The 12 shows of Nutcracker

Downtown Ventura, CA
I returned home from my final Nutcracker gig in Los Angeles at about 7 AM Saturday morning. I spent nearly 6 weeks away from home, performed in countless shows, had a handful of great and horrible experiences, and flew on a final red eye flight that I was not too pleased about. Yesterday, I walked safely into my apartment, all in one piece. As I sat in the aisle seat of my plane next to a seatmate that couldn't find a comfortable sleep position for nearly 5 hours, I began to evaluate my Nutcracker-ing and determined a few things. Professional gigs trump school gigs. There's no place like home, or the home studio where a dancer was raised. I will never go back to West Virginia. Always get your housing situation written into a contract. If you aren't comfortable in your accommodations say something. Also, always require approval prior to having flights/accommodations booked. Lastly, be clear about your availability and requirements for shows. School's typically don't understand (or think of) that a dancer doesn't need two dress rehearsals, to be present at the theatre 2 hours prior to a performance, or access to healthy and affordable food options. To sum up my last 6 weeks, I wrote a short little list of my 12 shows of Nutcracker while trying to woo myself to sleep on that damn red eye flight. Enjoy and Happy New Year!!!!

12 - Shows of Nutcracker - 3 in each city (Rochester, NY; Huntington, WV; Immaculata, PA, Ventura, CA)
Flying into Los Angeles

11 -The average time that I woke up every morning for rehearsals or shows

10 - Different beds I slept in (3 friends, 2 hotels, 2 family members, 1 host family, 1 motel, my own)

9 - The earliest school performance I have ever had to perform in

8 - Flights around the country (if you count my flight out of WV that I boarded, but was cancelled on the tarmac due to a failed engine, this could have been #9)

7 - The number of times I was asked "How long is a dancer's career?"

Frightening WV McDonald's - 40 piece nuggets
6 - The amount of fast food receipts I accrued at airports and in West Virginia

5 - Different partners (this would have been 4 had #1 not happened)

4 - Different versions of the the grand pas de deux over 4 weekends (My brain almost exploded)

3 - Mishaps that were avoided by big smiles and great professionalism - On my opening with Rochester City Ballet, the orchestra fumbled the first 16 counts of the pas de deux. My partner and I gave the orchestra no choice, but to catch up to us. It sounded like they were going to stop and start over. I also had the back of my costume explode open at the beginning of the pas de deux, which couldn't be fixed until the end of my variation. Lastly, the stage in West Virginia was so slippery that I couldn't perform any of the dancing on releve or walk faster than a slow trod to avoid falling.
Cigarette burns on motel comforter

2 - Times that I had to reject accommodations after the agreed host families didn't follow through (also of note: using a motel is not an appropriate way to treat a guest artist, especially when there are reviews online speaking of prostitution and drug trade)

1 - Emergency performance of the Snow pas de deux where I learned the choreography an hour prior to the show (due to a performance that was moved because of snowy weather and a guest artist that had another show at the new performance time)

Bonus:  Carson Kressley from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Dancing with the Stars came to a performance at Chester Valley Dance Academy's show. 
Me and Carson after the show


In the spirit of the holidays - 2013 edition

I am in the middle of Nutcracker craziness and am having trouble finding time to do my normal everyday activities between rehearsals, shows, and traveling. With that said, I am currently sitting in a laundromat and still want to share some joy with my viewers. During this time last year, I made a festive list of my favorite moments while freelancing throughout the year. I am going to continue this time-honored tradition by presenting my 13 favorite moments of the year 2013 for all of my readers to enjoy.

Elizel & me rehearsing Seiwert's Monuments(Photo: Marco Gutierrez)
1. As I have said in the past, the most valuable experiences in my career, aside from a few specific moments, have been making connections with people. At the beginning of the year, I had the chance to dance with Elizel Long, former Rambert Dance Company member, for three months in Alaska. While we knew each other from the season prior, we had relatively no interaction due to visa problems that sent her home to South Africa after the first few days of the season. This year was quite different. At first, we were tentatively nice to each other, but within weeks we had become regular dance partners and great friends. It is not often that you bond with somebody as strongly and quickly as we did, but it was a magical three months that we got to spend and dance together. Book ending the year, I got to revisit Jessie Tretter, an old friend and partner from last year. I returned to Rochester City Ballet to dance as the Cavalier in the company's The Nutcracker. Having the comfort of our previous friendship and getting to build on a new comfort we had in our partnering made this experience wonderful. Although it had been a year since we had seen each other and danced together, it felt as if we had spent the entire year developing our partnership. While these were the two strongest connections I made, there were many others that made this season memorable.

2. I have really gotten a chance to delve into my teaching this year. My partner and I have dreams of, one day, starting our own ballet academy. While I have taught master classes and substituted when I am available, this was the first year that I had the opportunity to work with students regularly for a period of time. While dancing with Alaska Dance Theatre, I taught regularly in the school. It was so fulfilling to see the explosion of growth these students had under my direction. After that, I took a job teaching regular open classes in Koresh Dance Company's school. I, even, stepped out of my comfort zone and started teaching contemporary classes.

3. Host familes - This year I had the opportunity to revisit two host families from last year. I spent 7 weeks with my Anchorage family and 3 weeks with my Providence family. There is nothing better than getting to revisit these connections and building on what was left before. Not only that, it is so much easier entering into a familiar home. There is less need for tip-toeing and adjustment. They both treated me great and I look fondly on these repeated experiences.

4. Auditioning for the Broadway workshop of Christopher Wheeldon's American in Paris and Starz's upcoming TV show, Flesh and Bone, have the potential to be life-changing experiences for me. I have always wanted to try out for Broadway productions, but I didn't know where to begin. When a friend called to tell me I should audition for the American in Paris workshop, I jumped at it. This chance opportunity forced me to dive into an unknown world and stretched my breadth as an artist. Although I wasn't selected in the end, I felt honored to receive a call back for something that I had never done before. A few weeks after this audition, that same friend (thank you Allison Walsh) had suggested a casting company contact me to audition for the upcoming television show, Flesh and Bone, on Starz. Again, I didn't get the part, but these two auditions have inspired me to start preparing for what may be a new career transition for me. We'll have to see what 2014 brings us!

5. I spend a lot of my time writing for this blog about my personal experiences and the knowledge that I have gained throughout my time freelancing. Aside from having this blog reach over 30,000 views in it's short 1 1/2 years of life, I have had my blogs posted in other online publications, received commissions to write articles for both Dance/USA and the American Guild of Musical Artists, and been asked to contribute to an article that will be published in the January edition of Dance Magazine.

6. Turning 30 was kind of a big deal for me. It was such a big deal that I wrote a blog about it. As I stated in that post, I set a goal to dance until I was at least 30 years old. Well, I'm very proud to say that I reached that goal and have exceeded it. Cheers to dancing well into my thirties!

7. Whenever I take class in New York City, I take from Nancy Bielski at Steps on Broadway. I've mentioned in previous blogs how she takes great care of me when I'm in her class. While spending two weeks working on a workshop that could potentially go to Broadway, I took Nancy's class each day to stay in shape and warm up for my day. In one of those classes, Nancy exclaimed that I had beautiful feet while giving me a correction. This may not seem like that big of a deal, but for me it was huge. Spending 7 years dancing in Pacific Northwest Ballet, the company of feet and legs, I always felt like I had the worst feet in the company. I've spent the last few years working on the way that I use my feet, and being away from the speed of Balanchine classes (although I do miss them) has given me time to focus on the articulation of the foot a bit more. Hearing this from somebody that I really respect meant a great much to me. I will take that compliment, put it in my pocket, and carry it with me wherever I dance.

