Since all of my posts clearly come from my experience as a man in the freelancing world, I want to offer my viewers a chance to hear what it is like from a female perspective. I reached out to my friends Kathryn Morgan, Allynne Noelle, and Miriam Ernest to offer their experiences, thoughts, and advice for any woman trying to break into or sustain a freelance career. Enjoy!
The Freelance Artists:
Kathryn Morgan (New York-based): Former Soloist w/New York City Ballet. Youtuber. Writer of popular monthly advice column, Dear Katie, in Dance Spirit.
Allynne Noelle (Los Angeles-based): Former Principal w/Los Angeles Ballet & Soloist w/Miami City Ballet.
Miriam Ernest (New York-based): Former dancer w/Grand Rapids Ballet.
What type of freelance work have you performed?
|Kathryn Morgan in Sleeping Beauty w/Tyler Angle (Photo: Paul Kolnik)|
AN: I currently dance with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet. Suzanne and her company are everything I have ever wanted in my professional life. Being a part of her company led me to make the decision to leave Los Angeles Ballet and supplement the rest of my year with freelancing. In the past, I have worked as a principal guest artist with Sacramento Ballet, State Street Ballet, and Inland Pacific Ballet. I have also guested for numerous schools and pre-professional companies.
ME: I have danced with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet for four seasons. In addition to this, I have freelanced with Emery LeCrone Dance, New Chamber Ballet, Ballet NY, Kathryn Posin Dance Company, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, and Texture Contemporary Ballet.
How did you get into freelancing?
|Photo shoot (Photo: Rachel Neville)|
Being new to freelancing, what have been your biggest challenges?
AN: The idea of freelancing sounds relatively simple when you think about it with the security of a full year contract. During my time under contract with Los Angeles Ballet, I was approached to guest with Sacramento Ballet, Inland Pacific Ballet, and Imagine Ballet Theatre (plus various Nutcrackers). I had to request time off during rehearsal weeks in order to accept outside work. I performed at the annual Dizzy Feet Gala performance one summer in LA, which fell conveniently during a layoff period. It all seemed simple and fluid. It's very different when you look at freelance work as a full-time job, requiring a full income to live, as opposed to when you see it as bonus or supplement to an already existing contract and income. I'm a planner and I like to know things far in advance. That really isn't something that comes with the freelance/guest artist life. I think when you're in a company, especially at the top end of the ranks, you're naturally relevant. When you no longer have that company affiliation to your name, unless you're working and performing you aren't really relevant at all. You're only on the radar when you're busy. It's like you disappear in between work. I was never big on social media, but I have found that it is an essential tool to keep people apprised of what I'm doing currently, my past contributions I have made to the art form, what lies ahead, etc.
Do you think that company credentials are necessary or helpful to work as a freelance artist?
ME: Yes and no. I think company credentials help a lot. I also think staying in shape and being your best self in class and interactions with choreographers/directors are just as important. I’ve seen men and women with impressive company credentials get fired because they were unpleasant to work with in the studio.
|Allynne Noelle (Photo: J. McMerty)|
AN: I don't think more or less marketable would be how I would look at it, so much as the degree of ease I previously thought I would experience marketing myself. I know my value set, my work ethic, and my talent. When you're in a full-time company, all that information is known and speaks for itself. When you freelance, you have to remind the ballet world of all you are as a dancer and person, and advocate for the strengths you can offer any institution.
Have you had any difficulty finding freelance work?
KM: Thankfully, most of my work has been offered to me at this point. I have been very fortunate in that. And when I was ill. I wasn’t interested in doing a ton of guesting anyway. So up until now, it has been a perfect amount.
ME: I don’t necessarily find it difficult to find work. I do find it more difficult to find work that I am genuinely interested in and that pays well. While I am appreciative of every offer, I have learned to be selective to ensure safe working conditions and adequate pay. I babysit on the side to supplement income. It is something I love doing that isn’t too strenuous for my body.
How has your perspective changed since you started freelancing?
AN: I definitely realize now that the act of obtaining freelance work is very much a job in itself. Under a full season contract, freelance offers came occasionally and were always a bonus. I assumed that simply having an open calendar and being more readily available for freelance work would directly boost the number of offers I received. You absolutely need to seek the work for it to come to you. People show interest in me and seek me out based on my resume. Also, previous relationships and connections work in my favor. But, I still have to remind others of my availability.
