8.02.2017

Summer Hiatus Update


Greetings to all of you, my beloved readers! I hope that you have been enjoying an incredible summer full of hard work, rest, relaxation, and preparation for a fantastic 2017-2018 season. It has been very odd for me to take so much time off from writing these past few months. But it was absolutely necessary for me to take a few things off of my plate to make space for my extremely challenging schedule. July was quite murderous for me with daily commutes stretching as long as 9 hours (thanks to summer traffic heading into NYC), weekly teaching schedules including 12+ classes, weekly podcasts, and preparations for our move to NYC. I'm aware that I have been running a very fine line between setting up my work life for our move and burning out on my tedious travel schedule. In good news, I feel like I have finally gotten over the hump of summer insanity, so I want to offer you a very brief update before I go back into blog-hiding again for a little bit.

First and most exciting, my Danya and I have officially given our 60 days notice that we will not be renewing our lease in Philadelphia. After 19 months of super-commuting to see if transitioning my career to New York City would be a good fit, it became so overwhelmingly clear that we are 100% sure that this is the right thing to do. I have spent most of the summer teaching regularly at Steps on Broadway and Broadway Dance Center, but have also spent a lot of time teaching my kids up at Greenwich Ballet Academy in Connecticut and Port Chester, New York. I have also begun developing the 2nd year of what I hope to be a 4-year contemporary dance training syllabus for pre-professional ballet dancers. Beyond this, I have gained employment one evening a week with another school in New Jersey this coming fall. While I still have room for additional choreography, teaching, speaking, consulting, and private lessons, I will have my first set of stable work and income since I began freelancing back in 2011. I bet you can hear the great sigh of relief that I just let out having put this down in writing to share with you.

The second piece of news I have could be seen as good or bad news, depending on how you view it. Part of the reason I needed to take a break from writing on LoFD was because I had severe writer's block that I had never experienced in the 5 years of continuously developing content for all of you to read here. I couldn't figure out why I didn't want to write, aside from assuming it was a symptom of my overwhelming travel and work schedule. When I finally gave myself permission to take some time away from here, my initial reaction was that I was done with blogging. But as I continued to rest my mind and repair my thought process, I came to realize that I am having such difficulty coming up with new material because I have evolved into a new stage of my career. While I will always have the heart of a freelancer and likely continue to work as a freelance dance educator, choreographer, speaker, and who knows what new additions I will add, I have not had any new experiences as a performing freelance artist in quite some time. Most of what I've written on here in the past two years has involved recollections and memories I had during my tenure traveling the country from company to company. This combined with the fact that blocking online bots from spamming my blog also stopped major search engines from offering my writing to the general public (I went from 250-1000 daily views to 20-50). I couldn't figure out why I should continue writing on here, especially with the tedious process of starting from scratch to regain the former visibility my blog had retained. Having some time to think, I realized that I still love to write and want to continue sharing valuable information and intriguing personal and second-hand experiences of dance artists publicly.

Taking all of this into consideration, I determined that if I was going to start over building my blog's audience, I was going to do it in a way that is now relevant to the career-style that I am living and breathing. For this reason, I have decided that I am going to stop writing for LoFD, archive all of my valuable posts for readers here and in the form of an E-Book, and launch a new blog this fall about the life of dance educator, coach, choreographer, speaker, and whatever else comes my way. I am hoping to cover all relevant topics for the stage of a dance career that happens once a performing artist takes their final curtain call. I am not quite sure the title of this venture or when it will launch. But it will likely happen soon thereafter my husband and I transition our lives 90 miles north to New York City. So, be sure to stay tuned on here for a major announcement that will likely happen somewhere during the time period of October or November.

Lastly, I just want to take a moment to thank all of you for being so understanding as I figure out what is happening in my life and how I can continue to provide the best content for my family, friends, colleagues, and readers. I hope you will continue to join me on this fascinating journey that has been my dance career.

(And, if you want to catch up on any of my former posts, click here for a general archive of content)

6.13.2017

Summer Break

A month ago, a close friend since my time at the School of American Ballet suggested the idea that I begin to slow down my work here on Life of a Freelance Dancer. When the words left his lips, I nodded my head as I listened. But I was hardly in agreement as my nod may have suggested. My initial reaction was to internally scoff at the idea. But the seed had been planted and the timing ironic. Something is wrong with my blog and it all started about a year ago. Online bots and crawlers flooded my pages with thousands of views a day, essentially erasing all data I was using to judge what content was relevant and wanted versus personal and unhelpful. When this happened, I used a certain line of code in an attempt to interrupt these false views. It took nearly four months for my data to normalize. But in the process, I forgot that I had input that code. Then, a glaring and shocking reminder struck me about a month ago. Google stopped referring all traffic to Life of a Freelance Dancer (which is the job of a few of the crawlers that weren't spamming me), bringing viewership down to numbers I haven't seen since the first months of posting on here. Timing is everything, and with my friend's suggestion, an overwhelming summer schedule, and my first bout of crippling writer's block setting in, I began to struggle with my purpose in continuing to write beyond my vast plethora of 190 posts.

Fast forward to this week. As I have mentioned on here before, I try to see a counselor (as I think everybody, especially in this crazy dance world, should) a few times a month to help me assess, manage, and live my best life. This week's solo session seemed pretty run of the mill. I had rehearsal for my new work with CelloPointe at New York Theatre Ballet until 2 pm, dashed to the Bolt Bus, and made it home just in time to stop by the gym before my appointment. I know this sounds abnormal, but abnormal has become my new normal. I walked into my appointment prepared to discuss a few things. One being a lack of motivation, which strongly included writing content on here. We had discussed slowing down my posting here the week prior and I was struggling with the idea. As we explored my reluctance to essentially "put the pen down" for the summer, I was caught extremely off-guard when I found myself in tears.

I have been through a lot since the inception of this blog. I began writing it depressed, scared, and injured at my first gig as a full-time freelancer after suffering one of the greatest traumas of my life. I've shared my story on here, I've documented my growth, I've shown my highs and lows, and I have expressed the deepest parts of my self and career for the world to read from the privacy of their own computers. This blog has changed my life. But more than anything, living the life of a freelance dancer, this journal has been the the only reliable, constant in my life since April of 2012 (other than my husband). When I hadn't been home for more than 7 weeks in 4 years, I had this outlet. When I felt like I had lost all of my friends to be successful and work enough to pay my bills, I had this platform to comfort myself and talk my way through it. When I chose to step off the stage, instead of having a final performance, I wrote about my experience on here. As I laughed through tears in this session exclaiming, "I can't believe I'm crying over a stupid blog," it all became clear that this has become more than just a computer screen and letters assembled into words into thoughts into posts. It has been a confidante, a shoulder to lean on, and a listening ear, even while alone in hotel rooms, eating by myself at airport restaurants, and sitting in other people's homes up to 4,000 miles away from my own home.

So, here we are today, as I sit in Lincoln Center across from the Metropolitan Opera House writing to all of you. I have only felt more inspired to write on a few other occasions. Honestly, I'm afraid to do this, but I know I have to. I haven't taken an extended break from Life of a Freelance Dancer in over 5 years (which sounds insane to me). I would be lying if I told you I'm not nervous about it. But I am going to step away from posting on here throughout the rest of the summer to focus on my choreography, teaching, podcasting, seeking additional work (including the aforementioned and professional writing opportunities), and more all in preparation for our October move to New York City. I know I can continue pumping out content on here. But there is nothing more important than feeling inspired to do so. Additionally, I need to assess, at this point, if I have gained all that I can from writing on here or if it offers me more purpose. I love giving to all of you, my faithful readers. But I need to make sure that this is working for me personally, emotionally, and career-wise.

