Letter to My Teenage Self

I know it has been awhile since I've written a blog post. Competing at the McCallum Theatre's 18th annual Choreography Festival, preparing Allen Abrams Core-ography video (check out his preview above), developing a winter intensive in Anchorage, creating choreography for students heading to Youth America Grand Prix, and just living my life sound like a pretty good excuse to me. With that said, I'm here for you. And I'm here to continue sharing.

Following in the footsteps of a fellow ballet blogger whom I respect, Rebecca King (Check out her Tendus Under a Palm Tree blog), and a common piece in Dance Spirit, I was inspired to write a letter to my teenage self. All the way back to my early teenage years, I have always been a very focused, committed, and determined artist. It gained me a great amount of respect during my training and early professional years. But, at times, as I have become more accomplished and spread out over vastly differing cultures withing the dance world, it has come back to bite me in the ass. Read on to see the advice that I would offer myself if I could go back in time.

Audition Shot circa 2003 (Photo: Roe O'Connor)
Dear Barry,

You may not believe me today, but you are going to have a career as a ballet dancer. Yes. Many of the people that you look up to will tell you that you will have a dance career, but will deter you from focusing your energy on ballet because of your body and late focus on technique. Your determination, and, perhaps, their misguided good-intentions, will open up a drive that will allow you to take whichever path you wish to follow. You may not seem to have the right body-type for ballet, but through hard work you will cultivate a tool that will be more than acceptable in most American dance companies. Through that hard work and guidance of mentors, you will develop technique, a clean line, flexibility in your feet, and consistency. 

I know that you feel like the underdog most of the time; from being the only guy in your ballet classes, receiving summer program rejections when all the other guys are getting full-rides, and growing up in a family that is lacking the financial resources to pay for the training you need. But you will be raised and cared for by generous people outside of your family who are close to home and far across the country. These people will take you under their wing and offer you private coaching, scholarship assistance, advice, and even, sometimes, a place to sleep. They will see your drive and give you everything you need to help you achieve your dreams.

Be sure to find some time to relax and enjoy yourself with your friends. Your hard work and determination is good enough. Mistakes are a part of the process and you don't need to be perfect to be successful. Don't be afraid to joke and laugh with your friends every once in awhile, even if it is in the classroom. And don't judge others so much for their mistakes. You will learn just as much by watching your friends and peers.

Keep in mind that anxiety and stress can help you improve quickly, but can also be detrimental to your well-being. Once you start to achieve your goals, relish in that success for more than a day. Set new goals, eventually. But don't downplay your achievements by telling yourself that you haven't climbed high enough up the success ladder. Your daring determination can help you, but it can also hurt you. Find a middle ground.

At a certain point in your career, you will become your own boss before you are prepared or ready. Be kind to yourself and remember to breathe. It is alright to fight for your own worth, but make sure that your worth is in line with your fight. Sometimes, even if you have danced with a renowned company, people value experience over pedigree. Be patient, keep working hard as you do, and people will recognize your value. 

When your body starts to feel the wears of aging, be kind to yourself. Keep it ready for the future, but don't be afraid to take some time to take care of it. When you need that time, explore different roles offstage to find what you are passionate about. See yourself as a leader and advocate who shares all of the knowledge you have gained along your path. With your keenly tempered sense of determination, you may actually leave a lasting impression on this world you are so passionately drawn towards.



Core-ography Explores Coping with Death

While I've been working feverishly in Los Angeles with my 3rd Core-Artist and preparing to present my work at the McCallum Theatre's 18th annual Choreography Festival, I also released our 2nd webisode on our Youtube channel featuring Shira Lanyi.

I spent a very emotional week working with this former Principal with Richmond Ballet and Israel Ballet. During our time together we discussed and explored what it feels like to deal with a frightening cancer diagnosis in one's family, her brave move to Israel to be near her dying mother, and how she has coped over the past 10 months since her passing. Check out this strong woman's story below.


Core-ography: Our Next Artist Preview & Choreographer's Vlog

I've been very busy over the past week. Last week, I visited Richmond, Virginia to work with the lovely Shira Lanyi, former Principal with Richmond Ballet and Israel Ballet. While it was great to see this beautiful friend, it was a heavy week for Core-ography. Throughout our time together, we spent a great deal of time discussing the loss of a loved one and creating movement inspired by this tragic part of each and every one of our lives. We will be releasing her webisode on November 1st. But for the time being, here is a sneak peak into our work together.

