12.31.2015

16 People Who Have Greatly Influenced My Life

I always get on list kicks during the month of December. It's just too much fun making lists to culminate each year. Without apology, I offer you my final post of 2015, which happens to be another list. This year started off great and ended great. It began working with students from one of my favorite communities (Alaskan dancers) and has ended the same way. While I am spending my free time here in Anchorage attempting to see the Aurora Borealis, I am passing the time waiting for them to appear by writing this.

Please enjoy my way of welcoming 2016. In no particular order, here are 16 people who have greatly influenced my life! Enjoy!

My mom with her Husband Jerry
1. Robin Kerollis Napiecek - I mean, come on! What good, gay, jewish mama's boy wouldn't add their mother at the top of this list? OK, maybe I'm not really a mama's boy anymore, but my mom is surely at the top. While she is currently my biggest (and most promoting) fan, she has also been my greatest support since birth. When this little suburban boy of the 1980's wanted nothing other than to dance beside little girls in pink tights, my mom didn't blink an eye to put me in a dance class. Most parents where I am from would have probably deterred their son from taking part. If I showed passion, commitment, or excitement, my mom made sure that she did everything possible to make sure I was fulfilled, even if it meant that she couldn't afford the finer things in life. Now that we are both adults, I succeeded in becoming a professional dancer, and she has improved her quality of living, she is still my number one fan and makes sure that everybody knows it!

2. Larry Rappoldt - The first artist that I met who truly showed me what it is to love your art was this man. At the age of 5, my mom hired Mr. Rapp to teach me how to play the piano. We spent time together nearly every week for 12 years. From weekly piano lessons to joining his middle school concert band, this gentleman inspired me to be passionate about music. I remember the first time I noticed him swaying back and forth as he played a beautiful solo. I asked him if he swayed to match the beat and he responded, "I sway because I feel the music inside my body and it moves me." This moment changed the way I saw music and has probably influenced me more than I realize. I wouldn't be the same dancer, choreographer, or artist if I hadn't worked with this wonderful teacher.

Ms. Kim
3. Kimberly Martin - Ms. Kim (though she is now Mrs.) was my main ballet teacher from the ages of 13 to 17. While she was integral to my training during those years, she has remained an important part of my life. When I was offered the Interim position to direct Alaska Dance Theatre, she was the first person that I called for advice. Kim is a kind, generous person who taught me that you get to choose your family. When I was 16, my mom chose to keep me home after I was asked to attend the Houston Ballet Academy's year round program. I was devastated. Kim stepped up and made sure that my year didn't go to waste. She put a futon in her spare bedroom (over an hour away from my home) and offered me a second home to live on weekends. After her Friday ballet class, I would travel to Wilmington, DE, where Kim gave me private coaching during every available hour that the weekend held. Not only did Ms. Kim let me live with her, she drove me to dozens of summer intensive auditions and helped my family by providing ballet slippers and tights for my training. Still to this day, there are few people I look up to, respect, and appreciate more than Ms. Kim.

Bob Rizzo
4. Bob Rizzo - When I was 15 years old, I was taking a workshop at a suburban Philadelphia studio that featured some guy from New York City who had been on Broadway, produced educational dance videos, and taught on faculty at New York University. While I took his class thinking he was some guy, I quickly learned that he was much more. After taking Bob's workshop, he took special interest in me and showed me that he was not only a spectacular instructor, but a great person and mentor. Over the next few years of my teenage life, Bob flew me to multiple venues to assist him in his workshops, let me stay with him in his Upper West Side apartment, and taught me the ins-and-outs of the New York dance scene. While I didn't end up following the same path that he had been cultivating me to take, Bob played a huge part in inspiring me to become the dancer I am today.

Katrina Killian
5. Katrina Killian - Not every pre-professional student is lucky enough to find a mentor that is wholly invested in their future. Through the School of America Ballet lecture demo series, I found Katrina. After only working with her for a few weeks, this wonderfully energetic woman took me under her wing and made it her mission to make sure that I had a fruitful career. She selflessly poured her heart into my training, guiding me through the challenges and rewards of training at a world-class dance institution.

My Danya!
6. Daniel Loya - I didn't want to put him near the top because mom should always get first mention and he doesn't like the spotlight. But, obviously, my soon to be husband and partner of 10 years grabs a spot on this list. Not only has Dan been my partner in life, but he has been my best friend, my mentor, my guide, and my rock. I can't imagine too many husbands that would willingly support their partner traveling non-stop for over 4 years to let them fulfill their career and dreams. All of my decisions are filtered through him and he makes me a better person by allowing me to be me and do what I love. I look forward to legalizing the bond that we already share over Memorial day weekend in 2016.

Visiting Ray last year
7. Ray Hoekstra - Every gay man should befriend an older gay man that has thrived before them. The first week that I met Dan he met Ray while watching me perform with Pacific Northwest Ballet, where Ray was a donor for the company. A month later, Dan forced me to meet Ray between a matinee and evening show in the throes of Nutcracker season. While I was reluctant to skip my daily Nutcracker nap, boy was I glad that he connected us. Ray, nearly 40 years my senior, became one of my closest friends and the person I looked to when I needed a role model to follow. Whether learning about being gay in times when people like me were persecuted, how to order a meal at a fancy restaurant, what it was like to watch your loved one's get sick during the AIDS epidemic, how to order a classy drink, or how to give back to the organizations that you believe in, Ray has always been the epitome of a classy gentleman. I have been so honored to have this man as a friend and I look forward to passing his legacy on as I grow older (and younger, just like him).

Cathy Moran
8. Cathy Moran - Ms. Cathy didn't run the first dance school that I attended, but she directs the school I grew up at and where I became passionate about dance. Not only did Cathy give me the gift of dance through a scholarship that allowed me to take classes my family would have never been able to afford. She showed me what it was to be a generous woman who is purely invested in her students. When I needed a male teacher to guide me, Cathy found one. When I needed to see what the world had to offer, she told me to try out other dance schools without jealousy. When I needed to make a mistake and quit a class to attend my 8th grade school dance, she offered me caution and understanding towards a decision that eventually guided me even closer to dance. Ms. Cathy cultivated a place where I was able to grow, be myself, and fall in love with my art form.

Kelly & me (Left: 1987 & Right: 2015)
9. Kelly Wolfe - This lovely lady and I go all the way back to the womb. Our parents were pregnant with us at about the same time. After we were brought on to this Earth, we had pictures in the paper of our diapers being changed, ran around farms playing games, and spent many of our waking hours together. Around the age of 5, the women's group that brought our parents together dissolved and, for some reason or another, our parents stopped meeting up with one another. Aside from one time, Kelly and I didn't see each other for nearly a decade. Then, on the first day of high school, we found each other to be in the same first period history class and reunited. Even after nearly a decade without communication, we picked up where we left off. To this day, we are still in close contact even though we live across the country from each other. Kelly is somebody who has always understood, trusted, supported, and believed in me. She is always that person who drops anything to make sure that we get to spend time together. If I had one female soulmate in my life, it would very likely be this lady.