8. One thing that most ballet dancers despise is improv-ing. We like to be told what to do. The moment that most of us are told to make things up as we go, we freak out. After a few years experiencing more improv than I did dancing in a big ballet company, I feel like I really got a hang of it this year. Starting with taking the former artistic director of Alaska Dance Theatre's Gaga-esque warmups, which were based in improv, I started receiving compliments for my work. Upon my return home, I auditioned for the renowned, improv-based production of Sleep No More. A majority of the 30 minute audition was improv. Although I didn't get a call back, the director of the audition pulled me aside afterwards and told me that he was really impressed with me and enjoyed watching me. Lastly, in the audition for the workshop that I was a part of in #7 of this post, we had to do a long improv section. My experience and performance helped me land the gig.

Working w/Fidel Orrillo in Rochester (Photo: Josephine Cardin)
9. Getting the opportunity to return to Rochester City Ballet for Nutcracker a few weeks ago was really special for me. I got to revisit my partnership with my Sugar Plum from last year. Old friendships grew stronger and new friendships were forged. I loved getting the chance to again work with the company's fabulous ballet master, Fidel Orrillo. Fellow ballet mistress, Beth Bartholomew, and artistic director, Jamey Leverett were also greatly helpful and kind. Performing with a live orchestra, sharing the stage with great dancers, and feeling like I was a part of a community made this a very special experience for me.

10. During my time dancing with Barak Ballet, we took our warmup classes at the Westside School of Ballet. While the classes were great, it was the wild cast of characters that really made this a memorable experience. First and foremost, Patricia Neary. This lady is a former Balanchine Ballerina, Balanchine repetiteur, and former director of Geneva Ballet, Zurich Ballet, and La Scala. Patricia takes class nearly every morning. She stands at barre with a heater to warm her 71 year old bones. Once center comes, she puts on her pointe shoes and continues to execute combinations with flair and style. Beyond a few drop-ins from ballet companies, former So You Think You Can Dance finalists, and younger students, the cast of characters continues. There was an Asian lady who is getting up there and still wearing her pointe shoes. She performs each combination in every other group, even if there are well over 10 tries across the floor. There was another woman who won't come down off of releve...ever. She told me she has to wear heels because she is short. There are people that arrive late in flip flop high heels. Dancers who perform wild pirouettes at barre in between combinations while using the piano as their barre. Foundation dripping off of a face that was nowhere close to the color of it's applier. More plastic surgery than you could ever imagine (it is Los Angeles). And my lovely host mother. Throw in about 17 of us professional dancers for the creation of a new ballet company and you have a wild zoo of characters. Ill be revisiting this zoo next week when I perform with the Ventura County Ballet Company.

11. A milestone in my year took place over a few days in October. Patricia Neary, Nader Hamed, and a well-known dance critic (and good friend) told me that it is time for me to rejoin the world of company life, all within days of each other. The universe couldn't have screamed any louder. And the validation that I have not only been able to maintain my technique, but continue to improve mostly on my own, means more to me than imaginable.

12. Watching the students of the Draper Center for Dance Education perform in Rochester City Ballet's run of The Nutcracker. I don't know what is in the water at this school, but the students are wildly impressive. Not only do they have beautiful bodies, steely technique, and personality that shines. They are so well trained and rehearsed that they move as one. The synchronization of the students of this school could kick the asses of nearly every company's corps de ballet in the country.

In the studio creating with Amy Seiwert
13. Lucky number 13. Perhaps, my favorite experience while freelancing over the past year was having a work created on us by Amy Seiwert for a program with Alaska Dance Theatre. Before this experience, I had danced one of her works when I first left Pacific Northwest Ballet. Although I had danced her choreography, I never actually got to work with her. Not only was her process interesting and her choreography challengingly stellar, she was so kind to us as dancers. As I have grown into an experienced dancer, nothing is more important than being respected in a studio, whether in a stressful situation or not. Ms. Seiwert only had 2 weeks to meet us, show us her style, create a 20 minute, piece, and clean it. At no point did she ever place the stress of this time crunch upon us dancers. Amy lived up to and exceeded all of my wishes and expectations in working with her.

What was your favorite moment of the 2013 dance season, personal or as an audience member?


Is it ever appropriate to burn a bridge?

A beautiful bridge I found while freelancing in Rochester, NY
Growing up in a small local school, I gained a different perspective than what I may have gotten had I been part of a large institution. Being the only male at my studio over the age of 10 meant that I got a lot more push and direct advice than most dancers get during their training. While I received multitudes of direction throughout the years I spent honing my passion for dance at the Chester Valley Dance Academy, the most repetitious guidance I received was from the director of the studio. "Barry, you must never burn a bridge. The dance world is small and you never know who knows who."

This advice is greatly true, and I fully agree with it. Yet, I disagree, as well. Before I get to my point, let me put myself on the line. Hello. My name is Barry Kerollis and I may be one of the more controversial dancers you have ever met. This statement will take some explaining. While I have always relied on the above advice, I haven't necessarily followed it, albeit unintentionally. Avoiding burning bridges is a priority and fear of mine. Yet, I have done it more than many other dancers. Each time it has happened, it was never my intention. Perhaps, a misunderstanding, hunger for maximum achievement, or out of self preservation. I want to share my honest story openly to explore this subject objectively and help others understand and learn from my experiences. And, is it even possible to never burn one bridge in this dance world?

Perhaps, the first time I ever burnt a bridge, I was a mere 18 years old. I was on the verge of graduating from the Kirov Academy of Ballet. I was kind of an underdog. Upon entering the school, I was technically behind everybody and my body lacked the beautiful classical line of every other male in the school. It came as a surprise when the director of Colorado Ballet came to watch class and offered me a full company, corps de ballet, position for the upcoming season. At the same time, I had finally made it into my dream school, the School of American Ballet, for their summer intensive. Gaining acceptance into SAB is actually what inspired me to focus on ballet at the age of 15. Three years later, it finally happened and I was set on getting the full experience.

As soon as I received my letter of acceptance, I called SAB and mentioned that I had been offered a contract with Colorado Ballet. I told the school that I had dreamed about spending the year there and would turn down the offer to become a professional to have that chance. They told me that acceptance into the summer program didn't guarantee a spot in the year-round program. They suggested I not risk losing my job offer and to sign the contract to ensure that I had something to do the following season. So, I signed my contract, sent it in, and started searching for an apartment in what I thought to be my new home, Denver.

At the end of June, I moved into my summer home in the dorms at Lincoln Center. After the first few days of the program, Jock Soto pulled me into a conference room with Michael Breeden, current Miami City Ballet dancer, and Peter Boal. They told us how much they enjoyed seeing us in class and offered both of us to stay for the year to study with them. These talks usually didn't happen for a few weeks, so the two of us were extremely excited to get "the talk" so soon. For me, I was filled with mixed feelings. Excitement that I had finally achieved a dream and goal of mine, mixed with fear and confusion that I had to choose between my dream of training at SAB or starting my career as a professional. I spent a few days mulling over this decision and determined that I couldn't turn away from what inspired me to focus on ballet in the first place. I called up the director of Colorado Ballet and, as apologetically as I could, broke my contract for the upcoming season. The director told me that he understood my decision, but was very disappointed
Puss & Boots w/ Cassia Phillips - SAB workshop 2003
that I was breaking a promise that I had put in writing. I still feel awful that it had to happen this way, but I couldn't live with the regret that I would have if I had missed this opportunity. In the end, I believe it was one of the best career decisions that I have made. Not only did I get a great school to add to my training experience, but I learned a completely different style of ballet and made new connections that wouldn't have been available to me in a classical company that was more isolated than many other companies.