Next week, I will be heading to Los Angeles to work with Allen Abrams, former Ballet Austin dancer and current freelancer who has been seen on Glee and most recently performing with Miley Cyrus in the finale of this year's MTV Video Music Awards. I am excited to see what part of his life he will share. At the end of our time together in LA, I am flying Shira out to perform the pas de deux from my ballet, Distinct Perceptions. We will be traveling to Palm Desert to compete in the prestigious McCallum Theatre's 18th annual Choreography Festival. Wish us luck!

Shira Lanyi & Allen Abrams in Distinct Perceptions (Photo: Dave Friedman)
Lastly, I'd love to share one more thing with my audience. Most of you know me through my thoughts typed onto a screen or images that I have shared through this blog. Well, now you can have a chance to see what I'm actually like in person. As a part of Core-ography, I am starting to Vlog about my experiences. Check out my first vlog, where I tell you about my background and share about how I came up with the idea for my project.


Giving Everything for Your Art (or not)

Performing Mary Anthony's Threnody (Photo: Bill Hebert)
When I was a young, freshly professional 19 year old near-child moving thousands of miles away from home to join Houston Ballet, I was a bit of a bunhead. Actually, let's be honest here. I'm still a complete and total bunhead. During my short year with the company, I became great friends with my fellow Apprentice and (now) new Houston Ballet faculty member Alex Pandiscio (proud shoutout). We in our bunheaded glory would sit at his apartment sipping beer, watching ballet DVDs (or VHS :-o), and debate about everything from technique to artistry to production quality. When I left to join Pacific Northwest Ballet, I really missed having a friend that was equally, if not more passionate about our art form.

Once I got into the swing of things at PNB, more often than not, I found dancers trying to fill the gap between living your life as a dancer and living your life and dancing for a living. If I suggested a ballet viewing night, people would tease me. If I wanted to sit down for drinks after work and talk about technique, people would quickly ask to change the subject. Here I was, in one of the most inspiring companies in the country seeking greater inspiration than an 8-hour workday. I found that many of my colleagues didn't want to make dance their lifestyle, which is perfectly fine. But I preferred the opposite. So, when I finally took the plunge and left PNB, it was easy for me to use this as one of the excuses for me to leave. I told myself that I needed to be surrounded by people who would give anything and everything for their art.

After making my way to Philadelphia, my 22-week seasonal contract meant that I would need to seek gigs in between work periods with the contemporary company I was dancing for. My first (and only) foray into the Philadelphia freelance scene was performing for a small modern company that is based on the technique of niche choreographer Mary Anthony. To be completely honest, it wasn't really my thing. But I went into life after PNB with an open mind as to where things would lead me. And for the first time in a long time, I felt like I was surrounded by people who would do anything for our art. Anything!

At PNB, I was used to rehearsing for productions anywhere from a few weeks to a few days before getting onstage to perform. Preparing for this Philly Fringe Festival show, we spent nearly 8 weeks rehearsing (granted it was only 6-8 hours per week) mostly after the sun had gone down. Dancers came into rehearsals late, and it was acceptable, because they had regular day jobs. It wasn't uncommon for heated discussions to happen as the work was restaged. Some dancers were much more vocal than any dancer would be in a ballet studio, while others were so happy to be dancing that they would do anything and everything necessary to be a part of the company. The contrast between strength and submission was great and utterly shocking to my ballet world expectations. Beyond all of this, pay was only guaranteed to most dancers after tickets were sold or grants came through. This meant that some dancers didn't see any compensation for months after the work had been performed.

Some weeks before we performed, our group took a trip up to New York City to work with Mary Anthony herself. She was still kicking (barely) at the ripe old age of 94 years old. We were to have rehearsal with this woman, who cultivated an intensely respectful cult following, at her studios. This rehearsal would be followed by us sharing the work in a fundraising open rehearsal. While a few dancers had dropped hints, nobody prepared me for what I was about to see or experience.

After taking an elevator to the 8th floor of a building between St. Marks and NYU that housed the Mary Anthony Dance Studios (where she was still teaching class twice a week), we were dropped off on her floor and immediately turned right into the dressing rooms. We had been sitting on a Bolt Bus for a few hours, so I had been holding my bladder for a long time. I turned to one of my fellow modern dancers and asked where the bathroom was located. He simply responded, "Walk through the lobby, past Mary's bedroom, and it will be on the left." The comment didn't really add up to me. My first thought, "Oh, Mary lives here? I guess the studio is bigger than I expected." Nope! I walked out of the dressing room and laying right behind the front desk was Mary Anthony resting on her bed. YES, right behind a desk in the lobby.