Jock Soto w/Wendy Whelan (Photo: Paul Kolnik)
10. Jock Soto -When I went to the School of American Ballet, I had given up a Corps de Ballet job position with Colorado Ballet to train at my dream school. Soon after I had shifted my move from Denver to New York, Peter Martins selected 7 advanced level male students to move up into the now defunct elite level of the school, Special Men. When the list for this group of men went up, I was devastated to find that I had given up a job and didn't make the cut. Immediately, Jock stepped up to the plate and guided me forward. He suggested I attend the lower level Intermediate classes he taught, stood by my side correcting me at barre, and offered me valuable advice to push forth. By Thanksgiving break, I had heard the great news that I was being moved up into that elite level class. I have this man to thank for that.

Leigh Witchel
11. Leigh Witchel - The first time that Leigh and I were introduced was shortly after my School of American Ballet workshop. He was sitting in the audience to review the show (link here) and I happened to briefly run into him in my post show bliss at the old Lincoln Center plaza. I didn't really get to know Leigh until I returned to the east coast in 2011 to perform at the Guggenheim's Works and Process series, where Leigh acted as moderator for the event. During rehearsals, Leigh pulled me aside and reminded me that we had met years ago and that he had warmly enjoyed my graduation performance. After this, we began to cultivate a relationship that has grown into a great friendship. Over the past few years as I have drifted, floated, and soared around the country, Leigh has acted as a friend, confidante, and mentor to help me through highs, lows, and in building this new stage of my career. While I have many people interested in what I have been doing in my career over the past 4 1/2 years, I have not had many people interested in helping cultivate me into a better person, dancer, choreographer, businessman, and artist. Leigh has been a careful, caring, and honest guide mentor as I find my way as a maturing artist.

Abby & me in Swan Lake at PNB
12. Abby Relic - Mine Cootah! Don't ask. Abby and I have known each other since she was a Professional Division student and I was a Corps member at PNB. While we didn't connect closely during her first period living in Seattle, we got close quickly after she moved back to Seattle to join PNB after dancing in Portland and Cincinnati. As an adult, Abby has been one of my closest friends. She is smart, she get's me, and she is one of the only people who can truly make me belly laugh. As our friendship has grown, Abby has taught me how to accept people for who they are through both example and love. Her outlook on life is beautiful and she exudes warmth and joy to those around her. Plus, she has the laughter of a child!

Claudio Munoz teaching at HBA (Photo: Bruce Bennett
13. Claudio Munoz - This teacher who made this clean mouthed teenage boy scream "FUCK" at the top of his lungs as he landed a double tour definitely showed me what it means to be passionate about teaching. While Claudio has unconventional approaches to teaching, my time with him during my first summers away from home at Houston Ballet Academy put me on the right track to have a professional career. Whether using my voice to show the force of movement or screaming at me until I got it right (then giving me a hug to let me know that he was always on my side), Claudio intensely supports his students through their final years of training. When I need to find a way to get through to a student, I often imagine how Claudio would go about the task.

14. Chris Thomae - As I've mentioned before, I didn't grow up in a family with great financial resources. And like I have said in previous posts, I was definitely raised by the village. Chris was a strong force in my village. While I first met him as a kid in the masculine discipline of Tae Kwon Do, Chris was interested in all things culture. He loved dance, food, theatre, and more. Coming from the suburbs and having limited access to culture, Chris made sure that I sampled things like Vietnamese food, saw plays at the local theatres, learned how to play pool, and knew to read books that shared opposing views to my upbringing. While we are no longer in contact, Chris helped develop my hunger for new culture and openness towards the unknown.

Lauren & me
15. Lauren Bentley -I first met Lauren when we were in pre-school together. After switching schools in second grade, we ended up crossing paths again when we were in the same sixth grade class. We had a childhood love affair and broke up a few months later, which kept me from talking to her for nearly a year. After that year had passed, I quickly came to my senses that we had to remain close friends because we were always on each other's side. In eighth grade, Lauren and her mom generously introduced me to New York City by letting me tag along for a bus trip to see a Broadway show and to explore the city. As we moved through high school, Lauren was one of the few people that I would hang out with outside of dance classes. When I graduated from SAB, Lauren's family came up to New York City to support me in the city that they introduced me to. While we don't see each other as often as I would like, I know that wherever I am, she is exuding that quiet, calm sense of support that she carries with her.

Grandmom
16. Bernice Beck - My grandmother passed away about a decade ago. She had a head of silver hair, a voice like Patti and Selma from the Simpsons, and a love for tradition. What she loved more than tradition was me. Along with my mother, my grandmother would support me even if it meant taking the shirt off of her back. She would do everything possible, including sending letters to friends and businesses to help support me on my way to become a professional dancer. She was at every performance and would sit in the audience shouting my name as the curtain dropped. This woman was the epitome of family and support.

Boyd hanging out w/Puck in the physical therapy room
(LAST MINUTE NEW YEARS EDIT!!!!!! In my AK-BK Intensive Winter Workshop exhaustion, I was racking my brain to come up with this list of lovely people. And I realized that I missed one person that really means a lot to me and has made a huge difference in my life. And in the spirit of the new year and starting on a positive note, why not turn this list into 17 for good measure. This important person that I left off my list is none other than the wonderful Boyd Bender. Boyd came into my life right after I moved to Seattle to join Pacific Northwest Ballet. He works with the company as their virtuoso physical therapist. While Mr. Bender's purpose with the company is to keep dancers onstage, he functions as an integral process to the dancer's mental health. During my time with the company, Boyd quickly became much more to me than Bender the Mender. Growing up with a handful of male figures in my life, I still never really felt like I had a true father figure. The kind of man that is my idea of a true man; thoughtful, calming, generous, caring, funny, and in control of his emotions though unafraid to be emotional. Boyd came into my life when I needed a father figure to show me how to be a man. I'm much the adult I am today thanks to this guy! Happy New Year! )




12.15.2015

'Share Your Story' Campaign & My 12 Favorite Experiences of 2015


I can't believe that we are halfway through the holiday season. Thanksgiving has feasted, Chanukkah has lit, and it is 70 degrees outside. Well, since things are really starting to warm up, it is time that I announce Core-ography's SHARE YOUR STORY interactive fundraising campaign.

Starting today and continuing through January 15th, Core-ography wants to hear your story! To take part in this campaign, we are asking our audience to make an array of donations to share a short, personal memoir. Watch the video above or read below to see how you can become a part of Core-ography! Donations can be made by clicking here and are tax-deductible. After you make a donation ;-) read below to see my favorite 12 experiences of 2015 in honor of the 12 days of Christmas.

