12.12.2014

Dance Informa Magazine Interview - Dancing Multiple Nutcracker Gigs

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

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

Dancing Multiple Nutcracker Gigs - Dance Informa

11.29.2014

Why Blog When It Brings Me No Income?


A typical blog-writing situation for me
One of the first questions people usually ask me when I tell them that I have a popular blog is if it makes me lots of money. When I answer, "no," many people are baffled that I spend so much effort creating and working on such a time-consuming, journalistic venture. It was never my intention to use this social media platform to roll in the dough. I, initially, thought it would be nice if I could make a little extra cash through my writing. But I always had different, non-monetary motives.

A few years ago when I found myself unemployed mid-season, I immediately had to find a way to keep working. I didn't have a financial cushion to wait until the new dance season started. I desperately needed to find a way to make a living and continue on with my career. At that time, freelancing seemed like the only way to survive. I knew if I wanted to find employment, I needed to market myself. But I didn't know many other ways to sell my product outside of Facebook. While brainstorming up ideas, I remembered how much I used to enjoy blogging on Myspace. From that moment on, I knew that I had to create Life of a Freelance Dancer.

When I first started blogging here, people constantly told me I needed to include Google Adsense to my postings. But I always felt that I needed to spend a solid period of time developing my writing and audience before adding this money-making tool to my site. Additionally, I never really wanted my readers to feel that I was using them to make money with the facade of a blog. So, I gave myself a number, 10,000 views, before I would try to add these ads to my pages of writings.


It took me about six months to reach my goals on viewership, which was right on track for my best-case scenario. Right as I reached my mark, I wishfully opened my browser and started going through the application process to place Google Adsense advertisements on my blog. After a few days had passed, I received an email that unapologetically denied me use of this popular revenue tool. Why? Because the unique niche that made my blog so popular was also so unique that they didn't feel that they had any products that would appeal to my audience.

When I got the news, I wasn't really that disappointed. I didn't really want aimless, materialistic ads flashing at dancers and independent contractors around the world. In fact, I was afraid that the appearance of ads would not only deter building my audience, but that it could turn away the audience I had already cultivated from reading my content.

Lacking any instant financial reward leaves many who have inquired about my blog confused about why I would put so much effort into such a time-consuming activity. There are a few reasons why writing about working as a freelance dancer without any compensation is so worthwhile. The easiest and corniest reason (but still true) would be that I get to help people around the globe. Whether using my blog as a tool in one's own dance career or an unrelated career as an independent contractor, I get to help people move forward in their vocation and navigate tricky situations that are not all that common in the gainfully employed world. Beyond that, I am humbled by the numerous people that have sent me messages from the US to Iran to India and beyond about how my openness has helped them in their careers, times of need, and searches for inspiration.

Beyond all of this sappy stuff, writing about my experiences, successes, failures, and evaluations of situations does help me make a living. While I've never made a penny directly off of LOFD, developing a public persona on an online platform has helped me greatly. I can't tell you how many employers have told me that they have felt much more comfortable hiring me sight unseen and trusting my product because of this blog. Not only that, thanks to all of this, I have been featured in Dance Magazine and Dance Informa magazine and received professional writing jobs, too.

While blogging technically gives me no income, it creates the basis for me to make a majority of my income. Other than all of this joy, warmth, and glory, writing is one of the best ways that I have found to express myself. I get so much out of writing and have learned so much more about myself as a dancer, businessman, and person. For all of these reasons, having a well-read blog is way more valuable than having my readers make money for me by clicking on ads. 

11.18.2014

Reacclimating to Home After Being Away



Excited to come home to Philly - Italian Market
On December 7th, I will return to Philadelphia after being away from home for 108 days, or about three and a half months. This has been the longest I have been away from home without at least passing through for a day or two in between gigs. The first time I spent more than a few weeks away from home, I was surprised to find that getting back into my normal patterns was much more difficult than I had expected. Spending any extended period of time in a different environment requires some adjusting to get back into the swing of things, even in the comfort of your own surroundings.

