8.30.2015

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

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

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

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

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

8.24.2015

A Positive Look at My Recent Failure



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

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

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

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

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

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

8.18.2015

Cultivating Your Outgoing Personality in New Work Environments


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8.01.2015

8 Things You May Not Know About Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.15.2015

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


I know that my readers have eagerly awaited the next post in my Create Your Own Project series. Well, you are in luck! Today, I am here to write about a very popular fundraising tool that can be both wildly successful and embarrassingly abused. If you look up the definition of crowdsourcing, you will find something along the lines of, "obtain by enlisting the services of a number of people, either paid or unpaid, typically via the Internet." This simple idea eventually grew into crowdfunding, a way to reach out to many people for financial support via service websites. If you haven't heard the term crowdsourcing or crowdfunding, I am sure that you have heard of Kickstarter, Indiegogo, GoFundMe, and RocketHub. These are four very popular sites that any accidental (or quite intentional) entrepreneur can use to raise funds for everything from products to projects or to pay substantial medical bills or salvage financial emergencies. How does one go about running an effective campaign to raise financial resources for a project?

(Please take a moment to look at my own example on RocketHub and consider donating to my global dance storytelling project, "Core-ography," by clicking here)

Should I go the crowdfunding route?
One of the biggest downfalls of crowdfunding is that it quickly became an exhaustively saturated platform to raise money. Thousands of people have innovative thoughts and concepts every single day. Some of these people dream of making these innovations a reality. When the urge to create strikes, one needs to be realistic with themselves. Is this passing inspiration or is it something which you are really prepared to fully commit your energy?

Too often I see people with great (or less than great) ideas who create a Kickstarter campaign on a whim. They've put some amount of thought into their wishes and dreams, but very little preparation or hard work into the process that is necessary to be successful (like a business plan, budget, mission, target market research, audience, donors, etc.). I've seen campaigns seeking complete and total funding to start one's own business from the ground up. I have seen campaigns asking in upwards of $70,000 to fully fund one's new startup. When I see people asking the public to hand them a no-interest, no-effort gift, I feel hints of embarrassment that they assume people like them so much or think their idea brilliant enough that people will just throw money at them. In these cases, I'd suggest going to a bank and asking for a loan.

My best suggestion here is to tell you to take a moment before you go the easy road to success and consider whether you are being rational in jumping into your campaign. Chances are that your integrity and intentions will be put on display in your first foray into crowdfunding. And if you look greedy and lazy in your first campaign, it will be difficult to regain public trust for any future campaigns. Take the time to do your research on your project/product. Are you truly being innovative? Are there better ways to secure financing? Are there multiple avenues to approach funding your project? Have you done any budget research to assure it is realistic? Check all of these items off your list and, only then, see where a crowdfunding site may fit. Perhaps, like me, crowdfunding isn't your initial destination to seek support.

To finish up this section, I feel it is really important to be acutely aware that most people can see right through a crowdfunding campaign. Whether one chooses to be transparent or not, most potential donors can easily determine whether your ask is a well-conceived idea or a lazy approach at getting free money from people. You need to show that you are willing to put out an effort equivalent or greater than the gracious donations of your supporters.

How do I choose which crowdfunding site to use?
So, you've put a lot of thought into whether crowdfunding is the appropriate route and you've decided that all systems are a go. There are a handful of different sites to choose from and, for the most part, there are only minor differences between each individual service.
My "making-a-decision" face?

The most popular site to raise crowd-sourced money is Kickstarter, likely because it was first to break into the mainstream. Here is a great article produced by the Foundation Center (the best place to search for grants of all kinds - thanks Chris Rudd) that shares different criteria to consider when considering the best platform for your project. Each of these sites has a different look and a unique format, so it really comes down to preference when looking at their templates.

What is most important when considering a crowdfunding platform is the fees. There are generally two fee scenarios for a majority of these sites. These companies are providing a service for any entrepreneurial soul to seek funding, so they deserve payment for providing their services and for funneling donations back to you. The two most common fee types that you will find are either an all-or-nothing approach or flexible-funding that allows more leeway if you don't meet your goal.

