Create Your Own Blog

Writing this blog
When I started this blog a little over two years ago, I had little idea that it would become a great platform for me to share, educate, and speak out about issues while on the journey of my dance career. In fact, I only really started this blog because I was scared shitless about finding my own work. I knew that I had writing skills and a unique perspective. But I saw blogging more as a personal journal that could potentially be used as a marketing tool instead of a platform for sharing my experiences, thoughts on dance politics, or a handbook for independent contractors of all professions. Yesterday, Life of a Freelance Dancer reached over 50,000 views. And as it approaches 100 posts (this will be #99), I have decided to share some of my secrets about creating a blog and how to write compelling posts that draw your audience into your unique world.

I don't know if it's our age or more of a popular trend within the ballet world, but I have had a great many friends mention to me that they want to start freelancing. Since I started a blog that is unique and contains material that has generally been untouched in the past, I get a lot of people reaching out to me about working as an independent contractor. During a handful of these conversations, more than a few of these dancers have told me that they are considering starting their own blog. They see that I have been successful with it and figure, "If he can do it, I can do it." The problem I often find, though, is that not much more thought has gone into something that can be a monumental task.

The first thing I do when somebody mentions that they are going to start a blog is ask questions. I always begin with, "What is your niche?" The obvious answer for us is dance. But is that enough to be compelling? There are many styles of dance, different types of dancers, and a multitude of tracks that somebody can be on throughout their career. The first thing that a potential blogger needs to think about is finding their niche. This special place one hopes to hold in the blogosphere needs to be one topic in which the blogger has endless knowledge and exponential passion. It may seem like an easy task to sit down and write about a subject here and there, but it is absolutely impossible to maintain one's writings over an extended period of time if the topic doesn't mean the world to you. This is the ultimate reason that most bloggers fizzle out within the first month or two of writing.

Once a writer chooses their niche, they need to take other things into consideration. How often do you plan on blogging? If a blogger plans to write whenever they feel inspired, they are not going to be able to maintain an audience. Even things that people are most passionate about usually swing up and down on the scale of inspiration. When I started LOFD, my plan was always to write one blog post per week. I didn't know if this was feasible, but it seemed often enough to keep people coming back to check in and infrequent enough to keep me from burning out. Two years later, the longest I've gone without writing has been two weeks. And while I wasn't posting during that period, it wasn't because I was uninspired. It was because I was too busy rehearsing or performing to sit down and create content. It is extremely important to post with regularity, as it will help you to maintain your audience. And, believe it or not, if nobody is reading your blog, you are that much less likely to continue writing.

Now that you have considered your niche and time management, why would somebody want to read your blog. Just writing about a specific area of expertise doesn't mean that everybody who has interest in that topic will read what you have written. I have heard people tell me, I'm going to write about me doing this and my review of that and my experience with this and my thoughts on that. My response can come off pretty offensively, but it is one of the most important things to consider. What makes you so interesting? So, you are a ballerina that likes fine dining. Or you have a special knack for knitting leg warmers. But just because you are passionate about something and you shared it on a public platform doesn't make you or your writing interesting. What makes a writer compelling is finding their own unique voice. When you talk to somebody in person, you can hear their vocal inflection as they speak. But reading a smattering of letters jumbled together on a blog with pretty colors in the background and IPhone photos in the foreground does not draw an audience into a story. Creating a unique writing style within your own content will make one far more interesting. Beyond the way that I phrase my posts, I am known to be too openly honest for most of today's common social standards. But the combination of these two things give me a unique voice that makes my writings stand out in ways that others may not. The tendency is for people to watch somebody do something successfully and to attempt to become successful by copying how that person garnered their success. This rarely works. Find what is unique about you, put yourself out there, and people will read what you have to say.

At this point you've created your blog, so the next step is to write your first post. What are you going to write about and how many topics have you already compiled? Most first-time bloggers think that they are going to come up with all of their topics on the fly as they find inspiration. Some people can do this. But for most of us bloggers, we need to compile a list of possible topics for the future. I generally write about what I am experiencing or inspired by in the moment. But as I stated above, you don't always feel equally inspired to write. How are you supposed to write when you don't feel any motivation and it has been days since you last planned on posting? Nothing can destroy your drive to blog more than writing a handful of forced entries. Not only do these posts take too much energy to write, but they often come off as uninspired to readers. And as for maintaining readers with humdrum content, you can think of it like this. If you go to a restaurant once and the food is bad or the service was poor, how likely are you to return to that restaurant? Unless you have already pulled in a loyal following of readers, this can force people to stay away from your content before they even get to the entree. I always have a list of, at least, ten blog topics that I could write about if I can't think of any other subjects. I have gotten to the point where I rarely need to touch that list. But every once in awhile, I'm too busy to be imaginative or in too little of a writing mood to conjure up a new topic.

When trying to summon new material to write about, I find that I write best when I am inspired. What inspires you? I can be inspired by something that I have experienced at a gig, a conversation with a friend about dance politics, or even a random person walking down the street having a conversation with a fire hydrant. I find that when I am truly inspired by a topic, I can write a blog in a wildly short period of time. If I'm less inspired, the task is more tedious and takes a lot more effort. Keep in mind that inspiration doesn't always have to be positive. But, if you are inspired and passionate about something, people will be more likely to enjoy your content. How many times have you seen a street performer present an act skillfully with passion and stood in the street smiling to yourself. If you can write passionately inspired posts, people will respond the same way. And they will come back for more. Who doesn't feel good when they are pursuing something that they feel passionate about?

