Travel Post - Extending Your Trip Following a Gig

The freelancing life has many pitfalls and even greater challenges. But it also comes with a few perks. These benefits can range from having more say in your artistic package to being treated like a celebrity (maybe B-list) or getting to see new parts of the world. One of the greatest features of traveling for your work is having the opportunity to stay on location past your engagement. This can allow you to really enjoy being in a new locale without time-consuming rehearsals or worrying about preserving your energy levels.

Sleeping Beauty poster I found in a window downtown

Backstage shot I took of Laura Tisserand
I am currently sitting on my 10th flight in the last 6 weeks while on my way home from New Orleans. This past weekend, I had a fun opportunity to dance in Lafayette Ballet Theatre's production of Sleeping Beauty. One reason that I loved being a part of this performance was that it gave me a chance to perform with some old friends from Pacific Northwest Ballet; Laura Tisserand, Will Lin-Yee, and Joshua Grant. Beyond that, I was surprised to find that another friend and former colleague, Houston Ballet Principal Melody Mennite, would be performing with us, as well. Others on the list of dancers for this production were Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Principal, Nurlan
Abougaliv, and an acquaintance I have danced with in Philadelphia, former Pennsylvania Ballet dancer Yosbel Delgado. For a school production in the south, this was quite an A-list cast of dancers and I was proud to be a part of the show.

LBT flew me in a few days before the performance to rehearse Puss and Boots with one of their students and a suitor in the Rose Adagio with Laura. I have performed Sleeping Beauty at least three dozen times and had already performed these roles before, so the workload was relatively easy for me. This allowed me to take some time to enjoy the local Cajun culture. Beyond experiencing some of Lafayette's food and lifestyle; Will, Nurlan and I drove away from the city to go on a Cajun country swamp tour. On this adventure, we saw a plethora of alligators, turtles, birds, and swamp plants, all whilst lounging in a crawfish skiff with a guy named Butch steering us around the shallow, murky waters. This was really an incredible escape. But even while relaxing in the humid sunshine of an alligator infested swamp, we had to run back to our hotel to grab our dance bags and head off to the theatre. For this reason, I am so glad that I asked LBT to leave me behind in Louisiana for an extra three days after the show.

Alligators out in the swamp sunning themselves
Many freelance dancers don't realize that they have more control over their work than they would expect. We can negotiate different terms in our contracts or let an employer know that certain expectations are out of the range of our comfort zones. One of the best perks that many freelancers don't take advantage of is asking an employer to alter travel plans beyond the period of time that they will be working for them. They are almost always responsible for taking care of your transportation to and from the gig. If you want to stay on-location for a few extra days, it doesn't change the fact that the company brought you out there to work for them. Most companies are more than happy to change your departure date gratis.

A few steps outside of my hotel on Bourbon Street
For the above reason, I asked LBT if they would mind flying me back home through the airport in New Orleans, a few hours east of Lafayette. I had never been to the southern state of Louisiana and I was curious about the Crescent City. After performing in Lafayette on Saturday night, I hopped on a Greyhound bus for the 3 1/2 hour trip. Not only was I getting to explore a new city without booking or paying for my own flight, I now had a few days to vacation without worrying about work. I stepped off my bus into the streets of the Big Easy, booked a cheap hotel on my phone as I walked towards the French Quarter, and launched myself into a different world. Was I still treading on American soil?

I am typically more of a Type-A traveler. I will spend hours on the internet researching all of the must-do's and hunt for hidden secrets that each city holds. I do this in hopes of creating the perfect itinerary. But this time around, I showed up having no idea what I was going to do. Aside from the fact that I figured New Orleans was a medium-sized regional city, I assumed that there was probably a limited amount of options to research. It must also be taken into account that I have been ridiculously busy traveling, rehearsing, and performing. I, somehow, lucked out and booked a cheap hotel on Hotwire right on Bourbon Street. This was the first time I ever booked a hotel on my phone while walking down the street minutes before arriving, but this should have been a sign of what was to come over the next 48 hours.

Musician playing his saxophone on the bar
As I dragged my luggage through the central business district and finally located Bourbon Street, I was baffled by what surrounded me. It was 5 PM on a random Sunday evening. The street was packed, people were drinking, and you could hear jazzy instruments playing down the streets. My luggage skipped and jumped down the sometimes-cobblestoned road as I peeked in the oft open doors of clubs, bars, restaurants, gentlemen's clubs, and more. Alcoholic beverages galore, big bands playing in and outdoors, a saxophone player breaking it down while standing on a bar, and people of all walks of life tipsily tumbling down the sidewalk. Instantly, I had a two-day smile on my face while I drank in this intoxicating atmosphere.

Sipping a hand grenade on Bourbon Street
My first order of business after checking into my hotel was to explore the French Quarter shops, obviously with a drink in hand. From voodoo shops to N'awlins souvenirs, there were more shops in this small neighborhood than many larger city neighborhoods I've been to. But what most shocked me was the strong artistic vibe that buzzed through the air of this town. Beyond music, there were artists selling works in galleries and on the street. Some even created their work while laying in the middle of streets that were randomly closed to traffic for the eve. I am not sure if I have ever been in a city that is so overtly artistic, even more so than New York or San Francisco.

A mansion along St. Charles Ave
Over the next day, I spent lots of time drinking hurricanes and hand grenades, walking past large southern-style mansions, shopping for a voodoo doll, eating Creole and Cajun delights (Jambalaya, seafood, turtle soup, alligator, etc.), absorbing street art, and reveling in the honky tonk street music that saturates the humid air. My sun burnt shoulders reveal a brightness that could only be matched by my grin. And beyond spending time with my good friend, Andrew Brader, whom I met dancing in Los Angeles with Barak Ballet, I spent most of this time smiling by myself. This is one of those rare moments that I had an outwardly quiet and inwardly explosive experience. Legitimate and happy ear-to-ear smiling!
Touring the St. Louis cemetery
As an artist, it is important that we constantly feed ourselves inspiration, digest new life into our core self, and produce a product that is consistent with our being while offering something profoundly fresh. New Orleans is a place that is so distinctly un-American, yet sitting right on American soil (or swamp), that I suggest every artist find a way to get to this city at some point in their artistic career. I promise that you will not be disappointed, aside maybe from your inevitable hangover. But I will tell you this, the memories and inspiration of this place will be the best hangover you have ever had. And it will last a long time.

I am a self-professed city-phile. I am very proud of this fact. I have visited nearly every large city in the country and many other medium-sized ones of note, as well. And while my list of American cities I must visit has dwindled since I began traveling for work, New Orleans was never on my list. I am so thankful to LBT for bringing me into a part of the country that I had little interest in prior to this experience. Freelancing has definitely shown me parts of our great nation that I would never have traveled to on my own dime. Through this, I haven't just expanded myself as an artist. I have expanded who I am as a person; forcing myself out of my comfort zone and allowing interaction with people and communities of different cultures and mindsets. For this, I am extremely grateful. Today, I call myself lucky for having the chance to share and educate audiences around the world about the art of dance and for opportunities to broaden my view of life, living, and humanity as a whole. All of this through dance.

Jackson Square in the French Quarter
(For more photos of my travels follow me on Instagram)

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