Mary Anthony lived in her studio. The lobby consisted of a front desk, a bed, a dining room table, and a door to the bathroom. The dressing rooms tripled as a place to put your clothes on, the food pantry, and a litter box area for her cat that roamed the 8th floor. Between the lobby and studio was a small cove for a kitchen. The sacred dance studio was just a dance studio. The place wasn't in disarray, but it wasn't very clean, there were nails sticking out of the nearly plywood dance floor, and there were cans of roach spray in every room.

In my culture shock, I walked through the bedroom, past the kitchen, and into the dance studio for warm-up. As I felt a nail poke my foot through the foot-blackening wooden floor, my chest tightened and another dancer must have seen the panic in my heart. She looked at me and said, "No nail here. I'll switch spots." After getting our sweat on while Mary Anthony was awakened and prepped for rehearsal, a quietly stoic figure walked with assistance into her proud home one inch at a time. She sat in rehearsal without changing expressions. When a correction needed to be made, she whispered into her adoring former dancer's ear. And then, suddenly, out of nowhere, this woman raised her voice into a boom. She stared at me with eyes dilating, "you are a SAILOR! you've had a HARD LIFE! YOU'RE...TOO...PRETTY!" That was the most she said that day. But it was said that she was most her former self in that one moment.

Performing Mary Anthony's Threnody - Me on the right (Photo: Bill Hebert)
Our open rehearsal had a minimal showing of support. We enjoyed wine and hors d'ouevres in the lobby immediately after performing Ms. Anthony's work. Living to the frail age of 94 must be exhausting, so Mary's assistant put her to sleep. To paint the clearest picture possible, Ms. Anthony lay on her back asleep in her bed, eyes covered with a floral sleep mask as dancers multiple generations past Mary's prime sipped wine and chatted around her frail sleeping form. As I stood over Mary, sipping my dry wine, and appearing to listen to another dancer talk about their next gig, I had an utterly deep realization. Maybe there is such a thing as giving too much to your art.

On the bus ride back to Philly over a smuggled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, the dancers who had shared this experience previously told me about their first venture to the Mary Anthony Dance Studios. I think the thing about most shock is that you can only be shocked by the same thing once. These dancers now saw this experience as commonplace to learning a Mary Anthony work. As stories continued to flow, I learned that many in the dance community considered her a legend in the same realm as Graham and Limon. Mary started her own company, and since many of the dancers whom she hired had difficulty finding work in the prime time of the classical modern dance era, her dancers not only adored the woman but saw her as a motherly idol. Mary was not so nice in her less frail days. But she was passionate and had a very clear vision. She also performed well into her 70's. At one point, as her studio was struggling to survive, Mary was offered a tenured position to teach at New York University. But Mary felt that she would have sold out by taking that position. So, she chose to continue living the life she did. One where the line blurred between studio and home, work and life.

Performing Mary Anthony's Gloria (Photo: Bill Hebert)
Near the end (Mary had impressively lived over 2 years after this experience), it became clear that Mary had completely and utterly devoted her life to her art form. And I have such an incredible respect that she was able to remain so honest to her values as an artist. But meeting and working directly with somebody who had such great dedication and longevity that her life and art fused into one entity without care for quality of life taught me a very valuable lesson.

We all devote ourselves to this beautifully painful art form to one degree or another. Some people leave dance at work, others bring it home with them. And for others, dance is literally their home. I used to be more judgmental about how people that call dance a career chose to make it a part of their lives. But after this experience, I view things quite differently. I'd give most everything in my life to be a part of this art form. And while I don't look down on people who do give absolutely everything to this art form regardless of their well-being, I find that it is best to find a middle ground that makes one feel fulfilled and equally alive as a human being. As we are not dancers living as people. We are people living as dancers.


Presenting Core-ography: "A Global Dance Storytelling Project"

Core-Artist Lauren Fadeley (Photo: Alexander Izaliev)

Happy World Ballet Day! Nearly six months ago, I was taking the train back from teaching in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I had been sending my choreography out to companies to share my work in hopes of being hired for commissions. And while many of them expressed interest in my work, I hadn't realized that most companies have their seasons planned 2-3 years in advance. While listening to the sleepy drone of the train chugging along the tracks, I thought to myself, "How do I continue to fine-tune my craft, while staying true to myself throughout the process and product?" At that moment, I thought of you, my readers of Life of a Freelance Dancer.

For years, you have gotten to share in my career wins and hear about my losses and darker experiences. At times, people have vocalized their discomfort that they felt I had crossed the line in sharing my personal life. But what has kept me writing over the years have been those people who reach out to me and says "Thank you for sharing your story. It helped me through a difficult time and let me know that I wasn't alone in my situation." From all of this, Core-ography was born.