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Donation Options

$25 Donation - Offer your "One Sentence Memoir" to be shared on "Life of a Freelance Dancer" blog
$50 Donation - Offer your "One Sentence Memoir" to be shared on Core-ography Channel Youtube video (plus lower donation level perks)
$100 Donation - Offer your "One Sentence Memoir" for 10 second video of choreography expressing your story (plus lower donation level perks)
$500 Donation - Offer your "Five Sentence Memoir" for 30 second video of choreography expressing your story (plus donation perks at $25 & $50 level)
$2000 Donation - "Core-Donor" level includes Signed Pointe Shoe from Core-Artist, Skype session with Choreographer and Core-Artist, and all of the perks at $25, $50, and $500 donation levels.

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My 12 Favorite Experiences of 2015

One of my shots of the Liberty Bell
1. While not necessarily exciting, one of my most important experiences of 2015 was to stay home for 5 months. Okay, maybe I visited New York City a few times. But it is so close to Philly and I have so many friends in the city, that it really never feels like traveling. I seriously needed some downtime to rest, recenter, and reinvent. My years of freelancing burnt me out, left me exhausted, and gave no central place to ground myself and call home. I learned a lot about myself during these few months at home and regained a healthy outlook on moving forward in my career and life.

2. Many of my New York City visits had me traveling to guest teach at Peridance Capezio Center. Ever since I first visited the center of the dance world at the age of 15, I dreamt of instructing at one of the city's great institutions. It was not only a huge accomplishment, but a great honor!

My kids at Youth America Grand Prix
3. Building and protecting a ballet career is often a selfish act. This past January, I brought 4 students from Alaska to compete at Youth America Grand Prix as their teacher, choreographer, and coach. While we went into the competition with no expectations, 3 of my students placed in the top 12 of their divisions and I was awarded the Outstanding Choreographer award (by Wendy Perron, no less). For the first time since I was two, I wasn't working towards improving my performance career. Yet, it was equally, if not more gratifying to be a support system to help the future of dance succeed.

4. Speaking of Alaska, I developed my own summer intensive in Anchorage this past June. Isn't that insane? I developed my own summer intensive. In Alaska! One doesn't enter a dance career thinking they would say such words. But, it's true! And it was glorious. Beyond the endless light, non-stop dance, and glorious natural beauty, I finally got to enjoy Alaska on my own terms. Glacier tours, Bear tours, visiting Homer, and more. This was definitely a trip that goes down in both the career and personal history books.

The birthday boy at Vizcaya Museum & Gardens
5. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Danya and my trip to Miami definitely sits atop this list of experiences. While we have both tagged vacations on to our travels for work, we have not taken a legitimate vacation for the sake of vacationing since moving to Philadelphia in 2011. Well, celebrating Danya's progression into his 40's was more than enough reason to make this happen. During our time in Miami, we enjoyed South Beach's beach culture, traditional Cuban food in Little havana, and the palatial Vizcaya Museum and Gardens. But walking through the slowly gentrifying Wynwood Arts District's somewhat seedy streets to view hundreds of murals by street artists proved to be our most worthwhile adventure.

6. I know many balletomanes won't understand this one. But the fact that I am only performing in one weekend (three shows) of Nutcracker is definitely a highlight of my year. Having at least 300 performances of this holiday classic under my belt, I feel no sadness for the loss. In fact, I turned down a handful of offers. I am still determining where my career is going and letting my body/mind continue to heal from my severe case of burn out.

7. Getting to show my work onstage at the McCallum Theatre's 18th Annual Choreography Festival was definitely a highlight of my year. For years, I have watched colleagues and choreographers I admire win selection into this prestigious choreography competition. I applied for the first time this year thinking that I wouldn't get it. To my surprise, I was selected as 1 of 10 out of 115 applications. My work was performed beside the likes of many choreographers that I share great respect for. While I didn't win one of the 3 prizes given, as somebody who has only recently started to focus on my choreography, I was more than elated to add this to my resume and life experiences.

8. While I have been patiently sending out choreography packages and hoping to gain commissions that allow me to continue creating dance on a large scale, I decided to start my own project (that you've been reading about in this blog). Little could I have imagined that Core-ography would take off as it has. With over 3,000 views, nearly 100 subscribers, and notice from Pointe Magazine and Dance Spirit, I couldn't be more proud of our 3 Core-artists for achieving what we have. I can't wait to see where the new year brings things!

9. This may sound sappy, but it has been really nice to see my cats on a regular basis. It really caught me off guard last year when I didn't see their meowing little faces for nearly 8 months. By the time I settled into my directorship in Alaska last fall, I found myself depressed. At a certain point, I was trying to teach them how to look at a computer screen to Skype with me. This was never very effective.

10. As you all know, I love to travel. Beyond this, I love to add new places to my life experience. While I did spend a nice chunk of time home this year, I also worked in or visited New York City, Anchorage, Homer, Chestertown, Little Rock, Richmond, Los Angeles, Palm Desert, and Miami. I will be spending the holidays back in Alaska for a winter intensive I developed and to create choreography for a handful of students to compete with at Youth America Grand Prix. While most of our time will be spent in Anchorage, Danya, a friend, and I will celebrate the new year in Fairbanks seeking the Aurora Borealis.

Danya working w/interior designer Taniya Nayak on an HGTV pilot
11. It has been greatly satisfying to watch my Danya's business explode over this past year. Months after moving to Philadelphia, he took a risky chance and started his own professional organizing business, Spaces Transformed. Over the years, I have nervously watched his business grow steadily from infant to maturing young adult. This year that all changed as his business grew into a full-fledged, mature adult. I have been very proud of all of his hard work and determination. To experience the realization of his vision has been so satisfying to watch!

12. While focusing on my performance career and freelancing around the nation, I missed out on a handful of common life experiences. Spending time at home has given me a chance to plug back into normalcy (at times) and to remember what it is that connects people to one another. This year I celebrated my second Thanksgiving with my family since I was 18 years old. I watched my close friend (and former School of American Ballet roommate) marry his husband. I lit fireworks with friends and family on the Fourth of July, was with my love for both his and my birthdays, and much more. While the life of a freelance dancer can be filled with excitement and sensational experiences, feeling like a normal person is necessary to keep one centered in their life and art.

4th of July with my family

12.04.2015

8 Gifts My Career has Given Me

Channukah is a bit early this year, beginning on December 6th. It always feels odd when it is this early, considering that American holiday culture climaxes between December 24th and January 1st. I always love to do list posts as we enter the final month of the year. I’m sitting on a Bolt Bus after a few days in New York City, so I have a few hours to write. So, why not create a list post in honor of my people’s holiday.

Chanukkah is called the Festival of Lights, which was birthed as a celebration over oil which burned much longer than it ever should have. In fact, it burnt for 8 whole days and nights. And why it may not be the most important holiday in the Jewish faith, it is marketed as such to compete with Christmas. Essentially, it is done to avoid conversations like this.