I hope that you all understand. I will continue to produce my podcast and will leave my current teaching schedule for the summer below if you want to learn from me, hear some of my thoughts, or meet me in person. Please do feel compelled to leave me a comment on here, via my website contact page, or on Facebook if you have anything you'd like to share with me about your experience with Life of a Freelance Dancer. And, who knows, maybe I will be inspired to write an update or two on here throughout the summer. I just need to give myself permission not to for awhile.

Thank you for your understanding and support. And, more than anything else, thank you for reading! And to those of you I have interacted with online or in-person, thank you for telling me that my work has helped you and for sharing your own personal stories with me. It has inspired me so very greatly! Enjoy the sunshine and I hope to see you soon! (And if you want to catch up on previous posts, click here to review the LoFD archives)


MY SUMMER TEACHING SCHEDULE (as of 6/13)

Steps on Broadway:
Advance Intermediate Ballet - Monday, Wednesday Friday - 2:30 pm - 6/12 - 7/31 (most dates)
Intermediate Contemporary - Friday - 6 pm - 7/21, 7/28, 8/4
Advance Intermediate Contemporary - Sunday - 3:30 pm - 7/23, 7/30, 8/6

Broadway Dance Center:
Advance Beginner Ballet - Friday - 6 pm - All Summer
Basic Ballet - Sunday - 6 pm - All Summer

Summer Intensive (for pre-professional students):
Greenwich Ballet Academy - 6/27 - 8/18

Contemporary Ballet - Choreography Residency:
Nickerson-Rossi Dance - Knauer Theatre - West Chester, PA - 8/7 - 8/11


Master Classes:
Uptown Dance Company & School - Houston, TX (TBA - between 8/20 - 8/30)


(Please be sure to check open class schedules before attending, as there are a few dates that I will be out of town)







 

5.22.2017

Talking to People You Don't Know at Events

Dancers at Contact: A Networking Event for Freelance Dancers
After teaching at Steps on Broadway this past Sunday, I picked up a coffee and started walking the 30 block trek from the Upper West Side to Broadway Dance Center. Around the point that I walked past Lincoln Center, a gentleman stopped me to ask if I was somebody he had taught a decade or so back. In a break from my typical metropolitan self, I turned to him and stated that he must have the wrong guy since I was raised in Philly and didn't attend academic school in the city. I'm not sure how he did it, but he managed to entice me into a conversation that lasted exactly 20 blocks. While my mind was racing back and forth as to this guys intentions and whether I should bid him adieu, his conversation skills kept me engaged as he strayed (for the most part) away from creepy or utterly odd. While I eventually determined that this sexegenarian's initial reasoning in reaching out to me was physical attraction, he was compelling enough to defer any uncomfortable intentions. This guy had impressive skills when it came to talking to a complete stranger and, in the wake of this interaction, it struck me that dancers also need to have similar communicative abilities. Whether in the theatre, at a public venue, or even on the streets, we will often have to engage in conversation with new colleagues, donors, visiting choreographers, and arts lovers alike. So, in response to this experience, I figured that this week, I would offer some tips and tricks on how to engage with people you don't know in the event that you find yourself in a conversation with a new colleague, somebody who could develop into a supporter of your work, or anybody beyond your typical passing conversation.

1. Don't be afraid to walk up to an individual or group and just say hello. The first step of engaging with people you don't know is to calmly announce your presence. From there, you can usually find your way into a talking point to become a part of the conversation. Obviously, you don't want to abruptly interrupt or interject before you have been appropriately welcomed. But stepping up to an individual that is standing alone or a small group of people in conversation and saying, "Excuse me, do you mind if I join you?," is a perfectly acceptable way to join a conversation or to introduce yourself without feeling too intrusive.

2.  If the person/people you are greeting is/are already in a conversation when you enter, be sure to give the participants space to complete what they are talking about. Sometimes they will take that route. At other times, a new participant can completely alter the direction of the chat, especially if the conversation was deeply personal. Be sure to leave room for that natural evolution to take place. But don't be unprepared if you are going to step in to introduce yourself, as the conversation's focus may quickly turn over to you. In the event that the group doesn't ask you to properly introduce yourself (beyond your name), I always suggest that you have a follow up topic in the event that your entrance turns the spotlight over to you. For instance, if you want to engage with a visiting choreographer after a performance, throwing out an, "I love your work and would love to discuss your inspiration for the piece," may work well. For a patron that you have yet to meet, it is always appropriate to ask them if they enjoyed the show. And when they say yes (which they almost always will), ask them what their favorite part was. There is no easier way to spur conversation with a stranger than to relate to the reason that you are both attending an event. If you are at a philanthropic event, ask how they got involved in the organization. If they are at an art gallery, ask them what type of art they like. If you were in a performance and they attended that performance, ask them about the show. If you directly relate to the reason that you are both in attendance, that can be an easy launching point to eventually lead into a more meaningful conversation.

3. The best tool to cultivate in becoming a compelling presence at any event is to have a toolbox of general questions prepared to ask people of all kinds. While the artists who are part of a production are obviously going to be asked questions about themselves and their work, all people like to feel interesting enough to be asked about themselves and their life's work. Once you have engaged somebody in the idea that you are both mutually interested in the reason that you are attending the event, you will need somewhere to go from there. There are a range of topics you can discuss once you've broken the ice and had an initial connection of interests. Go ahead and ask questions like: "How long have you been coming to see our shows?" "What do you do for a living?" " Are you originally from (the city you are in)?" "What else do you do for fun aside from attending the ballet?" There are a range of simple questions that you should always have in your back pocket to avoid awkward silences or the subsequent response to that silence, "Excuse me, I told my friend I'd head over to see them."

4. This is something that I'm actually quite horrible at because I'm always afraid that I am going to be perceived as disingenuous. I actually have to practice being complimentary of other people, as it is easy to discredit simple things that may not seem exciting or compelling to me, but may be meaningful to others. I think that, as dancers, we often are used to accepting compliments from people outside of our field. But as never-ending critics of our own technique, we tend to be extremely critical in general, which leads to difficulty in offering positive reinforcement to others. If somebody at an event bought tickets in celebration of their anniversary, be sure to wish them a hearty congratulations. If somebody thought they wouldn't enjoy a dance production and was surprised that they found it compelling, reaffirm their achievement in overcoming an obstacle in them becoming supporters of your art. Again, all people enjoy feeling special and accomplished. A little nod or a few kind words can go a long way in having an enjoyable conversation and potentially growing a relationship with people you meet at events.

5. This may seem unnecessary, but always have an exit strategy for uncomfortable conversations or for people that are outstaying their welcome. Unfortunately, especially for female dancers, some patrons only attend events in hopes of meeting dancers for romantic reasons. Especially, if alcohol is flowing, there are the rare guests who can become inappropriate towards dancers. Not to validate this activity in any way, but this makes sense since dancers are often seen as untouchable creatures onstage, often wearing form-fitting costumes that leave little to the imagination. It is always a good idea to have a friend with you or nearby to help you exit a conversation as quickly as possible, if necessary. If you find yourself alone with a patron that is crossing certain boundaries, it is alright to tell them that they are being inappropriate and that you are uncomfortable and leaving. Yes, you don't want to be oversensitive. But you also want to be respectful to yourself and remain safe. Know what your line is, whether mild flirting is comfortable or an arm around your shoulders bothers you. But the second that lines are crossed, immediately exit without niceties or explanation and be sure to mention to somebody in a management position that a patron crossed a line with you to avoid situations like this in the future for yourself and/or others.