I've often found while preparing for a performance, my focus becomes very intense and I may become completely consumed by the process necessary to get ready for stage. When I worked at Pacific Northwest Ballet, this was built into the fabric of my every day life. I woke up in my own bed, worked at the same facility daily, and returned home to rest in my own apartment. When I had weekends off, I would rest, hang out with friends, and enjoy the surroundings of my city. Developing patterns over time and repetition are natural and make living your own chosen lifestyle comfortable.

Dance is my business (Photo: Brian Mengini)
While preparing for a show as a freelancer may be similar to my experience at PNB in some regards,
it can be quite different when you don't work where you reside. Essentially, a dancer is often forced to start from scratch with their lifestyle and friendships in each locale that they are hired. You generally can't call your close friends to hang out, go to that same yoga place that always helps you find your zen, find the exact same ingredients to that favorite meal you make every week, or drink at your favorite watering hole to let off some steam. Each freelancing gig can be an exciting, fresh adventure in a new city. But while you are building an alternative, short-term lifestyle elsewhere, everything still keeps running like usual back at home. Dealing with this reality can often be one of the biggest challenges for anybody that travels for extended periods of time with their work.

Back in 2012, when I first spent 5 weeks away from home with Alaska Dance Theatre, I was thrilled to return home to enjoy the familiar, see my partner and cats, and visit my friends and family. When I left home, tons of friends showed up to throw me a party to send me off on my adventure. Once in Anchorage, I became so immersed in my work that I didn't really think to shoot off a text message or make a phone call to check in with what was happening with most of those people. After my time away, I expected the exact same reception for my return upon my arrival. A few people had reached out to me on Facebook and stated how excited they were to see me. But the reality of my homecoming was more like walking onto an empty country field in the dead of night. Instead of stepping back into a scene of revelry, I came home to crickets. Most of those friends who sent me off were continuing on with their lives as they normally did. Nobody was holding their breath waiting for my plane to touch down.

Dan working from home
Beyond my local social network, another place that, surprisingly, had changed was in my home. While my partner and I had been together for over 7 years and talked on the phone nightly, he had started to develop patterns that didn't include me. Since he works from home, he had gotten used to working alone in our living space and enjoying the quiet and freedom that came with it. A simple midday question from me could lead to a stressful conversation about interrupting work-related activities. Where I used to be in a pattern of performing household chores, I had gotten more lax living in a home with a host family. I even expected extra attention. I felt like we had to make up for lost time. But things had continued on without me, even in my own home.

What I had originally thought would be an easy reintroduction, turned into a stressful period of examination and carefully executed re-entry. I spent my first week at home depressed and sitting around waiting for my phone to ring with invitations to reconnect. I quickly realized that any effort to see old friends was going to require me to be the one to reach out. One of my biggest challenges was that I had started freelancing almost immediately after moving to a new city. If I had been living in Philadelphia for a few years, it probably would have been easier to reconnect with friends. But I was still in the development period of most of my friendships in the city. I had to be very patient to connect again and found myself spending a lot of time exploring Philly on my own to occupy my time before my next travels.

Exploring Philly on my own
When it comes to reacclimating to living with somebody that you have a relationship with, I find the best route to take is to leave all expectation at the airplane door. Yes, you still have the same relationship that you used to have. But it is human nature to adapt to your surroundings quickly. For this reason, instead of stepping into your situation with expectations, I would suggest taking a step back and letting things find a refreshed order. Even though you missed each other, you don't have to feel that you have to fit five weeks of time into the first week after you've returned. Take your time, don't overwhelm one another, and allow for a little added space than you are used to. Where you may have spent every non-working moment together in the past, you have likely gotten used to spending a bit more time to yourself. See where each of you are and slowly start to get back into more common patterns.
 
Time away from your home environment allows for one to return with new and fresh excitement. But don't let expectation get in the way of a happy return. Reach out to friends while you travel and after you've come home, but don't put the pressure on yourself to have an exciting homecoming party waiting for you. Don't feel like you need to live your life exactly as you did before you left. And don't suffocate your loved ones with immediate expectations. While traveling for work and time apart can make the heart grow fonder, break mundane lifestyle patterns, and refresh your outlook on living, it can also add stress to what used to be regular patterns. If you approach your return with less expectation and more awareness, you can gain a great deal of life experience to enrich your lifestyle at home.

