9.18.2013

The art of continually reinventing yourself

A new option for my bio (Photo: Shalem Photography)
It is very difficult to market oneself as a dancer. We freelance dance artists are essentially the rebels of dance. The most common avenue to a professional career is to attend auditions or workshops to obtain a company contract. Freelancers may be seeking that, but for the most part they are looking for the next job. I have been asked to attend auditions to get freelancing gigs in the past, but turned down those possibilities of work because it isn't cost effective to pay for travel and accommodations for a potential 3 to 6 week job. For this reason, it is important that I remain a presence on the radar of companies and choreographers across the country. This isn't as simple as it sounds, especially since I don't want to send out the same template email, photographs, and footage each time I recontact an employer. Appearing as a fresh prospect, even if it is your fourth time contacting a company, takes a lot of time and a great deal of thinking outside the box.

I would say that I have contacted a majority of the numerous professional ballet companies and a handful of contemporary companies across the country at least once. While most of the emails I send out are ignored, a handful respond with, "we'll be in contact with you," or, "we would like to discuss using you." Most of those that speak of getting back in contact with me never do. Usually, it is only a company that has an immediate need that will respond. Just because a company didn't contact you doesn't mean that they didn't review your materials. It also doesn't mean that their needs haven't changed. It is the beginning of a new season and many companies are figuring out what they have and what their needs will be for the rest of their season. Also of note, just because a company says that they will keep your info on file if the need arises, doesn't mean that they will remember to contact you when that need does arise. For this reason, it is important to continue sending your information out to remind employers that you are still an available resource when needed. The only thing is that you don't want to appear to be the exact same person with the exact same experience each time you send your information. Dancers are built on the foundation that you must continue to grow and improve. How do you reinvent your marketing tools with limited material?

One of the most important items in your toolbox of marketing materials is your performance reel (You can check out this older post on how to create your own reel). Without any footage of your performance abilities, it will be difficult to obtain a job without going to a live audition or relying on word-of-mouth. As a freelancer, there may be times where you perform in a handful of works that you have easy access to footage from those performances. At other times, you may be working a great deal, but the performances aren't filmed. For instance, I was really hoping to get footage of myself performing as the Sugar Plum Fairy's Cavalier with Rochester City Ballet last season. But due to union rules with the orchestra that was accompanying the production, they weren't allowed to film the performances. Even if you have limited access to footage, your reel doesn't have to remain without an update for years at a time. I have set a loose rule for myself that I will update my reel every 6, or so, months. Not only does this give me an opportunity to add additional footage, but it gives me a chance to feel out what is working in enticing employers or when it isn't reading as effectively as I had hoped.

This past season, I had the wonderful opportunities to dance with Rochester City Ballet, Alaska Dance Theatre, Festival Ballet Providence, in the Philly Fringe Festival, and in a choreographic workshop of a piece that may potentially be Broadway-bound. Of all of these performances, I was only able to obtain footage from two of these organizations. Albeit the limited footage I had access to this past season, the film that I could get my hands on was plentiful. Last week, I sat on my couch and reviewed my previous 3 or 4 reels, evaluating what I did well and what could be improved upon. What I found was that all of my reels took clips of footage that were between 15 and 60 seconds long, which added up to anywhere from 7 to 10 minutes long. While I am proud of these reels, I realize that a potential employer that only watched the first minute or two of the reel would be missing out on the variety of dance works and styles that I excel at dancing. I needed to reinvent my approach to creating my reel and, so far, it seems to be working.

In creating my new reel, I decided that I should take smaller clips of my dancing and fuse them together into one work. What I like to call "highlights." Keeping the original music to these pieces would not be effective, since the music would change every few seconds. I started my 20-something hours of editing by seeking a piece of music that was interesting, but lacked any compelling vocal or moments that would draw you into the music. I wanted the focus to be on my dancing and not on the track that was playing. After finding a piece of music that fit the bill, I started by pulling all of the footage I had that showed me off at my best. I slowly began whittling down the hour of footage and finding moments in the choreography that were exciting or intriguing. This was a challenging process since it can be difficult to differentiate between something that looks great versus something that you had a special emotional attachment to performing. In the end, I was very happy with what I created. Not only do I feel that my new reel shows me in my best light. I feel that I have found a completely different way of showing employers what I can do. When I contact a company for the third time, they will likely recognize some of the footage. But they will be less likely to overlook me as a dancer that they have already seen and more likely to look at my new, fresh packaging.


Beyond recreating a reel every 6 months, I try to keep my resume and photos updated as well. It is much simpler to keep these fresh as your career flies by. Try to be patient with your photographs. The biggest temptation when you receive a brand new photo that shows off all of the hard work you've put in is to immediately post it to your Facebook, Instagram (Follow me), or website. Take one or two of these photos and satisfy your social-media urges. But hold a few back for future usage. If all of your photos are out there and you haven't been performing anywhere that has a photographer, you are going to run out of fresh material. These items are new even if they are 6 months old. That is if you don't show them to anybody. As for your resume, I would avoid any attempts to greatly change your format unless you see a friend's CV that you think would be an improvement. While you want to show that you've moved forward within your reel and photos, you want your resume to be easy to read and recognizable.

Me partnering Elizel Long (Photo: Shalem Photography)
The final way that one can reinvent themselves is to find new ways to put oneself out there. Try a new style. Change your look. Find new ways of getting exposure. Show your talents that aren't necessarily dance-related, but that define you as an artist. Make yourself compelling. I've said this before and I'll say it a million times. It is rarely the artist with the best technique that moves forward in the world of dance. It is most often the most competent artist who is most compelling to the general population that moves to the front of the stage and the forefront of people's memories. Don't change who you are to reinvent yourself, but do change your way of thinking. Those who are able to make themselves compelling will make themselves the most hire-able. The best way to remain compelling is to continuously reinvent yourself. It is always reinvention that brings people back to an old, reliable product!

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