How to cope with the holidays away from home

My partner at Thanksgiving dinner in Seattle
It's 11 PM and I am sitting at Applebee's sipping a yuengling waiting for my riblet meal to arrive. I just finished dress rehearsal dancing the cavalier in Rochester City Ballet's Nutcracker and I'm starving! Rehearsal went really well and I hope that my partner and I only continue to grow from there. With such great elation after the run, I am feeling surprisingly manic at the moment. I just got a text from my partner (the life kind) and he is sitting at my mom's house amongst family on this Thanksgiving eve, while I sit by myself eating dinner only to return to my hotel room. As I roll across emotional extremes, I am learning how to cope with being away from loved ones during the holidays.

I was having a conversation with my sister via Facebook a few weeks ago right after arriving at my hotel in Rochester. She was asking me about my current gig and was awe-struck that I work the way I do, essentially a self-touring artist. My response to her awe was that my life is glorious and lonely all at the same time. I get to meet amazing artists and dance on great stages, but I also get lonely and homesick at times. Christmas-time is actually the busiest time for most freelance dancers. Since Nutcracker takes over stages, televisions, and the world during this season, there are more opportunities to work, as everybody wants to bank on this annual production. This means that the likelihood of spending Thanksgiving, Christmas, and all of the inbetween festivities with those close to you decreases greatly the more successful you are.

Seeking T-giving my first year in Seattle
When I got my first job with Houston Ballet as a teenager, I spent my first set of holidays away from close friends and family. Im pretty sure, after a failed turkey baking attempt, a handful of friends and I ended up at Bennigans. We claimed it was the best Thanksgiving ever, but I dont really remember it. I assume that we were just trying to be really positive about the whole fiasco. Within a year of leaving, I created my own family in Seattle (after moving to PNB) and started a relationship with my partner, which has been going strong for nearly 7 years. Aside from that year in Houston and the subsequent one in Seattle, I've always been with close friends or family on Thanksgiving. It makes my heart ache a little bit to write this, but this holiday will be my first without my partner since we got together. And although it makes me sad, I am hardly letting this holiday pass without being proactive about enjoying it.

If you find yourself away from friends and family for the holidays, there are ways that you can stay connected. We are so fortunate to live in a day and age where technology can bring us closer together, even when we are hundreds or thousands of miles apart. I have already set up a time tomorrow to Skype with my family. Even if I am not eating green bean casserole and stuffing at the table, I can be there visually and in spirit. A phone call is comforting, but getting to share some face-time can really help you feel thankful and make you a part of the festivities. I always feel more connected when I can see somebody's reaction in a conversation. In my opinion, people often feel badly during the holidays not because they aren't present, but instead because they feel left out.

Another way to avoid sinking into doldrums while you are, perhaps, alone in a hotel room is to get out. I notice that I feel much more lonely when I isolate myself. It is pretty logical, actually. You may feel slightly down or that you are going to take the holiday to rest up for your gig, but staying in a small room by yourself with a television and the shades drawn is only going to make you feel more removed. If you don't have anything to do or anybody to visit, perhaps, find an open restaurant and sit at the counter/bar. Usually people who are working on a holiday have to work and are missing this precious time with their family as well. It is much easier to strike up a warm conversation on a holiday than it is on most other days. If this form of socializing isn't for you, find a local cinema and enjoy a movie with the crowds that pack theatres on the holidays. You won't feel alone and you won't have to socialize with strangers. No matter what, I suggest that you just get out for a period of time.

Often, beyond family, people miss the traditions that go along with certain holidays. Every Thanksgiving, my partner and I wake up, turn on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and bake sugar cookies. We mix all of the ingredients, roll the cookies out, use our 30-something cookie cutters, bake them, and decorate them once they are all golden and delicious looking (our secret is that we always underbake them so they remain super soft). I am currently in a hotel with a microwave and a small refrigerator, therefore making this tradition an impossibility. But, I did buy a couple of cookies and I am planning on catching some portion of the parade. So, although this tradition is not fully realized, I am at least holding a part of the tradition for this year and we can continue it in full the next time we spend the holiday together. If you have a tradition, find a way to keep the spirit of the tradition with you. Small things like this can really help to keep away any holiday sadness that might surface.

Lastly, what is a holiday like Thanksgiving without a huge feast? One thing that I have found is that it is almost impossible to spend a holiday by yourself while on a gig. It warms my heart to say that I have found that people will go out of their way to help make an out-of-town guest feel welcome and wanted on these special days. For instance, the network of people at Rochester City Ballet have been more than generous in offering me a place to spend during this day of thanks. I have received offers to join families for dinner from fellow dancers, administration, wardrobe, physical therapists, and beyond. In fact, I found  it difficult to turn down many of the offers. Most of the time, as a guest, people will welcome you with open arms. But if nothing formulates, don't fret. Just plan ahead. Do some research and find a place that is open for the holiday. Maybe you have been working really hard, pinching pennies, and eating in every night. This could be used as the perfect opportunity to really treat yourself for all of the hard work you've been putting in. Consider seeking out a restaurant that serves a few courses, perhaps with a pairing of drinks for each course. If you aren't comfortable eating on your own, bring your phone, a good book, a journal, or any other item that you enjoy using on your own. Make it a memorable experience and treat yourself.