Me and Dan during 2 weeks inbetween gigs

11.02.2014

How Failure and Risk Helps Me Succeed

A few months ago, when I walked into the advanced ballet class at Alaska Dance Theatre on a warm summer afternoon, I am pretty positive that I caught a few of the kids off guard. I am far from an easy instructor. In fact, I can initially come off a bit harsh in my teaching methods. I'm no bullshit and I will tell a student exactly what I saw. If I truly think they did well or if I have seen marked improvement, I will tell them. But I don't really care to coddle students, patting their backs with comfort, or telling them that it is OK and maybe they'll get it next time. At the time, there wasn't much room for nonsense, anyway, because I wasn't even sure how long these kids would get to have me as their instructor. After what was probably a shockingly difficult barre that required exact precision or a restart to the beginning, I stood in front of the class and told them this. "I want you to fail in my class. Ballet class isn't about succeeding. It's about trying the same step incorrectly multiple ways until you find what works for you. Trip, fall, hold your leg until it is shaking with exhaustion. The studio isn't a place to constantly succeed. It is a place to fail, so that you can ultimately become successful." I don't remember if an instructor ever put it to me this way, but perhaps I feel this way because this is how I live my life outside of the studio.

Attempting to get a good shot as the sunrises over Masada & the Dead Sea in Israel
I've been dancing my whole life, but I didn't fall in love with ballet until I was 15 years old. I was a jazz competition kid who just happened to get bit by the ballet bug while working with choreographer and former New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre principal Robert Lafosse. Once I fell in love with ballet, there was no stopping me from achieving a career. With that said, there were countless times that I was told to give up my ballet dreams and head in the direction where I excelled, jazz and musical theatre. Each time I was given that talk, sometimes from the people I most respected, it pushed me to work harder. After finally succeeding at getting into Houston Ballet's year-round program, I probably took the first major risk of my career. After accepting my offer to attend and an August summer intensive with ABT, I came home with three days to pack and head to Texas. As I tried to mentally prepare for a move that I had been waiting over a year to do (I was accepted the year prior, but my mom wouldn't let me go), I slowly began to feel that I shouldn't isolate myself in the middle of the country during the last year or two of my training. I begged my mom to let me risk this opportunity and we drove to New York City to audition for the School of American Ballet year-round program. We drove to Lincoln Center, I auditioned, and the next day I got my results directly from the horses mouth. "No. The notes say, generally poor technique and extremely large quadriceps. Goodbye." I was beside myself!

After this crushing failure, I could have easily jumped on that flight and began training. But I just couldn't bring myself to leave. One day later, we drove three hours south to the Kirov Academy of Ballet. After a private audition, the late director stated in broken English, "Very slow year for boys. One third scholarship." This was far from my full ride to the Houston Ballet Academy and way out of the financial abilities of my family, but we were able to get a sponsor for my first month in the academy. As I headed down to the Kirov, I knew that I had to get greater sponsorship to continue my training at the school, but I felt hopeful that I was still close enough to New York City to feel connected to the center of the dance world. Then, two days later, September 11th happened, my sponsor froze their assets and I was left with an impossibility to continue my training. After the school graciously allowed me to remain for the first two months, they eventually decided to put me on full scholarship and I finished out my year of training.

At the end of my time at the Kirov, I had obtained a corps de ballet contract with Colorado Ballet. While I was ecstatic to begin my career as a professional. I had also been accepted to the School of American Ballet on full scholarship for their summer intensive. SAB was my dream and it had eluded me until this point. Seeing four students who trained at SAB perform in the Nutcracker that Robert Lafosse had choreographed was the defining inspiration that changed the trajectory of my career. I knew that I had to take this summer opportunity to see if a year-round option opened up. If this happened, I was willing to delay my career to live my dream. I called SAB and asked if they were considering me for the year-round program. They told me to take the job with Colorado Ballet because they couldn't promise me anything. So, I excitedly, yet reluctantly, signed my contract and started looking for a place to live in Denver.