The all-or nothing setup means that you either reach your goal and receive funding for your ask or fall short and get nothing. Essentially, this system is put in place to encourage fund seekers to project realistic fundraising goals. As I stated earlier in this post, I've seen crowdfunding projects with unrealistic goals fail so badly that I actually felt a hint of embarrassment watching the entrepreneur reach 3%-10% of their goal in the entire month of their campaigns. They had asked for such an exorbitant amount of money that it was clear to everybody except themselves that they weren't being realistic. Beyond that, they had shown no effort on their side other than putting together a project page. The plus-side of using an all-or-nothing approach to your fundraising campaign is that, if you are successful, you get a smaller percentage taken out of the money you raised when it is funneled back to you. For these websites, I have seen fees charged in a general range of 4%-7%. In other words, if you raise $100, the service will take $4 to $7 of what you raised.

The second type of fee charged for these services is typically called flexible-funding. This works with two possible outcomes of your campaign. Either you reach your goal or you don't. If you reach your goal, then you are charged a lower percentage similar to the all-or-nothing approach. If you miss the mark, then a larger chunk of the pie is taken out of what you raised. I have seen these charges range anywhere from 8%-12%. These higher fees are used as a deterrent to those setting unrealistic goals. In this situation, you need to determine if it is more important that you receive a larger chunk of the money you raised (and you are absolutely confident you will reach your goal) or if you are comfortable taking the risk of not meeting your goal but still receiving a (smaller) portion of the monetary reward of your efforts. Some platforms force you to make this decision at the launch of your fundraising, while others will wait until the end of your campaign to see whether you met goal or not.

Another item that you must consider when determining your fundraising platform will be your time frame. Some sites only allow you to hold a campaign for one month, while others will allow you to fundraise for anywhere from 30-90 days. If you feel a longer campaign may benefit you, this may be a determining factor. But keep in mind that the longer your campaign runs and the more often you post about your fundraising, the more desensitized and annoyed your audience may be with your ongoing sales pitch.

Lastly, if you want to offer tax-deductible donations as a part of your crowdfunding campaign, you need to check in with your fiscal sponsor to see if they have a required platform, different fee schedule, or approval period. In preparing my fundraising campaign for my upcoming Core-ography project, I was required to use RocketHub's platform. I also had to seek approval from New York Live Arts before RocketHub would allow my project page to go live.

How should I go about creating my project page?

In developing my fundraising campaign, there were many things to consider. I really appreciated the template that RocketHub provided for me to set up the details of my project, my background information, rewards for donating, and further items.

I started putting my project page together by placing and editing the description of Core-ography I had already developed when applying for fiscal sponsorship, grants, and scholarships. From here, I wanted to create a few topics for the body of the project page that felt relevant to share with potential donors. This will be different for each and every person. One thing I have learned is that you need to provide enough details to give a clear picture of your end goal, but be brief enough that those potential donors with limited time don't give up on reading about your project. It's a finely tuned process.

The content that I included in the body of my project page includes a description of my project, a statement explaining "why you should donate to Core-ography," a list of items that donations will be used towards (budget), the Core-Artists who will take part, and my qualifications to make this project a reality. Each of these items offer something unique. Aside from the project description, I am hoping to build trust and purpose in order to build a bond with my audience and make my work relevant to them. Core-ography does matter to more than just me, but I need to cultivate interest and relevancy. I also included some details about my budget. This way donors know where their money is going and trust that I have already planned where funds will go? Lastly, I felt it was important for donors to know the artists that they will be supporting and their qualifications? All of these seemed like questions I would ask somebody before giving them some of my hard-earned money. So, I went ahead and answered these questions ahead of time.

Perhaps, the most taxing part of creating my page was determining the scaling of donation levels and the rewards that would be offered for giving to our campaign. The challenge was in finding perks that were realistic and affordable, yet meaningful and worth their value. I suggest opening options for people of all walks of life to donate. I find simple delineations at $10, $25, $50, $100, $250, $500, $1000, $2000, etc., are the best way to go. For my campaign, I decided to add one more category at $175 to allow a smoother jump from $100 to $250. Having this many options allows for those that want to give but have little expendable income, as well as those that are more secure in their finances. Unless you are capable of providing rewards where you can pay for shipping, travel, or products, it is best to keep your offerings reasonable. For instance, I am offering recognition in credits of our videos and a personalized thank-you for lower level contributions and Skype sessions or signed shoes from our Core-Artists for higher level giving, among many other options.

