Emotional Health - Cultivating things you enjoy

I have recently begun practicing yoga again. While dancing with Pacific Northwest Ballet, I felt extremely lucky that one of the local yoga studios, Urban Yoga Spa, had such an appreciation and care for us dancers that they offered discounts on their yoga packages. Having such accessibility to study in great classes made it easy to fall in love with this ancient physical, emotional, and spiritual practice. After moving to Philly, I tried a few yoga studios. But none kept. Due to my constant travels and my generally high expectations of classes, it took me nearly two years to find a place that inspired me to return and practice regularly. A month ago, I found Yoga Garden only three blocks from my apartment. This studio is literally steps outside of my home. Beyond that, the classes are physically challenging and emotionally stimulating. For me, the emotional part is just as important as the physical.

The life of a professional dancer comes with an array of challenges. Whether you are in a company or have set out on your own, this career is about 20 percent reward and 80 percent challenge. Of course, the rewards, although less frequent, can be so extremely exciting that they usually outweigh the hardships and disappointments. Nonetheless, we dancers tend to take in the stress of challenges without any great processing beyond feeling upset or let down. Dancers ingest a great deal of bad in hope that with hard work and good timing things will turn around and they will be put on the cover of Pointe Magazine, be promoted to principal, and/or get asked to guest in galas around the world. Unfortunately, this is the trajectory of less than 1% of the professional dance population. The build up and quiet burying of these feelings can really wear on a dancer's emotional state. Without taking steps to ensure fulfillment and happiness beyond the worth placed on a dancer in their current situation, dancers can easily become depressed, jaded, and bitter towards something they are actually quite passionate about.

Living in the "PNB Bubble" - Costume archive photo for Jerome Robbins' The Concert
Being out of what a friend and I called the "PNB bubble," it is easy to look back at my time with this large company and analyze how things worked. We call it a bubble because the outside world mostly ceases to exist when you work 40 weeks a year with a handful of people in a wildly competitive atmosphere. It can be easy to lose sight of how incredibly talented each individual dancer is, how far everybody in the company has come since childhood, how much everybody gave up to refine their art, and much more. Each person's value is based upon what they are dancing at that moment and where they are ranked in the literal and social hierarchy of the company. Due to this "bubble" effect, people's self-worth can practically disappear and their passion can disintegrate.

In the freelance world, things can work in a similar fashion to that of a "bubble." But for the most part, it is completely different. Because freelancers don't often work within the same community from job to job, their emotional state can be greatly affected by whether they are working or not, the quality of their dance work, and what they are doing to make ends meet beyond rehearsals and performances. Sometimes, dancers will take on work that they feel is sub-par or uninspiring just to get a paycheck. At other times, dancers will take on multiple jobs, from waiting tables to office work, in order to make ends meet. If a dancer doesn't have current rewards from their dance jobs, it can make much of what one is doing, inside and outside of dance, feel wasteful and demoralizing since it isn't helping push the artist to the next level.

On tour at the Joyce Theater
Last summer, I wasn't planning on freelancing and my situation caused me to miss the general cut-off to look for summer dance and teaching opportunities. I found myself dancing work that I may have taken before I entered my professional finishing programs and teaching whatever, wherever. I even sought out jobs that had nothing to do with dance. At the age of 28, I was doing everything that I had feared I would do before I landed a job with Houston Ballet a decade earlier. My self-worth went through the floor and I found myself floundering emotionally. An acquaintance I had met at a party after I premiered with PNB at the Joyce Theater had noticed that my updates on Facebook had begun to take a turn from cheerful to withdrawn. Lynne Goldberg (her site will be available on 6/22) is a life/career coach that has a passion for dance artists. She reached out and offered me a one-on-one session to see what was going on in my head. A great piece of advice that she gave me was to make four lists; things I'm good at, things I need, things I enjoy, and things I don't enjoy. After looking at these lists, Lynne instructed me to look at the things I'm good at, enjoy, and need, and try to cultivate more of those things into my life. She also suggested I look at the things I don't enjoy and try to take those things out of my life, as they will be the least fulfilling and probably make me unhappy. Although there is no easy fix to things, I try to take this advice in everything that I do. One thing I learned was that even if I may be good at something or it may gain me great financial reward, if I don't enjoy it I will probably not be happy.