A few months later, I arrived in Lincoln Center to finally realize a 5-week version of my dream. After three amazing days working with teachers I had only read about in Dance Magazine, I was pulled into a conference room along with one other classmate. There I was with one of my peers being the first two dancers asked to stay for this world-famous year-round program. I was committed to Denver, but my dream had just arrived. There was no way I could turn down this opportunity, even though it meant I had to train for another year, as well as destroy a very positive connection in the dance world. I promptly called up the director of Colorado Ballet and profusely apologized as I explained that I had to follow my dream. That next year at SAB changed my life as a dancer.

SAB workshops 2003 (Photo: Paul Kolnik)
One ironic part of my path is that turning down Houston Ballet Academy to train at two other schools only led me to get a job dancing with Houston Ballet. I had an interesting year working as one of Stanton Welch's first hires as an Artistic Director. At contract time, Stanton doesn't typically offer re-engagement to any apprentice across the board. AGMA states that dancers can only spend one year with the company as an apprentice, so they either need to be promoted to corps or let go. Typically, the director waits to see amongst the corps who will stay or leave and, only then, starts to promote the apprentices into the corps. When we all were"let go," I didn't feel comfortable waiting around to find out if I would get hired or not. I quickly obtained a contract with Pacific Northwest Ballet and Boston Ballet and signed with PNB. I still wonder to this day if I would have been offered a corps contract, but I was ready to move on to a more positive environment in a more metropolitan city.

My time at PNB has been well-documented in this blog. It had it's mix of highs and lows. While I was secure in my position and well-respected as a union delegate, I was itching to experience something new. I risked all of this security and seniority to try my hand at working with a fledgling, start-up company. After a great first few months, I injured myself and the company didn't support me. I was eventually fired by that company, which I consider one of my greatest failures. It wasn't so great only because I had moved my life to Philadelphia, but more so because I had given up so much to take such a huge risk.

Taking risks daily
While I gave up all of my security and lifestyle to expand my reach and possibilities as an artist, I was now stuck in Philadelphia, burgeoning on poverty, and injured. In these dark circumstances, I had to find a way to survive. This brought me into freelancing, choreographing, writing, teaching, and traveling. If I hadn't experienced the failure that I did, I don't know if I would ever have traveled the country to dance, written articles that have been published in periodicals, been featured in dance publications, or directed an organization 4,000 miles away from home. If I had stayed at PNB, I would probably be stuck in similar circumstances that I was in nearly four years ago.

As I begin to close the chapter on my most recent risk-taking failure, I am curious where life will lead me next. I took a chance to do something that I wasn't sure if it would be a great or poor decision. While I could look at the whole experience as an utter failure, what I am realizing is that my life is much like a dance studio. I spend each day of my life exploring different ways of experiencing this wild career and testing out ways of achieving my best through trial-and-error, or failure. Some things have worked out perfectly on the first try and some things have failed immediately. But in the end, the knowledge that I have gained and the growth I have had will only make my future experiences more successful. Failure can have such a negative connotation in our culture. But I just don't really see it that way. It takes practicing a pirouette ten-thousand times to finally achieve the perfect one. And, sometimes, right after that perfect pirouette, you fall hard on your ass, get back up, and try to make it perfect again.

My greatest success at Alaska Dance Theatre

10.28.2014

Using Independent Contracting as a Trial for Full-Time Employment

Often, independent contractors work for organizations to fulfill work on their own terms. But it isn't uncommon, especially in the dance world, for these specialized self-employed workers to use independent contracting as a trial period with companies that they might consider joining as a full-time employee. Many people work for themselves because they chose to do so a long time ago. While other people who work in this way are only doing it to make ends meet or because they have had a work experience that turned them off from full-time commitments. Using independent contracting as a tool to test the waters can be a very effective way of auditioning a company to see if their work environment is a good fit for oneself.

My view on the way home from Homer, AK
I have been keeping a secret from my readers for a few months. While I haven't been freelancing or working as an independent contractor, I took a job that mimicked the lifestyle/workstyle that I have been living for the past few years. Back in August, I accepted an offer to work as Interim Artistic Director for Alaska Dance Theatre. I moved to Anchorage on a 4-month trial contract towards the end of the subarctic Summer and began working to lead this important arts organization. I never applied for the job and was quite honored when they called me up during my time at the National Choreographers Initiative back in July. It has always been a dream of mine to lead a dance organization and the potential for this to happen at the ripe age of 30 was extremely enticing. While I found this exciting, I also needed to keep a level head about the situation.