The second time I burnt a bridge was less complicated than my first. After a very productive year training at the School of American Ballet and doing 14 auditions for companies, I had been offered a handful of contracts. The offer that most piqued my interest was to join Pennsylvania Ballet's 2nd company, as it was the best company I had been offered to dance with and close to home. I emailed the director of the 2nd company and stated that I accepted their offer and asked that they send a contract to me. The day that my contract arrived, I received a call from Stanton Welch offering me an apprenticeship with Houston Ballet. Not only was this a more substantial company, but the position they offered was with the company and not a smaller training arm of a company. I promptly called Pennsylvania Ballet and told them that I was going to accept the offer with Houston Ballet because I had not yet signed the contract to dance with their 2nd company. The response was not the understanding that I expected. I expected there to be disappointment when I called, but I didn't expect to be told that they weren't pleased that I had made the decision and fully expected me to follow through with my word. Being a naive teenager, I thought they would understand why I would take a higher position with a better company. Alas, they didn't. While they didn't completely put me off in the years to come, after auditioning again for the company years later, they eventually stopped allowing me to take company class. Essentially, the term many of us have heard, I am blacklisted.

A few years ago, I had the unfortunate experience where I didn't realize a bridge was being burnt until it had already burnt, collapsed, and fallen into a deep lake of despair. I had experienced an injury with the company that I was dancing with in Philly. They had kept information secret from me that prevented me from getting assistance to recover from this injury. After working through a freelancing opportunity in pain with assistance from that company to get therapy, I returned for the next program still in pain. I made the mistake of remaining quiet and trying to dance through it. I knew I couldn't afford to take care of it and I had already put myself out there asking for assistance. I was put off and learned to stay quiet. At the same time, a less experienced choreographer was creating a piece on us to be performed at a major dance venue in New York City.

Throughout the process, I was having difficulty with my dance partner, my pain, and the complexities of her style of choreographing that was newer to me than the other dancers in the company. Instead of supporting me through the process, the choreographer switched back and forth between ignoring me and making less than respectful comments towards me. I did my best to deal with the stress silently, as dancers are often taught and expected to do. But after a week of this situation, the pressure came to a helm. The choreographer yelled at me, claiming that I was marking a step that I had not been. The conversation went like this. Choreographer: "What is your problem? Me: "I don't understand what you are asking me." Choreographer: "You are really starting to piss me off." Me: "I really don't understand what you are talking about." Choreographer: "Why are you marking?" At this point, I lost my cool and started fighting back. The pressure of trying to be respectful and trying to respect myself became too much and I defended myself loudly in front of everybody else. After a long private conversation following the outburst, we returned to the studio with the agreement that the choreographer would be a bit more clear in her process. My efforts to ease the situation didn't work. To prove to her that I wasn't marking, I danced beyond my threshold of pain and made my injury far worse. This sped up the process of burning one bridge that eventually burnt many.

That day will always be a big day in my life. I broke dance law. I lost my cool, I lost my submission, and I created a sour relationship with a choreographer, teacher, and repetiteur of works by the very choreographer who inspired me to consider switching my focus to ballet. Not only that, the choreographer and the director of the company were close friends. Throughout all of this, I also came to realize that I really couldn't continue to dance through my injury. It was much worse than it had been prior to this argument and I feared that if I continued to dance, I would have to pull out of the program closer to the performance dates and that I could possibly incur permanent damage. I decided to take myself out of the program, which eventually led to the company unfairly, and I believe illegally, firing me. There were many complications that came out of the burning of this one bridge. But was it right for me to defend myself as a person, not a dancer? Was I valid in defending myself, effectively burning this bridge?

Dancing my own work in the Philly Fringe exploring the situation that led to me losing my job - Gated Lies (Photo: Bill Hebert)
Posing the above question brings up many more questions. When is it appropriate to burn a bridge? If you burn a bridge, how badly will it affect you? And, most importantly, in such a short, competitive career, is it impossible not to burn a bridge or two along the way? I'm still trying to figure all of these things out. When I burnt my bridge with Colorado Ballet, I felt that the company was isolated enough to avoid too much damage to my reputation. In the end, the director was fired from the company and my options grew exponentially from my decision. When I burnt my bridge with Pennsylvania Ballet, I had the chance to dance with 2 of the greatest companies in the country for 8 years. But, at the same time, I am back in Philadelphia without a company to call home, and there is no chance they would consider me to dance with their company as long as their director remains at the helm. In the last situation, I burnt a bridge protecting and defending my integrity and body as a dancer and person. But, in the end, I injured myself further (though revealing that they had been hiding workers compensation from me, which allowed me to get better), lost a potential avenue to working on choreography that inspires me, lost my job, lost some friends who didn't want to be seen associating with me, and lost a handful of opportunities to dance in Philadelphia (since the company directors are so closely tied to a handful of dance organizations in the city).

So with all of this information, I ask if it is ever appropriate to burn a bridge? And returning to the original question: Is it possible to never burn one bridge in this dance world? I feel that it is impossible to give a proper answer. If you burn a bridge for a dream opportunity, is it worth it? If you burn a bridge to protect yourself from somebody that is treating you poorly, should you defend yourself? These are more questions of character than they are definitively yes or no answers. Are we dancers or are we human? When is it right to defend yourself as a human in a dance studio? If you are offered the opportunity of a lifetime, do you let it pass you up to honor a contract that can be filled by another dancer that will value the opportunity more?

What it comes down to is that these decisions are not about a right or wrong answer. Instead, the act of burning a bridge is very personal. And it is unfortunate, that in certain circumstances, one may not be aware that they are burning a bridge until after the moment happens. I will leave my readers with this. While these unfortunate happenings are to be handled at the discretion of each individual dancer, one should not fear burning a bridge if an action is damaging to oneself physically or emotionally. We can only hope that instead of burning a bridge, it can be left damaged and open to repair. For we are only human. Tread lightly.


Finding your comforts in a hotel

Unless you live and freelance only in New York City, a majority of the freelancing that dancers do takes them away from home. Sometimes, you will stay with a host family. At other times, like I am right now, you will be put in a hotel for weeks at a time. While staying in a hotel sounds fun, exotic, and vacation-like, it can leave you feeling quarantined from society and lonely. To fend off these feelings, I have compiled this list of things you can do to find your creature comforts and to feel like you are still an active part of society.

- Sitting in a hotel in a suburban location can become a redundant experience. It is easy to get stuck in boring patterns due to an inability to get around much on your own. Try changing up your routine. Eat out some days, eat in others. Call an old friend that you haven't talked to for a long time to reconnect. Take a bath. Use the pool or hot tub. Watch TV. Schedule a movie night and rent a pay-per-view movie. Interact with the hotel staff. Go for a walk. Try to get out of your mundane patterns and do something different every day.

