The Art of Putting Yourself Out There

An image of me up on the Steps on Broadway board (Photo: Shalem Photography)
I've been enjoying my time teaching at Steps on Broadway the past few weeks. I've had professionals in my classes from big companies to freelancers, received positive feedback from my peers and pianists, and felt a sense of fulfillment in my career that I've been lacking for some time. (Side note: I'm also guest teaching Intermediate Contemporary at Broadway Dance Center the next two Sundays, August 7 & 14,  from 7:30-9 PM. Come join me)  Recently, an old acquaintance offered me their compliments expressing how difficult it can be to break into an established institution like this great school. This got me thinking. While I still have a lot to do in order to get to where I want to be, it took a lot of hard, strategic work to gain the positions and experience I have had in my career. It has been a combination of effort, luck, and timing. But none of this stuff would have ever been possible if I hadn't figured out how and when to put my information out there most effectively.

There are a handful of challenges when it comes to putting yourself out there. First off, are you properly prepared to put out your best product? Also, are you following the appropriate channels of communication to get an "in" with a choreographer or director? Other things to consider include whether offering yourself up with less experience will invalidate future attempts to obtain work, if you have enough time to put true effort into your endeavors if the opportunity materializes, and whether the timing is right for you to push yourself out and forward in your career field. When thrusting oneself out of their comfort zone, all of these things need to be taken into consideration in order to build or better one's career and life.

The first thing to consider when pushing yourself in a new direction is whether you are properly prepared to accept the position if it actually offered it; whether it be trying out for that big Broadway show, seeking out a company class audition, or applying for that prestigious teaching position. We all have big dreams and career hopes. But if you aren't in a place to fully commit to and appropriately handle the work stresses that come with a specific job, it may not be the best time for you to apply for that position or audition for a new company or show. Especially for dancers, this can be a challenging one since you don't always know what you're getting yourself into until you're in the studio or on the stage. It is important to consider your training, attitude, mindset, and commitment abilities when putting oneself out there. You don't want to get the job before you're mentally or physically ready and fall apart. But at the same time, you don't want to hold yourself back if you are lacking confidence. It's a tricky line to consider.

Walking into Broadway Dance Center to teach my first Contemporary class at this amazing school
You also don't want to apply for a position that you probably can't fit into your schedule due to previous commitments. This can be especially tricky because dancers should constantly be auditioning to fine-tune their audition skills, to connect with those hiring, and to get an idea of whether they are ready to take on certain posts. Don't be afraid to attend a cattle call.  But if you really don't feel prepared for a specific position, it may be better to wait until you can show yourself at your best. Especially if you are very out of shape after an injury or time off, consider whether the chance to gain opportunity may risk further injury. Sometimes, people will remember you from application to application. So, be sure to keep in mind that auditioning for a gig completely unprepared may leave a lasting impression.

A misstep that a handful of dancers, choreographers, and instructors make is trying to use an acquaintance that is already involved in an organization to help you gain easier access to the people making decisions. This is a tricky one, as it sometimes works. But some of my most embarrassing memories are when I have tried to take the easy road and reached out to somebody I met once or twice. In trying to get an insider's advantage in my applications/auditions, I have overstepped social boundaries. If this way of putting yourself out there doesn't work to your favor, the next time you see this contact may be quite awkward.

If you barely know somebody and you want them to put in a good word for you or to forward your information to the person in charge, it could be seen as shady or show a general lack of awareness for the structure and culture of an organization. Sometimes, companies are very disjointed with a clear delineation between positions. For instance, a ballet master may be higher up in the system than a dancer and closer to the Artistic Director of a company. But they still answer to the director as their boss. So, it may not be appropriate (or even possibly offensive) for them to offer their advice on items including hiring, choreographic opportunities, and more. Again, this way of putting oneself out there has worked for me in the past. Just understand that you are taking a hearty risk by reaching out to someone for help that you barely know.

As for offering yourself up for a position that you appear to be under-qualified for, it is a different story. I learned from a good friend that applying for positions you don't feel ready for can act as great practice for when you actually have the experience to back up your application. And, sometimes, you're actually exactly what they are looking for. In these situations, it really comes down to the amount of effort you can put into preparing your materials. I know, for me, I'm tempted to apply for every inspiring position that becomes available. But I am so busy all the time, it isn't always practical to apply for jobs I am nearly positive I won't get. In building my knowledge of creating a cover letter and proper CV (aka resumé), I've applied for Artistic Director positions, Ballet Master jobs, and School Director opportunities. While the closest I've come was 2nd place to direct Rochester City Ballet, I know that I can still use a great deal of growth before I may be right to lead the size and quality establishment I dream of directing. So, when I feel that I have some free time or that a position is really important to me, I apply. And if I'm overwhelmed with work and a position pops up that sounds nice but is likely out of my league, I save my time and wait for the next practice session.

The biggest item out of your control when putting yourself out there is timing. It is true. Timing is everything. Sometimes, it is calculated and other times you have no idea that now is the right time. This is what is most difficult about making decisions pertaining to your career and seeking success. An artist may not feel ready for something they are more than prepared to take on. Or, on the other hand, they may feel that they are the one and only fit for a position that will end up being far out of their reach. This is the one factor you can count on being confusing and out of your control. But don't let the idea of proper timing deter you from trying to reach your dreams. The timing factor almost invalidates many of the points I wrote above. If you put yourself out there with the right timing (even if you aren't prepared, don't have the time, or more), you can get a dream job and prove all of these factors inconsequential.

Dancers, choreographers, instructors, and most artists have a tendency to listen to the nag of never-ending feelings of inadequacy. This can often push their art to new heights as they try to make up for this faux perception. But if your gauge and perception of true self-worth is off, you may be stifling opportunity. I suggest taking a deep, lengthy look at yourself. Then see your reflection in friends, colleagues, and peers reactions to your work. In the end, I always say artists should continuously put themselves out there. So, don't read this post and feel like you should be holding back. I hope you read this and look at it as a tool to help you make better, more informed decisions. Cheers!

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