Now, if you have ever taken a look at any crowdfunding project, you know that the one necessity for any campaign is a quality video speaking about what you are creating and your intent for the funds you are seeking. It is important to put a face to your campaign. I found that putting together my ask video was the most fun, yet tedious aspect of producing the project page. If you don't have high-quality film equipment, do your best or ask a friend for help. I filmed my speech using Photobooth on my Macbook Pro and spoke right into my computer screen. I found that it was easier for me to speak each paragraph and then edit them together, instead of trying to nail the whole speech in one fell swoop. Plus, giving this speech in my city apartment presented many challenges with noise being recorded from the streets outside my window. Also, an audience doesn't want to stare at a talking head for a few minutes. So, be sure to add images and footage into your videos. This will also help with the edits you will need to make inbetween your transitions of your speech. If you do choose to go ahead and use some music in the background make sure it is either extremely relevant or quiet and lacking any acoustic distractions.



Who should I ask to donate to my campaign?
The best thing about crowdfunding campaigns is that you can ask anybody you know to donate, from personal contacts to acquaintances on your social networks. Previously, I mentioned a range of monetary amounts to ask for and the appeal to donors of all walks of life. So, at this point, you can send out your campaign to whomever you feel comfortable. Send out personalized emails to those that you think can make a larger donation. Post on your social media pages. Ask your friends and colleagues to share your campaign.

Do whatever you feel is necessary to meet your final fundraising goal. Don't be shy, but be conscious of your campaign. Keep in mind that there is a fine line between getting people's attention and reminding them versus trolling your contacts and ignoring any social protocol whatsoever. Scrutinize the response that you get to your campaign and fine-tune your approach on a daily basis (don't be afraid to lay off selling your campaign for a few days). Personally, if you ask me to donate to your crowdfunding campaign once, I will consider it. If you check in with me a week later, I may welcome the reminder. But if you check in with updates every other day, I will probably ask you to take me off your list. Be socially conscious in this greatly over-saturated market.



Jackie McConnel in "Basic Disaster" - National Choreographers Initiative 2014 (Photo: Dave Friedman)
Now that you have the tools to start your own crowdfunding campaign, go ahead and start building a foundation to produce something that you love. That is exactly what I am doing right now. I have never done this before, and I don't plan on doing it again at any point in the near future, but I am going to ask my audience at Life of a Freelance Dancer to consider making a donation to my Core-ography project. For the past three years, I have written over 130 posts and received nearly 100,000 views from over 50 countries across the globe. I love writing and am so happy to offer my insights and share my passion for dance, choreography, and writing with all of you on the regular. If you appreciate my writing and believe in my project, please take a moment to consider making a donation of any amount to my global dance storytelling project (or, if that isn't feasible, a share of my project page). You can view my RocketHub campaign by clicking here. Every little bit helps!

Thank you for reading and for the support I feel from you all with every post that I write and share! Cheers!

6.27.2015

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


Hiking up Bird Ridge - Indian, AK
I know! I know! It has been three whole weeks since I have written a blog post. And for that I apologize. What I have been finding is that the older I get and the more elaborate my activities and projects become, the more intense my focus will be for the periods of time that I am working. Essentially, this is what happened since my last post at the beginning of June. I have been home for a whole three days and am finally getting situated again, even if not completely over the hump of my jet lag. So, here is an update on what I have been up to!

For the past few weeks, I had what I would consider my best experience in Alaska. Now, most of my time in the Last Frontier has been incredible. But this time around things were a bit different. First off, I got to do things on my terms. I wasn't being brought up to work for a company. I chose my housing. I created my own program. I brought my partner along for the whole ride. I even took a vacation at the end. All in all, it was a spectacular trip and I came home feeling invigorated, inspired, and ready to keep pushing forward with my Core-ography project, teaching, and the development of my art.

