7.11.2013

New York Calling

Thank you for your patience over the last few weeks as I have taken a break from writing regular blogs. For over a year, I have been writing continuous posts without a break and after throwing a successful CONTACT event (stay tuned for an upcoming blog), I took a vacation to LA and gave myself a true break. With that said, I am proud to say that Life of a Freelance Dancer was recently published in Dance/USA's online E-journal. This honor is a true testament to the content that is posted in this blog and I couldn't be happier with that. Thank you to my viewers and I can't wait to see what is to come. Now on to this weeks topic!

Bowing as "Puss & Boots" at SAB workshop 2003
At the age of 19, I danced in my final workshop performance as a student with the School of American Ballet, packed up all of my belongings, and hopped in my mom's car to drive home for the last time before joining a big company. It was a very emotional period for me. Not only was I saying goodbye to a group of friends that had become family. I was embarking on a journey that marked the end of my career as a student. All I had known was being a student. Not only did this performance note the finishing of my training, it also put a period on the end of my childhood. On the drive back to Pennsylvania, I began to cry within moments of entering Lincoln Tunnel. My mom asked me why I was crying. I replied that other than missing my real-life friends, I felt like I was leaving behind one of my best friends. New York City. I knew then that the city that never sleeps would always have a place in my heart and that I would one day return.

I moved to Texas to join the Houston Ballet less than a month after my exit from SAB. Being thrown into a new environment, hours and hours of rehearsal, and figuring out how to live on my own, I quickly forgot how much I really missed New York City. As the year passed, I came to realize that having come straight from the country's largest metropolis made it difficult for me to enjoy my transition into Texas-living. I missed walkable streets, good public transport, and having thousands of people breeze by me on their own path. I quickly realized that I needed to find another company in a city where I could live happily. Thus, my journey to Seattle began.

View of the Joyce Theater from the stage
Although I never really fell in love with the city of Seattle, I did find the city a relief from the heat and sprawl of Houston. Again, I had to adjust to my new home and company, but this time I had 7 long years to live, learn, and grow into an adult. By my sixth year in the company, I remember thinking about New York quite often. After joining a small group of PNB dancers on tour to perform at The Joyce Theater, I realized how isolated we really were in the Pacific Northwest. Just stepping foot into Steps on Broadway gave me a great idea of what I had been missing. I consider Steps the Cheers of the ballet world. Nearly every professional I know either takes class regularly or drops into this landmark dance studio when they are in town. There were dancers in class that I hadn't seen in years. Although I realized that these former classmates, colleagues, and friends hadn't forgotten who I was, I felt like I had been missing out on something really important.

I don't know what seed had been planted in me that eventually grew into my yearning to jump ship. But when it happened, I was set. I wanted to live in New York, but I didn't want to join the vast ranks of New York City Ballet or American Ballet Theatre (if they would even take me). So, my partner and I agreed that I would only audition for companies in cities where we wanted to live. The list was San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Montreal, Boston, Philadelphia, DC, and Miami. If all else failed, we would move to New York and I would freelance. Although this idea mortified me, it felt like the perfect backup plan. Alas, I was offered a job in Philadelphia and we moved to the Mid-Atlantic.

Although I was very excited to move back home (even though I am really from the burbs), I was even more excited to be close to New York again. I was already on a Bolt bus heading to an open rehearsal with a summer gig before I had even really settled into my new apartment. I got off the bus, looked around, and smiled very widely to myself. I was home. But, after spending three weeks in the city performing in the Guggenheim's Works and Process series a few months later, I had a realization. As an adult, I really didn't want to live in the city unless I could enjoy living there. When I was training at SAB, I was on full scholarship, which included classes, housing, meals, and a few more perks. My childhood in New York was a facade. I didn't have to worry about anything financially. It's a very different story as an adult and I wasn't privy to living in my favorite city and scrounging by. I have friends who live in the tiniest apartments at the highest prices. They often skip out on the finer things the city has to offer due to financial restraints. At the same time, I was happy with my transition into a new style of dancing in Philly. Why would I want to leave.

Well, as I have alluded to in the past, after nearly 8 months in our new home city, everything came collapsing down on top of me. I became injured and couldn't afford what I needed to recover. I could barely pay my rent with the greatly reduced salary I had accepted to try something new.  And now that I was injured, fear was really starting to set in as I continued dancing through the pain just to scrounge by. Finally, when I decided to take time off to heal, everything imploded into me. The company had been hiding workers comp from me for months. I found out and the company responded with anger, threats, and lies. All other details aside, it nearly destroyed me, my career, and being. Not only did I fear that I would lose my home and career, I feared walking the streets of my city because I didn't want to run into any part of the close-knit dance scene that only knew a very skewed version of what actually happened. It only felt natural that I run away from the pain and fear and start anew.

After this very challenging experience, it crossed my mind many times that I should pick up and run to New York. Aside from being a great escape, there were freelancing opportunities galore. But money, my partner, and a handful of other life-items kept me from escaping all of this turmoil. Lucky for me, I had all of these things tying me down to Philadelphia. If it weren't for that, I likely would have been reacting, instead of making a conscious, thought-out decision. For this reason, we stayed in Philly and I started living the life of a freelance dancer.

It has been 16 months since these events happened and I am still happily a resident of Philadelphia. Although I find myself traveling more than half the year, I am always excited to return back home. At times, work has brought me to New York. And trying to connect with the greater part of the New York freelance community has kept me coming back. After last week's CONTACT event, I was asked to attend an audition to workshop a piece that could eventually be developed into a much larger show. I found out recently that I had landed the gig and will be spending two weeks in New York at the beginning of August.

What I have come to realize is that although I am not currently a resident of New York, being that it is the center of the dance world, I will always return. Whether as a student, professional, teacher, choreographer, entrepreneur or more. But what I have also realized is that while New York holds a large place in my heart, for the time being it is not my home. And I am perfectly happy with that. In fact, I love Philadelphia. Part of that is due to its' close proximity to New York City.

Quintessential New York City shot - Columbus Circle
Now that I call Philly my home and don't see that changing at any point in the foreseeable future, I am not yearning to be a New Yorker anytime soon. I see myself picking up work in the city and spending large chunks of time in this important hub of dance. But Philly will remain my home-base. New York continues to call and I will continue to answer. I feel any dance-professional, whether a New Yorker or not, feels this way to a degree. And you know what, when it does call. Answer!

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