In the past, I've written about how I became a regular social media user and how it can be used to help promote oneself. It has been nearly two years since I talked about the fine line between being a social media whore and a savvy self-promoter. And since that time has passed, my approach to marketing myself online has changed greatly. Absent from that post was the logic behind the presentation of my product and art from platform to platform. Now that my readers have a better understanding of why I use social media, I'd like to give a bit more information about my approach from within each tool that I use to make my work visible, known, appreciated, and employed.
Personal Website: (http://barrykerollis.com/)
One of the most important social media tools that any independent artist can and should have is their own personal website. I spent about six months reading up on how to start a free website using Wordpress. But instead of sitting down to execute this necessity with the vigor of an overeager scholar, I kept putting it aside like a teenager writing a major term paper. I was overwhelmed by the task and could never bring myself to experience the tedium, as well as the trial-and-error involved in creating your own website from scratch. So, when I received a fan page suggestion from Lyquid Talent and their website design firm, I reluctantly jumped at the chance to pay somebody to create a website for me. This was, perhaps, one of the smartest things I ever did for both my art and product. This was due to the fact that, in this day and age, anybody who is trying to sell any product or service is basically understood as untrustworthy without a website. Whether it is true or not, without some type of online presence that displays and validates your product or service, people will move on to work with somebody else who has their information posted online. My assumption in the reasoning for this is that people generally don't have the time to put in too much effort to determine if they want to reach out to somebody via phone or email to get the information that they need to make a business decision. They want an internet-based visualization of what you have to offer. From there, they will likely decide whether to pursue you further for your services.
To maximize my possibilities of being hired, I have to put enough information on my website to let whomever is seeking to hire me see what I have to offer. I am not only a dancer, but I am also a choreographer and a teacher. For this reason, my website includes biography, resume, photo gallery, video gallery, review, calendar, and contact me pages.
When you first pull up my site, I have photographs that change every few seconds on my home page. I selected a variety of pictures that represent me completely as a dancer. There are classical, contemporary, and pas de deux images, as well as a headshot. From their initial viewing, this shows the viewer that I am well-versed.
On my biography page, I include a thorough, but briefer synopsis of my background and achievements as a dancer, choreographer, and instructor. On the next page, I have a complete (and possibly overwhelming) resume page. I choose to keep this resume so full because the initial resume I send out in my contact email is usually catered to the job that I am applying for. Since I send out resumes for work in three different areas of dance, it is important that I provide sections of my resume for each of these areas online.
Beyond that, my photo and video galleries offer a hearty variety of images and reels that best show my work. The review section is used to validate my work through the eyes of critics. My calendar is used to keep those interested up-to-date on what I am up to and those who want to hire me to see if I am available. And lastly, the contact me section is to offer a pathway to get in touch with me without giving away my personal email address.
Personal Facebook Page: (https://www.facebook.com/bkerollis)
I mostly prefer to keep my personal Facebook page between my friends, acquaintances, and myself. I rarely accept invitations from somebody I don't know and I never accept invitations from students I have worked with under the age of 18. I like to keep this as my own private space that isn't completely open to the public for viewing.
When I self-promote on Facebook, it is more often to let my friends know what I am up to or to reach out to my vast network of professional artists. If I can keep my friends and professional connections updated on what I am doing and keep my work in the back of their minds, they may be more likely to suggest me for opportunities if they hear of an employer in need of an artist. For example, if Jimmy hears that Johnny Dance Company needs a talented dance artist for their upcoming show, they are less likely to think about mentioning their freelancing friend Freddy, who doesn't have Facebook and hasn't been in touch for over a year. But if Freddy posted some pictures and status updates about how much he loved freelancing with another company and Jimmy saw that in his Facebook feed, he is more likely to remember that Freddy has been freelancing and suggest him for the job.
It is important to be cautious on Facebook about how much you self-promote. I find that it can be difficult to skate the thin line of helpful versus obnoxious self-promotion. Yes, you should post about that exciting award that you won. Yes, you should post that you will be dancing for a choreographer that you've dreamed of dancing with for years. But, if you find yourself posting new pictures of yourself dancing each and every day, your friends are going to get annoyed. I have seen instructors who work at drop-in studios that pay based on the number of students in the classroom who have posted videos of combinations and reminders that they are teaching 2-3 times per day, every single day for weeks on end. If you share the same type of information way too often, you are more likely to get people clicking the block button than you are to get them in class. Keep Facebook just as personal as you do professional. It was originated as a way to connect with friends.