Talking to dancers at Contact: A Networking Event for Freelance Dancers
6. Most importantly, take a breath, grab a glass of wine (if you are of age), relax, and enjoy yourself. Most social interactions with people you don't know at events are calm, simple, and happen quickly. And we are our most compelling self when we allow our true personality to shine through. If you attend enough functions, you may find that you are in conversation with the same people from a previous event. And, if you are lucky, you might even create long lasting relationships that lead into friendships, romance, or benefactors who support your work. Life is a party and if you put yourself in the mix, you are sure to meet a few people that enrich your life in ways well beyond a simple, passing conversation about the weather.

5.10.2017

Finding What Makes You Unique & LOFD Writes for Dance Magazine


My story on the all-new Dance Magazine website
I really can't express how grateful I am to be having a whirlwind year when it comes to opportunities and achievements. To be completely honest, I had wishes and dreams of this stuff happening in my performance career. Little did I think that I would actually find what I was looking for and more in only the first year following the end of my time onstage. Last week, I had both the honor of being featured by Dance Magazine and writing for the same periodical in one fell swoop. It has been on my goal list for a few years now to write an article for this major publication and to have my work in the studio and on the stage highlighted, as well. If you want to check out that article, you can click this link right here to be swept over to Dance Magazine's new website to read my article.

The Graduating Class of the dance department at Hunter College
I'm currently riding the Bolt Bus back from New York City to spend an evening with my husband and a night in my own bed. At the moment, I'm currently riding off the high of sharing my knowledge and experience with the graduating class in Hunter College's dance department, where we discussed marketing oneself online and in-person, how to prepare materials for auditions, and techniques in cultivating social media for self-promotion. We talked about many things throughout this 2-hour interactive workshop that I curated especially for these students embarking on their first year out on their own. One thing that we addressed that I haven't talked about in great detail anywhere is how to find what makes you unique and how to use that to stand out in a crowd. So, I thought why not discuss that right here, right now.

This concept kind of drives me nuts, but every one of us is unique. In fact, the only thing that is normal about every human being is that we are all unique. While some dancers have amazingly high leg extensions or perfectly centered pirouettes, others have artistry that really shines through and can move people to tears. But there are other aspects of self that help dancers become visible. Perhaps, its your hair color, your fashion sense, your interests offstage, or your upbringing. There are unique characteristics that we are born with and different personal experiences that we all have had that distinguish each of us from one another. While many of us try to find success through our technique and artistry, it is more common for those who rise to local, regional, national, and international attention to be singled out for their uniqueness rather than their technique. This is due to the fact that many people today have impeccable technique, sky-high extensions, and can turn on a dime. Today, people tend to be drawn to artists who are imperfect, but intriguing, relatable, or any combination of the two.

How does one find what makes them unique and then use it to their advantage onstage and offstage? This often requires a lot of trial-and-error to accomplish. For me, as a dancer, I had nice facility with very good technique and considerable acting skills. I always felt like my acting skills distinguished me from others since I didn't have incredible facility. But I was never able to gain the national or international attention I had dreamed of attaining in my work as a performing artist with my skill set. Only when I began freelancing and developed this blog had I begun to even tap into a little bit of what makes me unique in this vast, yet small dance world. I didn't realize it at the time, but what was distinctive about me as an artist was the candor and honesty that I am willing to share publicly about my work and our art form. While this has nothing to do with my dancing, it is a distinguishing quality of mine that I seemed to have naturally cultivated. It absolutely has helped me stand out in a crowd. During my performance career, this quality of mine helped me gain employment across the nation as a freelance artist and got me a few nice nods with attention from Dance Informa and a short article about health care in Dance Magazine.

I didn't have to try hard to develop this characteristic in my media and social media work, as this has always been a quality of mine since childhood. I remember sitting with a friend at the Kirov Academy of Ballet who asked me to be honest with her about what I thought of her technique. I remember her pursing her lips, letting out a short close-lipped smile, and stating, "That was mildly painful to hear, but I know that you love me and I now know what I need to work on to get where I want to." And the beautiful part of this story is that she got her dream job to dance with Universal Ballet in South Korea, where her mother had been raised. So, while I have always had this unique quality, it took freelancing and this blog for me to figure out how to use it to benefit my career.

Rose Montgomery-Webb (Photo: Unknown)
Now, let's talk for a moment about what you are really here for? How can my sharing of this story help you. How can you determine what makes you unique and utilize those qualities to help become your most successful self? The first and most obvious place is to look within yourself. I always say that you should start with your story. Where did you grow up? How did you grow up? I remember having this conversation with one of my students from Alaska Dance Theatre who is currently a trainee at Ballet Met. She was raised in Alaska, but adopted from South Korea while she was an infant. While she didn't see these aspects of her life as anything out of the ordinary (and it was beautiful to see that she didn't), in the eyes of others she was having wildly unique experiences before she even had cognizance of it. As she has entered her years of auditioning for companies and finding her way towards becoming a professional, I have always told her to own those two facts and be unafraid to openly share about these things. This has paid off in certain ways, beyond her training opportunities and gaining a scholarship to attend Ballet Met for the summer that led her to this traineeship, she was selected as a guest host for the Premier Dance Network's Becoming Ballet podcast. If you can look into your life and see and share what unique experiences made you into the person that you are today, you may be on the right track to finding your definitive story. Look at Misty Copeland and how her story has catapulted her into legitimate fame.

James Whiteside (Photo: Unknown)
There are other unique things about people that are outside of themselves and their experiences. For instance, Kansas City Ballet dancer Kelsey Hellebuyck has a hell of a knack for fashion. She runs a blog that documents her outfits from day to day, which has had her featured in Pointe Magazine and other media outlets. Kathryn Morgan had a meteoric-rise at New York City Ballet then was struck with a debilitating illness that forced her off the stage. While she already had a unique story, she has found even more ways to make herself distinctive by developing a Youtube channel that offers tips, tricks, and training for young, aspiring dancers. Margaret Mullin (Soloist with Pacific Northwest Ballet) has been working as choreographer and director on a film documentary, James Whiteside (American Ballet Theatre Principal) rose to celebrity status thanks to his viral music videos and non-apologetic openness about his lifestyle, and Abigail Mentzer (former Pennsylvania Ballet Soloist & current dancer in the Phantom of the Opera tour) has become well-known for her interest in dancewear and her company that grew from that. Aside from finding what makes themselves unique, these artists have also developed their unique passions outside of the dance studio to garner attention, likes, and an adoring audience.

I wouldn't have gotten the opportunity I had today at Hunter College and the one above with Dance Magazine if I hadn't figured out what made me unique and ran with it. It can be so frustrating for somebody to tell you that everybody and nobody is unique. And while I fully agree with that statement, we can only blossom fully when we learn how to genuinely be our own unique self. Take some time to tap into and cultivate multiple parts of yourself that you feel are distinguishing. But be sure not to get disillusioned when certain things you have worked towards and hoped for don't actually catch people's attention. Practically nobody figures out the key to success on their first try. Keep putting yourself out there, keep fine-tuning your ideas and story, and (if you are lucky) your uniqueness will help bring you to the forefront of attention onstage, offstage, and in communities around the world.