Mother: “Chanukkah isn’t really an important holiday, so I’m not gonna buy you any gifts?”
Daughter: “You aren’t gonna buy me gifts?”
Mother: “No”
Daughter: “Fine! Then I’m gonna convert to Christianity to celebrate Christmas and get thousands of gifts!"

Secular Chanukkah Bush
I’m so secular its ridiculous. And I’ve never heard this conversation. I'm looking forward to lighting the candles over the next week or so. And maybe I'll get one or two gifts. But don't worry, I'm gonna give you a gift for every single night of the holiday. I present to you 8 gifts my career as a professional dancer has given me over the years. And go!

1. A Sculptured Body:

Photo: Shalem Photography
I mean, let’s be serious. Who doesn’t want a dancer’s body? We work out almost every day, all day. We hold our legs in the air until they shake because it looks cool. Taking a break for a few days or a week actually means that we are probably still going to the gym every day. As I enter my 30’s, it gets a little harder to maintain. But THANK YOU ballet for giving me a hot bod throughout my 20’s (and hopefully forever)!

2. Discipline:

How often do you see children working quietly, giving 1000%, and repeating physical activities daily until they are almost perfect? In our culture of freedom and expectation of recognition (and not always recognition that derives from hard work), it can be a challenge to find young dedicated children who are focused and driven towards excellency. But you can walk into a proper ballet studio and find groups of children attending class daily, stretching prior to class, moving their young bodies daily through intensely difficult physical feats, and finding joy in the rewards of their efforts. Dance has given me a work ethic that could likely compete with the CEO of any major company.

3. Pretending That I’m Rich:

Baby Barry wearing Prada
These days media loves to pull back the curtains, show the gritty side of our world, and prove that we aren’t all glamourous divas bourre-ing or jete-ing across the stage. But to be completely honest, I’ve had some really glamorous experiences as a dancer and choreographer. I’ve partied in mansions over lakes with live harps playing at the base of winding stairs. I’ve clinked champagne glasses during toasts at gala dinners where a table of 8-10 people goes for thousands of dollars. I’ve sported a $3,000 prada suit for a fashion show. A donor for a company became a great friend and insisted we eat the finest of foods every time we went out for a friendly dinner. And while I currently waver back and forth from comfortable to starving artist, I still get tastes of living in the upper class. The best part of all of this is that my lifestyle with these sips of glamour keep me grounded, grateful, and hungry to achieve more.

4. Travel:

There are many types of dance artists. Company Dancers. Freelance Artists. Those who only perform concert dance, commercial dance, musical theatre, and more. As a kid, I dreamed of joining a major company, partially because I thought it would show me the world. But as the economic climate changed, larger companies ditched a great deal of their tours to protect their indefinite budgets. Once I started freelancing, I never imagined that I would be paid to travel all across the country (still waiting to go somewhere international) without being attached to a company. I am very grateful that dance has given me opportunities to see our great country.

5. Sense of Humor:

Abby playing w/my donkey head from A Midsummers Night Dream
Rarely have I met a dancer without a sense of humor. And when I do, I just can’t imagine how they maintain any passion for our career. Dance is hard. Very hard! And for those that can’t laugh off a fumble onstage, an awkward partnering moment, or a colleague poking fun, I feel sad for their extreme sensitivity. Most dancers I know have an incredible gift for laughing at themselves and finding light in even the most daunting situations. What would I have done if I didn’t look forward to being in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s end of the year blooper reel if something went ridiculously wrong onstage? 

6. Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication Skills:

I recently read this amazing article by John Michael Schert, former Executive Director and dancer with the Trey Mcintyre Project. It perfectly explains a(n) unique quality of dancers that is rarely spoken about. Stellar communication abilities. While dancers need to have quality verbal communication skills to work in the majorly collaborative atmosphere that is a dance studio, their study of expressing oneself without words makes them excellent with non-verbal communication, too. Often, I can take a look at somebody I am having a conversation with and alter how I am interacting based on my perception of their body language. Beyond this, I can use my own body language to add more emphasis to a point that I am trying to make in a conversation.

7. Friends:

It is almost impossible to work in any dance environment without becoming close to your peers and colleagues. Essentially, we are given a mission and asked to work together to solve that mission the best we can. At times, there may be disagreements. But there is a sense of camaraderie, respect, and accomplishment that comes out of working together in a group to achieve a high level of success. All friendships are essentially borne from camaraderie and respect. It is practically impossible not to connect with those sharing this situation with you.

Outstanding Choreographer Award - Youth America Grand Prix
8. Accomplishment:

There is nothing more gratifying in this life then setting your mind to achieve something, doing everything in your power to make it happen, and reaping the benefits of your hard work. A dance career consists of many series of efforts, failures, and successes. It is practically impossible not to have accomplishments in a dance career. And some of them might even be major. But even at the most basic level, every day that you go to class you will accomplish something. It’s that simple.

12.01.2015

Core-ography Takes on Substance Abuse

December 1st has finally arrived. In Core-ography's 3rd webisode, freelance dancer Allen Abrams (also Drag Artist Cupcake Canne) talks about his struggles with substance abuse and the experiences in his life that may have contributed.

While this Core-Artist video is certainly not for the faint of heart, I strongly recommend you watch to see how bravely honest Allen was in talking about this deeply taboo topic. I was deeply moved throughout the entire process of working to create this mini-documentary. And I think you will be, too.


Apparently, it is also ‪#‎GivingTuesday‬! If you like what we are doing with Core-ography, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to help us continue producing all 12 of our dancer's mini-documentaries. A little birdie tells me that one of our dancers recently retired from the stage and is looking forward to taking part in this project ;-) Help us share their stories!

11.20.2015

Letter to My Teenage Self


I know it has been awhile since I've written a blog post. Competing at the McCallum Theatre's 18th annual Choreography Festival, preparing Allen Abrams Core-ography video (check out his preview above), developing a winter intensive in Anchorage, creating choreography for students heading to Youth America Grand Prix, and just living my life sound like a pretty good excuse to me. With that said, I'm here for you. And I'm here to continue sharing.

Following in the footsteps of a fellow ballet blogger whom I respect, Rebecca King (Check out her Tendus Under a Palm Tree blog), and a common piece in Dance Spirit, I was inspired to write a letter to my teenage self. All the way back to my early teenage years, I have always been a very focused, committed, and determined artist. It gained me a great amount of respect during my training and early professional years. But, at times, as I have become more accomplished and spread out over vastly differing cultures withing the dance world, it has come back to bite me in the ass. Read on to see the advice that I would offer myself if I could go back in time.