As many of you probably remember, back in 2012, one of my very first posts was about freelancing with Alaska Dance Theatre. Dancing with this newly formed company was my first foray into traveling as a freelancer. I had danced in one or two gigs prior to this, but they were always in familiar places that were close to home. This was the first time that I had been offered work in a place that was foreign to me and, to be honest, I was scared shitless. It was the first time that I would reside in a smaller city. It was also winter; which meant it was going to be cold, snowy, and dark. Lastly, everybody talked about it being an extremely conservative state where Sarah Palin reigned supreme. I was pretty sure that I was going to be gay bashed or lynched by some pioneer with a huge beard and a passion for hunting.

A few weeks before I flew to Alaska for the first time, I had a nightmare where I was driving to the rehearsal studios on a snow machine. In my dream they were located up a tall, steep, and snowy mountain. In blizzard-like conditions, we got about halfway up the mountain when it became too steep to continue on the snow machine. We had to get up and ascend the mountain by foot. Before I ever found out if we successfully reached the studios or succumbed to the frightening weather, I awoke from my dream. I was clearly dealing with some internal stress about spending five weeks in the "Last Frontier."

I dreamt the Alaska Dance Theatre studios would be here (they're not)
When I finally made it to Anchorage, I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of my nightmares were only that. Yes, it was cold and snowy. But it wasn't as cold as people would think and the snow was quite beautiful. Yes, it was dark. But every day it got lighter by 5-10 minutes. Yes, it was a small city. But it had more culture and acceptance than I ever expected. Everybody hates Sarah Palin and the people are way more community-oriented than most other cities in the United States. I had a great experience in Alaska and gained a lot of respect for the place. So much so, that I returned a year later to dance with the company for three months.

While my first experience in Alaska was quite a nice surprise, my second time around was a bit different. Most of the positive light from my previous time in the state was still there, but the organization was displaying symptoms of financial instability, cultural challenges, and green leadership. By the time the three months were complete, I was ready to get back to Philadelphia. Nonetheless, I still left with a strong affinity for a place that probably would've never been on my radar had I not been working there as an independent contractor.

This past July, I received the call from Anchorage during an ideal moment in my life for this job opportunity to become a possibility. I was recovering from an injury and was working in a role that required more leadership as a choreographer for NCI. If a perfect storm of events hadn't aligned, I would've likely moved back to Philadelphia and continued working in the same capacity as I have been for the past few years.

While I knew the organization was trying to find its path when I left, I wasn't quite sure where the organization was today. In negotiations for my contract, it was mentioned that I could take the role as Interim Artistic Director to see if I would be a good fit for the organization. While I was hired as an employee, this setup mimicked the same work agreement of an independent contractor. Instead of being locked into a situation for an extended period of time, I was given a trial period to see if the organization was a good fit for me and me a good fit for them.

Me with the pre-professional company of Alaska Dance Theatre
I have had a mixed bag of an experience trying to lead an organization that is still trying to find its' distinct path towards excellence. And while I have loved my time working with the students of Alaska Dance Theatre and educating the community, it became clear that the puzzle pieces for me to continue with the organization weren't fitting together properly to keep me on board for a long-term contract. Had I taken the original offer for a year of work, I may have been left in a situation that wouldn't have been conducive for the growth that the organization is seeking. So, at the end of my term in December, I will move back to Philadelphia and begin to build a plan for the next stage of my career.

While my current experience isn't technically that of a freelancing independent contractor, it is functioning in the same capacity. Most of my freelancing work has given me the opportunity to work with companies that could eventually become my full-time job and home. I have had a handful of enticing offers that just didn't work out logistically, financially, and living between two cities with my partner. But while working with companies as a freelancer, I have always had this thought in the back of my mind that each and every experience could be the one that pulls me out of this nomadic lifestyle.

Looking forward to what's next!

10.13.2014

The Rules of Company Class

I started writing this post back in July while creating at the National Choreographers Initiative, but quickly got distracted by the intensity of the choreographic process. It has been awhile since I posted, as I have been swamped while working the past few weeks in Anchorage, Alaska. While it is a few months since I started writing this blog, I feel that this topic is very relevant and hasn't been addressed much. So, I'd like to share. Enjoy!