4.26.2017

7 Rules for Posting on Social Media for an Audience

A typical scene around Jackson Square in New Orleans
If you follow me on any of my other social media outlets (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pas de Chát podcast), you will see and hear that I took an important break from my teaching, choreographic, and media work while vacationing in The Big Easy. While I did post a few work-related items, most of my sharing consisted of personal experiences and artsy items I found while running around the charmed streets of New Orleans with my husband and friend, J-Ro. It wasn’t always this way, but I now feel funny when I use social media mainly for personal use. I’m so attuned to creating content for all of you guys that I feel odd when I revert back to more typical ways that I used social media before I began freelancing in 2011. As I head home (I’m writing this from the airport) and start revving back up into work mode, it has gotten me thinking about what I post and how I share across multiple media platforms. So, instead of keeping this knowledge to myself, I figured I’d share it with all of you. Keep on reading for a comprehensive list of 7 Rules for Posting on Social Media for an Audience.

1. Be sure to offer a variety of emotional content to appeal to a wide audience. Remember that people relate to people, so letting the public have a view into your private experience can be an extremely relatable asset to promoting your dancing, work, business, and ventures. Unfortunately, it is a harsh reality that many people hiding behind the privacy of a computer screen can become very judgmental of a person based off of the information they share on social media. If you only ever post updates about your successes, people may start to think that you have an over-inflated ego. If a majority of your posts are sad or depress, people may start to ignore your content because they don’t want to absorb your negative mood. If you focus your posts on writing disgruntled messages, people may assume that you are dramatic and unstable. Creating a range and variety of publishable content is a job within itself. You can write a legitimately upset or angry post on your social media here or there (see #7), but be sure that you offer a range of life experiences for your audience to relate to. In summing this up, be sure to come up with a game plan pertaining to the regularity of posts, range of content, and how often you plan to post about certain life happenings.

2. Post daily, but don’t post too frequently. This is one of my ultimate challenges, as I like to share a lot of content. Frequency of publishing engaging material has no perfect formula. It really comes down to seeing what your friends and audience respond to best. If you post too often, followers may feel like you are spamming their feed and unfollow or de-friend you. If you post too infrequently, your public may forget to look for your content or you may fall out of the algorithm that many social media sites rely on to share your relevant content with others. Play around with the amount of posting that your audience seems to respond to and tweak your posts and content from there.

Rehearsal to Performance of my new ballet (Photo: Eduardo Patino)
3. Try to add a visual to as many of your posts as possible. It is easy to share visual content on platforms like Instagram, where you are required to post images anytime you share . This isn’t a requirement for other outlets like Facebook and Twitter. As human beings, we are much more visual when it comes to exploring content. Think about what first draws you to read articles in magazines or on websites. Images. If you are able to upload visually relevant images along with your content, you will be that much more likely to catch the eye of followers who are scrolling through a handful of other artist's feeds just like yours.

4. If you are feeling angry, hurt, disappointed, or any range of adjectives that could be described as emotional, have at least one sleep before you write any public posts. When you are emotional, you tend to respond by reacting without reasoning. This is often the last thing you want to do. If you sleep on your reaction for just one night, you will likely wake up more rational than when you went to sleep. From there, you can decide whether you still want to follow through by sharing your original reaction, you can temper your original post into something more censored, or you can choose to scrap the whole thing altogether. You don’t want to end up in a situation like the talented choreographer David Dawson found himself in recently. After a London critic wrote a poor review of his work, his stager (who sets his ballets on companies) wrote an emotionally charged comment on the piece sparking great controversy. Mr. Dawson chose to tweet that he would attempt to avoid working in London’s dance scene in response, then almost immediately deleted the post. As he learned, even if you post something for just one minute and delete it, there is such a thing as a screenshot. Trust me on this one!

5. Stay engaged and interact with your audience as best as you can. It is easier to be responsive to your audience when you are in earlier stages of building your social media following. As your following grows, you may find that you are receiving more comments and requests for personal feedback than you can handle. It is important that you continue to maintain some semblance of interaction with your audience no matter how great their reaction may be. While I average anywhere between 2-10 messages from an array of dancers, readers, and listeners a day, I do my best to respond to each of them (even if a few months later). Don’t let these interactions take over the entirety of your work and free time. But do be sure to respond directly to as many people as you reasonably can. It is important to remember that these friends, followers, and fans are the reason that many of us get to thrive in the work that we do.

Courtesy of @thefatjewish on Instagram
6. Remember, anything that you post today could eventually be dug up years from now. Yes, most of us go through fun party phases where we might want to share our fun and debauchery. Yes, many of us share diverse and, sometimes, divisive perspectives. Yes, a majority of us have regretted posting something and deleted what we shared the following morning. The one thing that most kids and young adults don’t understand is that social media somehow morphs from a platform to share with friends to a platform for professional associations. Keep in mind that we sometimes share things that feel acceptable and culturally appropriate in the moment, but may reflect poorly upon us when a potential employer looks up your information, when you become the face of an organization/movement, or you react too quickly to a particular situation (see #4).

7. Make sure you are presenting your most genuine self. This is, perhaps, the most challenging task for anybody using social media to enhance or promote their work. Projecting confidence and sharing exciting experiences should absolutely be a part of your social media behaviors. But people are drawn to experiences that they can relate to more than things that are out of their social reach. If you can make yourself relatable by sharing genuine thoughts, successes, challenges, and experiences whilst throwing some unique and intriguing content out there, you will find that you can easily maintain and grow an audience that is emotionally invested in your life’s work.

Cheers from NoLA!!!!

4.12.2017

Springtime: A Time for (Contract) Renewal

My new work, Diagnosis, premieres this Saturday in NYC (Photo: Eduardo Patino)
It's been a busy, busy few weeks here at Life of a Freelance Dancer! Other than teaching, I have been hurriedly preparing for the world premiere of my new work for the Columbia Ballet Collaborative's 10th anniversary production at Columbia University in New York City this upcoming weekend. If you want to see some extremely intelligent and talented dancers, follow this link for tickets. Shows are at 3 pm & 8 pm, and additional choreographers include American Ballet Theatre soloist Craig Salstein, Emery Lecrone, Claudia Schreier, and more! Additionally, I will be speaking this upcoming Tuesday, April 18th, at Gibney Dance for their Dancer's Economic Empowerment Program (DEEP) about negotiating contracts for professionals. The event is free and starts at 6:30 pm, so stop on by, say hello, and learn something! You can RSVP by clicking here. Beyond all of this excitement, I am also honored to have recently been featured in Inside Dance magazine's March/April issue in their Teacher4Teacher segment. I've only been focusing on my teaching and choreographic career for a short period of time, so I was taken aback when they asked me to share my thoughts and experiences thus far in my career. So far, this spring has been quite good to me and I am extremely thankful for everything that has come my way!

Teacher4Teacher feature in Inside Dance Magazine
Speaking of spring, this season is a great time of renewal. The sun stays out later, plants and trees begin to blossom, and people generally have a sunnier disposition on life as their habits move from indoor living to outdoor recreation. Dancers are no exception to the rules of renewal when it comes to springtime. If a dancer works for a unionized company, this is when they will find out if they will be reengaged to dance another season with their company. While some dancers will be let go from their positions, others may choose not to sign their contracts in hope of renewing their inspiration, getting a fresh start, or gaining the chance to progress beyond their current status in the rank-and-file of their current institution. Whether a dancer wants to leave their current company or was blindsided by news of non-reengagement, they need to determine how they will go about continuing their career, if they wish to do so.