So, what have I been up to these past few weeks? When I left Alaska in December, I promised my students that I would return to Anchorage this summer. What I didn't foresee was that the terms expected to bring me back to this northern state would change and I would have to fulfill this vow on my own. When this became apparent to me, I sought out a way to make my own summer intensive a reality. Luckily, I found an amazing advocate for dance in the state's biggest city, Pulse Dance Company director Stephanie Wonchala, who graciously offered her studio space to hold the first (hopefully annual) AK-BK Contemporary Ballet Workshop.

Now, I have taught for many organizations. From teaching company class for Eugene Ballet to working as a guest instructor for Peridance Capezio Center, to teaching master classes at Los Angeles Ballet Academy and beyond, I have become quite comfortable with my teaching skills. But to undertake my own program was quite nerve-racking. Not only did I have to find my own studio space, I had to worry about marketing, enrollment, curriculum development, tuition payments, travel, accommodations, and legal aspects of running a program for students. I was lucky to have two helpful ladies in Alaska assisting me with a handful of these items. While I knew that this would be quite the undertaking for a one-man show, I felt responsible to follow through for these amazing teens and young adults who have limited local opportunities when it comes to training options. I always tell my students that it is not my responsibility to inspire them, but instead their responsibility to inspire me to want to push them further. And as a testament to these students and how they have inspired me in the past, I created a program just for them.

Classical Technique (Photo: Pamela Montgomery)
For two weeks from June 8 - 19th, Studio Pulse was full of intermediate and advanced level students from Anchorage, Palmer, Wasilla, Butler University, Colorado State University, and the University of Arizona. We began each day with a classical ballet technique class. Many people get confused when they hear the term contemporary ballet. I have oft been asked to teach classes in this genre, but have turned down the request because I don't fully believe in a contemporary ballet class. It is my opinion that contemporary ballet is the perfect fusion of classical ballet and contemporary dance techniques. To teach a class in contemporary ballet would endanger tainting the beautiful lines and necessary strength it takes to properly execute ballet technique. For this reason, I strongly believe in having classical technique separated from contemporary movement. So, we started each day with nearly 2-hours in ballet class.
Contemporary Technique (Photo: Pamela Montgomery)

Following morning technique, we either held pointe class, learned classical or contemporary variations, or explored improvisation techniques. After a short lunch, we spent our afternoons expanding our movement into the contemporary realm. In these classes, we worked through a progressive warm up, honed our classical work into a more stylized movement quality, and used choreographic techniques to develop a collaborative piece of choreography.

At the end of the two weeks, it was quite exciting to see the physical and emotional progress my students had made in this short period of time. In my classes, we don't only work on perfecting technique. I make sure that class is a conversation between my students and myself, where we discuss the reasoning for why things are taught a certain way and the emotional implications of tough pre-professional training. Also, I strongly believe that the studio is a place where it is perfectly acceptable (and encouraged) to fail. Without failure, we can not figure out how to succeed. My students were preparing to attend summer intensives at schools including Ballet Met, Kansas City Ballet, Ailey, Ballet Arizona, and Walnut Hill (to name a few), and my goal was to make sure that each student was wholly prepared to show themselves at their strongest for these programs.

Students of AK-BK Contemporary Ballet Workshop (minus 3 students)
If you thought running my own summer intensive wasn't enough, I also wanted to offer something to the greater freelance community of Anchorage (yes, there is a small group of freelancers in the state's capitol). A few times during my program, I taught master classes to local adult dancers. I also spent some time staging a short piece that will be performed in Pulse Dance Company's upcoming season. Working with these dancers was inspiring. My hope for these dancers is that they can be major advocates for the arts and dance in a place that needs passionate people to educate their community about why they should attend performances and give to the arts. This is not an easy task, but I feel that they are up to the challenge.
Working w/ Pulse Dance Company

Usually, at the end of gigs I've been brought in for, I head home or onto the next job. But like my time in New Orleans, I chose to tag a few more days onto my trip in Alaska. While this was my 4th extended period of time in this great state, I was astounded by the numerous activities available that I still hadn't explored.