Facebook Fan Page: (https://www.facebook.com/LifeOfAFreelanceDancer)
Let's talk about that one time I posted a status update that probably upset a few of my friends. In a matter of about 3 days, I had received five requests from friends to LIKE their new Facebook fan pages. The only problem was that their fan pages were strictly seeking fans of themselves. Now, don't get me wrong. Many of my friends deserve to have huge followings of fans. But, unfortunately, we aren't players on a sports team and a majority of our fans are our family, friends, and a small portion of the regular audiences that come to see repertory performances. So, to be completely honest, there is absolutely no reason (today) for me to make a Facebook fan page for Barry Kerollis.
I do have some friends that do have Facebook fan pages for themselves and rightfully so. These people are legitimate stars and have balletomanes from around the world seeking their personal Facebook friendship, often when the dancer has no connection to the person. This is a good reason to create a place for fans to keep up to date on the professional happenings of an artist. But when it comes to most of us dancers, we should stray away from asking for likes to boost our ego. Your friends and family can keep up to date with you on your personal Facebook page. Plus, it will save you a lot of work.
Instead of having a personal Barry Kerollis Facebook fan page, I have created a page for Life of a Freelance Dancer. And to save myself the time and energy of constantly updating this page on top of all of the other social media that I do, I only post links to individual blog posts. This leaves a place for people who just want to scroll through the over 100 articles I've written since I started blogging nearly 3 years ago.
A picture can be worth a thousand words. But a video may only be worth two, yes or no. It is invaluable to any dancer/choreographer that works as an independent contractor to have quality videos on a video sharing site like Youtube or Vimeo. Beyond the fact that an employer gets a true representation of what you look like in a performance or the style of works that you create, video sharing sites also save artists thousands of dollars. Where it used to be fashionable to send wasteful big yellow envelopes stuffed with your CV, photographs, and DVD reel, it is now much more acceptable to send an email with your website, CV attachment, and link to a reel. This saves you the cost of purchasing DVDs, printer ink, and other materials, as well as shipping costs. It also may save you money by covering auditions without the need to pay for a flight. Find good video-editing software or ask a friend with editing experience, and post your best work online. Be sure to keep it updated (which I am in the process of doing over these next few weeks).
Twitter, oh Twitter, How I Hate Thee! I'm not the biggest fan of Twitter and my activity on this social media site shows that. Twitter is the place to do everything that I told you not to do on Facebook. Since posts are short and people's feeds fly by at an alarming rate of missed content, it is generally acceptable to be the biggest self-promotion whore your heart desires. Kind of.
On Twitter, it is acceptable to post multiple times a day, to shamelessly self-promote, and to retweet every good thing that has ever been written about you. The reasoning, I am not sure. But it probably has something to do with the brevity of time that posts can remain at the top of anybody's feed who follows more than 20 people.
The reason that I hate Twitter? While Facebook has a great tendency to create addicts that need to check in with their cyber friends every few minutes, Twitter requires you to interact at the same rate. If you don't have a great deal of followers to whom you post original content for and don't stroke their Twegos with a never-ending stream of retweets, you will not get much use out of Twitter. This social media platform is heavily based on constant interaction and reciprocation. And I just don't have time for that, unless I quit all other forms of social media and stop eating meals. I'm also not a fan of people retweeting more than one or two reviews of themselves that call them out as being geniuses or more. Take note.
It took me a few years to hop on the Instagram bandwagon. Why? Because I was afraid I would stop doing anything other than breathing and posting pictures on Instagram. I love this platform because I feel that it is the closest way of seeing the world through somebody elses eyes. Not only can I see what my friends do, but I can share a unique perspective of how I view life for others to see.
I have some friends that use Instagram purely to show how fun and unique the life of a dancer can be, while others rarely ever post anything relating to their work or art. My approach to Instagram is to post things that I love and are oddly unique. For this reason, I post on instagram for both pleasure and self-promotion. Due to the necessity to take images and alter them for optimal viewing pleasure, it can be difficult to over-promote on Instagram. This is one reason that I love using this platform.
Well, if you are here reading this content, I hope you realize that you are on a self-promoting social media platform. I love to write, perhaps, because I like to talk. It is the best way to say everything that I want to say without the interruption of conversation that can get one off track (though I love socializing, as well). Blogging is not for everybody and it is definitely a fine-tuned art. But more than any other platform for self-promotion, blogging defines itself as the most useful tool to reach out to an audience. The reason for this is because, if you can build an audience, you have the ability to share your view, sell your product, and help others. And if you can help others, they will help to validate your product and promote you.
