Developing Your Networking Skills

I've been taking a lot of trips on Greyhound the past month. Getting up way before my usual waking hour to sit among a group of strangers ready to flood New York City the moment we get off this inexpensive commuter bus. Maybe some of my seat mates are going on vacation or maybe a few actually commute regularly to work, but I doubt any of my fellow northeast corridor travelers share the same intention that my visits hold.

Nancy Bielski working with a student at Steps on Broadway (Photo: Dancemedia.com)
I made the decision to exchange subletting in New York and paying two rents for the less expensive, more exhaustive option of commuting into the city bi-weekly (or more often). Other than feeding my soul and technique in my favorite ballet guru Nancy Bielski's class at Steps On Broadway, it is to keep myself present in people's memories and to make new connections with my community. The power of networking is a great skill and resource, especially in our dance world. This was quite evident, if you remember, from our last post when Matthew Powell received the support of his mentor to work on Flesh & Bone, the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and the Slovak National Ballet. For this reason, I need to remain present to fulfill my ultimate goal of finding an institution (or a few) to call my career-home and to bring my choreographic and teaching career forward into their next phase.

In this day and age, one can easily apply to a million jobs and never receive a response. My husband-to-be (May 29 😊) experienced this modern day dilemma before he gave up on living the corporate life and chose to start his own business. While the dance world is a little bit different, many positions in our career field (outside of dancing) require one to submit their information electronically in the most impersonal and out of touch way. Most put in a great deal of time and effort to create a carefully curated representation of what they have to offer an organization, but there is often no guarantee that your information will even be looked at. While this can save these organizations a great deal of time and energy, it can leave the job seeker feeling at a loss when they don't get a response for their efforts. And, beyond this, a majority of higher profile positions often go to someone who already has some type of connection to the organization or their name is suggested by a reputable person who works for them.

The above reasons are why it is important in this dance world to be an ultimate networker. I don't know how I became savvy at this skill. Perhaps, it was innate. But, even at a young age, I would try to learn the name of every peer in the dormitories at summer programs I attended and ask them to share their email and phone number in a small journal at the end of our time together. Honestly, I just wanted to make friends. I didn't realize that I was actually cultivating this valuable skill of connecting with people.

Performing Mercutio w/friend James Moore in Romeo et Juliette at PNB (Photo: Angela Sterling)
Have you ever asked yourself why you don't have a vast network of professionals that you are connected with to offer support and help you navigate our tricky dance world? Are you too shy to talk to people you don't know? Let me offer you some tips to help open up and grow your network. It's funny, actually, when you first meet me I tend to come off as a bit shy. It's a complete facade that I have little control over. I'm a horribly anxious person and I get awkward about getting into conversations with people, even though I enjoy it immensely. I like to talk (a lot), and I know that every person I come across doesn't necessarily want to chat. So, at first, I tend to awkwardly sit back and wait for the other person to initiate.

There are multiple times throughout my days where I am surrounded by people that could become a part of my professional network or my circle of friends. For instance, when taking class with Nancy at Steps, there is an ever-changing array of professionals in class from Misty Copeland to Irina Dvorovenko, Katie Morgan, and beyond. Additionally, there are amazing instructors, former professionals, and non-dance professionals tendu-ing and pirouette-ing by my side. One doesn't usually want to strike up (nor is it really appropriate) a conversation during barre. But there is a bit more freedom for a short chat during the breaks and banter that take place in center. In reality, though, it is best to catch up or initiate a conversation well after you have exited the classroom. If you do try to meet connections through open classes, be respectful that a majority of the attendees are really just trying to focus and prepare for their day.

Beyond this time in open class when I am surrounded by people just like me, there are a few other times to network and make your community larger. If you aren't sure how to surround yourself with those in your field, go to a performance, attend a fundraising event, seek out educational arts programs in your community, or look online. 

Dancers networking freelance networking event
While networking in person at events allows simpler access to meet up, shyness is often a challenging factor for many. If you are going to an event and don't know how to initiate a conversation, bring a friend that is a little more outgoing (but who is aware of your intentions and not going to own all conversations). But be sure to avoid the pitfall that I often fall into, where I only end up talking to the person I came with. Grab a glass of wine (but not too many) if you need to loosen up a bit. Don't interject yourself into somebody's conversation, but don't be afraid to walk up to somebody who looks a little lonely and say "Hi. How are you today?" They may be feeling the same way you do. Once the ice is broken, be sure to ask the person more about themselves and their interests before you talk about yourself and your work. Be sure to bring your business cards in the event that you want to connect beyond your first meet or if a good conversation ends abruptly.

While I don't get to do this often enough, I find it easiest to connect with people at educational events and programs. When attending a pre-show lecture or an informational arts workshop, you know you are surrounded by people who are like-minded and seeking information. Whether they are seeking knowledge on something specific or looking for interaction with their peers, they are generally going to be on the same page as you. And as an added bonus, you will already have a topic in common to hit off a conversation. My only advice here would be to wait until the lecture or meeting is over until you attempt to begin chatting anybody up.

If you need online suggestions, check out Dance.com, BalletAlert, or look for community groups on Facebook. Dance.com is a brand new networking resource along the lines of Facebook, but for dancers. I'm not completely clear who they are catering to yet (professionals, organizations, or Maddie Ziegler wannabes), but you may find what you are looking for here. BalletAlert is an interactive forum of dance nerds. Whether looking for links to reviews of recent performances, discussing your favorite dancers, or digging into the history of ballet, this is a favorite of many. Just beware of falling into the pit of snark and negativity that sometimes runs rampant among certain posters. Lastly, if you are a Facebook junkie like me, use your search bar tool to seek groups catering to art in your city, organizations you love, or topics that interest you. As always, the internet provides a million and one resources if you know how and where to look.