Audition Shot circa 2003 (Photo: Roe O'Connor)
Dear Barry,

You may not believe me today, but you are going to have a career as a ballet dancer. Yes. Many of the people that you look up to will tell you that you will have a dance career, but will deter you from focusing your energy on ballet because of your body and late focus on technique. Your determination, and, perhaps, their misguided good-intentions, will open up a drive that will allow you to take whichever path you wish to follow. You may not seem to have the right body-type for ballet, but through hard work you will cultivate a tool that will be more than acceptable in most American dance companies. Through that hard work and guidance of mentors, you will develop technique, a clean line, flexibility in your feet, and consistency. 

I know that you feel like the underdog most of the time; from being the only guy in your ballet classes, receiving summer program rejections when all the other guys are getting full-rides, and growing up in a family that is lacking the financial resources to pay for the training you need. But you will be raised and cared for by generous people outside of your family who are close to home and far across the country. These people will take you under their wing and offer you private coaching, scholarship assistance, advice, and even, sometimes, a place to sleep. They will see your drive and give you everything you need to help you achieve your dreams.

Be sure to find some time to relax and enjoy yourself with your friends. Your hard work and determination is good enough. Mistakes are a part of the process and you don't need to be perfect to be successful. Don't be afraid to joke and laugh with your friends every once in awhile, even if it is in the classroom. And don't judge others so much for their mistakes. You will learn just as much by watching your friends and peers.

Keep in mind that anxiety and stress can help you improve quickly, but can also be detrimental to your well-being. Once you start to achieve your goals, relish in that success for more than a day. Set new goals, eventually. But don't downplay your achievements by telling yourself that you haven't climbed high enough up the success ladder. Your daring determination can help you, but it can also hurt you. Find a middle ground.

At a certain point in your career, you will become your own boss before you are prepared or ready. Be kind to yourself and remember to breathe. It is alright to fight for your own worth, but make sure that your worth is in line with your fight. Sometimes, even if you have danced with a renowned company, people value experience over pedigree. Be patient, keep working hard as you do, and people will recognize your value. 

When your body starts to feel the wears of aging, be kind to yourself. Keep it ready for the future, but don't be afraid to take some time to take care of it. When you need that time, explore different roles offstage to find what you are passionate about. See yourself as a leader and advocate who shares all of the knowledge you have gained along your path. With your keenly tempered sense of determination, you may actually leave a lasting impression on this world you are so passionately drawn towards.

Warmly,
Barry

11.03.2015

Core-ography Explores Coping with Death

While I've been working feverishly in Los Angeles with my 3rd Core-Artist and preparing to present my work at the McCallum Theatre's 18th annual Choreography Festival, I also released our 2nd webisode on our Youtube channel featuring Shira Lanyi.

I spent a very emotional week working with this former Principal with Richmond Ballet and Israel Ballet. During our time together we discussed and explored what it feels like to deal with a frightening cancer diagnosis in one's family, her brave move to Israel to be near her dying mother, and how she has coped over the past 10 months since her passing. Check out this strong woman's story below.


10.23.2015

Core-ography: Our Next Artist Preview & Choreographer's Vlog

I've been very busy over the past week. Last week, I visited Richmond, Virginia to work with the lovely Shira Lanyi, former Principal with Richmond Ballet and Israel Ballet. While it was great to see this beautiful friend, it was a heavy week for Core-ography. Throughout our time together, we spent a great deal of time discussing the loss of a loved one and creating movement inspired by this tragic part of each and every one of our lives. We will be releasing her webisode on November 1st. But for the time being, here is a sneak peak into our work together.



Next week, I will be heading to Los Angeles to work with Allen Abrams, former Ballet Austin dancer and current freelancer who has been seen on Glee and most recently performing with Miley Cyrus in the finale of this year's MTV Video Music Awards. I am excited to see what part of his life he will share. At the end of our time together in LA, I am flying Shira out to perform the pas de deux from my ballet, Distinct Perceptions. We will be traveling to Palm Desert to compete in the prestigious McCallum Theatre's 18th annual Choreography Festival. Wish us luck!

Shira Lanyi & Allen Abrams in Distinct Perceptions (Photo: Dave Friedman)
Lastly, I'd love to share one more thing with my audience. Most of you know me through my thoughts typed onto a screen or images that I have shared through this blog. Well, now you can have a chance to see what I'm actually like in person. As a part of Core-ography, I am starting to Vlog about my experiences. Check out my first vlog, where I tell you about my background and share about how I came up with the idea for my project.



10.15.2015

Giving Everything for Your Art (or not)

Performing Mary Anthony's Threnody (Photo: Bill Hebert)
When I was a young, freshly professional 19 year old near-child moving thousands of miles away from home to join Houston Ballet, I was a bit of a bunhead. Actually, let's be honest here. I'm still a complete and total bunhead. During my short year with the company, I became great friends with my fellow Apprentice and (now) new Houston Ballet faculty member Alex Pandiscio (proud shoutout). We in our bunheaded glory would sit at his apartment sipping beer, watching ballet DVDs (or VHS :-o), and debate about everything from technique to artistry to production quality. When I left to join Pacific Northwest Ballet, I really missed having a friend that was equally, if not more passionate about our art form.

Once I got into the swing of things at PNB, more often than not, I found dancers trying to fill the gap between living your life as a dancer and living your life and dancing for a living. If I suggested a ballet viewing night, people would tease me. If I wanted to sit down for drinks after work and talk about technique, people would quickly ask to change the subject. Here I was, in one of the most inspiring companies in the country seeking greater inspiration than an 8-hour workday. I found that many of my colleagues didn't want to make dance their lifestyle, which is perfectly fine. But I preferred the opposite. So, when I finally took the plunge and left PNB, it was easy for me to use this as one of the excuses for me to leave. I told myself that I needed to be surrounded by people who would give anything and everything for their art.

After making my way to Philadelphia, my 22-week seasonal contract meant that I would need to seek gigs in between work periods with the contemporary company I was dancing for. My first (and only) foray into the Philadelphia freelance scene was performing for a small modern company that is based on the technique of niche choreographer Mary Anthony. To be completely honest, it wasn't really my thing. But I went into life after PNB with an open mind as to where things would lead me. And for the first time in a long time, I felt like I was surrounded by people who would do anything for our art. Anything!

At PNB, I was used to rehearsing for productions anywhere from a few weeks to a few days before getting onstage to perform. Preparing for this Philly Fringe Festival show, we spent nearly 8 weeks rehearsing (granted it was only 6-8 hours per week) mostly after the sun had gone down. Dancers came into rehearsals late, and it was acceptable, because they had regular day jobs. It wasn't uncommon for heated discussions to happen as the work was restaged. Some dancers were much more vocal than any dancer would be in a ballet studio, while others were so happy to be dancing that they would do anything and everything necessary to be a part of the company. The contrast between strength and submission was great and utterly shocking to my ballet world expectations. Beyond all of this, pay was only guaranteed to most dancers after tickets were sold or grants came through. This meant that some dancers didn't see any compensation for months after the work had been performed.