The big challenge in blogging is that you have to be good at it. Blogging isn't just good writing. It is a combination of many things I have already talked about in this post. Writing online requires a unique, authoritative voice. Not only that, you have to develop some type of respect and appreciation from your field. In other words, people need to trust what you say and the validity behind your voice. Beyond that, you need to find ways, usually using social media, to self-promote your self-promoting blog before it becomes popular enough that it shows up for web searches or is mentioned by online publications. For these reasons, I believe that blogging is the most powerful, but difficult to use, form of self-promotion that is currently available online for professional artists like me.
|Photo shoot at a freelancing gig (Photo: Shalem Photography)|
1. If you already have a company contract, what percentage of the time are you fulfilled vs. unfulfilled?
I can't tell you how many times I have heard dancers with glorious company contracts verbally announce that they are leaving their company at the end of the current season. Perhaps, they have had a few programs where they weren't casted as they wish or they don't feel appreciated for the time that they have put into an organization. No matter the circumstances behind their feelings, more often than not, the dancer is just venting. And let me tell you, dancers likely bitch more than any other species of human on Earth. With that said, once I left Pacific Northwest Ballet and got some experience in the freelance world, I realized that my lack of fulfillment was more situational than it was complete. I left the company for more reasons than just the stagnant feeling that loomed over my head like the grey, dreariness of the Pacific Northwest. I didn't like the city of Seattle as a home. But looking back at my level of fulfillment, I was fulfilled more than a majority of the time. For me, the less fulfilling moments were overwhelming enough to push me to leave the company. Take some time to assess your fulfillment ratio and consider the amount of work that goes into freelancing, the possibility of fewer experiences (whether more or less gratifying), and how much you value stability vs. artistic fulfillment.
|"Oh...Honey...You're gonna be a star" (Danya mimicking Degas)|
Alrighty. I'm just gonna put it out there. When people find out that I have had a successful career with companies large to small, it isn't uncommon for me to get this response. "Oh...How wonderful! You're a dancer! Well, my niece is 17 years old...and, well, she is so talented. She's gonna be a ballerina." I'm usually pretty reserved and guarded with these conversations, as I tend to be too honest and don't have much tolerance for patronizing people. When the photos inevitably come out, I am forced to help the auntie face the reality that their loved one does not have the appropriate skill, body type, or proper training to have a legitimate professional career. This is an unfortunate thing in the dance world. There is no accreditation system to say that a school with poor instruction can't take people's money for teaching poor technique. And when a dancer is the best in a bad school, they tend to think that they are much better than they actually are. Many dancers, unfortunately, suffer from what I call "American Idol Syndrome;" where their projected potential is far different than their true potential. Try visiting a few pre-professional schools, do a few auditions, or watch and compare with Youtube videos. Be realistic and make a decision. Take into consideration, "Is it just a hard year for me to get a job or am I not being offered jobs because I am not qualified to be hired?"
3. What city do you live in?
This may not seem like the most important question, but where you live is quite relevant to being a freelancer. If you live in a small town, do you have access to professional levels classes? Is it extremely expensive to fly out of your airport? Are you able to keep up-to-date on trends? If you want to find substantial amounts of work and make networking connections, it is much more feasible to do that out of a big city that has an established dance scene. You can make a freelance career work from anywhere, but you will likely have to submit to community productions, work your ass off in your online marketing, or spend a great deal of time traveling into larger cities.
4. How do you cope with financial stress?
Unless you are a trust-fund baby or have the luxury of parents that have no problem supporting you well into your 20's, you need to look at your reaction to moments that were financially stressful. If, one time, your car broke down and you just used the last of your paycheck to pay all of your bills, how did you make things work? Did you crawl in a ball and cry until somebody else solved the issue for you? Or, when times get tight, where is the first place that you start to tighten your pockets? If you stopped taking classes so that you could go to the club with your friends, you are likely going to have issues. Freelancers need to be the most savvy financial assessors they can be. And when times get stressful, they need to be able to handle the heat.