Let's start by talking about possible options for a dancer that is looking to leave their current company position. First off, a dancer needs to determine if they are thinking of leaving only if they find a better option or if they are absolutely moving on whether they get a job offer or not. When contract time came up my final year at Pacific Northwest Ballet, I already knew I was leaving. I had made the decision to give up my contract nearly 7 months prior to being offered another year of work. So, there was no question by the time that I received my letter of intent that I would not accept a new contract. Most union contracts require management to notify a dancer of intent to rehire by March 1st. Once these letters go out, a dancer has until April 1st to agree to sign their contracts. Typically, a dancer who chooses to look beyond their current position will start reaching out to other organizations for auditions beginning in January or February. While many companies will allow you to take company class or attend a cattle call to audition, most won't tell you if you are being offered a job until after April 1st, when dancers reach the deadline to return letters of intent to their employers. Some dancers choose to tell their director that they aren't returning the following season earlier than this deadline (like I did), so jobs may become available before this date. But generally, a director will tell you that they are interested without making an official job offer until April or May at the latest. If you are thinking of leaving, but haven't made a solid commitment to depart, many dancers will just sign their current contract and continue into the next season. But if you are determined to change your career path, you may take a risk and let your boss know that you won't be returning, whether you have a job offer or not. Or, if you are comfortable enough, you can ask for an extension for your letter of intent, which is much less common.

If you are 100% set on leaving your current company, chances are that you are willing to take the risk to or are already prepared to be a freelance dancer, either for a period of time or permanently. Many former company dancers fall into freelancing for one of two reasons. Either they wanted to change some aspect of their career trajectory by choosing to leave their company and didn't gain full-time employment elsewhere or they were blindsided by non-renewal of their contract. I recently helped guide a dancer with a nice regional company on building a foundation to freelance from after they were unexpectedly non-reengaged from a position with a company they had danced with for 5 years. When presented with the idea that they had no say in this decision, they felt empowered to take full control of their career.
Ali Block, in my new work, gave up a company position to freelance & attend Columbia University (Photo: Eduardo Patino)
Either way, one needs to be prepared to freelance with an appropriate package to offer to potential employers. A cover letter (expressing your background and interest in working for employers), CV/résumé, dance photographs, and a performance reel are a great place to start. Of course, your package doesn't have to be completed to perfection from the beginning. But it should have enough information to offer an employer an idea of who you are. Additionally, each freelance artist needs to have a short-term and long-term plan in place, whether they ever realize these aspirations or not. For many dancers that are blindsided by the loss of a job, their main goal is to use this time as a gap-period between contracts. They hope to gain greater experience in roles that were, perhaps, not available to them in their previous work situation to make themselves more marketable the next time company auditions come around. For others, freelancing is the long-term goal. Whether common items like answering to one boss, becoming bored performing works in the exact same style in every program, or lack of touring were driving forces for a dancer to seek out long-term freelancing, a dancer needs to have long-term goals in place. What do you want to dance, where do you want to dance, who do you want to dance for, how long long do you want to dance, and why do you want to continue dancing? These are all questions that should be on a dancer's mind as they enter the wide wild world of a freelance dancer.

One often disregarded reason that some dancers consider freelancing after leaving or being forced out of a company is because they just aren't ready to retire from the art form quite yet. Maybe they have unresolved expectations, their body can't handle a 40-week workload, they can't admit to themselves that they are through with their art, or they want to finish their career on their terms. A lot of us think or used to think that retirement from dance was a straightforward process. But I can share from experience that I have seen freelancers enjoy long careers, dancers freelance for awhile and rejoin companies, dancers freelance for a bit and retire fully, and dancers freelance for a bit to retire for a period before making a fascinatingly rare comeback. There is great value in the freedom of choice and direction that freelancing can bring you. There is absolutely no shame in using freelancing as a slow end to your performance career.

Independent contracting can work as a great wind up or wind down for a career in dance. Just as long as your are clear in your goals and work to the best of your ability at each job you are working, while being fluid in adjusting goals as time passes. Spring sure brings forth great change. While there are sometimes chilly, gloomy days to cope with, we finish this season with flowers, lush green landscape, sun, and warm temperatures. It isn't shocking that a dancer's season mimics this change. It can be difficult to make decisions about your career or to accept that you are being forced to change the its trajectory. But if you look at these things with a spring-like outlook and put in the effort to understand, prepare, and execute the next step of your career, I can assure you that you can gain great success.

Springtime has finally arrived!

3.27.2017

You Can't Please Everybody

I had a very interesting experience last week. Something happened to me that has NEVER happened before. It took me awhile to figure out exactly what was going on and to determine how to digest the situation. A disgruntled student contacted one of my many employers and wrote a scathing three paragraph email attacking my integrity as an instructor and my personality outside the dance studio. I won't go into specific details about the message that was clearly meant to disparage my employer from continuing to work with me. But what I can tell you is that I was completely and utterly blindsided that a student who has only taken my class a very few times would go as far as trying to affect my employment because they disliked my attempt to share my art with them and improve their skills. Luckily, I have amazing friends and peers who have helped support me through this situation. And as a few of them have said, I officially have a HATER, which means that I must have made it! 😂


The dance world is a place that is brimming with judgment. We judge ourselves every day in the mirror, while teachers and peers are judging us, as well. Now, this judgment doesn't always have a negative connotation. A majority of judgment in a classroom setting comes from your instructors, whose job is to give you combinations, judge your execution, and offer corrections to help put you on the right path towards success. Your peers may judge you in order to determine what you are and aren't doing well to help them along their path, too. Once you leave the studio and step onstage, you are putting yourself on a platform that opens up a whole different world of judgment from the general public. Some of these people are critics, some are couples on dates, and others are ballet aficionados that spend as much free time as possible sitting in the anonymity that the darkness of a theatre provides. A performing artist is setting themselves up to be critiqued constantly.

Judging Art
One difficult reality that dancers must face is that judgement of their work often feels like a personal attack on one's character. A dancer creates their art by physically exhausting themselves and tapping into emotional parts of their life experience to portray certain roles. When a bad review comes out, a dancer may feel that their own being is under attack. This often isn't true, but that doesn't take away the pain of a negative critique.

There is a great deal of judgment and critique in our careers that is never intended to be malicious. But, then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, somebody comes along who just doesn't like you. Whether it is a critic that never likes how you perform a role compared to other dancers, a colleague that you always rub the wrong way, or somebody who you somehow offend with any and every action you take, there will be some people that you just can't please. This has been the great lesson of my career as of late.

As an instructor in dance, I have passed beyond the sometimes selfish period of my performance career. When I am in the studio working with my students, class has nothing to do with me and everything to do with getting my students to achieve the impossible. I am heavy in the correction department, try to inspire honest conversation among students, and try to provide valuable feedback to each student in my classes. Where a performance career involves a great deal of focus on oneself, a teaching career is the complete opposite. In fact, I say that the only way I can be successful as a teacher is to help my students become successful. Being a teacher of dance differs from a performance career in the sense that an instructor's sole focus should be to give fully to their students.