How do you promote yourself/find work?
|Kathryn Morgan in Balanchine's Nutcracker (Photo: Paul Kolnik)|
KM: I promote myself through social media, my website, and YouTube. I actually probably need to do a better job promoting myself to actual employers. I do find it difficult posting about myself all the time or reaching out to people basically saying “Hire me!” I have never been good at that, but I am working on it. While I was still sick, I started watching YouTube videos as a distraction. It suddenly occurred to me that for the thousands of beauty gurus online, there were no ballet dancers on YouTube. I wasn’t under a company contract at the time, so I thought I would make a few videos and see what happened. I never expected it to turn into what it has!
AN: I quickly realized that I wasn't very accessible or search-able to those I don't already know. I was never much for social media. I quickly realized the importance of branding myself and creating a solid social media presence. So, I have been working on that, as well as my website (which will launch very soon). I signed with a ballet agent based in New York City, and hopefully he will bring work that I wouldn't otherwise find for myself. A lot of this career is networking. I am a believer in cold-emails; introducing myself to companies who might need a principal female. I think it's hard for most dancers to become their own agent and advocate for themselves. We are trained from such a young age to do as we are told and deliver what's asked of us. My dancing has always spoken for itself. All I have ever had to do is dance in front of someone to get the job, the role, etc. Now, as a freelance ballerina, I have to speak out! I have learned to advocate for myself.
Tell me about freelancing in New York City.
|Miriam Ernest (Photo: Joerg Didlap)|
What is your ideal job?
AN: My ideal jobs are mostly those I have been fortunate enough to do thus far. Short stints with professional companies in need of a principal female. My hope is to build a lasting relationship with these companies and return for future programs. I love the nature of guesting/freelance work. It's exciting, and also extremely beneficial as an artist to be constantly exposed to different dancers, new partners, and fresh eyes for coaching. I also really enjoy guesting for youth and pre-professional companies. I find it extremely gratifying to interact with dancers approaching that time where they may potentially make this art form a career. I can inspire them and offer any helpful insight I can!
ME: For me, an ideal gig is dancing for someone who believes in me and trusts me as an artist, and whom I respect in return. It includes getting paid an appropriate amount and provision of or reimbursement for pointe shoes and physical therapy.
What are the best/worst things about freelancing?
ME: The best thing is the freedom to pursue whatever movement and choreographers interest me. The worst thing is not having a constant income and having to pay for physical therapy, daily ballet classes, and pointe shoes on my own.
Do you have any advice for women that are interested in freelancing?
KM: I think the advice I would give to women who are freelancing is the same advice I need to hear. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! People need to be able to find you and see your work. You can still be kind and not pushy, so go for it!
|Allynne Noelle in Agon w/Ulrik Birkkjaer (Photo: Reed Hutchinson)|
AN: I'm still learning myself! But thus far, I would say a most important piece of advice is to always be prepared. Work can come when you least expect it, and you want to be ready. You want to feel good about yourself and your dancing and put your best self forward. First impressions are important in any career, especially ballet. Stay in class and stay focused, even if you're frustrated. I like to spend my downtime taking class and supplementing it with barre, Pilates, or yoga and time at the gym.
ME: Don’t be afraid to inquire about pay and politely decline offers if gigs don’t make sense for you financially or interest you artistically. Use time between projects to cross-train, network, and market yourself. Be kind to everyone you meet. You never know who someone is, especially in an open class. Freelancing is challenging, but can be artistically and personally rewarding.
What upcoming gigs are you looking forward to?
KM: An organization called Ballet in the City is presenting me at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, sponsored by Bloch dancewear. It is an entire evening about my life and career. I will be dancing a wide variety of pieces; some classical, some Balanchine, and a few new things. Performances are on March 29 & 30th at 7pm. I will also be teaching master classes at Washington Ballet on March 31. Here is the link for tickets: https://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/event/RQXBN
AN: I will be performing with Sacramento Ballet all month in their Bach to Now and Beyond program (March 17-April 2). I will be featured in a workshop performance, premiering excerpts of a new ballet by Melissa Barak, in New York City (May 2) and then working with Barak Ballet after that in Los Angeles.
ME: Currently, I am looking forward to performing with Emery LeCrone Dance at Jacob's Pillow on June 23.
If you would like to check out more information about these lovely freelancing women or contact them for work, check out their information below.
Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/Tutugirlkem
Website: www.allynnenoelle.com (coming soon)