The power of networking is more and more important as we grow more detached from in-person interactions. The Age of the Internet has given us access to most anything we seek. But, surprisingly, it has made it harder for us to actually access people. As I continue seeking ways to continue exploring my choreography and passing on my craft in New York City and beyond, I know that it is less likely to happen based off of cold-emailing and online submissions. My reality is that my network of friends and professionals that I have created and maintain will continue to help guide me on my path of sharing my art worldwide as a dance professional.

(Don't forget to check out my new podcast on the Premier Dance Network & iTunes!!!!)


The Freelance Instructor & Ballet Master - Matthew Powell

As you all know, I have written over 150 posts featuring my experiences as a freelance artist and my analysis of the dance world. If you didn't see my post from April 15th, I recently launched my Pas de Chat: Talking Dance podcast on the Premiere Dance Network, which recently received some nice press from Dance Magazine. It has taken a lot of preparation to get this show ready and raring to go, so I reached out to some of my freelancing friends to offer a few additional perspectives on the work of freelance artists in the dance world.

Most of the material written on Life of a Freelance Dancer features the work of freelance dancers, hence the name. But there are many other types of freelancers involved in this beautiful world of dance. I recently reached out to a new friend of mine, Matthew Powell, whose dance credits include dancing with Pacific Northwest Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, and as A-rab in the international tour of West Side Story. Since retiring from dance, Matthew has taught everywhere from Broadway Dance Center to Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, worked as Ballet Master on the Golden Globe-nominated series Flesh & Bone and at Slovak National Ballet, and choreographed around the country. Continue reading below to hear what Matthew has to share about his work as a freelance instructor and ballet master. Enjoy!

Matthew Powell (Photo: Brian Jamie)
Where do you currently work?

When I'm not freelancing, I am on faculty at Broadway Dance Center and Ballet Tech. Additionally, I am permanent guest faculty at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (CPYB), which means I travel to teach for a few days each month and teach for their five-week summer course. I offer private coaching in New York City and substitute teach at Juilliard and Peridance Capezio Center.

Tell me about your transition to becoming a full-time freelance instructor/coach.
Honestly, I feel like one of the luckiest guys ever. After my performing career, I moved to NYC to finish my college degree at the LEAP program, a wonderful offering through Saint Mary's College, which allows dancers to get their degree while maintaining a flexible schedule. I knew I needed a job, so I started scouring the web for any opportunity I could find. I started teaching at 19, and thankfully already had a resume to work with. I got lucky very quickly. Petrov Ballet gave me a job and Broadway Dance Center gave me a class in a tiny studio on Sunday afternoons (which has now built up to five classes a week). What I will forever love about these two schools is that they took a chance on me based off my resume alone. I didn't know a soul in NYC, but they gave me a shot to prove myself.

Matthew teaching company class at Slovak National Ballet (Photo: Costin Radu)
How has your teaching evolved over the years? How would you describe your class?

When I first started teaching, my classes were given instead of taught. I would carbon-copy the exercises I'd get as a professional dancer and spew them out to students expecting them to understand. It wasn't because I didn't care. I simply didn't know any better. Now, I look at who is in the room, I look at what I've learned, and I look for ways to help. Teaching is never solely about the teacher. Teaching, for me, is a collaborative effort between yourself and the student. By being a supportive (rather than authoritative) voice, I think you can better open their minds to accept what it is you have to give.

How do you go about finding work?
The early years in NYC were all about hitting the pavement. Countless answers to Craigslist postings, doing Nutcracker gigs with an encore tap number at the end set to Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You (yes, I've been there), and literally saying yes to anything that came along. I still say yes as much as I can, but now I get to do the jobs that fulfill my soul the most.

Do you have an agent or do you negotiate your own terms? Do you have any advice for others about setting up terms/negotiating?

I don’t have an agent or manager, but it’s something I’ve just started looking into for choreographic work. I am admittedly terrible at negotiating. It's either, "yes," or, sadly, "I can't afford it." I try to do a cost/benefit analysis when a gig comes my way. This might not be what you think, however. Cost/benefit has less to do with money and more to do with life. I am not rich in the monetary sense, but I value both the art of ballet and who I am as a person very much. This is a lesson I've learned along the way. If a potential gig comes along that I feel will not benefit me as an artist and human or if I feel it jeopardizes the art I love, I will say no.

Matthew teaching at the Rock School (Photo: The Rock School for Dance Education)
Have you ever felt that you were stretching yourself too thin as a freelancer? If so, how did you resolve that?

As a teacher, as a choreographer, and as a dancer, you love what you do. But you give...and you give...and you give. Last year I gave too much. My social life, my health, and my work were taking a hit as a result. It was a huge wake-up call for me, and I started making some changes.

While it's been difficult, I've had to learn to categorize what I do as a part of my life, but not my complete life. My art and my passion is also a job, and work cannot overtake the whole of your existence. I make sure nowadays to do something for myself. Less than half an hour ago, I unashamedly left the 7:30 showing of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. No ballet, no wondering where the next pay check was coming from, just some time for myself. Loving yourself comes first, and I think it's important for artists to recognize that, especially freelance artists.

What has been your most challenging freelance experience?

My Wednesday work days in 2011. Hands down! I'd teach two morning classes in New York City, take a train two hours north to Fairfield, Connecticut to teach from 4-8 PM, catch the 8:30 PM train back to Grand Central station, take a shuttle train across town to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, grab an 11pm Greyhound bus to Philadelphia, get to my Philly apartment around 2:00 am, then teach from 10 AM - 7 PM the next day at the Rock School for Dance Education. I love and miss teaching at the Rock. But after a year of that, I had to make a change. It was my own fault, not any of the schools where I taught. I tried to convince myself I was invincible, and it really took a toll on my physical and mental health.