I went for a short drive along Lake Ontario before rehearsal
- Staying at a hotel rarely allots you a stove or a microwave to prepare your own meals. This usually leads to one of the least comfortable situations for many people. Eating alone at a restaurant. When I first started writing this post, I was doing exactly this. I walked into the restaurant and the host insisted that I would probably enjoy (or...erm...feel more comfortable) eating at the bar. But I wanted to sit at a nice table in the main dining area...by myself. Then, when my server walked up to me, he stated, "you must be waiting for a pretty lady." He must have missed the memo, or multiple memos. Any newbie at eating alone might have felt embarrassed or extremely awkward in this situation, but after a few years on the road I am a pro at eating alone. Bring a book or newspaper. Bring your smart phone and catch up on social media or download a new game to play. Or, like me, bring a pen and paper to journal, log, blog, or anything else that you would like to document or write about. A nice glass of wine will help relax your discomfort, too. Or just sit back, breath, and take in the characters sitting around the restaurant having dinner. I always find great entertainment watching how locals interact with one another.

My items from home
- For me, one of the least comfortable things about staying in a hotel is the sterility and impersonal feeling that most rooms share. You don't have any personal home-y touches. You didn't decorate the room. What I always try to do is to bring a few things from home that make me feel like I am closer to home. It would weigh your luggage down if you carried your favorite piece of artwork. What I do is carry a very few lightweight items with me. I always bring one or two unframed 4x6 photos with me to decorate the room and remind me of loved ones. The pictures tend to get beat up a bit, but they still make me happy. I also have a stuffed sock monkey that my partner gave me as a gift. Yeah, I'll admit that I sleep with it. I haven't slept with a stuffed animal since I was 4 years old. But, only when I am traveling, I sleep with this stuffed creature.

- I always go on an extensive search for new music on ITunes in the days before departing for a gig. That way I have some new music to go along with my old music. I have an IPhone, which has a speaker loud enough for me to listen to music. But if you don't have a phone with these capabilities, consider buying cheap, portable speakers that connect either to your computer or MP3 device. I know I am late to the game, but I have also recently discovered the joys of Pandora. You can type in your favorite artist, song, or genre of music and it plays random songs, like a personalized radio station, for free. I feel music drowns out the stifling silence of sitting in a hotel room.

- One of my biggest issues when staying at a hotel is that I get lonely. After a long day at work, dancers often want to vegetate and rest their body and mind for the next day. It isn't uncommon for dancers to reject invitations to hang out. Sometimes, it is necessary to fight the urge to act like a hermit and enjoy some company. While an invitation from a co-worker may not always sound enticing at first, most of the time you end up enjoying yourself more than you would have staying by yourself in your room. Getting out and being around people will not only keep you company, but it will forge new friendships and relationships.

- You won't have the luxury of having a DVR to record and watch your favorite television shows when you are at a hotel. Sometimes, the wireless doesn't always work well enough to download video. In the worst of situations (for me at least), there is no internet. Always come prepared with a handful of your favorite DVD's. I always bring a few seasons of different TV series on DVD of my favorite shows; like American Dad, It's Always Sunny, and South Park. I like to take a relaxing bath for my muscles, pop a DVD in my computer, and have a good laugh.

- One of my biggest mental comforts is having access to a gym. The gym is an important part of my daily routine at home. What does one do if there is no gym at their hotel or affordable gym options nearby? This one is hard for me. I tend to associate my place of rest, whether it be my home or a room with a bed, with nothing other than that. I can tell myself that I will work out at some point, but it becomes very difficult once I sit down and start to relax. I find that when I wait until later in the day, this effect gets even worse. So, I have created a set of exercises that simulate what I would do in my regular gym workout. And while I despise them, I can do them all without any equipment that I use in my regular routine. I find if I do these exercises earlier in the day, prior to class or rehearsal, I am more likely to complete them. If I wait until afterwards, I do exactly what is supposed to be done in your bedroom. Rest.

- I always make sure to show up to a gig with a task to complete that doesn't have to be finished by the time I leave. You never know how much free time you will have and it is better to have a backup plan if you have no other options. For instance, my current task that I hope to complete during my time preparing and performing the Cavalier in The Nutcracker with Rochester City Ballet is to start compiling a list of ballet companies and Broadway shows that I find interesting. I have slowly been gathering information to help clarify the next step of my career. While I am lucky to have friends here from last year and a car to drive myself around, there are still times where I find myself pent up in my hotel room. This is one way to be proactive in my down-time and to occupy hours sitting in my room.

Glad to be back in the studio at RCB rehearsing with my Sugar Plum, Jessie Tretter


Freelancing is rarely forever

Maybe I am an alien???
I've said it once and I'll say it a million more times. Freelancing is a very difficult career. I've spent the last two and a half years calling Philadelphia my home, but living with host families and in hotels across the country. I have spent more nights sleeping in guest bedrooms than I have my own. In fact, this past week I turned to my partner and told him, "I'm an alien." OK, so maybe that is a really odd/awkward statement to make. But for anybody that knows me and the way my brain works, it makes total sense. I don't feel like I belong anywhere. When I'm home, nothing seems familiar and when I am away everything is foreign. With all of this said, I was given some wise advice from the father of one of my colleague's early on in my career at PNB. "If you want to accomplish something, you need to put it in writing." So, this has been brewing for a long while now, but it has taken time to hone in on the issue and its' solution. I'm ready to put this one in writing. And with all my efforts to keep the integrity of this blog an open and honest journal and tool into freelance work and living in the dance world, I'd rather share the true experience of a freelance dancer than the glorified, overcoming adversity tale that we, as a society, are trained to enjoy and reward. I need to greatly slow down my freelancing. There. I said it. ::breathes out::

I didn't choose freelancing. I could've chosen not to freelance. There is this saying that "you don't choose ballet, it chooses you." I don't remember who said it first. But however cliche it sounds, it is true. Ballet and technical dance in general are not kind arts. As a child, you are put into this art form because parents think it is cute, good exercise, and fun. This is one of the greatest facades I have ever known. Ballet is grueling, torturous hard work that is generally unforgiving, aesthetically-elitist, and selfish. Those that are lucky enough to enter the professional ballet world learn very quickly if they were chosen by it. I've seen many magnificently talented dancers quit during their first few years with a company due to injury, poor coping skills, burnout, or unhappiness with casting. These people weren't the chosen ones. Those that are chosen will suffer through less than ideal circumstances for three reasons; to defeat adversity, to savor those rare moments when ballet does give back, and because they need to dance. When I suffered my injury nearly two years ago and was unfairly let go from my company job, there was no question that I needed to dance. It was only a matter of how. At the time, my only option was freelancing.

This costume wasn't a highlight of my freelancing career
While ballet can be challenging, freelancing (on it's own) can be equally unforgiving. Put the two together and, at times, this avenue to dance can be wearing. While I have had some lovely experiences freelancing, I have also seen a darker side of our art. The term starving artist must have been borne alongside the term freelance artist. While I have been lucky enough to sustain myself over the past 2 1/2 years on dancing and teaching, most freelance dancers I know survive on hours of work doing non-dance jobs. This takes away from time they could be investing in the studio and it takes away from their energy levels to perform well. My savings account has dwindled well below my comfort zone. And I am beginning to feel the pressure of this lifestyle; keeping myself in shape and motivated, never-ending work searches, neglecting body maintenance, and monetary distress. Conditions, non-professional work, salary, self-negotiating, inconsistent work, and more make the emotional challenges of freelancing overwhelming at a certain point. These things are most likely the reasons that most of my high-level freelancing friends take big breaks from the lifestyle, as well. I do think my time for an extended break has come.