My hope for this project is that our incredible artists will share deeply personal experiences to help viewers worldwide understand that we all share in life's challenges. And in response it will help inspire people to express themselves more freely.

Please enjoy the premiere of our first mini-documentary in my Core-ography web series. Listen to Pennsylvania Ballet Principal & Capezio Athlete Ambassador Lauren Fadeley share her journey in joining New York City Ballet at the young age of 16, quitting the company 2 years later after suffering an injury, attending college, fighting through clinical depression, and finding her way back to her art form. Be sure to watch through the entire interview to see her dance a beautiful choreographic expression of her life-defining experience.

We have already received attention from Pointe magazine and on the Balancing Pointe podcast. I am so excited to see where this project goes. Enjoy and be sure to subscribe to our channel to receive updates as we tell 11 more incredible artist's stories!


Core-ography: "A Global Dance Storytelling Project" - Preview

Over the past few months, I've been writing a "Create Your Own Project" series as I have been developing my own project, Core-ography: "A Global Dance Storytelling Project." Well, I've definitely been creating over the past few months. And now I am finally in a place where I can start showing you the fruits of my efforts. After working hard to gain fiscal sponsorship, determining my budget, reaching out to friends and colleagues for private donations, and running a successful crowdfunding campaign, I finally made it into the studio to create my art. Enjoy this preview of my recent week interviewing, choreographing, and filming Pennsylvania Ballet Principal Dancer Lauren Fadeley speaking about how she fell out of love with ballet, quit New York City Ballet, and slowly found her way back to the beautiful art form of ballet. Enjoy!



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

Screen shot from editing - Core-ography Core-Artist Lauren Fadeley
I know it has been awhile since I've posted, but a lot has been going on. Nearly two weeks ago, I successfully ended my first public fundraising campaign for Core-ography, where we surpassed our $6,000 goal by nearly $300. This allowed me to begin working with my first Core-Artist this past week. I spent nearly 10 hours interviewing, choreographing, and filming Pennsylvania Ballet Principal Lauren Fadeley. Beyond all of this, I was named a finalist in the prestigious McCallum Theatre's 18th annual Choreography Festival. This means that I will be heading to Palm Desert, CA with two dancers to perform my pas de deux from "Distinct Perceptions" and compete against the likes of 9 other established and emerging choreographers. What an honor!

Now, I know that all of the above may seem like major milestones (which they are), but today I am here to discuss a significant achievement that we just reached together. Almost 3 1/2 years after being thrust into this freelance lifestyle and beginning this blog to share my journey and knowledge as I learned the ropes, Life of a Freelance Dancer has officially reached 100,000 views. Back when I started writing the first of these 137 posts, I never imagined that I would have an audience reading from as close as the United States to as far as Australia. Dancers and freelancers alike from the United Kingdom, Phillippines, Russia, France, Japan, India, and beyond, check in regularly to see what is happening in my life, my art, and my mind. I am so appreciative of my audience and the support that I have received from you. A GREAT BIG THANK YOU to all of my readers for helping me achieve this milestone!

With all of this said and done, I want to reward you with some great content. I've been thinking about what to write for this post for awhile, as I noticed we would hit this marker at the beginning of the month. After much thought, I determined it would be best to share with you how my life has changed since I began freelancing, and writing this blog

My last day at PNB onstage w/Maria Chapman
Let's go back to the beginning. When I moved to Philadelphia on June 17th, 2011, I had big dreams. I was taking a huge risk, leaving Pacific Northwest Ballet to join the fledgling, more contemporary Ballet X. By joining this organization, I cut my former salary down by nearly 2/3's, cut my guaranteed work weeks practically in half, and gave up all of the benefits that came with a big company contract. Why? Because like most artists do, I wanted to stretch myself as far as I possibly could. If you had told me that 4 years later I would be completely in charge of running my own career, traveling the country regularly, creating my own projects, directing organizations, and much more, I would have probably laughed in your face. Little did I know at the time that I would stretch myself in ways that I couldn't have imagined.