One of the brown bears we made friends with (about 10 feet away)
Along with my partner, a friend joined us in our continued explorations of south-central Alaska. Immediately after my last rehearsal with Pulse Dance Company, I ran to Ellison Air to fly on a 6-seater plane to the Lake Clark Wilderness Reserve. As we flew past Anchorage over Cook Inlet into the wild, we saw the incredible lay-out of this glacially carved landscape. With the color of mineral-rich soil staining water bodies, red-tinted tundra, and stunningly peaked mountains, we flew for nearly an hour in our hunt for bears. Yes. BEARS! After landing in a lake and transferring to a small boat, we floated for a few hours, where we viewed brown bears swimming and eating salmon (within a few feet of our boat), bald eagles flying above our heads, and fish jumping out of the water in preparation to run up Wolverine Creek. Perhaps, the most intense part of our journey was when two of us had to briefly depart the boat to walk a short trail in deep brush to an out house. We couldn't see left or right as we pushed brush out of the way and screamed at the top of our lungs in this forestry teeming with bears. We yelled and clapped to warn any that might be sleeping beside us as we walked by that we were heading their way. Next time, I'll just go off the side of the boat.

Beautiful glacial blue of Surprise glacier
The day after our adventurous bear outing we headed to the odd town of Whittier, where you must drive through the longest multi-use one-way tunnel in the world and nearly all of its denizens live in one tall apartment building. From here, we took a 26-glacier boat tour on Phillips Cruises. This 5-hour trip had us watching whale fins slapping the water, sea otters swimming on their backs with babies on their chests, and amazingly ancient endangered glaciers of all types. While the stunning beauty of this trip will definitely remain in my mind for years to come, the obnoxious nature of the people on these boats will hopefully fade. To see so many people stuffed on a boat to view endangered nature and to see how selfishly they acted to catch a selfie was a sad reminder of why many of these places are at risk for being destroyed or lost.

After our glacier tour, we headed across the Kenai Peninsula to the stunning town of Homer. I love this place and have fond memories of my 31st birthday here. I received a surprise from our friend who had secretly convinced my partner to cancel our accommodations. Instead, she had us stay with her at the top of the hill in Homer with a glorious view. For the next two days, I essentially rested my AK-BK exhausted mind while taking in the culture of this fishing town and sitting on the couch of our house staring at the incredible view.

Panoramic of our home and view while staying in Homer, AK
Once we had completed our two days of rest in Homer, we headed back to Anchorage to catch our flight home. But Alaska wasn't done with us yet. Along the drive back, multiple moose (bucks, moms, and babies) came to the side of the highway to eat a meal and pose for our cameras. We made a stop-off at an incredible artist's wood carving outpost in the middle of nowhere. We stopped in Soldotna before heading to the miniature, historic town of Hope for dinner. After enjoying too much time talking to the wood carver's wife and stopping to determine how to remove a bird from the grill of our car (as we left Hope, it flew in front of our car...I guess it had left Hope behind), we were feeling rushed to get back to our home-stay to repack before our 1 AM flight. But incredibly, at about 9:45 pm, as the sun still shined brightly, our lateness happened to run into a rare phenomenon known as the boretide (explained here) in Cook Inlet. As I dramatically threw the car into a U-turn on the Seward Highway, my car-mates didn't understand why I had acted so erraticly. As I threw the door open and ran away from the car screaming, "GRAB YOUR CAMERAS AND RUN!!!!" they quickly realized why I was so excited. Surfers and Beluga whales alike were riding this 6-ish foot wave that dramatically sweeps through Cook Inlet as it transitions past low-tide. Alaska was clearly waving goodbye to us after an incredible 3 weeks in the state.

video

I never expected to visit Alaska in my lifetime. When my partner and I decided to leave Seattle, we made a bucket list for our time left in the state. One item on our list was to visit Alaska since it was so close to Seattle. Unfortunately, that didn't happen and we wrote off visiting since it wasn't an easy possibility. Little did I know that only a few short years later, I would proudly call Alaska my 2nd home. I can't wait to return to this magical state, whether it be before or during my next AK-BK Contemporary Ballet Workshop!

Cheers to a successful trip to Alaska!!!!!

6.05.2015

Travel Post - It Is Only an Airport - CALM DOWN!!!!!