5. Have you ever seen a professional contract and, if so, do you understand what most of the legal jargon is saying?
If you are performing in musical theatre or commercial work, you may possibly have an agent. But if you are finding work as a ballet or contemporary dancer, you are highly unlikely to have an agent (Believe me...I considered creating my own agency for freelance concert dancers). Considering the fact that the concert dance world is severely underfunded, you will likely be doing your own negotiating for pay, travel, housing, conditions, and anything else that you are going to need throughout your employment as an independent contractor. While you don't have to understand everything that is written in a contract, you need to know what you are signing. If you have never seen a contract before, consider going to the AGMA website (if you are union) or calling them up to see if you can get access to their contracts (understand that most independent contracting agreements are one to two pages long, unlike AGMA contracts). Otherwise, do some research or consult an attorney or law school friend to help you learn how to read a contract to protect yourself.
6. How do you take care of your body in your current situation? What are your plans to take care of yourself if/when you get injured?
One of my biggest challenges as a freelancer has been taking care of myself after an injury. People may think that they aren't likely to get injured or that they will just deal with it when it happens. Let me assure you that you will get injured if you stick to freelancing for more than a few months. The conditions are constantly changing, you are in unfamiliar working environments, and the work is always changing in style. When I was dancing with Pacific Northwest Ballet and Houston Ballet, we had physical therapy on-site and access to workers compensation, a multitude of high-level health professionals, and enough salary to cover any additional costs. When you freelance, you are on your own. If you don't enter freelancing with an injury plan (practitioners, how to pay, insurance, etc.), like I unfortunately did, it may cost you a job, your rent money, and/or your career. Create a plan and have an idea of what practitioners you can use for different situations.
|Me in an old-school modern work - Threnody (Photo: Bill Hebert)|
So, you are a neo-classically (Balanchine) trained dancer. You want to branch out into more contemporary work. Are you going to be happy leaving Balanchine behind? One thing I miss more than anything else is getting to dance the works of Mr. B on the regular. As a ballet dancer, with few exceptions, a majority of the freelance work that I have encountered either involve dancing full-length classical productions, edgy to post-modern contemporary works, or old-school modern works. If you want to dance the expensive repertoires of Balanchine, Robbins, Forsythe, Ratmansky, Wheeldon, and beyond, freelancing is unlikely for you.
8. You finish a show and your employer is nowhere to be found. Your flight is early in the morning and your rent is due in a few days. What do you do?
Honestly, this has NEVER happened to me. And I am quite grateful for this. But I have been in situations where I have had to stand up for myself. While it is important to attempt to remain as respectful as possible, it is impossible to have a fulfilling freelance career if you are a pushover. Yes, people may like you if you let them do whatever pleases them. But you will likely be unhappy in your work if you feel disrespected or in danger.
9. During extended lay-offs, summer breaks, or time off from school, did you take class? How did you motivate yourself?
One of my biggest fears about leaving a company atmosphere was that I was going to sleep in all the time, eat potato chips and ice cream daily, and get severely out of shape. Without the pressure of coming in to work each day to stay in shape, retain your casting, and (above all) collect your paycheck; do you have what it takes to motivate yourself to take technique class five days a week? A good gauge of this is to look at how you act during lay-offs, holday breaks, and extended times off. Are you the type of person that knows how to take a break to rest their body, but gets back into the studio with enough time to safely prepare for the next rehearsal period? Or are you that dancer that shows up the first day of rehearsal without having taken class for 5 weeks?
10. What are your finest qualities as a dancer? Where does your dancing need work?
Perhaps, the most important quality of many freelancers is the ability to self-assess one's work. Yes, all professional dancers have some sense of what they need to do to improve themselves. But one quality that many dancers need work on developing is their ability to see what they are good at in the art form. The reason for this isn't only to boost one's confidence on days that they are feeling a bit down. More importantly, freelancers need to know their finest qualities because they need to know how to sell themselves at an audition, in a performance reel, and in an email. If you can't find the good and the bad, it may be challenging for you to improve on your own and put yourself out there to find work.
|How Appropriate (Photo: Brian Mengini)|
|Let's Not Be Irrational! - Carabosse (Shura Baryshnikov) w/Catalabutte (Gianna Gino Di Marco) w/artists from Festival Ballet Providence in Sleeping Beauty - (Photo: A. Cemal Ekin)|
I am lucky that there have only been two issues that have ever pushed me into considering legal representation. The first time this happened was when I was working with a small, fledgling company as an employee and the second time was after choreographing for a larger-scale small-town production that involved a school. What I have found in my 8 years dancing with large-scale, well-funded companies and my 4 years traveling the country working as a freelancer with some lesser funded organizations is that problems are much more apparent in schools and companies with less money or less interaction with the professional dance world.