Working w/dancer on my new work for Columbia Ballet Collaborative (Photo: Eduardo Patino)
At the end of my time teaching a class, I often wait afterwards to talk with students and answer any questions that have gone unanswered in the fast-pace environment of a technique class. During this time, I also often receive feedback from my students. Nearly all of this feedback is positive. It is rare to never that a student comes up to a teacher with a complaint (they usually reserve this type of feedback for management). But it seems that while many students enjoy a class, it isn't uncommon for a student or two to have an opposite experience. If these students choose to express their discontent, having received opposing positive feedback, an instructor may find it difficult to understand where things went wrong and how to resolve it. The same can happen with a performer. Perhaps, after a show, a dancer receives a plethora of gracious comments and positive attention from peers, management, and friends who have watched their performance. But when that review comes out and tears them off of their performance pedestal, it can be painful and confusing to read something written for the public and to assess where things went wrong.

What I have learned in my most recent experience with my hater is that it is impossible to please everybody. As a friend recently told me, "I am not everyone's cup of tea." As dancers and former dancers, we tend to strive for this ideal that everybody around us will like us as people and artists. I feel that many people, non-dancers included want everybody to like them. But this is just completely impossible. There are so many people on this earth with so many different personalities, lifestyles, expectations, tastes, and more. And to have the expectation that you can please everybody and leave this life with every person you touched feeling positively about their experience with you is one hundred percent impossible. For instance, some students prefer an aggressive teacher that really pushes a dancer outside of their comfort zone. While other students want to attend class to have fun and prefer not to be corrected once. It is impossible to please everybody in the room, in the company, in the theatre, and in the world.


Sometimes, it is baffling to comprehend that those who choose to express their opinions have seen the same performance. One person's taste may differ greatly from another. Or one person's education and knowledge of dance may be vastly different from the people sitting next to them. The same goes for an instructor trying to impart their knowledge upon a studio of dancers. Some students may thrive under a challenging teacher, while others may collapse into negativity. Luckily, there is great beauty in having so many people involved in our field. Every teacher and every dancer is not someone's cup of tea. And that is fine. There are a range of options for each person to choose from. As long as we understand this concept, we can move forward from negative feedback much quicker. Yes, you should assess whether you feel that feedback is true and could potentially help you grow and cultivate your craft. But you can't please everybody and you absolutely shouldn't lose grasp of the type of artist you want to be just to please somebody who may never actually be pleased with you. You may just not be their cup of tea!

3.11.2017

Checklist: Do You Have What It Takes?

Ali Block performing w/Columbia Ballet Collaborative (Photo: Eduardo Patino)
I was sitting in the hallway of Barnard Hall at Columbia University last week waiting for my rehearsal to begin. Per usual, one of the dancers in my new work for the Columbia Ballet Collaborative's 10th Anniversary production showed up a little early to prepare for rehearsal. Ali Block, a former dancer with Eugene Ballet and Texas Ballet Theater, is now studying at Columbia while enjoying a freelance career in New York City. As she was preparing for rehearsal, we struck up a conversation about her transition from full-time company work to school and freelance life. I was taken aback (and maybe blushed a little) when Ali mentioned that she had been considering freelancing for awhile, but didn't think she could do it until she found my blog here. It has been really heart-warming over the past year as more and more dancers and non-dancers alike have told me that my work here on Life of a Freelance Dancer has inspired them to push themselves inside and outside of their own careers. I've always written on here to help dancers, artists, and independent contractors walk the tricky path that is a freelance career. But I never really considered that I might be helping people make the decision to launch their freelance career until Ms. Block used those exact words.

In typical LOFD fashion, I'm letting this moment inspire the content I'm creating to share with you. And I figured why not head back to the root of this media platform, helping freelancers freelance. So, inspired by the word that I inspired this lovely dancer to cross that line and embark on a career in freelance work, I would like to offer you a checklist of items to ask yourself if it is time for you to jump into the freelance pool to drive your own career and success.

Have I completed enough of my training to offer my best product possible? Am I anxious to start dancing professionally when I could really benefit from more time refining my technique and skills?

If you have already danced professionally or have auditioned for companies and received interest without solid offers, you may be ready to take the plunge. If you are still in the pre-professional period of your training, don't mistake your intense drive to have a professional career as a reason to embark on seeking employment as an independent contractor too early in the game. Many dancers are willing to forgo pertinent training in the formative late teens and early 20's because they feel like they should already be working. Try to be realistic about your training and skill level and don't be afraid to train an extra year or two. You can make up for time in your career, but you can't always make up for lost training. In fact, I gave up a corps contract with Colorado Ballet at 18 years old to train for a year at the School of American Ballet. The next year I was offered a position with Houston Ballet, which was a nice step up. I would say it was definitely worth the wait and additional education.

Do I have the motivation to make sure that I am taking class and cross-training regularly or do I need the push of an employer/potential casting to keep me coming to class to stay in shape?

Not every dancer is able to stay self-motivated to stay in shape. Just like taking an educational online/correspondence course, some people don't perform well without direct, in-person oversight to stay on track. If you find that you easily fall off track without outside motivation or if your response to feeling down is to avoid the activities necessary to perform at your highest level, you may want to reconsider freelancing or work on ways to improve your self-reliance. The best freelancers are the most self-motivated, driven people you will meet.

Am I outgoing or extremely sensitive when being thrust into new environments?


Lucia Rogers & me performing Romeo & Juliet at Fort Wayne Ballet (Photo: Jeffrey Crane)
As a freelancer, you are constantly meeting new people and developing fresh relationships throughout gigs and networking that leads to work. While a shy dancer may take their time to develop relationships once they feel comfortable within a group, a freelancer doesn't always have this luxury. A freelance artist needs to be adept at adapting quickly in the studio, as well as within the culture of the group with whom they are working. For instance, when I was brought in to dance with Fort Wayne Ballet, I had less than two weeks to prepare the role of Romeo. Due to the short period of time to prepare this full-length classic, Juliet and I were already kissing in rehearsal by the second day. If you have issues getting comfortable with your colleagues quickly, you may have challenges adapting to the constant environmental and social changes that are a major part of a freelance career.

Does self-promotion come easily to me and/or am I willing to work to build that?

A popular Instagram post creating choreography at my gym
There are few dancers that are naturally good at promoting themselves for employment. Most of us were taught to speak with our bodies and technique, not our mouths or keyboards. Can you find effective ways to market yourself and the quality of performer you are without appearing that you are an egotistical maniac of a dancer? Do you love or hate social media? Even if you don't enjoy it, you need to be willing to put daily effort into (at least) Facebook and Instagram to keep your face and product on the minds of those in your career field.

Can you stand up for yourself in the studio? What about when it comes to contract negotiations and pay?

Are you a compulsive pushover? Most people don't like pushing too hard when it comes to accepting terms of work. We all want to be working, so we will all be pushovers at a certain point. What I am talking about is speaking up when you are not comfortable with the compromise (or lack thereof) given. It is important that you know how to stand your ground in contract negotiations or how to approach an employer when certain work places issues arise. It is never comfortable speaking up to protect yourself or telling an employer that you aren't comfortable with certain items. As a freelancer, you are responsible for your physical, emotional, and financial health. If you don't think you can handle this type of pressure, you may need to seek work with a company that offers a union contract or an advocate for its dancers.

Are you ready to wear more hats than the word "dancer" implies?

One of the biggest shocks I had after entering my freelance career was the multitude of duties I had to take on in order to become successful in my field. While dancing for a company, all I had to worry about was showing up for class, rehearsing repertoire, and taking care of my body. The last few years I danced with Pacific Northwest Ballet, I added university classes to achieve my Associates of the Arts degree and union delegate duties as a liaison between company dancers and management.