Matthew giving notes to the cast of Starz show Flesh & Bone (Photo: Starz)
What has been your most interesting freelance experience?

Undoubtedly, ballet-mastering the pole dance sequences for the TV series, Flesh and Bone. That was a first! But man, pole dancing is hard! And incredibly good for your core strength. It's also a ton of fun, and doesn't need to be a sleazy affair. It's an amazing form of exercise, and there's definitely an art to it!

Tell me about your work as a guest Ballet Master.
The guest ballet master side of things came about via a glorious chain reaction of events. There is a wonderful ballet guru, Jeff Edwards, who took me under his wings when I first came to NYC. He recommended me for a teaching position at Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. Things went well there, so he put me forward to apply for a full-time Ballet Master position with Royal New Zealand Ballet. Ethan Stiefel was the Artistic Director at the time. I made it to the final round, which included going to New Zealand to interview and teach. I didn't get the job. I was pretty bummed, but went forward with life. A few months later, Ethan emailed me with an offer to guest ballet master for a few months in New Zealand. He also asked me to Ballet Master a new television show he was choreographing, which ended up being Flesh and Bone. It was a pinch me moment!

Shortly after Flesh and Bone wrapped, I headed off to New Zealand. While there, I met Daniel De Andrade, a Ballet Master with Northern Ballet. We hit it off and he invited me to Slovakia to work as Ballet Master for his first full-length commission.

What inspired you to produce your instructional ballet video, Find Your Fifth

While working with Royal New Zealand Ballet, I taught some outreach classes to students in the various cities we toured. After a class in Auckland, a little boy came up to me and thanked me for "bringing a slice of New York to New Zealand." On the plane ride home, I penned the idea of an instructional video shot like a Hollywood film; complete with bustling scenes of New York City and a group chat session at the end with our dancers. My hope was to give folks an idea of what it's like to live and dance in "The Big Apple." Hence, Find Your Fifth was born! We're in six countries now and I couldn't be happier. (see below for information on Find Your Fifth)

The Cast of Find Your Fifth (Photo: Shane Ohmer)
Do you see yourself freelancing forever? 

Absolutely not. I'm trying to scale back these days for the sake of work/life balance. I love my job and I love new experiences, but it's very easy for work to become all-encompassing. I'm a domestic-type by nature and I want to find a home. Also, I'm ready to put the knowledge I've gained on the road to use. With that said, I want to make sure that home I find is a right fit, so I’m taking my time. Anyone want to hire me?! 

What work do you have coming up?
More teaching, and more creating! I have a ballet being performed at a benefit for the United Nations in June. Additionally, I'm traveling to Anchorage, Miami, Zurich, and Las Vegas to teach. I'll also be teaching at CPYB's summer course.

Any advice you would offer for artists considering a career as a freelance instructor/coach?

I think it's all summed up with the answers above. But in a few words; don't rush, enjoy the process, and be good to yourself. Things will happen when the time is right. 

Matthew Powell (Photo: Brian Jamie)
For More Information on Matthew Powell, His Work, and His Find Your Fifth DVD:

Instagram: @matchoopowell
Find Your Fifth Website: www.findyourfifth.com


Over-Promoting on Social Media

If you read my last post, you are already aware that I launched a podcast as a part of the brand new Premier Dance Network. Since that launch, I have had some very exciting things happen. At this very moment, Pas de Chat: Talking Dance is listed as "New & Noteworthy" on the iTunes charts ranking #49 in Arts and #63 in Business. We have had a few hundred downloads and I am really, Really, REALLY excited about it! Of course, I am happy to share this excitement (and continue promoting) on my social media networks; which range from Facebook (my most heavily used) to Instagram (next down the list) to Twitter (my least favorite). And, initially, I saw a mirror-reflection of my excitement in the number of likes, loves, and comments on my accumulating podcast postings. Then, perhaps, the most exciting thing of my launch week happened. Dance Magazine wrote up an article about both my podcast and my sister podcasts (which even included an image of me dancing). In my thrill and happiness, I shared this, too. As I sat back waiting for the scroll of likes to appear on the locked screen of my iPhone, nothing happened. A few minutes passed and making the assumption that there must be something wrong with my connectivity, I opened my screen and tapped on that trusty blue "F" app to see how many notifications I had. None. And nearly 24 hours since I posted, 6 likes. What happened?

I am no stranger to the string of events that happened yesterday. Each time that I have launched a new project (like this blog), I have to remind myself that there is a fine-line between sharing something exciting, using social media as a tool for promotion, and over-saturating my feed with excessive impersonal, promotional content. I have gotten pretty good at the wildly obscure balancing act that is engaging social media. But even experts like myself can fall victim to the circumstances they study and understand.

When I first started using social media back in the days of Myspace, these self-producing content systems seemed like the next best thing to living in the same house with all of your friends, old and new. It was engaging, quick, and direct. And being an artist at the young age of 21, who had lived in 5 states in 5 years as I finished out my training, it was a great way to stay in touch with my peers who also scattered across the country to pursue their passion and art. Once I got spammed off of Myspace and opened the pages of Facebook, I felt that it became even more personal. At one point, I remember watching the news and listening to a story about how social media was beginning to be used as a marketing tool for certain target markets. I remember turning to my Danya and saying, "I can't imagine Facebook becoming one giant commercial." Well, those days have arrived and passed. And for the most part, it is us every day people creating those commercials.