National Choreographers Initiative dancers taking company class onstage
Back in October, I posted the rules of taking open class while prepping to dance with Barak Ballet in Los Angeles. Nine months later, I am back in the LA area having a completely different experience working as a choreographer for the National Choreographers Initiative. Each of us four choreographers have been offered the opportunity to teach company class for the professionals that have been brought in for this 3-week choreographic laboratory. I love teaching, so I happily took the director up on her offer. Having spent my first hour and a half on the other side of company class and digesting my vast experience taking class in an array of company cultures through freelancing has inspired me to gather a list of general rules for company class from both the teacher's side and the professional's side.

- Company class is a time for dancers to warmup their bodies and to improve their technique. This should generally be on their own terms. Some days a dancer is exhausted and just needs to wake their body up. Other days, a dancer may not have much rehearsal or may be understudying much of the day. During these periods, a pro may use class to push their technique to the next level. Company class is not an equal effort day to day.

- Company class instructors should approach class from an external perspective. Warmup should be approached very differently than classes that would be given to academy students. Yes, professionals need to be pushed, corrected, and kept on task. But company class should be nothing about the instructor and all about the dancers.

- It can be really effective for an instructor to offer combinations that relate to the work that is being prepared for performance. This offers the dancers an opportunity to perfect challenging sequences in choreography.

- Expectations of a dancer in company class should be very individual. If there is not a developed relationship with a group of dancers, it can be rude to make assumptions about why a dancer is acting a certain way in class. If a dancer changes my combination, I am assuming that they are making an important decision for themselves. Back to the first rule in this post, some dancers may be tired or hurting. Company class is a vehicle for the rest of the rehearsal day. Their is often an assumption that dancers must take class like they are students until they retire. Do every combination 100%, even if it doesn't feel good on your body. Of course, it is the dancer's responsibility to remain reasonable about their choices. For instance, if my back is sore from my recent injury, I may not perform arabesques or attitudes derriere in adagio or grand battements at barre. I am not being lazy. I am being smart about my body and extending the length of my career by making an educated decision to leave a combination out.

          (My mom sneaked video taking company class at PNB circa 2008)

- Apprentices and less experienced professionals should approach company class like they approached school class. It takes time to develop an understanding of what your body needs. I didn't start altering my approach to company class until I had my first injury three years into my career. At that point, I recognized that overworking any position in arabesque may be more detrimental to my dancing than beneficial.

- Instructors should try their own combinations with the music to make sure that the tempo is comfortable, doable, and what they imagined the exercise to be. To speak and hear a combination versus executing a combination is a very different experience.

- If a dancer is entering class with an established company, they should ask other dancers if they can stand in any specific barre spot before claiming space. If there aren't many spots available and you are waiting for dancers to show up and claim their regular spot, wait away from the barre until the instructor walks in. Typically, somebody will point you in the right direction of a dancer's place that isn't in attendance.

- I strongly believe that those who teach class should still be taking class. I find that I teach much better when I am checking in with my body and reminding myself what it feels like to dance. 

- If you are going to leave class early, you should always give the teacher a wave as you leave. To walk up and thank the teacher directly, as you would at the end of class, interrupts the flow for those who are continuing with class. Quietly grab your stuff, walk to the door, and wait for the teacher to acknowledge your exit.

- Generally, new or auditioning dancers should pay attention to the hierarchy of individuals in a class. If a dancer has been with the company for many years or is a Principal dancer, let them dance where they want to dance in center. Some dancers could care less about hierarchy, but some are very particular about this order.

- It is the instructors job to be sensitive about when to push dancers in class. I am a dancer that always appreciates corrections. As I stated before, some dancers just want to warm up and focus on their technique in rehearsals. If an instructor feels that a dancer is being lazy, then they can bring that up outside of class and try to push a dancer to work harder. One common error I see is that instructors make judgements about dancers that they barely know. A dancer that is altering a combination or skipping a combination is not necessarily a lazy dancer. Only when their is a developed relationship between a teacher and a professional is it fair to make a judgement.