All in all, the holidays can be a difficult time for anybody that is feeling lonely. Working away from home during this season can easily make you feel alone. As always, it is important to be proactive to make sure that you keep a healthy, happy, and fulfilled holiday season. Stay connected with family and friends, keep traditions as alive as you can, find yourself amongst people, and be merry (even if it is all by yourself). If you are able to stay happy while traveling during the holidays, you will find that this is truly the most fulfilling, lucrative, and wonderful time of the year.

Holiday season - Boston, MA


CONTACT: A networking event connecting freelance dancers

Dancers connecting with dancers

It's Saturday night (I didnt get to edit until Monday) and I'm laying on my king-sized bed in my hotel room at the Courtyard Marriott right outside of Rochester, NY with ice on my muscles while drinking a Yuengling lager. I have been trying to find time all week to write this post, as I started rehearsing Nutcracker with Rochester City Ballet, but I am beginning to learn that my first week dancing any gig is always overly exhausting. This is not only because I am dancing a lot, but meeting new people, learning the culture of a company, and taking in new styles and choreography can be overwhelming. But the midnight hour has passed and I finally feel like I can take a moment to share about the event that I threw in NYC a few weeks back.

When I started freelancing, I had a very small network of friends that had any knowledge about the art of dancing with different companies on a regular basis. Most of the dancers that I knew who freelanced were stars of big ballet companies. They didn't actively seek work, instead they were always sought out for work. It must be nice to have people calling you, asking you to work for them. But in most realities, unless you are a leading dancer with a big name company, you are unlikely to receive random phone calls requesting your service as a performer.

A small network of freelancers
As I have spent more time in this field, I have started to build a base of freelancing friends and what I have found is that there is a great need for resources, mentoring, and connection in our community. Like I wrote in my previous posting, The importance of your freelancing friends, the best way that you can find work and support is through your network of friends that freelance. Dancers typically create this network very slowly, gig by gig. It is also common for dancers to lack interaction with others that perform in different styles and genres of dance. Due to the nature of our work, it can take years to develop a solid, nurturing system of support. I felt this personally and I felt this amongst my friends and decided to do something about it.

Co-hosts Bennyroyce Royon and me
An old friend of mine, Bennyroyce Royon, and I reconnected through our freelancing careers. He was a student at Juilliard, while I was a student at the School of American Ballet. We were two of very few students that crossed the social boundaries of the contemporary college and neo-classical ballet high school dance programs. After we graduated from our respective schools, we mostly lost touch, aside from a handful of chance run-ins. When I was rehearsing in NYC for my gig with Avi Scher & dancers, we reconnected and have stayed in close contact ever since. Aside from our mutual care and friendship, we have also been a great support system for each other as freelancers. Although we were raised dancers of different styles, we have had some crossover during our careers. Nonetheless, we mostly remain within the realm of our backgrounds, Benny dancing mostly contemporary work and myself dancing more in the ballet spectrum. We both exist in the same world and in two completely different worlds. We chatted for awhile when I was visiting New York this past August and decided that we needed to connect our separate communities and create something to bring together those beyond the communities that we know. And with that idea, Contact: A networking event connecting freelance dancers was born!

Our venue in Greenwich Village - Soy and Sake
Just a few weeks ago, on Monday, October 22nd, Benny and I threw our first event for freelance dancers. We were more than pleased with the success of the evening. Not only did we exceed our goal of attendees, but we also exceeded our goal of community support. We already knew that there was a great need for connection in our community. But talking directly to hardworking freelance dancers, we learned that there is even more need than we realized. Dancers don't just need help finding work, but many of the freelancers we talked to are uninsured, have few resources to help market themselves to a broad audience, struggled to find work and proper working conditions once they found it, work multiple jobs, and have nobody to hold their hand along the way. I am hoping, through events like this and beyond, to help create a support network that will make our lifestyle easier, more lucrative, and more sustainable.

Excitement over door prizes
Not only was there great energy coming from the numbers of freelancers at our event, but there was great feedback from the organizations that donated door prizes in support of this event. Benny and I were able to obtain donations from Dance Magazine, the Joyce Theater, Sansha, Broadway Dance Center, Lyquid Talent (website design), and MurphyMade photography, among others. Aside from the generosity from these organizations, those that weren't able to donate within the short time period that we put this event together (2 weeks is a short period of time), expressed their support and hope to donate to future events. I can't tell you how many times I heard, "this is such an important thing for this community and I am glad that you are doing this. Keep us updated." The general excitement for the potential coming from this event was thrilling and touching.

Meeting new friends
I hope that Benny and I can continue to bring our community together and offer friendship and support to this network of talented human beings. We are so grateful for all of the support that we received for this event and for the great amount of generosity that was offered to make this event a success! Enjoy the photos I posted from that evening (captured by the amazing Karsten Staiger) and please stay tuned for future news!

Networking at its finest