5.15.2016

Developing Your Networking Skills

I've been taking a lot of trips on Greyhound the past month. Getting up way before my usual waking hour to sit among a group of strangers ready to flood New York City the moment we get off this inexpensive commuter bus. Maybe some of my seat mates are going on vacation or maybe a few actually commute regularly to work, but I doubt any of my fellow northeast corridor travelers share the same intention that my visits hold.

Nancy Bielski working with a student at Steps on Broadway (Photo: Dancemedia.com)
I made the decision to exchange subletting in New York and paying two rents for the less expensive, more exhaustive option of commuting into the city bi-weekly (or more often). Other than feeding my soul and technique in my favorite ballet guru Nancy Bielski's class at Steps On Broadway, it is to keep myself present in people's memories and to make new connections with my community. The power of networking is a great skill and resource, especially in our dance world. This was quite evident, if you remember, from our last post when Matthew Powell received the support of his mentor to work on Flesh & Bone, the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and the Slovak National Ballet. For this reason, I need to remain present to fulfill my ultimate goal of finding an institution (or a few) to call my career-home and to bring my choreographic and teaching career forward into their next phase.

In this day and age, one can easily apply to a million jobs and never receive a response. My husband-to-be (May 29 😊) experienced this modern day dilemma before he gave up on living the corporate life and chose to start his own business. While the dance world is a little bit different, many positions in our career field (outside of dancing) require one to submit their information electronically in the most impersonal and out of touch way. Most put in a great deal of time and effort to create a carefully curated representation of what they have to offer an organization, but there is often no guarantee that your information will even be looked at. While this can save these organizations a great deal of time and energy, it can leave the job seeker feeling at a loss when they don't get a response for their efforts. And, beyond this, a majority of higher profile positions often go to someone who already has some type of connection to the organization or their name is suggested by a reputable person who works for them.

The above reasons are why it is important in this dance world to be an ultimate networker. I don't know how I became savvy at this skill. Perhaps, it was innate. But, even at a young age, I would try to learn the name of every peer in the dormitories at summer programs I attended and ask them to share their email and phone number in a small journal at the end of our time together. Honestly, I just wanted to make friends. I didn't realize that I was actually cultivating this valuable skill of connecting with people.


Performing Mercutio w/friend James Moore in Romeo et Juliette at PNB (Photo: Angela Sterling)
Have you ever asked yourself why you don't have a vast network of professionals that you are connected with to offer support and help you navigate our tricky dance world? Are you too shy to talk to people you don't know? Let me offer you some tips to help open up and grow your network. It's funny, actually, when you first meet me I tend to come off as a bit shy. It's a complete facade that I have little control over. I'm a horribly anxious person and I get awkward about getting into conversations with people, even though I enjoy it immensely. I like to talk (a lot), and I know that every person I come across doesn't necessarily want to chat. So, at first, I tend to awkwardly sit back and wait for the other person to initiate.

There are multiple times throughout my days where I am surrounded by people that could become a part of my professional network or my circle of friends. For instance, when taking class with Nancy at Steps, there is an ever-changing array of professionals in class from Misty Copeland to Irina Dvorovenko, Katie Morgan, and beyond. Additionally, there are amazing instructors, former professionals, and non-dance professionals tendu-ing and pirouette-ing by my side. One doesn't usually want to strike up (nor is it really appropriate) a conversation during barre. But there is a bit more freedom for a short chat during the breaks and banter that take place in center. In reality, though, it is best to catch up or initiate a conversation well after you have exited the classroom. If you do try to meet connections through open classes, be respectful that a majority of the attendees are really just trying to focus and prepare for their day.

Beyond this time in open class when I am surrounded by people just like me, there are a few other times to network and make your community larger. If you aren't sure how to surround yourself with those in your field, go to a performance, attend a fundraising event, seek out educational arts programs in your community, or look online. 

Dancers networking freelance networking event
While networking in person at events allows simpler access to meet up, shyness is often a challenging factor for many. If you are going to an event and don't know how to initiate a conversation, bring a friend that is a little more outgoing (but who is aware of your intentions and not going to own all conversations). But be sure to avoid the pitfall that I often fall into, where I only end up talking to the person I came with. Grab a glass of wine (but not too many) if you need to loosen up a bit. Don't interject yourself into somebody's conversation, but don't be afraid to walk up to somebody who looks a little lonely and say "Hi. How are you today?" They may be feeling the same way you do. Once the ice is broken, be sure to ask the person more about themselves and their interests before you talk about yourself and your work. Be sure to bring your business cards in the event that you want to connect beyond your first meet or if a good conversation ends abruptly.

While I don't get to do this often enough, I find it easiest to connect with people at educational events and programs. When attending a pre-show lecture or an informational arts workshop, you know you are surrounded by people who are like-minded and seeking information. Whether they are seeking knowledge on something specific or looking for interaction with their peers, they are generally going to be on the same page as you. And as an added bonus, you will already have a topic in common to hit off a conversation. My only advice here would be to wait until the lecture or meeting is over until you attempt to begin chatting anybody up.

If you need online suggestions, check out Dance.com, BalletAlert, or look for community groups on Facebook. Dance.com is a brand new networking resource along the lines of Facebook, but for dancers. I'm not completely clear who they are catering to yet (professionals, organizations, or Maddie Ziegler wannabes), but you may find what you are looking for here. BalletAlert is an interactive forum of dance nerds. Whether looking for links to reviews of recent performances, discussing your favorite dancers, or digging into the history of ballet, this is a favorite of many. Just beware of falling into the pit of snark and negativity that sometimes runs rampant among certain posters. Lastly, if you are a Facebook junkie like me, use your search bar tool to seek groups catering to art in your city, organizations you love, or topics that interest you. As always, the internet provides a million and one resources if you know how and where to look.

The power of networking is more and more important as we grow more detached from in-person interactions. The Age of the Internet has given us access to most anything we seek. But, surprisingly, it has made it harder for us to actually access people. As I continue seeking ways to continue exploring my choreography and passing on my craft in New York City and beyond, I know that it is less likely to happen based off of cold-emailing and online submissions. My reality is that my network of friends and professionals that I have created and maintain will continue to help guide me on my path of sharing my art worldwide as a dance professional.

(Don't forget to check out my new podcast on the Premier Dance Network & iTunes!!!!)

2 comments:

  1. Hi Barry
    Thanks for another great article and a good topic of discussion here. As far as my freelancing communication and self marketing online and offline is concerned, i would love to share my experience here. At the very outset of my dance freelancing i got most of the jobs because of my long lasting friendship with my dance friends who were in the same training n dance company as i was. Later i tried putting my profile in LinkedIn which was a huge failure as good dance companies of India were absent there. Over there i could got offers from unknown event organizers which was a bit scary for me. After a few years, i now know that its not just them ( the dance companies) who want to work with people they know but also I would like to work with companies who i feel comfortable with on a personal level - what u mentioned here - like minded people. I think its very important to at least know what kind of a work a certain company or people do and their interests. Facebook really works well for me coz most of my dance friends and students are there. One of the ways i have found out to connect off line is by being more regular in watching a certain choreographers work. That ways i have found you will meet most artists audience who are choreographers friends n well wishers and they start recognizing your face. It makes it easier to start a conversation comfortably n then you get to meet the dancers or the choreographers through them.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing, Ranjana! Good advice at the end there :-) People are always more drawn to people that show interest and investment in their work.

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