Some weeks before we performed, our group took a trip up to New York City to work with Mary Anthony herself. She was still kicking (barely) at the ripe old age of 94 years old. We were to have rehearsal with this woman, who cultivated an intensely respectful cult following, at her studios. This rehearsal would be followed by us sharing the work in a fundraising open rehearsal. While a few dancers had dropped hints, nobody prepared me for what I was about to see or experience.

After taking an elevator to the 8th floor of a building between St. Marks and NYU that housed the Mary Anthony Dance Studios (where she was still teaching class twice a week), we were dropped off on her floor and immediately turned right into the dressing rooms. We had been sitting on a Bolt Bus for a few hours, so I had been holding my bladder for a long time. I turned to one of my fellow modern dancers and asked where the bathroom was located. He simply responded, "Walk through the lobby, past Mary's bedroom, and it will be on the left." The comment didn't really add up to me. My first thought, "Oh, Mary lives here? I guess the studio is bigger than I expected." Nope! I walked out of the dressing room and laying right behind the front desk was Mary Anthony resting on her bed. YES, right behind a desk in the lobby.

Mary Anthony lived in her studio. The lobby consisted of a front desk, a bed, a dining room table, and a door to the bathroom. The dressing rooms tripled as a place to put your clothes on, the food pantry, and a litter box area for her cat that roamed the 8th floor. Between the lobby and studio was a small cove for a kitchen. The sacred dance studio was just a dance studio. The place wasn't in disarray, but it wasn't very clean, there were nails sticking out of the nearly plywood dance floor, and there were cans of roach spray in every room.

In my culture shock, I walked through the bedroom, past the kitchen, and into the dance studio for warm-up. As I felt a nail poke my foot through the foot-blackening wooden floor, my chest tightened and another dancer must have seen the panic in my heart. She looked at me and said, "No nail here. I'll switch spots." After getting our sweat on while Mary Anthony was awakened and prepped for rehearsal, a quietly stoic figure walked with assistance into her proud home one inch at a time. She sat in rehearsal without changing expressions. When a correction needed to be made, she whispered into her adoring former dancer's ear. And then, suddenly, out of nowhere, this woman raised her voice into a boom. She stared at me with eyes dilating, "you are a SAILOR! you've had a HARD LIFE! YOU'RE...TOO...PRETTY!" That was the most she said that day. But it was said that she was most her former self in that one moment.

Performing Mary Anthony's Threnody - Me on the right (Photo: Bill Hebert)
Our open rehearsal had a minimal showing of support. We enjoyed wine and hors d'ouevres in the lobby immediately after performing Ms. Anthony's work. Living to the frail age of 94 must be exhausting, so Mary's assistant put her to sleep. To paint the clearest picture possible, Ms. Anthony lay on her back asleep in her bed, eyes covered with a floral sleep mask as dancers multiple generations past Mary's prime sipped wine and chatted around her frail sleeping form. As I stood over Mary, sipping my dry wine, and appearing to listen to another dancer talk about their next gig, I had an utterly deep realization. Maybe there is such a thing as giving too much to your art.

On the bus ride back to Philly over a smuggled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, the dancers who had shared this experience previously told me about their first venture to the Mary Anthony Dance Studios. I think the thing about most shock is that you can only be shocked by the same thing once. These dancers now saw this experience as commonplace to learning a Mary Anthony work. As stories continued to flow, I learned that many in the dance community considered her a legend in the same realm as Graham and Limon. Mary started her own company, and since many of the dancers whom she hired had difficulty finding work in the prime time of the classical modern dance era, her dancers not only adored the woman but saw her as a motherly idol. Mary was not so nice in her less frail days. But she was passionate and had a very clear vision. She also performed well into her 70's. At one point, as her studio was struggling to survive, Mary was offered a tenured position to teach at New York University. But Mary felt that she would have sold out by taking that position. So, she chose to continue living the life she did. One where the line blurred between studio and home, work and life.

Performing Mary Anthony's Gloria (Photo: Bill Hebert)
Near the end (Mary had impressively lived over 2 years after this experience), it became clear that Mary had completely and utterly devoted her life to her art form. And I have such an incredible respect that she was able to remain so honest to her values as an artist. But meeting and working directly with somebody who had such great dedication and longevity that her life and art fused into one entity without care for quality of life taught me a very valuable lesson.

We all devote ourselves to this beautifully painful art form to one degree or another. Some people leave dance at work, others bring it home with them. And for others, dance is literally their home. I used to be more judgmental about how people that call dance a career chose to make it a part of their lives. But after this experience, I view things quite differently. I'd give most everything in my life to be a part of this art form. And while I don't look down on people who do give absolutely everything to this art form regardless of their well-being, I find that it is best to find a middle ground that makes one feel fulfilled and equally alive as a human being. As we are not dancers living as people. We are people living as dancers.

10.01.2015

Presenting Core-ography: "A Global Dance Storytelling Project"


Core-Artist Lauren Fadeley (Photo: Alexander Izaliev)

Happy World Ballet Day! Nearly six months ago, I was taking the train back from teaching in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I had been sending my choreography out to companies to share my work in hopes of being hired for commissions. And while many of them expressed interest in my work, I hadn't realized that most companies have their seasons planned 2-3 years in advance. While listening to the sleepy drone of the train chugging along the tracks, I thought to myself, "How do I continue to fine-tune my craft, while staying true to myself throughout the process and product?" At that moment, I thought of you, my readers of Life of a Freelance Dancer.


For years, you have gotten to share in my career wins and hear about my losses and darker experiences. At times, people have vocalized their discomfort that they felt I had crossed the line in sharing my personal life. But what has kept me writing over the years have been those people who reach out to me and says "Thank you for sharing your story. It helped me through a difficult time and let me know that I wasn't alone in my situation." From all of this, Core-ography was born.

My hope for this project is that our incredible artists will share deeply personal experiences to help viewers worldwide understand that we all share in life's challenges. And in response it will help inspire people to express themselves more freely.

Please enjoy the premiere of our first mini-documentary in my Core-ography web series. Listen to Pennsylvania Ballet Principal & Capezio Athlete Ambassador Lauren Fadeley share her journey in joining New York City Ballet at the young age of 16, quitting the company 2 years later after suffering an injury, attending college, fighting through clinical depression, and finding her way back to her art form. Be sure to watch through the entire interview to see her dance a beautiful choreographic expression of her life-defining experience.


We have already received attention from Pointe magazine and on the Balancing Pointe podcast. I am so excited to see where this project goes. Enjoy and be sure to subscribe to our channel to receive updates as we tell 11 more incredible artist's stories!

