Staying in the loop

Once you stake a claim on your own little part of the dance world by becoming a freelancer, you will come to realize that, at times, you will feel more connected to the dance world than ever. On the flip-side, you will find that there are times when you feel more disconnected from dance-happenings than ever. I pass from extreme to extreme. Throwing my Contact event back in October gave me an opportunity to feel closely connected to many artists. But spending three months in Alaska, for instance, watching friend's Facebook and Twitter feeds filled with performance photos and merde wishes can make me feel that all of the excitement of the dance world is flying by thousands of miles from the epicenter of my career. I don't want to fall behind the mark. I don't want to walk into a conversation without an understanding of what is current. I don't want to stop expanding my experience as a dancer. So, I find ways to stay up-to-date on happenings in the dance world.

The art of dance is always evolving. Even when companies are putting masterful classics on their stages, the dancers who dance these works have different training, personalities, and styles that keep even the oldest of works fresh and exciting. One important aspect of the work a freelance dancer must commit to is keeping up with current happenings in their art. The dance world is wildly interconnected and people are more compelled to develop a relationship with you if they can relate to you through common bonds and interests. Dance is already a common bond, so it just needs to be cultivated. The other reason to stay up-to-date is because it improves your ability to market yourself and to search for work.

Important pieces of information to seek in your research include companies and their current programming, who is dancing where, and how companies are being perceived by the public. I find that I spend much of the summer scanning company websites to see which works they have chosen to put on during their coming season. It is always interesting to see trends and to analyze why they are happening. For instance, my first season as a professional with Houston Ballet, everybody was performing Balanchine works. If you weren't in the know, you could easily deduce that there was a reason that so many companies were performing his choreography. The reasoning? If Balanchine were still alive, it would have been his 100th birthday. This was the perfect reason to celebrate the choreographer and put his work on nearly every major and minor ballet company's stage. This season I have been quite intrigued by the multitude of companies that have restaged or premiered a new version of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring (one of my favorite pieces of music EVER!). I am not
Freshly painted for Tetley's "Rite of Spring" with PNB
aware of the reasoning behind this trend and maybe it will show its' face in the years to come. But it is likely that one company performed this work last season and the company had great ticket sales. Perhaps, a combination of one director's love for this work and the hype of one company's good fortune in the past year or so caught the attention of directors across the country. Or in the case of current up-and-coming New York City Ballet choreographer and newly-promoted soloist, Justin Peck, who recently created a piece for NYCB to rave reviews. He had one successful piece with a handful of promising write-ups and now everybody wants a piece of the pie. Miami City Ballet has already tagged their name onto his fresh success and mentioned that he was working with the company on social media. A few days after posting, they mentioned that he was working on a collaboration with only two dancers from the company. Nonetheless, they wanted to ride on this young choreographer's coat tails. But this is the beginning of a trend and I would put money down that he will be working with multiple companies over the next few years.

My reasoning for constantly checking rosters of dancers hired by companies is three-quarters professional and one-quarter personal. As I mentioned earlier, the dance world is quite small. It is easy to lose touch with friends and former peers. It is not uncommon for dancers to transition between a handful of companies as their careers evolve. I like to keep up with the whereabouts of my friends and to see how successful they have become. But on the professional side of things, it is interesting and helpful to see what kind of dancers directors are looking to hire. Rosters are usually updated somewhere between August and October prior to season opening performances. Scouting out information on dancers, their training, and their experience can help me gauge where I am in my career, where I want to go, where I should seek out work, where I shouldn't waste energy, and much more. You can also see whether a company is entering a transitional period, which may mean that they are more likely to hire freelancers as they regroup. Aside from company websites, I feel it is important to check out features in Pointe Magazine, Dance Magazine, Dance International, and Dance Spirit to see which dancers are being pushed into the spotlight. It is not uncommon for me to perform a Youtube search on these dancers to see how they dance. If I am isolated for a handful of months on a freelancing gig, this is the perfect way to inspire myself. I can look for qualities that I appreciate and take them on as corrections or goals in my everyday class and rehearsals. As dancers, I feel that we are most inspired by other dancers. I don't know one professional that began dancing because they saw a choreographer working. They were inspired by a dancer, who happened to be compelling dancing the work of a choreographer.

Performing my own work - Philly Fringe Fest(Photo:Bill Hebert)
One of the biggest challenges for me throughout my career has been to put less focus on a review/opinion and worry more about how I felt during a performance. This can be a challenge because most dancers want to see their name with stars around it. This is also harder because I have become good friends with a few reviewers for major dance publications with whom I love having lively discussions about performances we have seen. All of that aside, I find it extremely important to see how an educated audience is perceiving the growth or decline of companies. Of course, any review I read is viewed with a grain of salt and with the understanding that it is one individual's (or their small circle's) opinion. But reading multiple reviews of companies and their dancers can give me important information pertaining to what is intriguing, current, off-kilter, compelling, and beyond. Also, the more interest there is in a rising company, the more likely they are to have a multitude of reviews. I know that a performance is being given great weight if New York reviewers are sent away from their hometown to review a company's performance.

Now that I have explained all of the reasons one should stay up-to-date on all things dance, what are the best ways to stay current. First and foremost, staying in touch with your dancing friends. I find a ton of information through phone calls, Facebook/Twitter feeds, and messaging back and forth. If you don't have many friends that are involved in the professional dance world, you can follow dancers that you look up to on Twitter. Beyond that, I regularly check company websites. As I stated above, dancer rosters are typically updated between August and October. Most companies make announcements for their upcoming seasons between March and May. Many also have a press section on their website, where recent reviews and press releases are listed. I frequent the links section of Ballettalk. Each day, this site's administrators post links to reviews and stories in publications about companies large and small. Reviews and features are also posted in Pointe magazine, Dance Magazine, Dance International, Dance Spirit, and other respectable publications. If you know exactly what you are looking for, go to Google and type directly into the search box.

It is easy to fall out of touch with happenings in the dance world. If you don't put in the work to stay up-to-date, you may get behind and fall out of the loop. I always tell people that freelancing is a lot of work. Aside from dancing, teaching, marketing myself, and writing this blog, I put forth great effort in keeping up with current events. Although I am genuinely curious about what is happening out there, the time spent researching these items is work. I consider it a part of my job to put in a great deal of time doing this research. And to be completely honest, it really pays off.

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