I wouldn't necessarily say I've ever had a normal job. When I was 14, I would help my mom out at her Dollar Store. But I was so young and dedicated to dance that it didn't last long before I was at the studio daily. In fact, I can't even remember if she paid me. My first full-time job was working as an apprentice with Houston Ballet at the ripe age of 19. I have spent 12 years cultivating my career as a dancer, a choreographer, a teacher, and an advocate for the arts. When I found out that the benefit of unemployment (my safety net and right after being unrightfully fired for an on the job injury) wouldn't be extended, I panicked. I was already employed part-time and collecting a small amount of salary each week teaching at Koresh. I had also obtained about 12 weeks of dance work through the end of Spring. I wouldn't end up receiving unemployment during those weeks that I was dancing and received a reduced rate when I was off due to my part-time compensation. Unemployment was just a safety net for me until I could find a regular place to dance and call home. But all of a sudden, I found myself questioning if I was a bad citizen and whether or not I should desperately take any minimum wage job I could find, which I would have had no experience in and probably wouldn't provide anything sufficient enough to pay all of my bills.
I have many freelancing friends that take restaurant, barista, and other random jobs just to make ends meet. They often miss class and stand on their feet for hours before and after working those very feet in a rehearsal studio. Not only is this exhausting, but it can heighten one's chance of injury and accelerate the process of burnout. When I started looking into getting a normal non-dance related job, I found myself living in fear and anxiety. Will I have to give up my dance career? Will I suffer from depression? Will the quality of my dancing go downhill? How can I go from making $1000 per show to minimum wage plus tips? Beyond that, can my eccentric artist personality coexist in a non-artistic workspace? I had so many questions that came up when I considered this as an option.
The woman that chose to publicly criticize me stated that she had to get a restaurant job while trying to make ends meet while striving to make a career for herself as a ballet student going through finishing school. She, unfortunately, never made a professional career as a dancer and moved on to other work. When I read this information, it made a little more sense. At one point in this person's time as a dance student, she had to step outside of her art to make ends meet in order to keep reaching for her goal of dancing professionally. While she had the heart of an artist, it wasn't her career. Since then, she has cultivated a successful career beyond her dancing years. Without experiencing our career, people often assume that a professional artist's art isn't actually a career. When she argued that unemployment wasn't an end to a means for me to continue practicing my art, it all began to make sense to me. It also made me very sad about the way that most people, including a former hopeful dancer, looked at artists. It is so very often that people forget that art is a legitimate job. If you work in marketing, you should look for jobs in the marketing field. Not McDonalds. But if you are an artist, you are expected to look for a job in the field of "what-the-fuck-ever-I-can-get." It is greatly unfortunate that this double-standard exists. But a great percentage of our society feels this way, even those that once aspired to be just like me and my artist friends.
So, the question is, should I have just taken any menial job outside of my profession that seemed below my standards because I am a professional artist? I don't know. But even without one of those jobs, I have found ways to make ends meet (even if, at times, tightly so). And because I held out and resisted the temptation of this localized socio-cultural bullying, I was able to obtain a full-time job in my field that appropriately represents the professional artist that I am and rewards me as such. Yes, sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. But professional artists need to remember that art is their job. Not some fun, child-like hobby that we are too stubborn to let go of.
|A desperate moment in my new work, Distinct Perceptions (Dancers: Shira Lanyi & Allen Abrams - Photo: Dave Friedman)|