9.18.2015

Core-ography: "A Global Dance Storytelling Project" - Preview

Over the past few months, I've been writing a "Create Your Own Project" series as I have been developing my own project, Core-ography: "A Global Dance Storytelling Project." Well, I've definitely been creating over the past few months. And now I am finally in a place where I can start showing you the fruits of my efforts. After working hard to gain fiscal sponsorship, determining my budget, reaching out to friends and colleagues for private donations, and running a successful crowdfunding campaign, I finally made it into the studio to create my art. Enjoy this preview of my recent week interviewing, choreographing, and filming Pennsylvania Ballet Principal Dancer Lauren Fadeley speaking about how she fell out of love with ballet, quit New York City Ballet, and slowly found her way back to the beautiful art form of ballet. Enjoy!

 

9.13.2015

LOFD Reaches Major Milestone - How My Life Has Changed Since I Began Freelancing

Screen shot from editing - Core-ography Core-Artist Lauren Fadeley
I know it has been awhile since I've posted, but a lot has been going on. Nearly two weeks ago, I successfully ended my first public fundraising campaign for Core-ography, where we surpassed our $6,000 goal by nearly $300. This allowed me to begin working with my first Core-Artist this past week. I spent nearly 10 hours interviewing, choreographing, and filming Pennsylvania Ballet Principal Lauren Fadeley. Beyond all of this, I was named a finalist in the prestigious McCallum Theatre's 18th annual Choreography Festival. This means that I will be heading to Palm Desert, CA with two dancers to perform my pas de deux from "Distinct Perceptions" and compete against the likes of 9 other established and emerging choreographers. What an honor!

Now, I know that all of the above may seem like major milestones (which they are), but today I am here to discuss a significant achievement that we just reached together. Almost 3 1/2 years after being thrust into this freelance lifestyle and beginning this blog to share my journey and knowledge as I learned the ropes, Life of a Freelance Dancer has officially reached 100,000 views. Back when I started writing the first of these 137 posts, I never imagined that I would have an audience reading from as close as the United States to as far as Australia. Dancers and freelancers alike from the United Kingdom, Phillippines, Russia, France, Japan, India, and beyond, check in regularly to see what is happening in my life, my art, and my mind. I am so appreciative of my audience and the support that I have received from you. A GREAT BIG THANK YOU to all of my readers for helping me achieve this milestone!

With all of this said and done, I want to reward you with some great content. I've been thinking about what to write for this post for awhile, as I noticed we would hit this marker at the beginning of the month. After much thought, I determined it would be best to share with you how my life has changed since I began freelancing, and writing this blog

My last day at PNB onstage w/Maria Chapman
Let's go back to the beginning. When I moved to Philadelphia on June 17th, 2011, I had big dreams. I was taking a huge risk, leaving Pacific Northwest Ballet to join the fledgling, more contemporary Ballet X. By joining this organization, I cut my former salary down by nearly 2/3's, cut my guaranteed work weeks practically in half, and gave up all of the benefits that came with a big company contract. Why? Because like most artists do, I wanted to stretch myself as far as I possibly could. If you had told me that 4 years later I would be completely in charge of running my own career, traveling the country regularly, creating my own projects, directing organizations, and much more, I would have probably laughed in your face. Little did I know at the time that I would stretch myself in ways that I couldn't have imagined.

When I first moved to Philly, I was used to having a regular schedule. In Seattle, we had a Monday through Friday work week. We would begin class at 10:15 am and end our rehearsal days at 7 pm. I assumed things would be the same. But when I started freelancing, things changed drastically. All of a sudden I was in charge of my own technique, seeking work, negotiating contracts, self-promotion, marketing, staying in shape, and much more. I went from only having to show up in the studio to doing every aspect necessary to have a chance to show up in the studio and perform. I went from stretching in the morning, taking technique class, and rehearsing all day to never having a moment to breathe. After nearly 3 years of barely ever taking a day off, I had too much. This was one of my first major freelancing lessons. I started to burn out and displayed symptoms of severe anxiety. Today, while I still live the same lifestyle that I began four years ago, I have learned to nearly always take Sunday completely off for myself (today being an exception to write this exciting, timely blog). By giving myself Sunday, I take some pressure off myself and have a chance to relax and refresh for the upcoming week. Dancing for a company, a two-day weekend was a given unless we were performing. Today, a two-day weekend happens maybe once or twice a year.

Another part of my life that has changed drastically since crossing the country to try something new is my mobility as an artist and my perception of what encompasses a long period away from home and my partner. I have this really bad habit of getting what I ask for, but not exactly how I thought I would get it. When I left PNB, I was really interested in making travel a part of my art form. When dancing at PNB, we rarely went on tour. This was something that I had always imagined would be a part of my career. When I joined Ballet X, there was talk that the company would have a few opportunities to tour each season. I never made it long enough with the company to attend any tours outside of the performance at an APAP conference in New York where I sustained the injury for which they eventually fired me. But once I began to freelance, things changed drastically.

Performing @ the Guggenheim (Photo: Matthew Murphy)
My first few freelancing gigs had me excited to travel, but nervous about leaving my partner for very small amounts of time. When I performed at the Guggenheim's Works & Process series, I wasn't too worried about being away from home for 3 weeks because my partner was to join me in NYC for a week in the middle. Next, I danced for the first time with Alaska Dance Theatre for 5 weeks. Again, I was lucky that my man joined me right in the middle of the gig. So, the longest we had been apart at the time was less than 14 days. I remember being so upset when I was invited to dance with Festival Ballet Providence and found out that we would be away from each other for over 3 weeks. It was the longest that we had ever not seen each other since we moved in together in 2006. Today, I have been away from home for nearly 4 months and the longest we have gone without seeing each other has been 2 months. It is hard and not my favorite part of freelancing, but we make it work for us through regular phone and skype sessions, a relaxed approach to communicating, and the advice of a counselor.

On the traveling front, I always imagined myself touring to major cities with the company I danced for headlining in this organization's productions. But the past four years have instead featured me traveling to cities large and small, near and far, all on my own. Up until this past June, in fact, I hadn't been home for longer than 7 week in 3 1/2 years. In this time, I have danced, choreographed, and taught in New York City, Anchorage, Long Island, Providence, Philadelphia, Rochester, D.C., Myrtle Beach, Los Angeles, West Virginia, Ventura, Walnut Creek, San Francisco, Fort Wayne, Lafayette, Oakland, Irvine, Little Rock, and a few more that I'm probably missing. I used to be afraid of traveling to smaller cities. I assumed that the people would be conservative in nature, the culture would be limited, and that I would run out of things to do. This is one place that freelancing has really changed my perception. Nearly each place that I have worked has shown me that, while in differing stages of development, there are amazing people and places almost everywhere in the country. I hope to expand my perception of this outside of our country in the near future!

My last day as Interim Artistic Director of Alaska Dance Theatre
Another area of my life that has changed greatly since I started freelancing has been my awareness of what I am capable of creating. As a dancer, you are expected to be submissive. Most dancers are always following the lead of somebody else, often dreaming of the day that they grab the wheel of their career. I guess I was lucky that I didn't have to wait for this to happen. When I was left without a company to call home, I had no choice but to take control of things, create my own opportunities, and expand my experience. Again, if you told me 4 years ago that I would direct Alaska Dance Theatre, choreograph for the National Choreographers Initiative, create my own summer intensive in Anchorage, teach at Peridance Capezio Center, write my very own popular blog, throw networking events for freelancers, or create a film project, I would have looked at you like you had 20 heads.