Playing the role of Businessman
Luckily, these activities outside of my role as a dancer began to prepare me for the life of a freelancer. Once I began working as an independent contractor, my focus had no choice but to spread over a vast amount tasks that are necessary to build and maintain this style of career.  Now, instead of having the luxury to completely focus on fine-tuning my technique and preparing for performances, I found myself maintaining this blog and taking on work in my own marketing, research, managing, negotiating, cross-training, physical maintenance, teaching, promotion, and more. A few years into my travels, there was a point when I really missed the luxury of company life that allows dancers to focus solely on their work in the studio and on the stage. While this was quite an adjustment, I am very grateful for the vast education and experience I have received from having to wear so many hats.

Are you truly passionate about dance or is it just something that you've always done?

One thing that really strikes me about freelance work is how revealing the stresses of this career-style are to an artist. Dancers are greatly unique, but especially so in the sense that almost all of us started our path to professional as children. Some of us asked our parents to take dance classes. Others were put into ballet by our parents who thought we needed to burn energy. And there are certainly some dancers who were forced into the studio by overbearing dance parents hoping to live out their unrealized dreams through their children. Due to the range of reasons dancers begin training, many are only dancing because they were good at it and have never known anything else. Like other artists who have been honing their craft since early childhood, a handful of professionals find that they really aren't passionate when the going gets tough. I can almost assure you that there will be intense challenges at some point in your freelance career. If you know nothing but an easy path, you may not realize that you don't have the passion to push through intense difficulties. I have experienced firings, injuries, famines, transitions, losses, more injuries, burnt bridges, burn out, and much more. But I am still here and I can't imagine doing anything else. How about you?

2.27.2017

The Ultimate Sacrifice

Throughout the wildly political 2016 calendar year, social media became all sorts of heated platforms. Long gone were the days of respectful conversation and friendly debate. This new age of irresistible public posting with resistant, closed-mindedness permeated my feed as I tried to stifle the stress of possibly losing my rights and watching the positive progress of 8 years disappear with the ding of voting machine buttons. Nonetheless, I did everything in my power to avoid arguments on social media while staying a part of important conversations. And this is how I continue to treat social media while the remnants of this election cycle still have people on an argumentative edge. Now this is where this post swings from political to dance. The other day I was sifting through my feed to find a former professional dancer I was acquainted with through Pacific Northwest Ballet's school (who is now retired) reposting the article I shared in my most recent blog post about dance potentially causing psychological harm. Now a mother, her sharing of this article was accompanied by a statement that her daughter would never be a part of the art form to which she once gave her full self. I felt the need to turn this public thought into a caring conversation, and luckily she responded with the same sentiment. And from that respectful chat this post was borne.

A local Philly sculpture - "Freedom" by Zenos Frudakis
There is just something about being a former professional dancer. I can speak to this from both perspectives, as I am out of my performance career, but still maintain dance as every aspect of my career and self. While there are short-lived, wildly euphoric highs involved in the life of performing artists such as dancers, there are also desperately painful lows. These lows are often accompanied with physical pain that can drive a dancer into the ground before they fully blossom. Most professional dancers don't stop dancing because they have consciously tied up all ends of their performing careers and feel like they have accomplished what they set out to do. More often, they retire due to complication from injuries, disappointment in casting and organizational progression, and beyond. This array of painful endings has more dancers leaving our career feeling bitter than sweet (not even bittersweet). So, why even try to be a part of this career?

What it comes down to is that a career in dance is the ultimate sacrifice. It is the sacrifice of one's body, mind, will, and lifestyle. A dancer may come off as selfish in their full-out ambition to have a stage career. But the truth is that a dance career can't be selfish, as it is submitting oneself over fully to the art form. Perhaps, the art should instead be deemed selfish. And all of the stepping stones to get a dancer to the point of performance in a professional setting prove that they are willing to submit themselves, even if they aren't aware of it.

One of my biggest challenges as an educator in dance involves getting through to parents, children, pre-professional students, and open class students that I am not coming into the studio with any intention but to prepare them for a lifestyle in dance. Whether that means you are striving to have a career or you only intend to take open classes for health, fun, and fitness, I will enter the classroom to impart my knowledge and share our art form to better you along whatever path you wish to take. Initially, I have found this is often met with resistance and confusion. A few examples of this include an open class student telling me they come to class to have fun and I make them think too much. Or a young student taking my contemporary class once and her mother pulling her from subsequent classes because of my approach to instruction, only to return 3 months later because the other student's parents who gave me a chance had so much positive to say about my teaching methods. The struggle as an educator is real. And it is especially difficult in our field because young dancers don't understand that there are many challenges a dancer must face in order to know whether they can be one of the few who can sacrifice certain aspects of their lives to be a dancer. A life in dance is a life of sacrifice. And these sacrifices aren't common or comfortable.

There are many points in a dancer's education that can be considered stepping stones towards testing out the waters of a career. Your first recital. The first time you feel the pain of pointe. That point when you realize more of your friends have quit dance than remained. The first time your teacher is unusually critical of your dancing. The days you have too much homework, but you still refuse to miss class. The time when you choose to move away from your family before you are even your own legal guardian. The first time you get that rejection at an audition. The first time your company doesn't cast you in a ballet. The first time you suffer a career-threatening injury. The first time somebody mentions your weight. The first time your friend is unkind to you because they are jealous of your casting. The first time you don't want to wake up to take class because you are so exhausted. The first time you consider your life without dance. Most dancers don't get past point three in this paragraph. But those who do are commonly accepting each subsequent sacrifice as a necessary step towards living out their dreams to become one of us rare human super-humans called a professional dancer.

Nicholas Rio, Ali Block, & dancers of Columbia Ballet Collaborative sacrificing their Sunday night to dance my new work
While a dance artist can perform seemingly supernatural feats with their bodies, they are also doing the same with their minds. I remember the first time I had a stone bruise on the heel of my foot around the age of 14. I was quite convinced that I wouldn't be able to dance for a week, let alone walk. But I learned that day that, while I felt the pain, I could ignore it enough to continue. Eventually, I forgot about it. This evolved into handling being so sore day after day and still attending class and rehearsing for 8 hours without realizing that most people would completely shut down under the same circumstances. But then there is also the ability of a dancer to stifle emotional trauma and still perform at a high level. For all of the effort put in by most dancers day in and day out, they may still find themselves in the 2nd cast of a ballet. Or, perhaps, they were learning a new role for weeks and the director chooses not to put them onstage for the production. Even under these circumstances, dancers keep trucking on and perform their job to the best of their abilities. But what about all of the hard work they put in? What about the extra time they spent at home after their 8 hour dance day watching footage of the role and marking the steps in their living room? Don't they deserve a chance for all of their effort? Perhaps, they even put in more effort than the person who got to perform that role. 

With all of these different ideas colliding into one, what most dancers are forced to reconcile, but rarely see, is that dance never owed them anything. Just because you walk into a studio and work every ounce of your being off doesn't mean you deserve to step on a stage and enjoy the bliss of performance. And most people don't ever recognize that, even after their career is over. Dance is always a gift and rarely a straightforward response to all of the effort you put into it. Due to the lack of open dialogue about this harsh reality of the life of a dancer, there is an epidemic of bitter, jaded dancers expressing how dance victimizes its participants and leaves them broken with little to show for it. This is often an inner dialogue of their perceived failure of expectation. An expectation that dance promises no one. This reality isn't talked about enough during the training stages of a dance career.

