The Frightful First Day of Work

During my first few weeks at PNB
Your first day at a new workplace is often a blur. New faces, new practices, and putting your best foot forward are three of many components that overwhelm most people after joining a new company. While there is a great amount of stress to show that an employer was right to choose you for the job, your first 8 hours on the job are rarely representative of what it will be like to work for a company or what you will be like working for that company. There is a lot to expect on the first day and a lot you want to project into your new environment.

I would call myself the king of the first day. Maybe that is reaching a bit far, but I have experienced more first days of work in the past 3 years than most people will experience in a lifetime. Looking back to my very first day with my first full-time company, I really can't tell you much. I joined Houston Ballet in July of 2003. I had spent a few weeks in the city getting my apartment together and adjusting to an adult lifestyle at the ripe age of 19 years old. I had met a few dancers in the company while getting in shape at the school's annual summer program, but didn't really know what to expect once our actual contract had commenced. I had a little taste of first day jitters when I guested with American Ballet Theatre in their Romeo and Juliet tour to the Kennedy Center while I was still training at SAB (fun side note: I was David Hallberg's 2nd cast when he had to go into the role of Benvolio. He was still in the corps.) But the beginning of your time with a company that could become your home is very stressful.

I had imagined day one of my career like this. The night before the start of my dream career finally arrived. I was really excited and a little bit nervous. My ideal night of sleep included about 8 hours of sleep. I showed up to the studio early. I needed to arrive in time to dress in the perfect outfit that I picked out the night before. I warmed up the best that I ever have. I made sure that I respectfully found the best place at barre that was still available. I didn't forget to smile at every dancer that walked by. People like happy beings, right? Class started and I knew I was going to have the best class of my life. You know, that class where even the long-time principal say, "Wow! That guy is incredibly talented!" After class, I was basking in the excitement that surrounded me. The director hired his new star, the company wanted to talk to the new talent, and my ultimate dream had been realized. Then I realized, that my dream day at my dream job is only a dream. A dream I had been building up for the last 2 years of my training.

Just another day on the job at PNB
None of these things happened on my first day, except for these things; I was nervous and excited that night before, but slept poorly. I must have been experiencing way too many adrenal emotions to actually get a good night of sleep. And I did smile at every person that I encountered. Many did not smile back. The reality of my first day at work was that for most of the people in the company, it was only their mundane return from vacation. It was nothing new or exceptional. And for me, now that I have been dancing professionally for 11 years, I don't even remember what happened on that day.

Luckily, at least for my readers, I have had many first days over the past 3 years to remind me what it feels like to leave your first impression on a boss and coworkers. As a freelancer, you will likely have many first days. And while, I am not completely numb to the prospect of showing a new group of people why I am the best person for the job, I am not as concerned about making an absolutely wholesome, perfect impression on day one.

Last week, I flew to San Francisco to begin working with Oakland Ballet. As with most of my freelancing work, I don't audition for the jobs that I am offered. My friend, Amy Seiwert, suggested that the director, Graham Lustig, take me into consideration to work with the project-based company for 6 weeks. Graham had never met me before and had likely never even heard my name. So, not only did I need to represent myself as a dancer, I needed to show for the person that trusted me enough to put their reputation on the line to get me a job. Since I am such a regular at this first day business, I wasn't too worried the night before.

I've been stuck in a bit of a pickle since I arrived in the bay area and I am still in the process of, hopefully, working things out. Housing isn't provided for this gig (the first time and last time I will accept work this way) and the place that I was supposed to stay fell through. A friend with a loft 1-bedroom condo very graciously offered me a place to crash until I resolved my situation. And while an apartment with no separating walls and a 40-minute commute to work wasn't ideal, I didn't really have any other options.