A handful of the issues that I have encountered throughout my time as a professional dancer and choreographer relate to money. But there is a surprising number of other items that I have either experienced or watched other dancers experience. A general list of issues that I have seen range from not getting paid appropriately (getting paid less, late, never getting paid at all, not receiving compensation for travel, etc.) to withholding dancer rights (workers compensation for employees). I have had my choreography altered against my knowledge, seen dancers per diem withheld, and watched abusive behavior inside the studio. Whether these items arise because of a lack of professional understanding, negligence, or devious behaviors, none of these actions are ever appropriate. Unfortunately, instead of admitting to these errors and working to resolve the situation, those few employers that committed these acts tend to fight a difficult battle instead of admitting to their erroneous ways.
The best way that I can offer up advice is to discuss the two times that I have considered reaching out to legal counsel. The first time was when a company decided to break my employment because I had been injured. When I got hurt, this organization decided to hide that I had a right to use workers compensation to regain my health. When I had to pull out of a program, the director went into a week-long rage against me and, eventually, fired me for what they claimed was a different reason than that they didn't want to finance the healing of one of their employees.
The second time that I encountered a situation that might have led me to speak with an attorney was when a small-town organization violated a choreography contract by adding their own choreography for a public performance into a work that I had already created. After finding my work on Facebook and not recognizing the movement, I reached out to the organization to resolve the situation. Instead of hearing the sincerest of apologies, I received an angry, defensive response naming articles in my contract where they tried to convince me that they could do whatever they wanted with my choreography.
While these were both very different experiences, there were certain similarities in them that differentiated these behaviors from other situations that may have been testy, but wouldn't be worth reaching out to a legal representative. In both situations, my rights were compromised. The first situation was a legal right as an employee, while the second was a violation of a contract. I have found that it is best to reach out as soon as possible to the source in order to work to resolve a situation. In most occurrences, people are reasonable and willing to work with you to maintain a relationship and make sure that all parties are content. But what made these two above situations distinctly different was the stressed and incensed reactions to my attempt to resolve the situation. When an opposing party responds with irrationality, it may be time to reach out for legal advice.
|Irrational Puss n' Boots?|
After having a conversation with an attorney, the next step is to determine if you want to take the plunge and enter a legal battle to resolve your case. While there may be some situations that necessitate suing an organization, I have found that it usually isn't worth your time to spend the emotional energy that is required to fight for what is right. It is a sad, sad situation, but people in the arts are generally reluctant to go the lengths that it takes to protect themselves from wrongdoing.
The first reason for this is due to poor funding. This works on both sides. Rarely does an organization have the money to fight a legal battle. It is also rare that a dancer or choreographer has the funds to hire an attorney to represent them. Beyond this, the dance world often lets go of minor issues, which is representative of the submissive nature of dance artists. Lastly, the dance world is so closely connected that if a dancer is to sue a company, other employers may fear hiring that dancer out of fear that they will sue their own organization.
Two examples that I am aware of with dancers suing companies involved two friends of mine. The first situation was when a dancer was representing the other dancers of a non-unionized company. When the organization decided to stiff the dancers on per diem from their international travels, this dancer contacted a lawyer and started working to help the dancers collect their contractually agreed travel pay. At the end of that season, the dancer was not reengaged and lost their job.
The second dancer I know who sued a company was put in a position where they were essentially forced to break their contract. They sought counsel to make the company follow through with paying the rest of their contract for that lost season. While I don't remember whether they won or lost that battle, I heard whispers from others in the new company that we were dancing with blaming that dancer for creating that situation. This seemed odd considering none of us were present in that company when things went down.
Challenging times can make one lose faith in the dance world; a place of beauty, perfection, and dreams. While the modernized world has a system for those who have been wronged to fight to protect their rights, the dance world sometimes feels like it exists on another plane. I don't feel that it is appropriate for me to guide anybody towards seeking counsel. Instead, I can provide information to help dancers and choreographers make their own decisions. I have always been an advocate for dancers and choreographers to protect their rights. This would lend me to offering the advice to fight for them. At the same time, there is a great deal of time and emotional energy that must go into legally resolving situations. Consider how important the violation of your rights is to you and the amount of yourself you are willing to put into a legal battle. Also weigh the possible repercussions, fair or not, that you may experience for trying to protect yourself. While this dance world isn't always fair, it is our passion. And sometimes you need to give up a little of yourself to share in this beautiful place.
|It is beautiful, isn't it? (A local sculpture in Philadelphia)|