Today, most social media sites share two things. The, sometimes, facade of a personal connecting of people with people and the reality of providing a platform for free (or inexpensive), personalized marketing. Content is most often curated based on complex, mathematic algorithms. We are no longer connected to others and their content completely by choice, but instead see friends content strained through a network of computers that make complex, programmed decisions. Manipulating this system into thinking that we were completely in charge of what was coming to us, opened up the doors for users to see carefully curated content and marketing. Whether promoting a cause, spreading awareness of an ill friend's GoFundMe, or kick-starting a brilliant entrepreneurial idea, people started noticing that they could use social media sites to promote most anything.

I never wanted to use these web sites and apps to promote an idea, a product, or even myself. But then I found myself suddenly without a job and needed to make things work quickly. Once I came up with the idea for this blog, I reluctantly began posting my writings in my feed. I remember the first day that I introduced Life of a Freelance Dancer, I didn't have as much of a following as I do today and my posting received a small amount of excitement and attention. Over the next week, I posted about this new creation of mine, multiple times. And slowly, but surely, people that once seemed quite engaged in my daily musings became disinterested. At one point, I remember posting, "I promise that this is the last time I will promote my new blog this week, but you should check it out," and seeing a friend comment, "Oh, Thank God!" I had a feeling that I was over-promoting, but at that point I knew for sure.

What is one to do when they have a great new project and they want to garnish excitement or support from their friends, family, peers, and acquaintances? By all means, don't be afraid to promote on all of your social media channels. But remain keenly in tune with the response that you get from your networks. If your first post gets 30 likes and a handful of comments, maybe give it a day or two before posting again. If you see the number of responses declining rapidly, even to your regular, non-promotional updates, you are likely posting too often about your project. If you find that you have overreached your friend's promotional limits, step away from sharing for a few days and get back to posting personal content. Remember, like me, most of us first joined these social media networks to connect with our friends. Get back to the basics and remind your friends that they are connecting with a person, and not a business or salesman/saleswoman.

My Instagram Feed
There is no set guideline on how to promote different projects or causes that you are a part of on social media. The challenge of using these apps and networks is that you have to constantly remain aware of the reaction you are getting on your feed. Spikes in excitement don't last for long. But if you notice that the volume of likes, comments, clicks, shares, etc., that you usually get begin to fade to silence, reconsider how you are approaching your marketing and promotional techniques. Remember, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and beyond were first and foremost created to connect people to people. If you forget this idea, you may lose one of the greatest sources of support and excitement for your art, work, and self. Your Friends. While you may get a financial or career reward out of it, your dividends in friendship may take a hit. So, don't make the same mistake as I did this past week in a blind leap of excitement. Follow my simple rule for social media success. Post. Pause. Post Again. Happy social media-ing and good luck on using these amazing networks to help you reach your goals and greatest successes!


"Pas de Chat: Talking Dance" launches on Itunes

It is with incredible excitement that I share this news with you. Over the past few months, I have been working with a producer to create my very own podcast as a part of a new and first-of-its-kind network featuring dance. Pas de Chat: Talking Dance launches TODAY on itunes as a part of the Premier Dance Network. Listen in every Friday for a weekly conversation on all aspects of the professional dance world. We will be releasing 6 episodes over the next week or so as a part of our launch here (http://balancing-pointe.com/pas-de-chat-podcast/). Also, be sure to Subscribe on iTunes, rate, comment, and download our episodes by clicking here!

As host of this podcast, I will candidly share my experiences and thoughts on the workings of the dance world as I travel the globe creating ballets, teaching future generations of dancers, and performing for audiences. This podcast will premiere alongside Kimberly Falker's Balancing Pointe, Megan Fairchild's Ask Megan, and the young aspirant dancer's Becoming Ballet (currently listed as New & Noteworthy on Itunes) podcasts on the Premier Dance Network.

I just want to take a moment to give all of you, my readers, a special SHOUT OUT and a huge thank you for supporting me and reading Life of a Freelance Dancer over the past 4 years as I have shared my experiences, knowledge, and insight that I have gained throughout my dance career. Through your interest, viewership, and support, I was featured in Dance Magazine this past February alongside New York City Ballet Principal Megan Fairchild and her podcast. After reading this article, Premier Dance Network producer Kimberly Falker reached out to me seeking my insight and voice for a new show on her channel. From there, we started the process of producing Pas de Chat: Talking Dance. This podcast will not be replacing my work here at Life of a Freelance Dancer. Instead, it offers me a new platform to talk about a broader set of topics relating to dance and to gain greater exposure for myself, this blog, and the art form of dance. You will still have plenty to read on here!

Now, after months of preparation, this podcast is available for free on iTunes and on the Premier Dance Networks website (official site to come soon). You can listen to the first episode NOW by clicking on this link here! Enjoy!


I'm a Modern Day Gypsy

Typical moment in the life of a Modern Day Gypsy
Nearly two weeks ago, about an hour after midnight, I laid my head to rest at my Washington Heights sublet. It was snowing again, which wasn’t shocking considering the timing of my past four Bolt Bus trips back home to Philadelphia and how they each coincided with some type of snow event. When I left the apartment scurrying amongst flurries the next morning, I knew that had been my last night in this ultra-Spanish neighborhood that was the inspiration for the Broadway musical, “In The Heights.” When I returned from Philly a week later, I’d be laying to rest on my friend’s couch in the refined gayborhood of Chelsea. After my fourth night there, I left this afternoon to embark on a weekend trip to Los Angeles to celebrate the life of my great friend and benefactor, Mimi Chiang. It may end, though, with me sleeping at the airport. My first flight was cancelled and my re-booked flight officially has me listed on standby. When I lay down to rest (hopefully tonight) in the Pacific Palisades, my mind may drift in and out of strategic problem solving to determine where I’ll stay when I return. Trying to find a short-term sublet in New York City is a difficult task. It’s been a stressful search, but I’ll just deal with it when I have a free moment. I know your first thought, “Gosh…I’d be utterly panicked right now!” Oh, I’m getting there. But a modern day gypsy must live for adventure.

