The importance of your freelancing friends

The best quality that a freelancer can bestow is great networking/social skills. Most of the work that our type of artist obtains is based purely on an outgoing, friendly, and trustworthy personality. Even though dancers rarely speak onstage, this career is, perhaps, more social than most others. Freelance dancers need to be engaging in order to woo employers, as well as friends. If a dancer is more of a loner and less friendly, they will be much less likely to survive in this field. Not only are my freelancing friends very important to me on the basic premises of friendship, but they are also very important in helping me find and obtain work.

When I spent my first summer away from home at the age of 16 with Houston Ballet Academy at their annual summer intensive, I made it a point to learn the first and last name of every dancer living in the dorms and in my classes. I continued this practice at every program I attended. At the time, I thought I was just being friendly. But what I was really doing was fine tuning my networking skills. Who knew where each young hopeful's career would lead them? And who knows how valuable a friendship in this career can be for you, personally or professionally. While many of these dancers eventually left their pursuit of a ballet career to pursue other interests, a small contingent of us moved on to become high-quality performance artists. The connections that I've made all the way back to my first summer program experience through to my career as a big company dancer to my foray into freelancing have been the most valuable aspect of this harsh life of a freelance dancer.

Performing in a gig Matthew got me (Photo: Dmitri Popadakov)
When I was traveling around the country seeking a job after choosing to leave the prestige of PNB, I met a man by the name of Matthew Prescott (Matthew was recently featured in this Pointe Magazine article speaking about freelancing). Matthew started his career with the Joffrey, but eventually transitioned into full-time freelancing. He was freelancing with the company that I was auditioning for at the time. I was auditioning in a warm-up class prior to a performance onstage. We got to chatting and he told me about his lifestyle as a freelancer. Not knowing whether I would eventually be offered a contract from any of the companies I was auditioning for, I asked Matthew if he could give me some pointers about getting freelance work. After that audition, we became friends on Facebook. Ever since, Matthew has been a great source of assistance for me.

After I had taken a seasonal contract with that same company, Matthew was the first person to email me with information about a gig. He had worked with this person before, but was unavailable during the dates that the employer needed him to dance. I felt honored and nervous. My freelance career had begun. Over time, I have come to learn the importance of sharing work with your freelancing friends. Matthew was the first person to show me this and I feel it was a very valuable lesson.

Finding work can be challenging, especially considering that most opportunities are offered to dancers that already have a close relationship with a company or school. It can be expensive for both a company/school or dancer to audition, especially if it is only for a short term contract. Often, companies want to go with a dancer they already know is of quality, respectable, and easy to work with. When the chosen dancer isn't available, a company is highly likely to go with someone suggested by the dancer who wasn't available. For this reason, maintaining relationships with your freelancing network is of great importance. And not only should we nomadic dancers accept work from friends, we should reciprocate the favor. This "you pat my back, I'll pat yours" culture is integral to the survival of many dance artists.

Another reason that freelancing friends are so important is for the support system they can offer. Not only can they help you get work, but they can help you with the many obstacles this career can throw at you. Am I asking for too much money? Is it appropriate to ask for transportation to be provided? This situation seems unprofessional and unsafe. Am I overreacting? These are a few questions that friends who have "already been through it" have helped me answer. Beyond that, these friends can also be a great source of moral support.

Me, Jen Goodman, and Joel Prouty performing "It Makes Me Nervous" by Avi Scher (Photo: Matthew Murphy)
Something I have been generally quiet about is that I went through a particularly tough period this summer. I was expecting to be working all summer when my situation changed quickly. I was forced to scramble for work in a short period of time and this put me in a few precarious positions in order to make ends meet. When I was feeling particularly down, I reached out to a friend that I met while dancing with Avi Scher and Dancers in the Guggenheim's "Works and Process" program (See blog here). Jennifer Goodman was a long-time Joffrey dancer that took up freelancing after new artistic director Ashley Wheater took over the company. Jen offered me this great advice about freelancing that really lifted my spirits and helped me make sense of what I was going through. "I had to let go of my usual comfort zone and wanting to know and control things and just go with the flow." When you are short on work or have little lined up, emotions bubble to the surface. Jen helped me put things into perspective. Within weeks of receiving this uplifting email, I went from having little work lined up to being generally booked for the next seven months with projects that I am excited to be a part of. It just goes to show how manic this freelancing career can be and how your emotions/self-worth can quickly change suit based on your current situation. During this time, many more of my freelancing friends were great sources of support. Honestly, comfort from those who have been through what you are going through is more comforting than most support that loved one's can offer.

Freelancing can be as rewarding as it is challenging. It definitely isn't for everyone. It requires patience, emotional strength, steely nerves, and, of course, boatloads of talent. In full-time companies, you have your coworkers in the same room with you to rely on for support every day. As a freelance dancer, you're freelancing friends, while not always close in distance, become your coworkers and support system. With that, I will leave you with just one more piece of advice Jen gave me. "Embrace the unknown, go with the flow, take in every new experience good or bad, and trust that all this is happening for a reason and aligned with your life path."

(Stay tuned for a guest blog post by Jen Goodman)

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