With all of this negative, also comes the positive. I have never felt freer artistically since I started traveling on my own. The good jobs that I get are usually quite professional, where those in charge understand the professionalism that goes along with my credentials. These lead to trusting relationships, where I have been able to have more say in my product. I have seen parts of the world I wouldn't have seen otherwise. And for every 5 to 10 jobs that pay poorly, there is usually 1 or 2 that make you feel like a celebrity. But all in all, it is the people that you meet along the way that make it worthwhile. And the privilege to see that there are amazing dance artists everywhere has been eye-opening; in every company and in every project that I have been a part of. Lastly, it is really gratifying to know that I can make a dance career happen on my own. No company, agent, or individual to take credit, except myself.

So, I guess the big question is what is next? Well, the big plan was this. I was very inspired by the audition process for Chris Wheeldon's American in Paris. I would love to explore the world of musical theatre and Broadway, as I feel that joining that world would be coming full circle with my training. When I was a teenager, Riz-Biz Productions founder and former A Chorus Line dancer, Bob Rizzo, took me under his wing.  Everybody and their mother told me to stop dreaming about ballet and go into musical theatre. They told me this because I was known for my personality onstage and clearly behind in my ballet technique. The only issue with this is that I didn't have proper vocal training and I had fallen in love with ballet. So, included in my plan is a period of vocal training and, maybe even, some acting lessons.

This was my original plan. Im in khakis on the right. West Side Story Suite by Jerome Robbins (Photo: Angela Sterling)
This was the plan until I went down to Los Angeles to dance with Barak Ballet. I've been pulled into conversations a lot lately about my ballet career. If I start to focus on Broadway, does that mean that it could be the beginning of the end of my ballet career? Not necessarily. But when three established people in the dance world; a respected dance critic, a former Balanchine ballerina and Balanchine Trust repetiteur, and well-respected teacher, pull you aside during the same week and tell you that you need to go back into a ballet company, you can't help but think that the universe is trying to tell you something. And even worse, or better, it was echoing a little voice that has been screaming for attention in the back of my head for quite a while now. I miss dancing for a ballet company. I miss being in constant preparation for a production. I miss coming to company class everyday with my colleagues and a live pianist. I miss a regular community. I miss having a live orchestra. I miss a lot of that life.

So what happens with my freelancing? Well, until I figure all of this out, I will continue freelancing. My plan is to start slowing my traveling down over the first six months of the new year. I'm currently searching for teaching work to reestablish my savings account. Eventually, I hope to only take work that I really, really, really want to do. As this happens, I plan on beginning work for both of my plans. I will work towards both to see which seems like a more viable option. My end goal is to either join a ballet company or be auditioning for shows in New York City by September.

My end goal
Does this mean that this is the end of Life of a Freelance Dancer? Absolutely not! One thing I do know, it was a difficult challenge to learn how to freelance. And now that I know the ropes of this segment of the dance world, it will always be a part of my career. I never said that I was going to stop freelancing. I just desperately need to find home, stability, and lower my stress level. Even if I have periods where I am not freelancing or do join a company again, I will continue to write about my experiences and educate future freelancers on the intricacies of this world. And the best thing about a blog like this is that it is not confined to one area of our community. Anybody can be a freelancer at any point, whether they are in a company, doing a long term gig, or freelancing full-time. Thank you to all of my readers for your continued support. I look forward to many years of advice, enlightenment, and experiences. And thank you for letting me share my true, honest experiences with all of you!


Why "30" is a frightening age for most dancers

Alright. Alright. I turned 30 a few weeks ago. I'm lucky that I still look like I'm in my mid-twenties (or so people have told me), even though I have stepped quietly into my thirties. When revealing my age to other dancers over the past few years, I have been encouraged to lie about my age multiple times. "Why would you tell me the truth when you could easily lie down a few years." While I couldn't imagine telling people I was 25, it does make one consider if age is really that important in dance. Why does it matter if you still look and dance young.

Blowing out candles on my 30th birthday
During the weeks leading up to my mid-October birthday, I slowly spiraled into a bit of a depression. I was, mostly, in denial about the reasoning, but what it came down to was that I wouldn't be home on my birthday, my partner wouldn't be joining me in Los Angeles due to financial constraints, and I had told myself for years that I wanted to dance until I am at least 30. As the day got closer, I became more anxious, stressed, and low. Then, the day came. My host family made me feel special, my new friends made me feel cared about, my phone and Facebook exploded with love, and I was in the studio rehearsing for a show that I was excited to perform. The day came and the day passed. And I was left with a comfortable feeling in my chest. It really wasn't that big of a deal. So, why did I freak out about turning 30?

The number one fear of every single dancer is that their career will end today. We know it will end, but we don't know when. How will I go? Will I get bored? Will I have a traumatic fall? Will my body start giving out? Will I get fired and not find another job? Or will I get to choose when I go and how I go? The reality of it all? Who knows. And while we are enjoying a career in a field that is nearly impossible to become a part of, more often than not, we are trying to put off the imminent end, one plie and day at a time. We have all heard stories of harsh endings to a promising career. Most of us professionals have stood behind a fellow dancer as they take their final bow. The end is almost always bittersweet, but more often bitter and less often sweet. With all of this said, the age 30 represents a lot to many dancers.

During the summer of 2003, I transitioned from student to professional. A week before I left home to start my career with Houston Ballet, I got some very wise advice from a teacher that had just left Miami City Ballet at the age of 24. She told me to stay away from negative dancers. Her advice continued, "There will always be dancers who bitch and complain about anything and everything. If you hang out with them, even if you feel positive about work, they will bring you down and, eventually, you may start to feel the same way." This was some of the most valuable advice I ever received. And with that advice, I set a goal for myself. I want my career to outlast her impressive, but short 6-year career. Once I hit 24, I had to set a new goal because I still felt I had a lot of time. After some thought, I decided that my next marker would be the age of 30. My mentor and childhood dance teacher danced until she was 30. It seemed an obvious age to strive and reach towards. Once I hit 30, I should feel content and successful. Right?

Dancing Mercutio at 26 w/ James Moore (Photo: Angela Sterling)
When I was 26 years old, I went in for my annual artistic evaluation with the director of Pacific Northwest Ballet, Peter Boal. These contractually-obligated, yearly meetings are a time to get some feedback and to give some feedback. Peter asked me how old I was. When I said that I was 26, he nodded and smiled. "Yes. Yes. You have a few years left in you." All in all, I think Peter was trying to pay me a compliment. But immediately my insecurities about the imminent end of my career kicked in. What was he trying to say? In my vocabulary, few means 3. Did he just mark me with an
expiration date? How dare he say that. Is he going to fire me when I turn 30? At the beginning of the next season, I decided I would leave the company at the end of that season. There were a few other factors involved, but I honestly think that this one, simple comment stayed with me and was a major factor in my decision to go. I was sure that I would be pushed out of the company by the time I was 30, so I felt that I needed to leave to give myself a chance to continue dancing beyond that.

During my audition tour, I found a mixed bag of responses in my efforts to obtain a new job. I just spent 7 years dancing with one of the top companies in the country, where I had danced a handful of leading roles. Shouldn't everyone want to get a hold of me? What I found during my tour was that there is a lot more to hiring a dancer than their ability, potential, and/or notoriety. Older dancers are more experienced and they expect to be compensated for that time put in. We are more expensive. And, yes, I was an older dancer at the age of 27. Also, if a dancer goes to an AGMA company after already having danced for one, they can not be demoted. They must enter the company at the same or higher rank than they previously were with their former company. Beyond this, when a student is being hired into a company, they are, most often, hired purely on their potential. When a company contracts a more experienced dancer, they are less likely to hire a dancer for their potential and more likely to hire them if they know they are planning on moving them forward in the company. There are few mid-career dancers hired with the thought that they may be a valuable corps member or that they may have the potential to grow into a higher ranked dancer. For some of these reasons, it was very difficult for me to find a job as a middle-aged dancer.