- Teachers that don't teach to their ego are generally the most respected teachers.

- Do offer corrections to technique, but be careful when offering corrections in style. Once a dancer becomes a professional, for instance, they are very unlikely to change certain parts of their dancing. For instance, if a dancer takes their pirouette preparation from a straight back leg, they may not be willing to execute this from a bent back leg. If they have figured out how to execute a beautiful pirouette from one position, why force them to change it unless it is for choreography that requires unison.

- This is a pet peeve of mine, not necessarily a definitive rule. It is merely a suggestion. Professionals generally don't need to be given specific combinations for plies and stretching. Plies should be about telling the body that class is beginning and stretching should be about limbering your own individual needs. If a dancer doesn't know how to execute these on their own, they probably shouldn't be professionals. I tend to shut down if I am given an extravagant plie combination.

- In most companies that I have danced, it is generally acceptable to wear what you wish for class. When dancers are forced to wear a dress code or to take off their warmups, I have found that dancers are generally treated with a lower level of respect in those workplaces. 

- Instructors should learn to trust the dancers that they are teaching in their decisions. There is not often enough trust in dancers to make their own decisions.

- This is kind of a given. It is more common for dancers to talk in company class, whether catching up with a friend or discussing choreography for a later rehearsal. While it is ok to chat here and there, don't be disrespectful and talk throughout all of center. Show the instructor respect and offer your attention for a majority of class.

- One rule that I am a big advocate of is to support your fellow dancers. If somebody executes a major feat, show your appreciation. I'm also one of the first people to start clapping to the beat when a dancer accidentally ends up having a solo across the floor. Comaraderie and support go a long way in a difficult and competitive career.

- It is acceptable to miss company class here and there if your body really needs a break. Don't make a habit of missing class. If there is an instructor whose class you don't mesh well with, try to find a way to take another class to warm up, like open or academy classes.

- Now that you are a professional, don't approach class like you know everything. There is always something else you can learn.

- While most unionized companies don't require dancers to attend company class, keep in mind that this is more of a technicality than a pass to miss class. Beyond that, a great deal of casting, especially for incoming choreographers, takes place during class.

Company class can be a blur (PNB company class onstage circa 2004)
 - This is my own personal rule. I feel that company class, whether for a classical or contemporary company, should still be a classical ballet class. Ballet is the basis for most technical dance. When company class starts turning into an instructor's interpretation of a mix of classical and contemporary styles, dancer technique will suffer. Keep class as class.

- Whether you like the class or not, always thank the instructor and pianist after class. It is in our culture to clap at the end of class. If you really loved class, hoot and holler. Walk up to the pianist and shake their hand. Walk up to the instructor and say thank you. Instructors appreciate applause and recognition as much as dancers do. Most of them still are or once were in your position. 

9.23.2014

Why Post So Openly on Social Media

A movement from my ballet, Distinct Perceptions, inspired by a friend sharing about his severe OCD on Facebook (Dancer: Jackie McConnell - Photo: Dave Friedman)

My partner and I have this very specific conversation pretty regularly. "Did you see what Jimmy-Jam wrote on Facebook yesterday?" "Of course I did! How could you miss something like that?" "I can't believe that they would post that for the public to see!" "Well, how is that any different than what I post online?" "It's not...I could never do something like that! I like my privacy..." And that is how it goes. Every day, some people feel the temptation to post anything from their dance movements to their bowel movements, while others will barely share an ounce of their happiest pleasures. When somebody shares information that is socially acceptable, usually something positive (only once or twice though without appearing egotistical) or something mundane, most people move on without mentioning a word. But if somebody posts their lowest point, their biggest vice, their most embarrassing moment, or their struggles, they are often met with uncomfortable opposition or the socially appropriate cold shoulder (with whispers abound). I am definitely an over-sharer when it comes to my online presence. And while it has benefited me and hurt me, at times, I continue to share my thoughts, my lessons, and my life for friends and strangers to read. Why?

Let's start off here. I am a performer. A majority of my life, I have put myself out there on a stage. Sometimes, I get to play myself. Other times, I get to play a character. As a ballet dancer, one thing I rarely get to have is a voice. In the studio, dancers are generally told what to do. On the stage, a dancer doesn't get to tell the audience how they are feeling, what choices they've made, or what decisions were made for them. Beyond that, dancers are judged by their bodies, their strength, and their physical intuition. Rarely their mind.