Back when I first moved to Philadelphia in June of 2011, I met a peer and colleague whom I had known of since competing against him in the first two years of the international youth ballet competition, Youth America Grand Prix (circa 2000). Robert Colby Damon, or Colby, had been working as a freelance artist for a few years by that point. I knew, with my 22-week contract, that I’d have to endure a small amount of freelancing work. But I had no idea what I was truly in for. Colby and I used to talk about his couch-surfing habits and his fly by the seat of his pants housing situations. I probably sat talking to him, mouth agape, trying to comprehend how he lived like this. Little did I know, that I was about to fly through my own crash course in modern day gypsy-ism.

My First Gypsy Bed in NYC
I didn’t start off living this crazy, nationally-touring freelance lifestyle at such a fast clip. My first stay in somebody else’s home was in New York City for 3 weeks when I performed at the Guggenheim. It was nearly 3 months that I slept in my own bed after that. Then, I spent 5 weeks residing with a host family in Anchorage. Once I lost my contract with Ballet X, things picked up at an almost frenzied pace. 1 week on Long Island, 3 weeks in Providence, 1 week in New Hampshire. Dancing a summer gig in Philadelphia was a nice respite from what was about to come. Within 2 years, I would see Rochester twice, Myrtle Beach, Virginia, West Virginia, Louisiana, San Francisco (twice), Walnut Creek, Los Angeles (too many times to count), Anchorage (again and again), Indiana, and more and more and more. Aside from 5 months at home at the beginning of 2015, I haven’t stayed put for more than a few weeks for over 4 years.

My Washington Heights Sublet & My Weekly Packing Ritual
What does it feel like to travel as much as I do? It requires a certain sense of adventure and freedom from expectation. It necessitates one to go with the flow. Oddly enough, I find myself micromanaging my life when I return home to my apartment in Philadelphia. Likely because I finally feel like I can control my environment. When people meet me in gypsy-mode, they often comment that I am so laid back. Instead of plastering on this facade, I learned that it is just easier to submit to the uncertainty and confusion that can come from changing things up on the regular.

One thing that a lot of people wonder is how I cope with the irregularity of this lifestyle. Honestly, sometimes, I don’t. Sometimes, I ignore my own needs and keep pressing forth to create my art and pay my bills. This is a bad way to deal with things. And as I learned back in 2014, it can lead to severe, nearly-crippling burn out. What I have found that helps is to acclimate fast, find what comforts you absolutely require, and to stay connected with people in your life in order to maintain some semblance of normalcy.

Seen on my acclimation walk in Richmond, VA
To acclimate myself to a new situation, If time allows, I will always go for an extremely long walk (or drive if that is available) around the neighborhood that I am living in. Knowing where food, drink, and toiletry options are helps a lot. Do keep in mind that you will likely spend more money the first few days, as you won’t know what stores in neighborhoods provide the best deals. When I first began subletting in the Heights, I paid nearly $5 for one of my favorite snacks when the grocery store a block away sold it for $2 less. It’s essentially the equivalent to moving your entire apartment and adjusting to that new neighborhood, only every couple of days or weeks.

As for comforts, I know I’m a fully-grown man, but I travel and sleep with a little stuffed animal that my partner gave me as a gift the first year that I started traveling for work. I haven’t slept with a stuffed animal since I was a little kid. But the discomfort of sleeping somewhere foreign and having an empty bed makes this more comforting than you could imagine. Or in another case, if your morning routine requires coffee (like mine, and lots of it), if coffee isn’t readily available, buy some instant coffee. No matter how poor the quality of the brew, it will be comforting to know it is still somewhat within your control.

Lastly, be sure to keep communication lines open with friends and family. One of my biggest challenges, as my workload involves a great deal of in-studio and out of studio effort, is to make contact with those that I love and who love me back. Text messages don't always feel extremely personal. I like to use chat apps (like Facebook messenger), phone calls, or Facetime/Skype calls to have a full conversation versus broken apart text chats that may span days. I feel it is important for any gypsy to be surrounded by people they know beyond acquaintances on a regular basis, even if not in person. At times, I have felt like I was losing sense of who I was before I started freelancing. I used to have a group of friends and co-workers that would joke, tease, and laugh with (and sometimes at) me. Whether they were lovingly pointing out my flaws or supporting me in an unnecessary moment of distress, I always knew who I was as I saw my reflection in their attention. I lost this for some time as I became too focused on my work. So, be sure to note the factors that bring normalcy into your life and try to keep them with you on the fly.

Sometimes, I wish that I never knew what it felt like to be a gypsy. And part of the reason that I am residentially floating around New York City is to find a place to call my career-home. It’s both emotionally and physically exhausting. But at the same time, I find myself constantly peering back into history at my 15 year old self and imagining what he would think if somebody told him this would be his life one day. It’s fascinating and horrifying. Exciting and nerve-wracking. I don’t have long flowing garb or dangly earrings. I’m not quick-witted or sassy. I’m a 5’ 10’’ Jewish gay white boy who wears the same clothes that everybody else does. Yet, it wouldn’t be odd for you to see me pass you by with a carry-on sized piece of luggage dragging behind me. My name is Barry Kerollis and I am a modern day gypsy.