Many days, I just can't believe that I have experienced and made the things happen that I have. While my stress and anxiety levels have increased ten-fold since I began living the life of a freelance dancer, I wouldn't take back getting the chance to see where my mind and body can lead me. Even with all of the challenges that I have been through over these difficultly fruitful years, the opportunity to lead my own creativity and career have defined me in ways that would be impossible under the culture and structure of most dance companies. And while I miss that structure and safety net provided by working for an established organization, I will continue to value my freedom while I stay in this career-style. Thank you again for sharing this journey with me as I find my way through joy, struggle, and creativity. And CHEERS to the years of this to come!

Thanks for joining me on this journey to 100,000!!!!!

8.30.2015

Help Core-ography Reach It's Goal - Final 3 Days of Fundraising Campaign

Hey LOFD fans! I want to leave a little note here that we are in the final 3 days of our fundraising campaign for our Core-ography project. We are only 1/3 of the way towards meeting our $6,000 goal and need your help! Would you be willing to make a donation of any size (they start at $10 and go up from there). If each of my readers donate at our minimal donation-level, we can easily meet our goal. We have great perks for donation levels from getting your name mentioned in the credits as a donor to skype sessions and personalized choreography made just for you by me! LOFD receives over 100 views daily from the United States to India, and all across Europe to South America!

You can follow this link (CLICK HERE) for more information about the project or to make a "tax-deductible" donation. Below, you can see all of our high caliber artists. Each of your donations help support telling these incredible artists life-defining stories.

Please consider helping us finish off this campaign with a bang!

Bridgett Zehr - Freelance Artist (former Principal w/English National Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, & Houston Ballet)
Brooklyn Mack - Principal w/Washington Ballet (former Principal w/Orlando Ballet & dancer w/Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre Studio Company. Princess Grace Fellowship Winner. Medalist - Varna, Jackson, Helsinki, Boston, & Korean International Ballet Competitions)
Lauren Fadeley - Principal w/Pennsylvania Ballet & Capezio Brand Athlete (former New York City Ballet, Indiana University, Academy Award-winning film Black Swan)
Andrew Brader
- Complexions Contemporary Ballet (former Houston Ballet, Los Angeles Ballet, Ballet Met, Die Theater Chemnitz)
Maria Chapman - Principal w/Pacific Northwest Ballet & MPG Sportswear Messenger
John Lam - Principal w/Boston Ballet (Princess Grace Fellowship Winner)
Kiara Felder
- Atlanta Ballet
Cervilio Amador
- Principal w/Cincinnati Ballet (former National Ballet of Cuba)
Shira Lanyi - Freelance Artist (former Principal w/Ballet Israel & Richmond Ballet)
Allen Joseph - Freelance Artist (Glee - TV series, Festival Ballet Theatre, Cupcake Canne)
Kara Zimmerman - Joffrey Ballet (former Senior Soloist w/Cincinnati Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet)
Jessica Daley - Freelance Artist (former Koresh Dance Company, University of the Arts)

8.24.2015

A Positive Look at My Recent Failure



As I sit here at the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport patiently waiting for my delayed first flight home to Philadelphia, I can't help but think about my failure in winning the Visions Choreographic Competition at Ballet Arkansas. Five talented choreographers from Boston, Chicago, Oklahoma City, and San Francisco (oh yeah...and me from Philly) convened for a week in the southern state of Arkansas to create a teaser work to present onstage in 11 achingly short hours. We all took this risk in hopes of receiving positive critiques from the judges (amongst them Glenn Edgerton) and to potentially receive a commission with Ballet Arkansas. After a week of planning, creativity, and great effort, my dancers threw themselves into my work and gave a glimmer of what could potentially be a much larger scale piece. Alas, another deserving choreographer won that commission, and I sit here at my gate sipping my Starbucks coffee and writing about my failure. But this failure isn't a bad thing.

The dance world is and has always been obsessed with success. "Wow! She is only 15 years old and she just got hired by New York City Ballet!""He choreographed his first ballet and all of a sudden companies everywhere are seeking him out for new commissions!" "They filled in for a dancer who got injured with only a few hours notice and were almost immediately promoted!" These are not irregular conversation pieces I have come across throughout my dance career. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, these statements have never been said about me. And the reason for this is because those meteoric success stories are so rare that they are unlikely to happen to about 99 percent of us.

So many of us in the dance world dream of rising to the top with an ease of effort and the least amount of failure. But that just doesn't happen as often as we think. Give or take a few, five artists per dance-generation can proclaim these momentous stories all the way to the front page of Dance Magazine or Pointe. So, where does that leave the rest of us? If one wants to move forward, it forces the rest of us to suffer both small and great failures as we pass from success to success.

So, let's take a look at my very recent failure. I really began choreographing back in 2008 at Pacific Northwest Ballet's Choreographers Showcase. Since that first work, I have choreographed for the National Choreographers Initiative, Seattle's Men in Dance festival, the Philly Fringe Festival, Alaska Dance Theatre, multiple other PNB showcases, and won an award from Youth America Grand Prix. Nearly 6 months ago, I decided to apply for Ballet Arkansas' Visions Choreographic Competition. I was drawn to this experience for multiple reasons. First off, any chance to create on professionals is a success. Beyond this, my work would have the opportunity to be seen by a new community, a renowned figure in the international dance community, and some of my national colleagues. In fact, to be chosen out of 31 candidates to be a finalist for this venture was a great success. Do you see where I'm going with this?

When all 5 of the finalist's short works were presented yesterday evening, each of us had already achieved success by making it to the performance stage of this competition. As of 7 PM last night, none of us had failed in our risk of entering to choreograph. But by the end of the night, one choreographer would become more successful at this event than the rest of us. If none of us had actually had the aplomb to put ours work on the line, we wouldn't have had the chance to be successes or failures. At the end of the night, I was a failure. But it was neither a bad thing to fail, nor a negative part of my growth as a dance maker. It was an opportunity to work. It was an opportunity to be seen. It was an opportunity to fail. It was an opportunity to succeed. And without all of these opportunities, I wouldn't learn, improve, refine, and cultivate my art.

With success comes failure and with failure comes success. We, especially in the U.S., suffer from the negative connotation that arrives with the word failure. But interestingly enough, most of those of us who experience the most failure also experience the most success. The two go hand in hand and are quite reciprocal. My success in the Visions Choreographic Competition also allowed for my failure. And in the end, I created a new work, added more experience to my queue, expanded my creative network, and much more. I guess I could say that I am really grateful to have had the opportunity to fail. And with this new experience, perhaps, the next time I will succeed more greatly!