|Performing w/Alaska Dance Theatre in Duran's "Cash & Cline" (Photo: Gutierrez Photgraphy)|
I have discussed this in past posts and want to revisit the reasons that most dancers begin freelancing. A large amount of people who freelance do so because they were not able to obtain a job with a full-time company. Often, this is due to the fact that they just weren't in the right place at the right time or they were fresh out of school and still developing as a dancer. Another reason that many people start freelancing is because they feel that they have reached a certain point in their career with a company and want to go out on their own to find more fulfilling work. There are also people, like me, who were thrust out into the world of freelancing against their will. After spending a handful of months dancing with a company that I left PNB to join, I became injured during a rehearsal. Details aside, the young company broke my contract when I tried to take time off to heal because they didn't want to support an injured dancer. This happened in the middle of the company's season and right at the end of audition season. I was injured and couldn't get better in time to make myself presentable for company auditions. And at the same time, I didn't want to move from the city that I had just moved to only months before. Thus, I began healing and set out to become an established freelancer. Other reasons for freelancing include change of location for non-career reasons, short seasonal company contracts, and more.
Looking at the list above, you can see that freelancers become who they are for more reasons that are out of their control than those in their control. For those of us that didn't make the choice to freelance, aside from the fact that we knew we wanted dance to continue as the focus of our careers, it can become easy to start questioning the track of our career. Many dancers enter freelancing with a clear intention of joining a company in the future. But as you become more popular in your field and hold a busier schedule, the line blurs and the tendency is to flip-flop between company aspirations and the never-ending quest for the next gig. At what point do you know that you are ready to commit to another season as a freelancer or to start prepping for audition season?
There are many stresses involved in the art of freelancing that can push you in different directions. Dance/work-related stresses include (and are not limited to) finding work, staying in shape, quality of work, continuing to grow as an artist, feeling fulfilled in the work you are doing, and feeling like your value is represented by treatment and pay. Personal stresses include (among others) location, time away from home, works' affect on personal relationships, financial survivability, and work-life balance. Seeking to attain some sort of balance of these stresses can make it very difficult to make the conscious decision to continue freelancing. If a dancer chooses to take a two month gig across the country, how will that decision affect their two year relationship that they are leaving behind at home? Or if a dancer chooses only to seek work with academies and schools because the pay is greater than company work, how does that affect their feelings of fulfillment and growth? What if a dancer risks all of the stresses that are important to them only to find that the work they accepted is not up to par with what they had been expecting? Freelancing is a difficult choice because it carries such great risk and affects much more than your work-life.
|Performing "La Esmeralda" at gala (Photo: Dmitri Papadakos)|
Looking at these abridged lists of stressors that can affect your career as a freelancer, it becomes quite clear that there is great push and pull in the mind of a freelance dancer. At what point does a nomad choose to find more stable living? When does the choice to live wild versus living a normal life become too overwhelming to continue? Obviously, I am not in a place to tell people what their breaking point may be, but I can at least open up this topic for discussion on this forum and let people know that it is absolutely normal to question living the gypsy life. It is in every freelance dancer's best interest to constantly assess their needs, fulfillment, and happiness in order to remain healthy, stay at the top of their game, and to live a sustainable/enjoyable lifestyle. With all of these things in consideration, the mental games that freelancing presents are much easier to understand.