Although I had a lot of disheartening realizations during my audition tour, there was one moment that really struck me. I have always been interested in the contemporary side of dance. One of my audition stops, which frightened me more than any other, was auditioning for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. This was way out of my comfort zone and knowledge of the dance world. After taking class for a few days and learning a bit of repertoire, I sat down to speak with the artistic director, Glenn Edgerton. Glenn told me that he saw a lot of potential in me and thought if I got more contemporary work under my belt and came back to audition, that I might be a good candidate for the company. Following this, he asked me the same question that had been posed to me a year prior, "How old are you?" I stated my age and Mr. Edgerton quickly responded, "Oh good. You still have plenty of time." I was taken aback. For the last year, I was convinced that my career would be dead by the age of 30. This conversation gave me hope then and it gives me hope today.

As we all know, soon after this audition tour, I took a job in Philadelphia, which eventually led to me freelancing full-time. I've discussed in previous blog posts that it can become easy to live in a state of fear that your career is coming to an end when freelancing. Mine has continued through my late twenties all of my own making. And it is wildly stressful and taxing. So, as my 30th birthday approached, I started to think. "Well, my goal was to dance until I am 30. And this past year was successful, but emotionally and financially straining. How much longer can I do this? Is this it? Is this the goal I'm reaching where there won't be a next goal?" This conversation started playing itself over and over again in my head. And it is a very dangerous conversation to be having. Fortunately and unfortunately, the conversation stopped when the clock hit October 14th and I entered into middle-aged/older-aged dancer territory.

What I have learned since that day is pretty obvious to everyone and everything that doesn't exist inside my head. Nothing has changed. I am still dancing. I still want to dance. I didn't hit 30 and know the exact date of the death of my dance career. I still take class every day. My body didn't instantaneously begin to fall apart like Cinderella's attire when the clock hit midnight. I still look for the next job. I still have hopes, dreams, and aspirations as a dancer. I do feel a bit wiser and that I can truly share that wisdom based off of experience. I think it is best to say I am a more experienced dancer than an older one. I know that full-time freelancing needs to slowly turn into part-time freelancing, as I really miss having a sense of home, focus, and regularity. But that doesn't mean that my career is slowing down. It just means that it needs to focus back into company/long-term gig work (maybe Broadway). But the most interesting realization I have had is this. While I have always been a person to set a marker to reach, I haven't this time around. I don't want to worry about working towards dancing until I'm 40. If I reach that goal, I will feel successful. But if I don't, I will likely be disappointed. I would love it if I'm still healthy, happy, and dancing professionally at 40. But this time around, I don't need to set another goal to feel successful if I reach it. I have been successful and I am successful at what I do and love.

With all of this said, I leave my readers with this amazing quote from Houston Ballet's former physical therapist, Cody Brazos. One of the dancers in the company broke her foot in class after landing awry in a saut de chat. While crying in pain and panicking that her career was ending, Cody calmly looked this dancer in the eyes and said, "There is no timeline to a dance career."

There is life in dance after 30 (w/Ellen Green after the launch of Barak Ballet)


Sometimes I write articles for website design companies

It is true. Sometimes I get asked to write articles on things I've experienced and learned. I recently wrote an article for Lyquid Talent about websites for dancers and why they are the wave of the future. Check out my article here!


The rules of taking open class

I know that my last blog was a list post, but inspiration has struck and I feel that it is completely necessary to offer you another list. I was taking our morning warm-up class today at the Westside School of Ballet, where I am preparing a performance with Barak Ballet, and I found myself wildly frustrated. The annoyance I felt is actually not uncommon for me. In fact, I find myself needing to stifle my emotions often while taking open class. Most people that don't take open class don't understand what I am referring to. But any professional that has had to suffer through an open class knows exactly what I am talking about.

Open ballet classes are essentially the zoo of dance, but for people. I have taken open class in New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle, Los Angeles, Houston, DC, and beyond. So I have a pretty good take on this. There can be any combination of people taking class, from young students looking for an extra class to middle-age professionals (non-dance professionals) trying to stay in shape. Sometimes, you find tweens in class and, at other times, the dancers may be closer in age to your grandparents. Add a handful of professional dancers trying to stay in shape and you can only imagine the cast of characters that have arrived to partake in the art of ballet. For some reason, "dance-etiquette" is rarely taught in combination with the strict set of exercises that are given from barre to center and jumps . For this reason specifically, I feel that I need to speak up about the horrors faced and the lack of understanding and respect that occurs around the world daily in these classes open to all. When I teach class, I do my best to educate my students about an art that is borne out of respect. So, let's proceed and learn a lesson or two in the etiquette of ballet.

King Louis XIV
- Traditional ballet was founded by a king to be performed by those in the higher class. Royalty. There were many expectations in place when these royals interacted with each other and those considered to be below them. While things have changed as we have evolved out of this culture, there should still be a great sense of respect for those around you and their relationship to you in class.

- Look around the room. Yes, most everybody has paid an equal sum to partake in class. But each dancer is individual and has come from a different background. If a dancer looks like they really know what they are doing, they are likely professional dancers. They have put in a lot of time and effort, plus they have been highly trained in the rules of ballet. Don't assume that you have an equal standing in class as these professionals. Take a step back and take a lesson in humility. Watch these dancers and learn from them. Dance is an art that is passed on by spoken word and careful, visual observation. The next step down from the professionals are the regulars. They have put in their time at the studio, they have cultivated relationships with teachers, and they have a better understanding of the culture of their specific community. Next on the list are pre-professional students. These students are hopeful to achieve the status of professional. They are still learning the ins and outs of ballet and may not fully grasp the system that is commonly in place during a class. But they are on their way. Lastly, you have the drop-in students that come for fun and health. These dancers aren't necessarily interested in performing professionally or regularlity in attendance, but they stop by here and there to keep in shape and enjoy themselves.

- Show up to class before it begins. This doesn't mean you should walk in the door at the listed time. Arrive at least 10 minutes prior to the scheduled start time to sign in, pay your fee, and change. Here in Los Angeles, it is not uncommon for people to get stuck in heavy traffic and arrive late. This happens. But respect the fact that others showed up on time. If you are late, immediately look for a barre that is unused or the least full. DO NOT stand in front of somebody who has a direct view of themselves in the mirror. They probably arrived early to ensure that they could watch themselves and improve. If there are multiple barres in the room with two people on each side and one barre with 3 people on it, join one of the barres with fewer people on it and stand in the less comfortable spot. Whatever you do, if you are tardy, you should not place yourself somewhere that makes it harder for someone who arrived on time to work properly and effectively.

- It is perfectly fine to have a conversational moment with the teacher or your peers, but only for a short moment. Do not engage in loud, extended, or multiple conversations between combinations with the teacher. Also, if you have a question, by all means ask. But if you find yourself asking a question after nearly every combination, be more attentive and start watching other dancers. If you didn't catch a combination the first time in center, go in the second group. If you don't know how to execute a step properly, watch a dancer that looks like they know what they are doing. Ballet classes are a series of stops and starts to learn combinations, then execute them. Adding more time between the end of a combination and the start of the next one leaves time to get cold and to lose focus.