Many of you may have have been disappointed that I wasn't living up to my claim of being a nationally touring freelancer over the past few months. Honestly, I needed a break from the chaos of sitting amongst my fellow homo sapiens at airport gates from city to sparkling city, among other reasons. Yes, I traveled by bus to New York City a handful of times over the past 6 months (and luckily took the Bolt Bus instead of the train the night of the Amtrak crash), but I haven't existed amongst the rank and file economy class of aerial travelers for some time. It has been glorious to say the least. But, I'm back at it. In fact, I began writing this blog on my phone waiting in the security line at Philadelphia International Airport and continued while flying from Philadelphia to Phoenix. Now, during my layover in Phoenix on my way back to Anchorage, I am beginning to transcribe it from a random table at a random coffee stand with this beautiful image burning color into my eyes.

Looking out the window at the airport in Phoenix
With that said, I'm actually quite inspired by reentering the regular travel schedule of a freelance dancer and choreographer. I am heading back to Alaska to kick off my inaugural intensive training experience, AK-BK Contemporary Ballet Workshop. And, as I was attempting to check in for my flight with the ticket attendant waving me to the counter, not one of the three people blocking my path moved (or even turned their heads) when I kindly, but audibly spoke, "Excuse me." There is just something about airports that make most people lose their sensibilities and act like animals sitting around a watering hole, a la Mean Girls.


So, this time around, I've decided to have an interlude list blog between all of these "Create Your Own Project" series postings. With that said, I am here to offer you all of the advice you could ever need on how to CALM DOWN and act with civility when you are at an airport. Cheers!

- Keep this in mind at all times. It's just an airport. It is no different than the rest of life. In fact, the rules are almost exactly the same as they were in elementary school. Stand in line. Be nice to and aware of the people around you. Listen to the people in charge. And you will have few problems. Simple.

- If you are all like, "OMG!!! I get nervous before I fly...and sometimes it...umm...affects my stomach...but I need privacy...to...umm..." too much information, DON'T FRET! There usually are bathrooms located on the floor where you collect your ticket and drop your baggage off. These lavatories are usually completely empty and absolutely spotless. Aside from the occasional employee who goes in there to take a whiz, nobody goes in there or seems to know they exist.

(Note: at this point, my flight is probably already boarding...and I'm still sitting here in the cafe typing my blog. See how calm I am?)

- If you have a question or concern, ask an employee or TSA agent. They may seem to rudely ignore you, cut you off, or be short with you. They have a lot to tend to. Just wait patiently until they can find a moment to answer you. If you stand there and wait for them to assess the many situations in front of them, they will eventually give you a competent, attentive answer...even if they don't smile and say "Have a nice day!" They are more interested in maintaining all of the crazies running around than giving you their full attention and offering a smile. And, more often than not, when they realize that you get how it works, they will be nicer and more willing to help you out.

- Oh no! You raised your voice at or approached an airline worker or security agent with an angry tone. Be prepared for them to have no interest in assisting you in any way, shape, or form. It, honestly, is never ever acceptable to treat airport employees this way. No matter how in the right you are, they are in control and can make your trip miserable from start to finish.

In no rush...
(OK...I finally left the cafe at this point. I was one of the last people to board my plane. And I even had time to take a picture!)

- I have flown hundreds of times and my luggage has always shown up at my location...eventually. If your luggage doesn't show up with your person, unless you are carrying an organ for transplant or the hope diamond, calm down, take a breathe, and stop somewhere inexpensive like Target (and price-match) for a cheap new outfit and some toiletries. Chances are you'll have a good memory/story every time you wear it again. I always find that my best experiences come from working through adversity.

- Employees and TSA agents want you to make your flight. You aren't the only person that has somewhere to go. You honestly don't need to be at your gate until about 10 minutes before departure, when they close the door to your plane. If you are cutting it close, talk to an airport employee. Just understand that everybody's goal is to get you to your destination. If you miss your flight, not only are you a hassle to the airline, you are lost revenue.

- With the above said, you don't need to be at your gate an hour before your flight (if I haven't driven that point home yet). I usually show up about 5-10 minutes after boarding begins. What's the rush? And who really wants to be the first passenger on the plane to stake their claim and feel pride in their victory of knowing they made it on the flight. I'd rather be the last person on the plane and shorten the length of time I'm strapped into those damn uncomfortable economy seats. Everybody on that flight is going to get to their destination, whether you are first or last.