Oakland Ballet's rehearsal space - Malonga Casquelourd Center
On our first day of rehearsals, I woke up early to take the bus downtown to start my first day of work. After checking Googlemaps, I found that a specific bus would get me to the rehearsal space with 15 minutes to spare before class. I arrived at the bus stop five minutes early and went on to wait a half hour for the bus to arrive. Yes, my bus never showed up and I had to wait until the next one arrived. I tried to hail passing cabs and I seriously considered walking the additional 2 1/2 miles to work. While this was, perhaps, my 10th first day of work this season, I still felt awful and embarrassed when I had to text the artistic director that I probably wouldn't make it to class. Luckily, Graham was understanding of my situation. But if this had been one of my first jobs, I may have had a panic attack.

I arrived for class about 5 minutes late, but made it in time to join in two combinations late. My first thought upon running in to continue barre was, "my coworkers probably think horrible things of me right now." But then, I took a step back and thought back to watching others have a first day in companies that I have danced for. I barely noticed anything about those people on the first day. After class, we started rehearsing a new piece by Sonya Delwaide. Her choreography was fun and quirky and after a short hour-long audition, I was selected to be in her piece. Lunch passed and small talk ensued among us dancers. Half of the dancers work together seasonally and remained in a tightly knit group, but the others quietly sat around trying to connect without showing too many of their true colors. Everybody acts overly tentative on days like this. It makes sense. Nobody wants to be overly excited and everybody wants to be liked by everybody. For this reason, people play it safe on day one.

These dancer from Axis Dance Company will be joining Oakland Ballet in Sonya's piece
After lunch, we began rehearsing with Robert Moses. He briefly and briskly taught 32 counts of choreography. Then he told us to change the order of the steps. Following this, we paired up with another dancer, took our newly crafted solos, and turned them into duets. The only thing, for me, was that one of the dancers was missing because she was driving from Colorado after a weekend performing in Denver. I was partnerless. I couldn't learn the choreography of the duet by myself. And because of this handicap, once Robert started creating his piece, I was left out in the cold.

By the end of the day I was emotionally exhausted and a little unhappy. I was in a new time zone, I was sleeping on a couch, and I was commuting nearly an hour to work on a transit system that was unreliable. The first impression of me was being late. I wasn't immediately loved by every dancer in the studio. And one of the choreographers, the one that I was most excited to work with, didn't even seem to know that I existed. This was my first day and it was shitty. I failed in all of the places I had hoped to succeed on my first day with Oakland Ballet. All of this while being the most seasoned at entering a new workplace.

The reason that I share this story is because it really speaks volumes about what to expect on your first day of work and how much it really means in the long run. Yes, you want to do your best. Yes, you want to make your mark. But the first day is usually a whirlwind and it is rarely a representation of what work will be like, how you will get along with people, and what your true growth potential with that organization will be.

It is only one week later and so much has already changed since arriving to dance with Oakland Ballet. While I may still be figuring out my housing situation, I have figured much out and other things have evolved. My commute is no longer an issue. When I was still at my friend's house, I walked an extra 5 minutes to the BART, a much more reliable mode of transportation. I haven't been late since. Many of the dancers have opened up to me. And while I may have bonded to a degree with one or two people on the first day, the people that took longer to break through to seem to be getting closer with me than those who were more immediately. I am still enjoying Sonya's rehearsals and I have become a much more integral part of Robert's piece.

Many other factors have changed in the short week that I have been dancing with this company. If I had a first day like I did last week towards the beginning of my career, I may have had an absolute meltdown trying to cope with the stress of trying to prove myself worthy of the contract offered to me. But after my recent bad first day, I called my husband and shook it off. With the knowledge and experience I have, I knew that the rest of my experience with this company was not going to be based on all of the first impressions I had and made that day. This is because a first day of work is like a first date. Everybody is on their best behavior. Everybody is trying to look and do their best. Once everybody gets comfortable and things start to evolve, things fall into place and you get to see what the experience will truly be like. So, go into your first day as we all do. But don't go home thinking the best or the worst. Be happy that you had this day in the first place and take your first day attitude into everyday from there on.

Don't feel like this after your first day (Clarion Alley in the Mission District)

How have you felt on your first day of work?

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