She does not belong in an advanced class
- Study the list of classes and ask the front desk questions before you enter a class at a level potentially higher than your ability. If you danced for years, but haven't taken class in five years, you should start in an intro or beginner class. Always take a level lower than you think you should before you consider moving up. There are constantly dancers taking the most advanced classes that do not belong in these classes. Not only are they a distraction to those that understand the intricacies of an advanced class, they are putting themselves in danger of potential injury. If you aren't sure where you should be placed, take the lower level classes and ask the teacher what they think after class. Also keep in mind that it takes a student years to progress to an intermediate, then advanced level.

- If you are not a regular or a professional, you should be weary of standing in the front or going first in groups. If you don't know the combination, you should definitely not go in the first group.

- Evenly space yourself in class. Do not stand in front of everybody while only moving forward halfway to the front. I always teach that the best way to respect others is to respect yourself. If you stand to close to a barre or person, you are making it more difficult for yourself to execute the combinations. You are offering yourself less of a chance to succeed. If you respect yourself by giving yourself enough space, you will also be respecting others because they won't be avoiding your limbs while they are dancing. Dance is based on ideals of respect. When you are at barre, if you are going to hit somebody, you need to turn the angle of your body away from the barre to the front and in towards the barre to the back. If you are doing center work, don't stand directly next to somebody. Stagger yourself. This means that one person stands forward and another stands back. If you are going from the corner, stand as close to the corner as possible in a triangle with the point towards the corner you are coming from or a square in two diagonals.

San Francisco Ballet dancers properly staggering themselves
 - If a professional or regular moves over, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are making space for you to move over as well. It likely means that you are too close to them and they are trying to gain more space to avoid hitting you.

- If you are not going to or unable to execute the combination in full, absolutely do not stand in front of anybody. It is disrespectful and prevents anybody behind you from fully executing the dance.

- One rule that is very important in ballet class is that you should never step in front of anybody. If somebody is standing in fifth position or B-plus, they are communicating that they are ready to perform. It is rude and disrespectful (and distracting) to step in front of or next to a dancer that has already expressed that they are going to do the combination.

- When a combination is over, it is proper to run forward, first, and to the side, second, as fast as possible to allow the next group of dancers to run into place. This will help you avoid collisions and keep class flowing.

- Most of the time, professionals are in class to stay in shape and improve their abilities. They are not in class as a hobby or to hang out. Think twice before you start talking to them. Chances are, if they don't approach you, they are working very hard and trying to concentrate on improving their art. If you want to start a conversation with one of these dancers, wait until class has ended.

- All dancers enjoy a compliment for executing a step exceptionally. If you absolutely feel the need to express your appreciation or awe, clap for that dancer or say something at the end of class. To constantly walk up to a dancer after each combination because you are impressed with them is a distraction and changes the compliment into a frustration.

- After class, a professional is likely running to rehearsal or a job. Class is a warmup for them. Feel free to engage them in conversation, but be aware that they are probably trying to leave the studio. Make sure that your conversations are appropriate and not asking too much. Don't corner a dancer and remain unaware that they are trying to gracefully exit the conversation. Most dancers are glad to offer helpful advice, but in small pieces.

- If I have one rule that is extremely important to maintain, it would be to remain aware of your spatial awareness. Not to be dramatic, but there is an epidemic of ignorance towards spatial awareness in open classes. Learning how to dance within a certain confined amount of space is just as important as learning how to point your feet, lift your legs, and develop a floating sense in your port de bras. Nearly every professional dancer starts their career in the corps de ballet. Twenty four swans can not exist on a stage without having an acute sense of what is happening around them. Learn how to look around your body while you are dancing. Use your peripheral vision. Don't battements your leg toward a person if they "may be" too close. If there is any chance that you could hit somebody, you are too close. You can practice spatial awareness by dancing in a small, confined room and avoiding hitting the walls with your limbs.

If more dancers understand this set of rules before entering an open class, you will be more likely to enjoy yourself and improve faster. While it is important for many professionals to take open class daily to maintain their technique, it is equally important that anybody who wants to partake has the option as well. Not only do these classes fund schools and companies, but attendance of non-professionals keep numbers up, which allows class to keep happening. Attending ballet classes also develops certain appreciations for those that won't necessarily have a career in dance. These "open-class" dancers come to performances, spread the word to those less educated in dance, and may even be inspired to donate to professional companies to keep them up and running. While it is important that open class remains open to all, it is also important that we begin to educate dancers in the codes of conduct and the finer details that are involved in a ballet class beyond the steps.


What I learned during my week off social media

I've talked about it before. I am a social media whore. I started on Myspace back in 2004 and was blogging a few weeks later. Since that first fateful day that I logged in, I haven't logged out since. That equals nearly nine years without more than one or two unplanned days without changing my status, checking up on an old friend that I haven't talked to in years, or adding a fun photo to Instagram. Well, this all changed a week ago. I was feeling down, perhaps even in a weird funk. I tried changing my routine, I discussed details with friends for insight, and I stared at the ceiling whilst laying in my bed for hours trying to figure out why I had been feeling off for months. After changing things up over and over again, I finally decided to take a last resort stance. Whenever I felt down, I turned to social media. But this time, I would turn away from it. My comfort. My outlet. My avenue for communication to all of my friends since I travel so much. One week without it. And boy did I learn a lot. I was surprised that all of these lessons were not about my social media use. The extra time that I had available allowed me to evaluate other aspects of my life.

My first time back on Facebook in a week
 - I try to focus in on my more interesting or off-the-wall thoughts just so I can post them to get a reaction from people on social media.

- Life without social media forced me to spend more time with my own thoughts and my own issues. Sitting on social media for hours is almost numbing.
- I interact so much because few people reach out to interact with me. I seek this because I don't have a regular workplace to have face-to-face interactions.

- I actually hate self-promoting, but need to do it to keep my name out there and find work.

Dressing room Puck says "HIRE ME!"
- One of my non-social media specific realizations. Dance is like any relationship, it requires a lot of work, physically and emotionally.

- The notifications and messages you receive die down very quickly once you stop posting. Interaction actually slows down almost immediately. When you start posting again, it takes time for people to start noticing.

- In using social media often, I assume that I have an interesting perspective that people want to hear.

- Only one person reached out to me beyond social media during the week that I was off (Big ups, Emily!). I even posted my email address and offered my phone number before signing out to anyone who wanted to communicate with me.

- I waste a lot less time and am early to arrive places at least 50% more often than when I am using social media regularly.

- I, surprisingly, only really started missing social media on the fifth day after stopping.

- I don't really enjoy Twitter...at all! I only use it because so many other people insist on it's usefulness.

- I don't even have to think about going on social media. I, even, typed it into my browser a few times and clicked enter before I even knew I had arrived on a site.

- Sometimes, social media use is just like having too many drinks. I will sit on it for hours, so I don't have to be mindful of the way that I am feeling at that moment.

- I love Instagram because I feel like it is like implanting a camera inside my head for everybody to get an idea of what life looks like through my eyes.

My view walking home from teaching at Koresh via Instagram
- I didn't care about the content in my Facebook feed nearly as much once I returned. I started to scroll down and, before I knew it, was clicking on my browser to go to another website. In fact, my eyes glazed over and I got bored almost immediately. I still haven't figured out why I continue scrolling down endlessly. Habit?

- I had way less use for my smart phone and would sometimes sit and stare at it trying to figure out what to do with it. If I didn't use social media, I'd consider getting a cheap phone with few perks.

