One of the scariest things for me was learning how to find work on my own. Throughout a dancer's training, especially in the field of ballet, we are taught verbally and by example that one should never be outwardly expressive about their talents and successes. Perhaps, it goes back to the ideals of ballet being a generally silent art form. The culture of most companies impresses a sense of humility upon dancers. This can be a beautiful quality to have as a person, but this mentality can make it quite difficult to promote oneself to potential employers.
I myself struggled throughout my career within a major company with this mentality. I was "only" a corps members. Why would somebody want to hire me to perform leading roles, when my main job was to dance lesser roles. When I left that company to join a smaller company, I really had no choice but to look for freelance work since my contract was merely 22 weeks long. That is unless I wanted to get a side job that had nothing to do with ballet, which I didn't want to do. I wanted to create a plan, but how does one find out who to contact or how to get in contact with possible employers?
I lucked out since I was required to perform 3 work searches a week to maintain certain benefits when I left my previous company. Essentially, this broke the barrier of me being too "humble" to unabashedly email companies and schools to tell them how great I was. So, I first set forth with what I knew. What are the major companies in the country? ABT, NYCB, SFB, PNB, Houston, Boston. Sent. "Greetings. My name is Barry Kerollis. I am a freelance dancer
based out of Philadelphia. I recently left 'insert company name'
after 7 seasons with the company and have danced with numerous other
companies on a freelance basis. I am sending you
my information in the event that you need a dancer for any
of your company's upcoming productions." That said, most of those companies didn't respond, or already knew me previously, or knew that I was just performing a work search. So, my next step was to email a handful of other companies that I had auditioned for in the past, heard of, knew friends that danced there, or had read about in a magazine. Some companies told me that they would keep my information on file, while others told me that they only hire dancers for a full season.
Once, I had exhausted the resources of my own knowledge, I started looking at materials that were readily available to me. Every month, I check Pointe, Dance Magazine, and Dance Spirit. I don't just look at the informative articles, but I also look at the ads. If a company sounds interesting to me, I find a way to email them. If their website doesn't offer a specific email to send information to for auditions or employment, I will send my information to their general email account and ask that my information be forwarded to the artistic director.
Another great resource is the world wide web. I have found numerous websites that either give audition information, allow dancers to list themselves in a database, or that offer information about companies that I had never thought of. Websites that post audition information include Pointe Magazine, Dance Magazine, Dance Plug, Network Dance, and Dance.net. Some of these websites are more reliable than others. At the same time, some offer varied work in different fields. For instance, Pointe magazine's audition section will be more valuable to a dancer who's focus is in ballet. While most of the auditions/jobs that are listed are for full-time contracts, it doesn't necessarily mean that the company wouldn't be interested in picking up a dancer for a program or need someone to replace an injured dancer for a period of time.
Other websites that can be useful allow you to list yourself in a database. You can do that on Network Dance and Dance Plug, but I haven't had the opportunity to test them out yet. The two websites that are strictly available to market yourself to employers are Need Dancers and Got Prince. On these websites, (sometimes dependent on whether you pay a fee or not), you can list anything from your basic information to a variety of things, including posting multiple photos and a dance reel.
A final internet option for me is a website that I check daily and for which I have been made fun of by my colleagues for years. This is because there tends to be a lot of gossip and it is a public message board where anybody can post. The name of this board is Ballet Talk. Information on this site ranges from personal reviews of performances and opinions on different aspects of ballet, all the way to gossip about dancers and angry interactions between crazed ballet fans. It can be quite amusing or quite mortifying (especially if you find yourself the target of somebody's rant). Every morning, I wake up and read through the links section like its the daily newspaper and drink my coffee. This part of the board has posts with links to newspaper articles and reviews about what is happening in ballet today. This is how I keep updated on the current state of the ballet world. And I have been known to see an article about a company and email them to see if they need a dancer for anything.
Another option for getting work would be to find an agent. I am not very well versed in the world of agencies, but I am currently listed with DManagement. In order to obtain an agent, a dancer either needs to audition for the agency or have some reference that knows the agent personally to vouch for them. The agent will then send out listings of work that they think may be right for a dancer. They will also take a cut of the deal when they get you work. You can read more about this here: http://pointemagazine.com/issues/aprilmay-2012/company-life-middleman.
Lastly and, in my opinion, most importantly, a freelance dancer can find work through networking and friends involved in the dance world. Honestly, I have gotten the largest percentage of my work through word of mouth from friends and colleagues. This approach, unfortunately, is one that comes with time and experience. But the networking can begin as early as your professional level training. In high level training programs, some of your peers will eventually become professionals. After school, your colleagues can be great advocates. For me, personally, other dancing friends have become lifelines. I have had friends that are unable to do a gig, and they called me up and offered me the opportunity to take that work. When this happens, I am likely to think of that person first when it comes to work that I can't do. It is a greatly reciprocal field. So, be sure to build great connections, maintain them, and help one another. Freelancers know how hard this career can be. There tends to be less competition amongst one another and better level of support amongst one another.
Once you get past the initial phase of developing a system to look for work, there are many other things that need to be taken into consideration. Like what information do you send, who do you market yourself to be, how to build your profile, and much more. Stay tuned for the answers to these question, as well as some personal accounts of my life as a freelance dancer.