Living that Gypsy Life


Freelancing from a Woman's Perspective

Alright, let’s be honest here. Nearly everything in the dance world is easier if you are a man. Not to say that those of us at the top of our professional game haven’t worked our butts off to get to where we are. But it is easier for boys to get scholarships, there are fewer guys at most auditions, and males are often given a bit more leeway in a professional work environment. Although this is a grand generalization, women definitely have more difficulty finding work due to a larger pool of competition. The challenge of finding work as a female dancer can be magnified when starting up a career as a freelance dancer.

Since all of my posts clearly come from my experience as a man in the freelancing world, I want to offer my viewers a chance to hear what it is like from a female perspective. I reached out to my friends Kathryn Morgan, Allynne Noelle, and Miriam Ernest to offer their experiences, thoughts, and advice for any woman trying to break into or sustain a freelance career. Enjoy!

The Freelance Artists:

Kathryn Morgan (New York-based): Former Soloist w/New York City Ballet. Youtuber. Writer of popular monthly advice column, Dear Katie, in Dance Spirit.

Allynne Noelle (Los Angeles-based):  Former Principal w/Los Angeles Ballet & Soloist w/Miami City Ballet.

Miriam Ernest (New York-based): Former dancer w/Grand Rapids Ballet.

The Interviews:

What type of freelance work have you performed?

Kathryn Morgan in Sleeping Beauty w/Tyler Angle (Photo: Paul Kolnik)
KM: Freelancing has been quite a new experience for me. At first I was just trying to get well from my illness, so performing wasn’t the main focus. But it actually helped me heal, and I rediscovered my love for ballet. Since leaving NYCB, I have gotten to do some really great performances. I have danced Odette/Odile in Swan Lake, guested in various Nutcrackers as the Sugarplum Plum Fairy, and performed in the world premiere of Snow White in the ballet's title role with Mobile Ballet. I also put on An Evening with Kathryn Morgan in Cleveland, where I shared my most personal experiences in an intimate performance.

AN: I currently dance with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet. Suzanne and her company are everything I have ever wanted in my professional life. Being a part of her company led me to make the decision to leave Los Angeles Ballet and supplement the rest of my year with freelancing. In the past, I have worked as a principal guest artist with Sacramento Ballet, State Street Ballet, and Inland Pacific Ballet. I have also guested for numerous schools and pre-professional companies.

ME: I have danced with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet for four seasons. In addition to this, I have freelanced with Emery LeCrone Dance, New Chamber Ballet, Ballet NY, Kathryn Posin Dance Company, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, and Texture Contemporary Ballet.

How did you get into freelancing?

Photo shoot (Photo: Rachel Neville)
ME: Each season with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet is short, usually about a month or so per year. My first season with Ms. Farrell was so wonderful and inspiring that I knew I wanted to keep returning. I realized I needed to find a place to continue growing as an artist, generate income, and stay in shape while TSFB was out of season. Freelancing was the natural choice.

Being new to freelancing, what have been your biggest challenges?

AN: The idea of freelancing sounds relatively simple when you think about it with the security of a full year contract. During my time under contract with Los Angeles Ballet, I was approached to guest with Sacramento Ballet, Inland Pacific Ballet, and Imagine Ballet Theatre (plus various Nutcrackers). I had to request time off during rehearsal weeks in order to accept outside work. I performed at the annual Dizzy Feet Gala performance one summer in LA, which fell conveniently during a layoff period. It all seemed simple and fluid. It's very different when you look at freelance work as a full-time job, requiring a full income to live, as opposed to when you see it as bonus or supplement to an already existing contract and income. I'm a planner and I like to know things far in advance. That really isn't something that comes with the freelance/guest artist life. I think when you're in a company, especially at the top end of the ranks, you're naturally relevant. When you no longer have that company affiliation to your name, unless you're working and performing you aren't really relevant at all. You're only on the radar when you're busy. It's like you disappear in between work. I was never big on social media, but I have found that it is an essential tool to keep people apprised of what I'm doing currently, my past contributions I have made to the art form, what lies ahead, etc.

Do you think that company credentials are necessary or helpful to work as a freelance artist?

ME: Yes and no. I think company credentials help a lot. I also think staying in shape and being your best self in class and interactions with choreographers/directors are just as important. I’ve seen men and women with impressive company credentials get fired because they were unpleasant to work with in the studio.
Allynne Noelle (Photo: J. McMerty)
AN: I don't think more or less marketable would be how I would look at it, so much as the degree of ease I previously thought I would experience marketing myself. I know my value set, my work ethic, and my talent. When you're in a full-time company, all that information is known and speaks for itself. When you freelance, you have to remind the ballet world of all you are as a dancer and person, and advocate for the strengths you can offer any institution.
Have you had any difficulty finding freelance work?
KM: Thankfully, most of my work has been offered to me at this point. I have been very fortunate in that. And when I was ill. I wasn’t interested in doing a ton of guesting anyway. So up until now, it has been a perfect amount. 
ME: I don’t necessarily find it difficult to find work. I do find it more difficult to find work that I am genuinely interested in and that pays well. While I am appreciative of every offer, I have learned to be selective to ensure safe working conditions and adequate pay. I babysit on the side to supplement income. It is something I love doing that isn’t too strenuous for my body.
How has your perspective changed since you started freelancing?
AN: I definitely realize now that the act of obtaining freelance work is very much a job in itself. Under a full season contract, freelance offers came occasionally and were always a bonus. I assumed that simply having an open calendar and being more readily available for freelance work would directly boost the number of offers I received. You absolutely need to seek the work for it to come to you. People show interest in me and seek me out based on my resume. Also, previous relationships and connections work in my favor. But, I still have to remind others of my availability. 
How do you promote yourself/find work?
Kathryn Morgan in Balanchine's Nutcracker (Photo: Paul Kolnik)
KM: I promote myself through social media, my website, and YouTube. I actually probably need to do a better job promoting myself to actual employers. I do find it difficult posting about myself all the time or reaching out to people basically saying “Hire me!” I have never been good at that, but I am working on it. While I was still sick, I started watching YouTube videos as a distraction. It suddenly occurred to me that for the thousands of beauty gurus online, there were no ballet dancers on YouTube. I wasn’t under a company contract at the time, so I thought I would make a few videos and see what happened. I never expected it to turn into what it has!
AN: I quickly realized that I wasn't very accessible or search-able to those I don't already know. I was never much for social media. I quickly realized the importance of branding myself and creating a solid social media presence. So, I have been working on that, as well as my website (which will launch very soon). I signed with a ballet agent based in New York City, and hopefully he will bring work that I wouldn't otherwise find for myself. A lot of this career is networking. I am a believer in cold-emails; introducing myself to companies who might need a principal female. I think it's hard for most dancers to become their own agent and advocate for themselves. We are trained from such a young age to do as we are told and deliver what's asked of us. My dancing has always spoken for itself. All I have ever had to do is dance in front of someone to get the job, the role, etc. Now, as a freelance ballerina, I have to speak out! I have learned to advocate for myself.