- Looking at Facebook after a week off is like getting the mail. You get a few pieces of good mail, some bills, and a bunch of circulars that you wish you never got and want to throw away immediately.

- Everybody lauds your exit, cheering you on and congratulating your achievement. But by the time you return, most people have already forgotten you exist.

- Articles that are posted on Facebook tend to be less fact and more social commentary articles. Almost as if it is a platform to make a statement about one's beliefs, morals, and character.

- Instant gratification is never as rewarding as patience.


Why artists are expected to have little self-value?

I have been taking a hiatus from all forms of social media for the past week. Riding on the sweet success of Life of a Freelance Dancer accruing 25,000 views, I felt that it was time to take a week away from marketing myself as a product and to sit back, relax, and assess where I am going in this career. My first week without any form of social media in my daily life since 2004 has taught me a lot and given me a fresh new perspective on my intentions and actions, which I am grateful for at this time in my life. In less than a week, I leave for Los Angeles to rehearse for and perform in the launch of Barak Ballet. And in less than two weeks, I turn 30 years old. As I grow older, I grow wiser and my dancing has more value. But what I've also learned over the past week is that certain parts of the dance world don't agree with this.

(I would like to start this post with a disclaimer. This writing has some delicate moments and harsh realities that could be seen in the wrong light. I have no intentions of harm or dischord in publishing this, but I feel that this is a sensitive topic that needs to be discussed.)

Guesting w/Ballet Nova for Nutcracker (Photo: Ruth Judson)
Tis the season for Nutcracker to start calling. I have had a handful of offers through friends and employers that found me through my website. While I always appreciate being contacted to perform, I can't take every offer that comes my way. Sometimes, I am already booked during a period that my services are requested. At other times, an offer may not be substantial enough for the work that I need to put in. While I am passionate about what I do, this is how I make my living and I need to be picky about choosing the best option for myself, artistically and financially.

Last week, I was blown away by a situation that I found myself in. I had been contacted with a request to perform in a school's Nutcracker. While their offer was very generous, their consideration of what constituted a paid performance was not cohesive with mine. In typical fashion, when an offer is not agreeable for me, I either counter-offer or gracefully step out of the negotiation. On this occasion, I felt we could work something out and decided to counter-offer. Instead of receiving a response of agreement, negotiation, or decline, I was sent a scathing four paragraph email that badgered me, tore apart my resume, and tried to devalue my worth. This was all from somebody I had never met and that had never seen me dance. To be completely honest, I was so shocked I couldn't even be upset. Instead of reacting to this difficult response, I ingested the content as a learning experience and replied with a brief note thanking them for taking me into consideration and suggested that they move on to their other options.

While I didn't take this unprovoked attack as a truth, I did gain a lot of insight from my many days of processing this unnecessary response. As a dancer, you are expected to be open, available, and humble. While you are expected to respect the process and the system, that process and system does not have to respect you. I've learned during my 11 years as a professional that while there are human emotions involved in the interactions that take place in the creation of a performance, that in the end, the production takes full precedent over any situation that may involve emotion. Casting, injury, life events, arguments, money, and more. In the end, nothing matters except that the best product be put forth onstage.

When I was in my final year of training at the School of American Ballet, I very clearly remember ingesting one of the most shocking statements made by one of my most respected teachers. "Ok. So you're grandma died this morning. But that person sitting in the audience paid $200 for their ticket. They don't care how you are feeling inside. They want to see a good performance." As difficult as this was to hear, it was true. I've seen this exact scenario play out. I've experienced this scenario myself. Most dancers that have made it to a professional level understand how this system works. And along with all of the other difficulties dancers face, they still put on a good show.

Now, this is where things get complicated. When a dancer works for a company, they only have to deal with production aspects of putting on a show. As a freelancer, there is a bit of work that needs to take place before both parties get to move on to the production stage of dance. Negotiations take place, which can be as simple as an accepted offer or a fine-tuning of details. While some employers understand that the art of negotiating is impartial, others can feel it is an attack on an organization's character. In these situations, where you determine pay, terms of your stay, your workload, and more, certain emotions can be brought forth that have nothing to do with a negotiation. And more often than not, these feelings come from a place that we all started. Our training.

I have discussed this before, but it is important to reiterate it again. Dancers are taught from a young age to be submissive. They are taught that they are expendable and that there are hundreds of other dancers that want their job. For this reason, a majority of the dance world feels that one should be grateful for any job opportunity that arises. It is common for a company to feel that it is a privilege to work with them, less so an accomplishment of one's hard work. But when a dancer leaves the submissive role and tries to stick up for their value or rights, they are suddenly egotistical, hard to work with, and a diva. A prime example of this would be when I worked for an employer that loved me dearly and that I loved dearly as well. While we had a mutual respect for each other, there were often jokes that I was a diva when I would bring up situations that were not commonplace in most of the companies I have danced for. While we were able to laugh at this, I was still gently nudged that I was breaking "dance code" for speaking up for things like not having a break for nearly two hours.

As freelancers, we have to take care of ourselves. If we get hurt on the job, we don't have the privilege of having worker's compensation pay our salary and provide our medical care. If we don't negotiate a comfortable living environment at a home-stay, we have to sit tight or uncomfortably complain to try to find a more agreeable resolution. If we don't negotiate a respectable salary, we can't pay our bills. But it is not uncommon for dancers to be made an offer and expected to accept with full appreciation that they were even given an opportunity to dance. This needs to change.

One of my audition shots - circa 2002 (Photo: Roe O'Connor)
When I was 18 years old, I was offered a contract in the corps of Colorado Ballet. My starting salary was $500 per week. By the time I left Pacific Northwest Ballet, my salary was well into four figures per week. The company I left PNB for offered me nearly one third of what I had been making out northwest and I graciously accepted without negotiation. I began freelancing while dancing with that company. During this time I realized that not only could I barely sustain myself on that salary while I was working, but I couldn't save any money to sustain myself when I wasn't working. And now that I am freelancing full-time, aside from Nutcracker season, most of the work that I am offered usually pays at or below the offer I was made for my very first job. Eleven years after starting my career, I am performing at a higher level than I did at 18 years old and I am, at times, forced to feel ashamed for trying to ask for a livable wage. It is not a matter of asking whether or not this is fair. It is more a matter of asking when those that were once in this position and moved up to leadership roles will respect and appreciate what dancers go through in this career and that their survivability should come before their production.

I am not writing this post to call anybody out and there are some employers that I have worked for that have been greatly generous in their efforts to support me and the other artists that they employ. I think it is important to raise awareness that artists and their value are often abused by the ideals that are imposed by their very training. While some of the ideals that are taught as a student are necessary to create beautiful artists in the most difficult of fields, these ideals need not to be imposed upon fully-grown artists that have worked years to develop and perfect their craft. An artist's value should not be taken lightly. Be grateful when offered work, but don't accept work that is not grateful back. Take a job where you will grow or find value in raising the level of a production, but don't let somebody tell you that your experience doesn't qualify you to respect yourself. Dance as if nobody is watching, but don't dance if nobody wants to foot the bill. While you can't control who is going to value you and your work, the best one can do in their career is to do exactly that for themselves.

(This post is dedicated to James Fayette, former New York City Ballet Principal and current New York area dance executive for AGMA, who was recently injured in a senseless attack in Riverside Park in Manhattan this past week (article). James and I worked together when I was a union rep at PNB. He taught me a great amount of what I know about fighting for dancer's rights. LOFD wishes him a speedy recovery)