Shira Lanyi & Allen Abrams in my work, Distinct Perceptions (Photo: Dave Friedman)
When this naivety is broken for a dancer, which is often caused by a case of physical or emotional injury, dance often turns from a personal passion into a personal vendetta. How can a dancer submit themselves to an art, then claim hatred for something that is so ingrained as a part of them? It could be the fact that they had expectations and weren't aware of what they were signing up for when they fell in love with dance while still aged in the single digits of life. But the way I see it is this. When you fall in love with somebody, you open up a more vulnerable part of yourself to this person. And if things don't work out, you often feel anger towards that person, if not hatred. So many people will say the worst things about their ex-lovers, even if they were married for years and years. My assumption here is that the brokenhearted must create negative feelings towards their ex-lover, otherwise they may find themselves still in love with them, even if they aren't a good fit today. For example, if they don't hate them for this, they may remember that they were the most generous of people. Or if they don't speak negatively of that, they may realize that nobody ever made them feel more empowered to reach for their dreams. In this vein, ending a career in dance that wasn't fully realized to one's expectations may lead a person to project negativity and bitterness towards dance to help them detach from something that they used to love more than most anything else. I've seen this happen among more retired dancers than you can imagine.

This is a lot of information to take in here. But what it comes down to is that we all fell in love with dance for a reason. Whether it was fascination with the super-human aspect of it, getting out of the house during your parent's dirty divorce, the only place you felt you fit in, or some other situation, dance doesn't owe you anything. It can offer you some otherworldly experiences. It can introduce you to the most diverse cast of friends. It can keep you fit, disciplined, and eager to enjoy a lifetime of progress and growth. But it doesn't owe you that Odette/Odile. It doesn't owe you a body that can withstand the wear-and-tear of near-contortionism. It doesn't owe you that meteoric rise to Principal. It doesn't owe you that final curtain call with audience members yelling bravo and tossing roses at your feet.

Many people look up to dance artists because they feel that they are ethereal creatures. Dancers look at their careers the same way. Infinite progress is the ethereal creature they seek to capture. But at a certain point, nearly all of us will hit our peak, as infinite is unattainable. And instead of looking up at the next tallest mountain with bitterness and disdain for its unattainable height, we should instead look down from the impressive heights we have climbed and enjoy the breathtaking view that lay before us.

Looking over Lake Eklutna in Anchorage, AK

2.16.2017

Protecting Your Mental Health


Don't Lose Your Mind!!!!
Dance is an extremely difficult career field. From competition to personal aesthetic and emotional perfectionism, dancers encounter more stressors than nearly any other career that doesn't involve risking one's life or saving/protecting others. Dance Magazine's Jennifer Stahl recently wrote an article about a Portuguese study that suggests that dance training may actually cause psychological harm in the form of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and unwarranted stress under certain circumstances. I think that the study noted in the article could probably use more study (and I've talked about emotional health in training on here before), but I do feel that certain methods of training can instill certain traits that could disrupt a dancers mental state. At the same time, in order to become a true artist, dancers often have to dig deeper and more personally into their psyche and physicality than most others in any other field. Perhaps, this also causes those consequences. Nonetheless, freelance artists often find themselves under greater stress and anxiety than company artists because of how closely tied together their art, livelihood, and careers are to their ability to find and sustain regular work. For this reason, I have developed a short list of valuable ways that I think can help protect dancer's mental health to ensure that they can handle the great amount of stress and anxiety that comes with a dance career.

1. Plan a Day Off in Advance - Many freelance artists will keep on taking work until it dries up. Often, this is out of fear that work will soon cease to appear. In reality, while not getting a day off may temporarily cushion your bank account with a little extra cash, you could possibly be bringing yourself that much closer to burn out. If this happens, you may find that you can't even bring yourself to continue working, which defeats the purpose. If you want to sustain a long-term career in dance, teaching, and more, one day off each week is probably more valuable than a short-lived career.

2. Find Ways to Take "Me-Time" - With all of my media work added on top of teaching and choreography, life can easily turn into never-ending periods of working for everybody except myself. Due to the fact that people are constantly reaching out to me for work, advice, and more, it is necessary for me to find a little bit of time every few days to do something completely for myself (without any guilt for work that has been left aside during that time). Some of my favorite guiltless "me-time" activities include sitting at a cozy coffee shop (preferably one with couches) and sipping a latte with a fresh baked soft cookie, taking a bath with candles and Pandora's "Chill Out" station playing, going for skyscraper walks around whatever city I'm in, and watching aimless videos on YouTube. When I take some time for myself, I don't feel as stressed or anxious about giving so much time to others and find I'm actually more generous with helping people out because I've already taken care of my own needs.
An image from one of my skyscraper walks
3. Develop Friendships with Non-Dancers That Don't Mind Discussing Dance - This one is pretty straightforward. It can become way too easy to only hang out with friends in your dance bubble. Most dancers go through phases where they start seeking friends who have nothing to do with the dance world. For many of those friends, one thing that is shocking for them is the amount of attention, thought, and dedication that goes into a dancer's evolution from student to performance career and beyond. Most don't realize how completely consuming this can be and are confused how dance is always on the tip of a dancer's tongue. I've had friends who were quite turned off by the regularity that conversations on dance become regular topics of discussion. Though, I am lucky to have cultivated a handful of very special friends who don't mind, if not enjoy, sitting around, learning about, and discussing our fascinating world. These friends are definitely keepers, especially for the benefit of having an outside opinion to balance out stressful experiences and internal politics with a perspective different than your colleagues. It is extremely valuable to develop friendships with non-dancers who don't mind, or even enjoy, talking shop. This can offer valid insights and a healthy perspective for looking at certain work-related stressors.

Non-Dance Friends are Important
4. Avoid All-or-Nothing Situations - For dancers, it tends to be all-or-nothing. For instance, if a dancer is trying to lose or maintain weight, they may completely avoid eating anything that they enjoy. Or if a dancer is told that they aren't improving fast enough, they may stop doing outside activities that bring great joy to their lives and enhance their human experience. Approaching situations in this way can lead a dancer to go overboard when they finally reintroduce certain things into their lives or, even, push a dancer into burn out or self-harm if they never indulge themselves. We only get one life to live. And while a dancer does need to make sacrifices to enjoy a dance career, they don't have to give up all things that make them happy in order to be the best dancer possible. A healthy dancer is a person who is balanced and knows how to use moderation to find that balance.

I always treat myself to a chocolate croissant when I've had a bad bus ride from Philly to NYC
5. See a Counselor - If all else fails and you find yourself in an impossible-to-get-out-of rut, do seek outside assistance from a mental health professional. After spending 4 lonely years on the road as a self-touring guest artist, I developed such severe anxiety that I could no longer handle simple stresses in life. I also wasn't aware how burnt out I had become. After a mild panic attack in Lincoln Center before watching a New York City Ballet performance, I realized I needed to talk to somebody about getting my anxiety back under control. I am so proud to be an advocate for people, especially dancers, to find ways to take the best care of their mental health. Many dancers leave home as teens and handle stress that few people experience in their career (let alone at such young, impressionable ages). There is no shame in seeking counseling to help improve your mental health. If you are wondering how to find a therapist, read this recent article, that explains how to find somebody that works for you and how to afford therapy if you don't have coverage.