Tell me about freelancing in New York City.

Miriam Ernest (Photo: Joerg Didlap)
ME: I knew New York had a huge dance scene and several of my friends were already freelancing there. New York has plenty of places to take quality dance classes during and in between gigs, which can be difficult to find elsewhere. Most of my work is in the city, although I do travel to and from Washington, DC at least once a year to dance with TSFB.
What is your ideal job?
AN: My ideal jobs are mostly those I have been fortunate enough to do thus far. Short stints with professional companies in need of a principal female. My hope is to build a lasting relationship with these companies and return for future programs. I love the nature of guesting/freelance work. It's exciting, and also extremely beneficial as an artist to be constantly exposed to different dancers, new partners, and fresh eyes for coaching. I also really enjoy guesting for youth and pre-professional companies. I find it extremely gratifying to interact with dancers approaching that time where they may potentially make this art form a career. I can inspire them and offer any helpful insight I can!

ME: For me, an ideal gig is dancing for someone who believes in me and trusts me as an artist, and whom I respect in return. It includes getting paid an appropriate amount and provision of or reimbursement for pointe shoes and physical therapy.

What are the best/worst things about freelancing?

ME: The best thing is the freedom to pursue whatever movement and choreographers interest me. The worst thing is not having a constant income and having to pay for physical therapy, daily ballet classes, and pointe shoes on my own.
Do you have any advice for women that are interested in freelancing?
KM: I think the advice I would give to women who are freelancing is the same advice I need to hear. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! People need to be able to find you and see your work. You can still be kind and not pushy, so go for it!
Allynne Noelle in Agon w/Ulrik Birkkjaer (Photo: Reed Hutchinson)
AN: I'm still learning myself! But thus far,  I would say a most important piece of advice is to always be prepared. Work can come when you least expect it, and you want to be ready. You want to feel good about yourself and your dancing and put your best self forward. First impressions are important in any career, especially ballet. Stay in class and stay focused, even if you're frustrated. I like to spend my downtime taking class and supplementing it with barre, Pilates, or yoga and time at the gym.
ME: Don’t be afraid to inquire about pay and politely decline offers if gigs don’t make sense for you financially or interest you artistically. Use time between projects to cross-train, network, and market yourself. Be kind to everyone you meet. You never know who someone is, especially in an open class. Freelancing is challenging, but can be artistically and personally rewarding.
What upcoming gigs are you looking forward to?
KM: An organization called Ballet in the City is presenting me at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, sponsored by Bloch dancewear. It is an entire evening about my life and career. I will be dancing a wide variety of pieces; some classical, some Balanchine, and a few new things. Performances are on March 29 & 30th at 7pm. I will also be teaching master classes at Washington Ballet on March 31. Here is the link for tickets: https://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/event/RQXBN 
AN: I will be performing with Sacramento Ballet all month in their Bach to Now and Beyond program (March 17-April 2). I will be featured in a workshop performance, premiering excerpts of a new ballet by Melissa Barak, in New York City (May 2) and then working with Barak Ballet after that in Los Angeles. 
ME: Currently, I am looking forward to performing with Emery LeCrone Dance at Jacob's Pillow on June 23.

If you would like to check out more information about these lovely freelancing women or contact them for work, check out their information below.

Kathryn Morgan
Website: http://kathrynmorganonline.com/
Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/Tutugirlkem
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kathryn_morgan/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Kathryn_EMorgan

Allynne Noelle:
Website: www.allynnenoelle.com (coming soon)
Email: Allynne.noelle@gmail.com
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/allynnenoelle/

Miriam Ernest:
Website: www.miriamernest.com
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/miriamernest/


How to Come Back After an Injury

I have been living between New York City and Philadelphia for nearly 2 months at this point. And while I am still working hard on finding stable teaching and choreographic work, it has allowed me plenty of time to ease myself back into shape with my favorite NYC ballet teacher, Nancy Bielski, as well as trying some new instructors and dance styles (I just tried Gaga at the Mark Morris Dance Center) to expand my scope of the scene up here. While I have been getting a great many questions about what I'm auditioning for or where I am performing, I've found it nearly impossible to explain my situation. In fact, I don't really know what my situation is and where the performing part of my career is leading me. For a long time, I tried to force myself back into shape after suffering such a severe injury in Oakland nearly 2 years ago. At times, I went about this in the appropriate ways. But at other times, even with 13 years of dancing professionally behind me, I fell down a path that was not most conducive to repair. I found it difficult to appropriately strengthen a body damaged by years of wear and tear and a mind weakened by too many daunting situations in too short a period of time.

