Using Independent Contracting as a Trial for Full-Time Employment

Often, independent contractors work for organizations to fulfill work on their own terms. But it isn't uncommon, especially in the dance world, for these specialized self-employed workers to use independent contracting as a trial period with companies that they might consider joining as a full-time employee. Many people work for themselves because they chose to do so a long time ago. While other people who work in this way are only doing it to make ends meet or because they have had a work experience that turned them off from full-time commitments. Using independent contracting as a tool to test the waters can be a very effective way of auditioning a company to see if their work environment is a good fit for oneself.

My view on the way home from Homer, AK
I have been keeping a secret from my readers for a few months. While I haven't been freelancing or working as an independent contractor, I took a job that mimicked the lifestyle/workstyle that I have been living for the past few years. Back in August, I accepted an offer to work as Interim Artistic Director for Alaska Dance Theatre. I moved to Anchorage on a 4-month trial contract towards the end of the subarctic Summer and began working to lead this important arts organization. I never applied for the job and was quite honored when they called me up during my time at the National Choreographers Initiative back in July. It has always been a dream of mine to lead a dance organization and the potential for this to happen at the ripe age of 30 was extremely enticing. While I found this exciting, I also needed to keep a level head about the situation.

As many of you probably remember, back in 2012, one of my very first posts was about freelancing with Alaska Dance Theatre. Dancing with this newly formed company was my first foray into traveling as a freelancer. I had danced in one or two gigs prior to this, but they were always in familiar places that were close to home. This was the first time that I had been offered work in a place that was foreign to me and, to be honest, I was scared shitless. It was the first time that I would reside in a smaller city. It was also winter; which meant it was going to be cold, snowy, and dark. Lastly, everybody talked about it being an extremely conservative state where Sarah Palin reigned supreme. I was pretty sure that I was going to be gay bashed or lynched by some pioneer with a huge beard and a passion for hunting.

A few weeks before I flew to Alaska for the first time, I had a nightmare where I was driving to the rehearsal studios on a snow machine. In my dream they were located up a tall, steep, and snowy mountain. In blizzard-like conditions, we got about halfway up the mountain when it became too steep to continue on the snow machine. We had to get up and ascend the mountain by foot. Before I ever found out if we successfully reached the studios or succumbed to the frightening weather, I awoke from my dream. I was clearly dealing with some internal stress about spending five weeks in the "Last Frontier."

I dreamt the Alaska Dance Theatre studios would be here (they're not)
When I finally made it to Anchorage, I was pleasantly surprised to find that most of my nightmares were only that. Yes, it was cold and snowy. But it wasn't as cold as people would think and the snow was quite beautiful. Yes, it was dark. But every day it got lighter by 5-10 minutes. Yes, it was a small city. But it had more culture and acceptance than I ever expected. Everybody hates Sarah Palin and the people are way more community-oriented than most other cities in the United States. I had a great experience in Alaska and gained a lot of respect for the place. So much so, that I returned a year later to dance with the company for three months.

While my first experience in Alaska was quite a nice surprise, my second time around was a bit different. Most of the positive light from my previous time in the state was still there, but the organization was displaying symptoms of financial instability, cultural challenges, and green leadership. By the time the three months were complete, I was ready to get back to Philadelphia. Nonetheless, I still left with a strong affinity for a place that probably would've never been on my radar had I not been working there as an independent contractor.

This past July, I received the call from Anchorage during an ideal moment in my life for this job opportunity to become a possibility. I was recovering from an injury and was working in a role that required more leadership as a choreographer for NCI. If a perfect storm of events hadn't aligned, I would've likely moved back to Philadelphia and continued working in the same capacity as I have been for the past few years.

While I knew the organization was trying to find its path when I left, I wasn't quite sure where the organization was today. In negotiations for my contract, it was mentioned that I could take the role as Interim Artistic Director to see if I would be a good fit for the organization. While I was hired as an employee, this setup mimicked the same work agreement of an independent contractor. Instead of being locked into a situation for an extended period of time, I was given a trial period to see if the organization was a good fit for me and me a good fit for them.

Me with the pre-professional company of Alaska Dance Theatre
I have had a mixed bag of an experience trying to lead an organization that is still trying to find its' distinct path towards excellence. And while I have loved my time working with the students of Alaska Dance Theatre and educating the community, it became clear that the puzzle pieces for me to continue with the organization weren't fitting together properly to keep me on board for a long-term contract. Had I taken the original offer for a year of work, I may have been left in a situation that wouldn't have been conducive for the growth that the organization is seeking. So, at the end of my term in December, I will move back to Philadelphia and begin to build a plan for the next stage of my career.

While my current experience isn't technically that of a freelancing independent contractor, it is functioning in the same capacity. Most of my freelancing work has given me the opportunity to work with companies that could eventually become my full-time job and home. I have had a handful of enticing offers that just didn't work out logistically, financially, and living between two cities with my partner. But while working with companies as a freelancer, I have always had this thought in the back of my mind that each and every experience could be the one that pulls me out of this nomadic lifestyle.

Looking forward to what's next!

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