When I first moved to Philly, I was used to having a regular schedule. In Seattle, we had a Monday through Friday work week. We would begin class at 10:15 am and end our rehearsal days at 7 pm. I assumed things would be the same. But when I started freelancing, things changed drastically. All of a sudden I was in charge of my own technique, seeking work, negotiating contracts, self-promotion, marketing, staying in shape, and much more. I went from only having to show up in the studio to doing every aspect necessary to have a chance to show up in the studio and perform. I went from stretching in the morning, taking technique class, and rehearsing all day to never having a moment to breathe. After nearly 3 years of barely ever taking a day off, I had too much. This was one of my first major freelancing lessons. I started to burn out and displayed symptoms of severe anxiety. Today, while I still live the same lifestyle that I began four years ago, I have learned to nearly always take Sunday completely off for myself (today being an exception to write this exciting, timely blog). By giving myself Sunday, I take some pressure off myself and have a chance to relax and refresh for the upcoming week. Dancing for a company, a two-day weekend was a given unless we were performing. Today, a two-day weekend happens maybe once or twice a year.

Another part of my life that has changed drastically since crossing the country to try something new is my mobility as an artist and my perception of what encompasses a long period away from home and my partner. I have this really bad habit of getting what I ask for, but not exactly how I thought I would get it. When I left PNB, I was really interested in making travel a part of my art form. When dancing at PNB, we rarely went on tour. This was something that I had always imagined would be a part of my career. When I joined Ballet X, there was talk that the company would have a few opportunities to tour each season. I never made it long enough with the company to attend any tours outside of the performance at an APAP conference in New York where I sustained the injury for which they eventually fired me. But once I began to freelance, things changed drastically.

Performing @ the Guggenheim (Photo: Matthew Murphy)
My first few freelancing gigs had me excited to travel, but nervous about leaving my partner for very small amounts of time. When I performed at the Guggenheim's Works & Process series, I wasn't too worried about being away from home for 3 weeks because my partner was to join me in NYC for a week in the middle. Next, I danced for the first time with Alaska Dance Theatre for 5 weeks. Again, I was lucky that my man joined me right in the middle of the gig. So, the longest we had been apart at the time was less than 14 days. I remember being so upset when I was invited to dance with Festival Ballet Providence and found out that we would be away from each other for over 3 weeks. It was the longest that we had ever not seen each other since we moved in together in 2006. Today, I have been away from home for nearly 4 months and the longest we have gone without seeing each other has been 2 months. It is hard and not my favorite part of freelancing, but we make it work for us through regular phone and skype sessions, a relaxed approach to communicating, and the advice of a counselor.

On the traveling front, I always imagined myself touring to major cities with the company I danced for headlining in this organization's productions. But the past four years have instead featured me traveling to cities large and small, near and far, all on my own. Up until this past June, in fact, I hadn't been home for longer than 7 week in 3 1/2 years. In this time, I have danced, choreographed, and taught in New York City, Anchorage, Long Island, Providence, Philadelphia, Rochester, D.C., Myrtle Beach, Los Angeles, West Virginia, Ventura, Walnut Creek, San Francisco, Fort Wayne, Lafayette, Oakland, Irvine, Little Rock, and a few more that I'm probably missing. I used to be afraid of traveling to smaller cities. I assumed that the people would be conservative in nature, the culture would be limited, and that I would run out of things to do. This is one place that freelancing has really changed my perception. Nearly each place that I have worked has shown me that, while in differing stages of development, there are amazing people and places almost everywhere in the country. I hope to expand my perception of this outside of our country in the near future!

My last day as Interim Artistic Director of Alaska Dance Theatre
Another area of my life that has changed greatly since I started freelancing has been my awareness of what I am capable of creating. As a dancer, you are expected to be submissive. Most dancers are always following the lead of somebody else, often dreaming of the day that they grab the wheel of their career. I guess I was lucky that I didn't have to wait for this to happen. When I was left without a company to call home, I had no choice but to take control of things, create my own opportunities, and expand my experience. Again, if you told me 4 years ago that I would direct Alaska Dance Theatre, choreograph for the National Choreographers Initiative, create my own summer intensive in Anchorage, teach at Peridance Capezio Center, write my very own popular blog, throw networking events for freelancers, or create a film project, I would have looked at you like you had 20 heads.

Many days, I just can't believe that I have experienced and made the things happen that I have. While my stress and anxiety levels have increased ten-fold since I began living the life of a freelance dancer, I wouldn't take back getting the chance to see where my mind and body can lead me. Even with all of the challenges that I have been through over these difficultly fruitful years, the opportunity to lead my own creativity and career have defined me in ways that would be impossible under the culture and structure of most dance companies. And while I miss that structure and safety net provided by working for an established organization, I will continue to value my freedom while I stay in this career-style. Thank you again for sharing this journey with me as I find my way through joy, struggle, and creativity. And CHEERS to the years of this to come!

Thanks for joining me on this journey to 100,000!!!!!