The inspiration for this post? The other day I found that one of my former students had posted three photos of herself on her Facebook account. Initially, I was cheerful to see this talented student posting some photos. But I quickly realized that these images, which included big jumps and extreme extensions, had been taken only one day after returning from nearly 6 months off due to injury. Granted, this student is a child, I was mortified to think that she had spent so much time off in order to return healthy to dance and out of pain. Whether she was motivated to post these photos online out of excitement or ego, I'm actually glad that this happened. Not only did this allow me to intervene to keep this dancer on the right path. It reminded me that I (ripe into my 30's) have committed such acts of excitement, even if I didn't post images of it online.

There is no guidebook for returning from an injury. Every injury is different and every person's body will react differently to therapy, conditioning, and exercises. But what I have learned is that there is truly an appropriate way to come back from a long-term injury. After your doctor has given you the OK to return to class, you must resist the urge to jump into class full force. Getting the green light to return to dance doesn't mean that the work of recovery is over. It means that you are in a safe place to start producing the building blocks of your technique.

My "barre" at the gym
After getting approval to start taking class again last May (after nearly a year off from taking full class), I started things off correctly. I feel that there is often a lot of pressure to take another's class the first few times that you start executing your plies and tendus. Not everybody is like me, but I always feel pressure to follow the instructors combinations to the T. Now, as a professional, I may alter a few things in class, I still tend to do things that I shouldn't be doing if I am taking somebody's class. For this reason, my first week back to class I prefer to find a space either in a studio, gym, or at home where I can start with some simple plies, tendus, and jetes. I focus this first week on remembering what it feels like to pull my inner thighs together, to support my spine with my core muscles, and beyond. By the end of this first week, I may progress to rond de jambes. But I am reluctant to push too fast, too soon because I want to remain healthy.

Posing for Instagram, but only working up to tendus this day
Once my first week has passed, I take a day or two off and continue to build on the structure of class. I add rond de jambe, rond de jambe en l'air, fondu, adagio, frappe, and grand battement exercises at a rate of one new exercise per day. If I feel that I need more strength, I may repeat a combination twice or refrain from moving forward to a new exercise until I feel ready. I try to resist the urge to add two combinations at a time. Again, this is all about building blocks. I focus on executing exercises properly with the correct muscle groups versus forcing my way through combinations without noting what muscle groups are initiating action. I know a great many dancers that move too fast in their progression towards being in shape, and what happens is they execute exercises using the incorrect muscles. Not that they don't know which muscles they should be using, but they haven't built enough strength in the right ones to avoid gripping superficial muscles. This often causes new pain or injury. At this point, feel free to enter somebody's classroom, but be sure to tell them that you are recovering from an injury. For me, I still like to work up to this point by myself, away from the pressure of any watching eyes. Keep in mind that it is completely appropriate to start adagio with your working leg at 45 degrees or to only perform fondu or frappe on flat for some time. Give yourself a pass at judgement and offer yourself some empathy towards health.

At this point, now that I can complete barre to a degree, I feel comfortable to finally enter a classroom. Again, after speaking with the teacher before class starts, I feel more at liberty to do things on my terms. For the next few weeks, I work my way towards jumps. Sometimes, I add one combination a day. Sometimes, I choose to only execute combinations like adagio once to allow my body to acclimate. The biggest part of this return game is to make sure that I am pushing myself along my own schedule without holding back everywhere because of fear or pushing too quickly out of impatience or excitement.

I am mostly reluctant to take any dance classes outside of the genre of ballet during my recovery period due to the structure provided by ballet class. Most classes in contemporary, jazz, musical theatre, hip hop, and beyond begin with a warm-up in center, followed by technique exercises and choreography. The structure of a ballet class gives you something to hold on to for starters (barre), a period of time between each exercise to analyze how your body is responding to information, and an easy opportunity to bow out when you have reached your maximum. Dance classes in other genres, at the beginning of a recovery period, can make it difficult to gauge when and where to stop and can potentially prolong recovery or result in new injury.

After I have progressed past center, I spend the most attention coddling my jumps. Throughout this past recovery period, I began to get in shape and then fell off the wagon due to my Core-ography project, traveling for work, and a lack of classes that inspired me. Now that I am in New York and back on track, it has taken me nearly one and a half months to finally finish class. Strength for jumps is the first thing to disappear after a long period off. And since there are so many different things involved in launching yourself into the air and because it is the end of class when your muscles are tired, jumps are the last thing to build back up. The last thing you want to do is jump straight into saut de chats or other large jumps, feel great on the way up, and realize that you don't have the strength to slow down the force of gravity in your landing. TAKE YOUR TIME. Perhaps, start doing a few combinations holding onto the barre. Then, progressively move forward at your own pace. This time around, I spent nearly two weeks only working through petite allegro.

One of the biggest issues in recovery is excitement to get back in class. Whether you missed moving your body, you are responding to end of class adrenaline, or you just can't let go of that ego, don't wait for the instructor to stop you or, worse, your body. Be reasonable and keep your long-term goals in sight. Dancing feels amazing for the mind, body, soul, and ego. But nothing creates more emotional injuries than a continuous stream of physical ones. As I continue to work myself back into what I consider performance shape, when people ask me what I'm auditioning for or where I'm performing I tell them this. I am getting back in shape for me and so that I can fully show my choreography when creating and instruction when teaching, since this is what I'm focusing on. If I feel healthy enough to perform again, then so be it. But this time, I'm getting in shape for me. Not for my ego. Not for the applause of live audiences or for likes on social media. Now that I finally have access to the tools to potentially perform again, I'm pacing myself and doing things on my body's terms and in my own time.

Working on some choreography at the gym
 (Follow me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bkerollis/)