- Do you really want to drag your carry-on around that airport during your layover? And how often do you truly get up to pull something out of it during the flight? In fact, I don't think I've ever seen somebody pull their rolling luggage down into the aisle mid-flight, unzip it, pull something out, and put it back up in the overhead compartment. I always pack my heaviest items in my carry-on to save on baggage fees, then walk straight to the counter at the gate and offer my carry-on to be checked to my destination. It's free. It helps. It's not a hassle. The gate agents love you for it. And a majority of the time, I only needed that extra thing from my carry-on before I got onto the flight.

- You are not the most important person in the airport (unless, perhaps, you're an A-list celebrity). Just like driving or walking down the street, your time is not more important than everybody else's. Calm down and act with a sense of humanity.

- You've traveled more than once in your lifetime? Congratulations...you've been delayed. Now calm down, grab a beer, charge your devices, and do something practical. Write a blog ;-) or play a game. Or explore your terminal. Or find a quiet place in a corner of the airport and take that nap you need because you were too nervous about your travels to sleep.

- You've lost your ID or passport. Calm down. Think about the places you might have left it or put it down. Is it in your car? On the seat of the train? At the magazine shop's counter? Can't find it? PANIC!!!!! Honestly, this would be the only time I would really lose my cool.

- AHHHH!!!! I have to get scanned by an X-ray machine. Is it gonna give me cancer? How invasive! Chill! The shadowy silhouette of your penis or breasts are nothing the TSA agents are writing home about (or taking pictures of). Again, you are one of thousands of penises and breasts being scanned each and every day. Again, you are not the most important person walking through the airport.

- Rolling luggage rolls behind you. Turn your head around and look behind yourself every once in awhile. Also, don't walk into my rolling luggage. I just walked by you and you clearly saw it. But you lack enough common sense to slow down (or have lost it in your airport panic). And if you trip yourself over my luggage, don't give me a dirty look because I'm already flashing one back at you.

- If somebody says "Excuse me," look at them and determine what they are seeking. "Excuse me" does not mean "STAND YOUR GROUND" and ignore everybody around you."

- Not all security lines are created equal. Maybe you can go to a security line that is located a bit further away in distance, but has a much shorter queue. Most terminals are connected once you get past those pesky TSA procedures, anyway.

- If you have to suffer through a flight of loud talkers and crying babies, it is probably your fault for not making a playlist to block out the noises echoing back and forth in that happy tube we call a fuselage.

- I've mentioned this before, while you are waiting to go through security you should be emptying
your pockets into your bag, pulling out your ID and boarding pass, and prepping to remove your laptop from your carry-on. There is no excuse for being unprepared and imploding once you walk up to the conveyor belt. Maybe, mentally preparing in line will occupy your panicked thoughts about missing your flight or losing your luggage.

- Nearly everything you travel with can be replaced. If it can't, leave it at home or keep it on your person at all times. Though, if my phone or ID go missing you might see some frantic actions.

- Need to waste time in a terminal? If it is a big enough airport, treat the shops like the mall. Don't buy anything because it's likely overpriced, but go window shopping. Or, even better, download the game Ingress on your phone and run around the airport stealing portals for good or evil (just make sure to leave enough time to recharge your phone).

- If you don't plan on watching your kids or teaching them appropriate airport etiquette, don't conceive them in the first place.

- If you plan on having a bad attitude on the plane (reasonably or not), whether with a fellow passenger or a flight attendant, prepare to be shamed. A few years ago, I got snappy with an elderly man sitting in the seat behind me in the middle of Nutcracker season. He probably pulled on the back of my seat about 20 times throughout the flight. I was burnt out on traveling and exhausted from all of my gigs. Whether I was in the right or not, the death stares and shameful looks I got from those around me took away any gratification I got from having my seat stay in one position for the last 2 hours of the flight.

It's JUST AN AIRPORT!!!! and not worth the stress
Remember...airports and airplanes are not unique or uncommon experiences. While it may be that for you, at any given time thousands of people are flying miles above your very head. There is no reason to treat an airport experience like you are standing in a depleted food ration line after a natural disaster. As I like to say, CTFD (which isn't only an acronym for Career Transitions for Dancers...and may begin with the word calm and end with the word down).