dance world. My approach to teaching is essentially my own version of (and a way better version than) No Child Left Behind. No matter talent, body-type, or level, I always try my best to make sure that every student receives a handful of corrections throughout class. The schools that I have taught at have ranged from recreational dance schools to academies that only work to train professional dancers. Here and there, I have heard recreational school owners tell me that the kids just want to have fun. My instant reaction to this is, "Dancing is a lot more fun when you can do it well." I am tough, but I am honest and I don't let dancers get away with wanting anything less than the best for themselves.

It is very sad that I will not be returning to Alaska for the upcoming semester (though I will be returning to teach at their summer intensive in June). But lost opportunities can lead to new ones, sometimes instantly. The last few weeks I was in Alaska, I learned that the famous Millennium Dance Complex franchise was opening a new school in Philadelphia. Not only is this institution bringing commercial dance classes to my city, it opened its' doors a block away from my apartment. It seemed too good to be true. So, I sent my information to the owners, was hired on the spot, and solidified my place on the faculty at Millennium. After returning home from Alaska to a week of Nutcracker and another week to adjust to being home, this Saturday I begin teaching an Advanced/Professional Ballet class and an Advanced Contemporary class at this renowned institution. I am very excited to have the opportunity to continue having a regular place to continue teaching and look forward to gaining more teaching opportunities in the near future! Cheers!


12.12.2014

Dance Informa Magazine Interview - Dancing Multiple Nutcracker Gigs

Performing as Cavalier w/Ballet Nova in 2012 (Photo: Ruth Judson)

After spending four months directing Alaska Dance Theatre and nursing myself back to full health, I will be returning to the stage at my home dance school, Chester Valley Dance Academy. In honor of my one and only performance weekend of Nutcraker this season, I am sharing this article that I was recently interviewed for in this month's Dance Informa. Enjoy!

Dancing Multiple Nutcracker Gigs - Dance Informa