|My Home Base - Philadelphia, PA|
Choosing a location to call home is not always an option. Some dancers are just beginning their freelance careers straight out of school. This could mean that you are still living with your parents. Other dancers are employed with a full-time company and need to reside in the city where their work requires them to be. But how do you choose a place to conduct your business from if you don't have one of these factors to decide for you?
I live in Philadelphia, PA. The deciding factor for choosing Philly, for me, was not related to the fact that the city is a great place to freelance as a dancer. I, initially, moved to this city for a seasonal job. Once my time with that job had come to an end, I realized that Philly is the perfect city for me to live and work out of. Instead of creating an outright list in this post, I will tell you through my experience in this city why it is a great place for me to call my home base.
The first reason why Philadelphia is such a great place to freelance from is its location. Everybody knows that New York City is the capitol of the dance world. There are many opportunities to perform, audition, take workshops, see shows, make connections, and stay in shape in NYC. What most people don't realize is that Philly is a short 2-hour ride by car, train, or bus. I can easily get to New York on the Bolt Bus or Mega Bus for between $20 to $30 round-trip (though I prefer the Bolt Bus for its reliability and rewards program). Amtrak is also a great option, but it is not as cost effective. As we all know, NYC is one of the most expensive places to live in the US. If you don't need to be in the city every day, it could be more cost effective to live in a city close-by. My rent in Philly is much cheaper and my cost of living remains much lower. Many of my NYC dancer friends have to live in a different borough than Manhattan, where most of the dance action is taking place, with roommates in order to afford their rent. Their commute to work is usually more than an hour each way. Keeping that in mind, a 2-hour bus ride isn't much longer than the average commute for a New Yorker. Not only that, but Philly's dance scene covers most of my needs as a dancer
Another reason that Philadelphia is such a great location is its proximity along the Northeastern corridor. There is a greater amount of freelance work in the northeast due to its immense population density. It is also much easier for a company or school to bring in a guest artist if it is cheaper to get a dancer on location. Keep in mind that the less an employer has to pay for travel, the more potential they have to pay you more. I have taken a train to Providence, flown to New Hampshire, and taken the bus to New York. I am also close to an international airport with many daily flights that fly all across the country. I am more marketable by being more accessible.
Philly is also a great place to freelance out of due to the fact that it has a great dance scene. Most people aren't aware of this because the city is overshadowed by its close proximity to NYC. Aside from more established companies like Pennsylvania Ballet, Philadanco, and Koresh Dance Company, there are hundreds of small companies and projects happening around the city year-round. The city also has an annual Philly Fringe Festival with hundreds of performances spanning over a few weeks and a bi-annual event named the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts. Not only do these festivals offer great audience experiences, but they also offer many opportunities to perform locally. Although many freelancers travel for performances, it is really nice to be able to work in the city that you call home. I often use resources like Dance USA - Philadelphia Chapter and Philadalphia Dance to keep up to date on what is happening.
Beyond performance opportunities, it is very important to have a few options available to keep in shape. One of my biggest concerns is whether or not I can find a facility that offers quality, affordable classes. By quality, I mean top-notch instruction, enough space to execute combinations, and class sizes that are appropriate. Sometimes, a dancer needs to go through a trial-and-error phase with different dance studios. I've taken classes in studios that are too small or where the instruction level is poor. I have found that there are a few great options in my city. I prefer to take classes at Koresh Dance School in Philly, as the instruction quality is high and the classes are affordable. Most organizations that offer drop-in classes will give you a professional rate that is less expensive than the regular price of classes (in NYC most places only offer a $.50 discount), so be sure to mention that you are a professional and have some sort of proof. Not every city has a listing of weekly classes, but Philadelphia Dance does compile this list of places to take open classes. When it comes to any city, though, you will have to do your research online and ask other dancers in the area. If it appears that there are no drop-in classes in your area, don't be afraid to contact a respected school or company and ask if you can join in advanced or company class. The worst they could say is no.
When choosing your home base, there are a lot of things to keep in mind. For many people, New York City comes up as the only option of places to conduct freelance dance work. It is a great option and my favorite city, but avoiding this option may be the only way to make freelancing affordable. Most of my freelancing friends live in larger cities, where there is greater accessibility to classes and transportation. Other than New York, most others live out of Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Miami. Although living in a larger city has great advantages, you may not have that option. If this is the case, make the best of the options that you have available to you. But if you are looking to relocate to a new city in order to make the most out of your freelancing career, take location, cost of living, and accessibility to your dance needs into consideration for the greatest chance at success.