One of the biggest disadvantages of being a freelance dancer is not having regular studio space to rehearse in without charge. How do you prepare for performances where you are expected to learn the choreography at home and get your stamina up to perform the piece at a standard that you and your employer are pleased with? I have found a couple of ways to work through this issue. The first thing you must do is learn the choreography. Spend as much time as necessary watching the video you are given. Take breaks from studying the video and come back to it in order to make sure that you aren't just copying the video. I like to watch a short section of choreography, then play that section again. You want to make sure you are actually retaining the choreography. Of course, the best way to do this is in a studio with a television monitor. For me, that isn't often an option. At home, I will close my eyes, visualize myself doing the choreography, and dance full out only with my port de bras. Once I have correctly executed the choreography in my head, I will move on to the next section. Once I have learned the two parts, I will go back to the beginning and tie the two together. I will continue to do this until I have performed the entire piece in my head. Now that I have learned the choreography, I need to rehearse the entire piece with my whole body.
My next step is to find a place that I can rehearse the piece full-out. If you are a dancer in a company or teach at a dance school, you can use that organization's studio space. Dancers with companies can usually use a studio during lunch hours or after the rehearsal day is over. Many freelancers take on teaching jobs in order to supplement their salary when they aren't dancing out of town. If possible, show up early or stay late to grab an empty studio. If you are not tied to an organization and don't have regular access to a studio, I have found that the gym is my best friend. When looking for a gym membership, be sure to ask if there is a larger room (usually used for aerobics or yoga classes) that is available to members when they aren't being used for classes. I would be reluctant to join a gym if they don't have an option like this, as it can be a lifeline. No, the floors of these rooms are typically not sprung. Yes, they are typically hardwood and a bit slippery. I find that even if you can't dance a piece full out for safety purposes, it is very important for muscle memory to run a piece in a space where you can fully extend your body. Make sure to have your rehearsal music on an ipod or your phone and don't be shy if other people are using a part of the space. Be respectful, but remember that you are being professional by doing what is required of yourself in order to present a product that has been fully rehearsed. Rehearse the choreography regularly and dance sections that you feel are safe to dance full-out. If you can't jump in your gym, be sure to practice specific jump sequences a couple of times after class (or at a respectable time during class if another class starts immediately after). If it is necessary, especially if the piece requires extensive pointe work, ask a local studio if you can do an exchange of services (like cleaning, desk work, mailings, filing, etc) for free studio rental.
Be sure to incorporate other activities that will get your stamina up. Use your gym membership to its fullest extent. If you are doing a pas de deux, lift extra weights to build your strength. If the dance is very "puffy" (leaves you out of breath), do extra cardio with bouts of sprints to get yourself out of breath. Although, the goal is to run the piece multiple times before you arrive to perform, if resources don't allow you to do so, it is important that you simulate the stamina required of the performance in order to be assured you can make it through the piece. In the end, your goal should be to have rehearsed the piece full out multiple times before arriving. If you don't have the option to run it daily, make sure that you have at least run it through once or twice. You don't want to think that you know the demands of the choreography and realize once you have arrived that you are not properly prepared.
You have learned the choreography and rehearsed it on your own, but now you have arrived and you have to dance with a partner you have never met (often a student) and the show is in 24 hours. The goal here is to remain flexible. Try to run the piece that you are doing a couple of times before you get onstage, even if you have to mark certain things. Just make sure that you dance/partner trickier sections full-out each time. I find that when you work with students, sometimes things go amazingly well and at other times they don't go as planned. Try to remember what it felt like when you were a student. Small accomplishments felt grand and any mistake felt massive. When dancing with students, I find it best to let your ego and dancer's perfectionism go. Don't be as critical of your performance as you would be in a fully professional atmosphere. Be attentive to the student. Let the student know that you are there to make them comfortable. For instance, in a recent festival that I performed in, I had a partner that was very nervous, a perfectionist, and was very upset after we finished the first performance, which went perfectly fine. While waiting to go on in the next show, I told her, "the most important thing you learn when you are a professional is that mistakes happen in performance all the time. It is how you play with those mistakes and cover them up that makes you professional." She gave me a big smile and was actually very pleased with herself in the second show. It can be hard not to focus on how you fumbled that pirouette or how that lift didn't get off right. But the reason that professionals are hired to work with students is to show them how professionals work and to give them tools that will help them eventually become one.
Freelance dancers are often thrown into different environments. Sometimes adjustments are easy and at other times conditions can be difficult. I tend to be a dancer that can go with the flow...to a certain point. A dancer should be respectful of how an organization chooses to conduct itself, within reason. If you feel that you are being put in an unsafe situation, by all means do speak up. Organizations can benefit from a professional dancer's knowledge and experience. Just try to be direct and sensitive in how you approach the situation. I have rarely encountered a situation where an employer did not want to make their guest artists as comfortable as possible. It can be quite stressful preparing for a performance where you would typically be given weeks or months of rehearsal. As long as you prepare yourself properly and keep a sense of, what I call, "Go with the flow-ability," you can enjoy work experiences with limited on-site rehearsal. Working as a freelance dancer, I sometimes feel like I am dancing on the edge of a cliff. It can be very frightening to perform with a small amount of full-on rehearsal, but it is quite validating to get through these performances. Most dancers don't realize that they have it in them, but most all of us do. Dancers are amazingly capable of adaptation.
|In performance w/ a student at Seiskaya Ballet|