My 2016 Highlights - Year in Review

It has been a really interesting year for many of us here on this grand planet! Over the past few weeks, I have seen a variety of status updates wishing, hoping, and dreaming for 2016 to end as quickly as possible. Yes, there were a handful of challenging events that have taken place; from the presidential election to celebrity deaths and terrorist attacks galore. While many of these events have happened in quick succession of one another, in reality, many of them were completely unrelated to each other. I feel that people are overwhelmed by the quantity of these events and feel that passing into a new year will bring a fresh, clean slate to start anew. Although there were certainly challenges this year, there were many great things that happened for many people, including myself. And, in the spirit of the upcoming new year, I'd like to share with you my highlights and year in review. Happy new year to you all! I can't wait to see where 2017 takes us!

Danya & My Wedding Day (Photo: Emily Yamamoto)

Reclaiming my Life and Sanity:

It may sound funny, but ever since I started writing here on Life of a Freelance Dancer and saw my freelance work explode (in all of the best ways), I felt like most things that were happening in my life were out of control. My work was flying me all over the country and I was barely home for any length of time. It started to take its toll on me and, at times, I felt like I was losing all sense of self. This year that all changed. I was proactive in making major changes in my life and career that allowed me to stay home more and regain a sense of balance that had been missing in my life for nearly 5 years. I think I slept in my own bed at least half of 2016, which is a record for me at this point. Beyond that, I got to see my husband a bunch, connect with friends on a regular basis, and see my family more than I have seen them since I moved away from home in 2001. While ambition and success are important, sometimes you just need to hit the brakes and remind yourself of who you are, how you got where you are, and breathe a bit before you figure out where you are going next.

Seeing the Aurora Borealis:

Aurora Borealis swirling above Fox, Alaska (near Fairbanks)
I knew that it was going to be a great year from the start. I finished my 2nd AK-BK Contemporary Ballet Workshop program in Anchorage, Alaska around January 3rd at the beginning of the year. Immediately following my program, my Danya and our friend JRo flew up towards the Arctic Circle to spend 3 days on the side of a mountain and wait for the 4 hours of daylight to pass for us to view the Aurora Borealis. While we were lucky enough to see the magical Northern Lights the first two nights, we were gifted one of the most extravagant light shows ever on our last night up north.

Being Featured in Dance Magazine:

It was a complete and total honor to be featured in the print issue of Dance Magazine this past February. I was featured alongside New York City Ballet Principal Megan Fairchild in a piece that discussed our social media work and how we artists are finding unique ways to break the fourth wall with audiences. Thanks to this feature, I was asked to host my podcast and was later featured in April by Dance Magazine on their social media.

Getting Married

I've always been kind of a weirdo when it comes to following any cultural expectation, especially when it comes to babies, dogs, and weddings. It took about a year and a half of gay marriage being legalized for me to finally agree to wed my love of 11 years. We celebrated our wonderful wedding day at a historic theatre a few miles from where I was raised and were surrounded by family and friends from all over the country. And by the time the wedding day came, I finally got it! I understood why the day was so special!

Being Hired to Teach at Steps on Broadway & Broadway Dance Center:

The screen at the front desk - Steps on Broadway
The first time I went to New York City on my own was at the ripe young age of 15 to take class at Broadway Dance Center. Eventually, under the mentorship of Bob Rizzo, at the age of 16 I started taking classes on a more regular basis at Steps on Broadway. I remember thinking what a supreme accomplishment it would be to have the opportunity to teach at these famous institutions. Beginning in January, it took 6 months of ambitious effort for them to give me a chance. But in both June and July, I realized my childhood dream of getting to teach at these schools. Now, I am on my way towards hopefully earning permanent classes and am glad to put in my time as a regular guest faculty member.

My Pas de Chát: Talking Dance Podcast on the Premier Dance Network:

As I stated above, after being featured in February's Dance Magazine, I was contacted by the CEO of the Premier Dance Network to produce and host a podcast on the largest dance podcasting network in the world. In April, I began recording Pas de Chát: Talking Dance. Getting the chance to share my voice on such a major platform has brought me an array of new opportunities. From guest interviews on the This Show is So Gay and Barretender podcasts, to teaching, speaking for the Dancers Resource|Actors Fund about Managing the Freelance Life, and more things that I can't yet discuss, I have been so grateful to have a growing number of avenues to share my art. I have never particularly wanted to be famous. But I have always wanted to be respected in my field and to feel like my knowledge and work is important and respected. Getting this nod and platform has definitely been a great push in the right direction to achieve my goals.

Getting to Sleep in My Own Bed Often:

Mmmmmmm....My Bed!!!!
This goes along with the first highlight of my year. One important aspect in reclaiming my own sanity was to sleep in my own bed more regularly. The idea of this doesn't just represent resting in my own comfort, but it also means that I got to see my husband more often and to have time to show him that he is just as important to me as my career. It doesn't matter how many times I have had to ride the Megabus or Bolt Bus back from my 2-4 weekly trips to New York City to teach, network, and more. Just getting to sleep in my own bed, cuddled up beside my Danya has been a major highlight of my year.

Taking Nancy Bielski's Class on the Regular:

One of my biggest challenges since I stopped having the option to take company class regularly was finding a ballet class that inspired me to show up every day. While I haven't necessarily been able to make it up to New York City every day this year, I have been sure to drop into Nancy Bielski's class at Steps on Broadway 1-5 times a week. A major part of my burn out was feeling like I had to go to ballet class every day, even if I felt uninspired. Well, Nancy definitely inspires me to show up, work hard, and not take myself so seriously that I cut myself down all the time. Beyond that, what is more inspiring than plie-ing and tendu-ing beside the likes of dancers like Alessandra Ferri, Misty Copeland, Diana Vishneva, professional ballet dancers, Broadway dancers, and beyond. 


View on the train from Machu Picchu
While I have gotten to travel a ton since I began my freelance career a handful of years ago, all of my work has been domestic. I'm still struggling to figure out how to find teaching, choreographic, and speaking work outside of the United States. Due to the quantity of my work and the stress of feast or famine periods, Danya and I haven't gotten to travel internationally since I left Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2011. Well, that all changed this year. Thanks to the generosity of our friends and family at our wedding, we were able to travel to Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay for the most awe-inspiring 3-week honeymoon this past September. Beyond the amazingness of seeing the clouds slowly swirl out of the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu, we visited culturally rich Lima and Cuzco, grafitti-laden Santiago and Valparaiso, and the artsy glamour of Buenos Aires. I feel it is so important to travel the world and experience other cultures. It teaches us that there are so many ways that people can live on this earth. And while different, each of these ways of living is just as valid as my own.

I think a great way to end this post and ring in the new year is to discuss my coming to terms with the end of my performance career. While I hadn't really performed publicly that much since my injury with Oakland Ballet in May of 2014, I still didn't consider myself retired for quite some time. After giving myself the time to reclaim my life and sanity, I finally found the strength to announce that I have concluded the majority of my performance career. While this was difficult to vocalize publicly, it was, perhaps, the most important moment of my year. It allowed me to give my mind and body a break, while also allowing me to fully focus on the next stages of my career. Since I posted about this back in August, I have had more opportunities to teach and speak. As I head forward into 2017, I look forward to taking greater advantage of this and building my choreographic portfolio immensely.

Closing the Chapter to 2016 (Photo: JRo)

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