Going back to the discussion of my yoga practice, I took a challenging class this evening with the studio owner, Mark Nelson. One quality that determines the difference between a good yoga teacher and a great one is their ability to inspire emotional well-being while also providing a well-structured practice. At the end of each class, Mark offers a quote or statement to make his yogis think and grow as human beings. Today, we were gifted this little gem at the culmination of our practice."Take what you love and take what you need. And do it." That statement is a short way of stating the exercise that Lynne had given me nearly a year prior. This perfect advice seems to keep thrusting itself into the forefront of my awareness. For dancers, this seems so appropriate because at one point in our training, we did exactly that and it made us happy. It can be easy to forget. Once we become professionals, we have the added stress of achievement, survival, and expectation (personal and social). There is an emotional transition of attitude once dance goes from hobby to job. If a dancer finds that work is becoming overly stressful or unfulfilling, it is important to find things that crossover on both the "things I enjoy" and "things I'm good at" lists and start to cultivate those interests. I have seen more dancers quit/retire far too early due to what I call "emotional injuries." Emotional survival is actually the key to having a long and successful dance career. Namaste!


Get in "Contact" with your community - 6/25/13

Co-host Bennyroyce Royon getting the crowds attention at our last Contact event
One of the hardest things that I have had to adjust to since beginning my career as a freelance dance artist has been the absence of a regular community in my every day work life. While dancing with Pacific Northwest Ballet, I was constantly surrounded by co-workers and friends. I woke up in the morning and took class, rehearsed, and, much of the time, relaxed outside of work with members of the company. It is not common for freelancers to have much regularity in communication within the vast network of dancers our community holds.

In response to the absence of support, Bennyroyce Royon and myself held our first event for freelance dance artists back in October. Not only was this event a great success in bringing our community together. In reaching out to plan the event, we came to realize that the greater dance community agrees that there is a lack of support network and resources for freelancers. We were overwhelmed by the strong support for this venture.

Christian Serrano & Jacline Henrichs at our last Contact event
With that said, we are very happy to announce that we will be holding our second edition of Contact: A Networking Event for Freelance Dance Artists on June 25th in New York City. We have already received support and donations from Dance Magazine, Sansha, Dance/USA, Lyquid Talent, and a variety of practitioners that specialize in physical and emotional maintenance of dancers' health. It is understood that freelance dancers often have limited means and have to forgo many important aspects of their health and enjoyment just to make ends meet. Beyond creating a platform for dancers to network, our goal is to offer resources to freelance dance artists at little to no cost. In the long-term, we hope to assist dancers in our community who may not otherwise have the financial ability to take care of their bodies, stay in top condition, and enjoy the finer things in life.

If you will be in the New York area on June 25 and are interested in attending, please contact me at contactfreelanceartists@gmail.com with your name and professional experience. We require at least 1 year of professional experience as a freelance dance artist to attend this event. Contact is being held at a lounge, therefore nobody under the age of 21 will be admitted. We hope that all professional freelance dancers will come out and connect with your community!

(Photo credit: Karsten Staiger)


Social-Media Whore VS Savvy Self-Promoter

The first time I joined in the social-media craze was back in 2004 right after I had joined Pacific Northwest Ballet. I had friends that had been using Myspace for a couple of years, but I felt that there was no real reason for me to join in the fun. It took a friend of mine talking non-stop about the network for a few weeks before I finally gave in and signed up. At the time, I believed I was signing into a system to keep updated with my closest friends and to reconnect with a few friends with whom I had lost touch. Neither did I know that social-media would eventually take over my entire idea of communication, nor did I understand that it would become one of the greatest tools to market businesses to mass audiences.

Whirling Dervish (Russian) in PNB's The Nutcracker circa 2004
I signed up for Myspace around Nutcracker season nearly 9 years ago. My tipping point in joining a social-media network was probably laden by my boredom and stress of performing 40-something Nutcracker shows in 5 weeks. I signed up and slowly started to find my friends. Having a few people who thought my profile was interesting seek me out was a good feeling, too. But what really got the ball rolling was an unfortunate event at my apartment. I had fallen asleep for the night when, about 3 hours into my slumber, I awoke to a dripping noise. At the time, I wasn't aware that a hot water heater in a vacant apartment two floors above mine had burst. It was only a light drip. Nothing to write home about. But the annoyance had kept me awake well into the 3 o'clock hour of the morning and everybody in my world was already asleep. So, I turned to Myspace and wrote my very first blog. It said something along the lines of "Cindy...the light is leaking," which was a reference to a line from one of my favorite movie series, Scary Movie. I, eventually, was able to fall asleep in the living room after closing the door to the bedroom, where the water was dripping, and putting a towel under the door to drown out the sound. This was a huge mistake, as when I awoke at 9 AM to prep for my day of Nutcracker, there was water pouring down the entire length of my bedroom ceiling. All of the drama aside, Myspace was there to keep me company when nobody else was around. Thus, my role as a savvy social-media whore began.