When I first started blogging on Myspace, I guess I just wanted an outlet. I had just moved to a brand new city 3,000 miles away from home. I had very few friends and very few outlets. If I wanted to express myself, there weren't many people with whom I could openly discuss and assess my new-found adulthood. At the ripe old age of 20, I started using social media. It was almost like having a conversation with somebody who was a really good listener. On top of that, it was kind of like a mini-stage where I could present a performance. But that performance was my reality, my inner thinking, and my real-life personality. Having that outlet made me feel relevantly normal. I could share simple personal things with whomever felt like listening. And since very few actual people wanted to listen at the time, it filled the void and relieved the stress of being somewhere foreign with little support.

I'd take photos when I felt lonely in Seattle - Elliott Bay
As social media has grown over the years, nearly every American has at least dabbled in some form of online platform. This has led to a wide variety of ways people approach online networking. When I first started blogging, I would post about my inner dialogue while sitting on the bus system in Seattle. Sometimes, I would post how I was feeling after a bad set of casting went up. People started criticizing me for sharing how I felt, but in the end I knew it was my choice. When a Principal with PNB came up to me and told me I need to stop writing my thoughts and feelings online, I found it wildly ironic that she was admonishing me while clearly reading a majority of the posts I was writing.

After nearly a year of blogging, I made my first big social media mistake. After a really bad break-up with my first love, an attempt of friends to get us together to potentially reconcile, and another friend dabbing my fresh wounds with bounds of alcohol, I posted a nasty attack towards my former love. It was probably about 3 AM in the morning and by the time I had woken up nearly 6 hours later, that post had been read well over 100 times. I immediately deleted the post and felt ashamed for letting myself stoop to that level. It's the only post I've ever deleted. I learned a lot from that error. But I didn't stop approaching my public posting from the most honest and open place I possibly could.

Over time, I have had a handful of experiences that have been affected by my social media presence. I find that people are initially excited by my postings. It lets them have a better idea of who I am as a person without really knowing me at all. I also find that companies love it when you post something positive. Like, "Such an inspiring day working in the studio today." But, the moment that things start to go negative,  the formerly projected excitement turns into disdainful judgement.

When I hurt my back in 2012 and was having a rough week in the studio with a choreographer who was treating me badly, I wrote a single sentence update about how lost I was feeling. A few days later, my boss (who had previously lauded my social media presence) pulled me aside and said, "You need to watch what you post online. Everybody knows that you are talking about us." The funny thing was that I mentioned no names, mentioned nothing of work, mentioned nothing of my injury. I was just feeling lost. But the second that there wasnt a big :-D on my Facebook, I was committing a foul act.

Sometimes, life is stormy - Mount Baldy, Alaska - 9/21/14
Recently, I have been watching an old friend on Facebook going through a hard time (I can also see that they are getting the support they need). Whether they are dealing with real life issues or having a complete emotional break down, I don't know. But watching this person post the darkest of life's moments for all to see online has been very interesting to watch. My partner keeps saying, "They really need to stop putting all of this for the public to see. It's mortifying!" While my reaction was, "Well, what if somebody else is going through something like this? Why should they be so ashamed to have this experience in public?" There is no right or wrong. But people learn from people. When one person smiles, often you will smile. When you watch somebody in pleasure, you often want to feel that pleasure. When a person cries, how often do people start crying around them? People are moved by people. And for some reason, people will often look down at other people who are experiencing something tragically moving because they don't want to be brought down by that experience.

What living a publicly present social life comes down to is that sentence in the above paragraph, "People are moved by people." Why should someone share what they are experiencing? Because it moves people to feel, it moves people to think, it moves people to act. Sometimes life is amazing. And sometimes, life just downright hurts. Sometimes, your boss makes you feel horrible. Sometimes, your organization gives you an award for being an upstanding employee. By reacting to life publicly, people are offering a real life cinema across the widest web of the world. And there really isn't anything wrong with that as long as you are willing to be open to the judgements, positive and negative, of all of those that interact in your web.