I have never really been one to hide my emotions. Being an extrovert, writing a blog as a young, experimental 21 year old was probably not what most would consider the best idea. I shared more than 400 different accounts of my everyday happenings, odd encounters, and youthful dramas for the entire world to see. I accrued over 20,000 views during my 4-year period of writing, which is no small feat for a blog about my day-to-day life. Very few people approached me directly about my writings, but there was definitely a handful of people that felt I shouldn't share things so openly. Amusingly, these were often the people that had the most voracious appetite for my writings. Eventually, Myspace was overtaken by spam-bots and most of its' population, including myself, moved on. I switched over to Facebook, where I currently reside most of the time. But I have also engaged in (obviously) Blogger, as well as Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, and, most recently, Instagram.

As a young adult, I used social-media to engage with my current friends, reconnect with old, and keep up to date with all things new. It wasn't until I moved away from the comfort of PNB that I started seeing another side of social-media. Perhaps, it was that Facebook had set its' intention on eventually turning their interface into a mass-marketing platform, but, for me, this is when it started to become evident. Only when I had to start finding my own work, did I see how useful it could be. When I first started looking for dance jobs, I would refer potential employers to my Facebook profile to see dance photos that I had been tagged in, ask for assistance from friends, and follow potential employers. As time has passed, I've better been able to refine the ways that I use social-media when it comes to promotion and finding work.

I currently have my own website that I got through a company, Lyquid Talent. This has allowed me to use Facebook for more of my personal updates, as opposed to promoting myself all the time. I noticed that friends stopped paying attention to what I was writing the more I posted about work searches and when performing self-promotion. After realizing this, I started using other channels to help with my work life. I currently aim to use Facebook for my personal life and to keep people updated on my current dance happenings. I have a separate Facebook page to keep up to date with my blog. People are more interested in hiring a person if there is something compelling about them. When it comes to work, I generally use Facebook to encourage excitement, curiosity, and a sense of mystery in my work as a freelancer, which can make me more compelling.

The other social-media platforms I use to help myself with work are Twitter and Instagram. Twitter is easier to use as a promotional tool because anybody can follow you that is interested and the 140-character limit in what you can write makes it more acceptable to post more often. I fade in and out of love with Twitter, but when used correctly it can be quite effective. As for Instagram, I probably can't say very much since I only joined about a week ago. But I can already see how effective it can be used as a marketing tool. Two exceptional artists that have gained great exposure by posting on Instagram are Daniil Simkin of American Ballet Theatre and Sara Mearns of New York City Ballet. Only with the introduction of social-media has the audience gotten a sneak peak into the life of dancers. I plan on using Instagram to document my life and travels as an artist.

Improv'ing at the gym (for Instagram)
As human beings, we learn best through experience and making mistakes. There are a few rules that I do abide by when using social-media, most of which I have learned from prior happenings. First and foremost, I try to be as open and honest as possible in my writings and postings. When updating the online world through status updates or tweets, I try to give an accurate look at my view and emotions. But I have learned that I must not share everything that I am feeling. I have had issues with people who use even the slightest hint towards negativity as fuel against me in even the most righteous moments, which was less than pleasant. When it comes to Facebook, don't post too often. But when it comes to Twitter, don't post to infrequently. Twitter is much more reciprocal when it comes to interacting and gaining followers. If somebody retweets one of your tweets, thank them. And at some point, retweet something that they posted which you found compelling. When posting pictures to the internet, don't be afraid to post something that may be intriguing or controversial. At the same time, don't post any pictures that Amanda Bynes might share. Retain your professional image, but don't be afraid to give a taste of your artistic sense. Artists have always been the first people to push the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable.

Some of my friends tell me that I am way too active on the internet, while others follow every move I make. When you are in business for yourself, it is important that you gain a well-known web presence. While your savvy will give you more exposure and greater opportunity to gain work, it may also turn some people off. There is a fine line between making yourself known and overworking your presence. Some people may see you as a social-media whore, but few people have ever made a name for themselves by sitting quietly in a corner and waiting for people to take notice.