The main reason that bloggers continue posting in a public forum is because they want people to read their content. If you post and don't tell anybody about your writing, nobody will know it exists. Most people figure that they will simply post their blogs on their Facebook or Twitter. And they think that all of their friends will read what they write and then their friends will share with their friends and their blog will become famous. It unfortunately doesn't work like that. The more you sell your blog in your own social media feed, the more likely your friends are to get annoyed with you. I do post every blog on my accounts, but I don't post about it much more than that. When I first started blogging, I oversold myself to my friends and I instantly saw fewer comments, less likes, and some even deleted me. Using social media successfully is a delicate balance of posting enough, not posting too much, and delivering interesting content that isn't too sad or self-indulged. The best way I find to draw in readers is a combination of social media and Search Engine Optimization (or SEO).

One of my recent Twitter posts
For social media, I always post a link to my most recent blog on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, typically with a quote from my writing. On Twitter, I always make sure that I use hashtags for #dance, #ballet, #freelance, and/or #blog. This allows people that are interested in these topics to find my tweet, even if they don't follow me. Beyond that, I have each individual post linked on a separate LOFD fan page on facebook and on a board in Pinterest. The way my blog is set up, you can only see the most recent post at the top of the page. Most of my other posts are hidden on the sidebar or on other pages of my blog. Since I have spent so much time writing each post, I don't want them to disappear into the blogosphere only to be found when somebody searches a specific topic. On Pinterest, each blog post is pinned to the board like a post it. This makes it easy to scroll through individual pieces versus scrolling through entire pages of writing.

As for Search Engine Optimization, this is where things get a little trickier. I am still on a bit of a learning curve when it comes to SEO. But using blogger, I have a few tricks that I use to increase traffic to my website. SEO is essentially creating pathways to have search engines, like Google and Bing, move your site closer to the top when somebody searches a topic that may relate to your blog. In my posts, I try to find ways to insert links to articles and businesses that are related to my writings. Make sure that you are being honest to your writing with these links. Don't add a random link that has no relation to your work because it is popular. But adding links to other searchable subjects may have your blog showing up when somebody searches for a place, like the School of American Ballet. Also, be sure to add labels/keywords after you have finished your post. In Blogger, there is a sidebar with post settings that allows you to add labels to your content. During my editing process, I search for words in my writing that really stand out as important to the post or names/subjects that are highly searched. For instance, if I wrote a post that included a story about working with Christopher Wheeldon, I am surely going to include him in that list. The more searchable your blog is, the more likely you are to gather readers. And the higher the viewership, the longer the life of your blog.

At the end of the day, you may ask me why I spend so much time sitting at my computer having a conversation with my keyboard? I never thought of myself as a writer until recently. Obviously, the excitement of seeing the number of views on my content tick higher and higher contribute to my long stream of writings. But the reason that I continue blogging from week to week is because it gives me a platform to express my thoughts, views, and explorations to people that I don't even know. I can help somebody I've never met learn how to get a job or cope with shitty conditions in their workplace. I always tell people that criticize me for sharing so much about my personal and not-so-personal life online this. There are so many times in life that we feel alone, like we are experiencing something all by ourselves. Those of us that have a platform to share MUST do so for those people. At some point, somebody has experienced what I have along my journey through my career and life.  Sometimes, though, they don't realize that they weren't the only one to have ever experienced it. If putting a little too much of myself out there helps somebody else in their time of need, I'm more than happy to help. With all of this said, if you've got it in you, GET STARTED WRITING!

Don't be afraid to express yourself


Healthy Competition - From Student to Freelancer

An old photo of me around age 4
As a youth, I was quite competitive. I wouldn't necessarily say that I was one of those kids who was in your face, I will cut you, competitive. But I got a great sense of satisfaction from the competition that dance offered me. Taking a look through my training, competition years, and finishing school to my first few years in a company, becoming a seasoned professional, and finally to my life as a freelance dancer; it is interesting to see how my sense of competition has shifted and matured. Without any sense of competition, I don't think I could have achieved the level of dancing that I am at today. But at the same time, I can look back and see where competition helped me, as well as hurt me along my path.

When I started dancing, I was too young to really understand competition. I was 2 years old and would sit with my mom in the lobby of our local dance school where my sister was taking creative movement classes. With all of my youthful exuberance, I kept running into my sister's class and interrupting their growing into a flower and skipping down the street exercises. When the instructor could have viewed my interruption as a nuisance, she instead saw it as an opportunity. Instead of scolding my mother for my misbehaving, she offered me a chance to join my sibling and her sisterly skippers. This was contingent upon me staying in class and remaining focused. After a few years in class and a few years off from dance, I started taking lessons again.

I never had a competitive appetite at the age of 7. I only took one class a week. Perhaps, it was due to the fact that I only saw dance as a hobby. Or maybe it was because I was the only boy in class. I don't recollect trying to do better than any of my peers, as I was just having fun. My first memory of feeling competitive was after I attended my first dance competition at the age of 13. My studio had decided to enter a few numbers in the regional Starpower - National Talent Competition. At this point, I hadn't even worn my first pair of tights in performance (the director feared that I wouldn't stick around if she made me wear tights in public), let alone considered outside talent or other boys that dance. I remember sitting in awe; seeing kids my age and gender dancing circles around me. Most of that competition, I spent sitting in the audience thinking about how I didn't understand why they were better than me, but I knew that there was something different about their dancing. This is the first time that I recognized technical achievement and, perhaps, the first time I felt that I needed to compete with the dancers around me to reach my greatest potential. I had experienced competition in Tae Kwon Do and in other areas of my schooling and hobbies, but I never really looked at dance from a competitive place.

As my teenage years passed, I attended more competitions and added conventions, workshops, and master classes to the mix. I never felt that I was nasty in my competitive attitude towards other dancers, but I slowly became one of the most ambitious dancers around. If I was in a class, I was standing front and center. If there was a master class, I was always the last dancer to leave the room to ask the teacher about corrections or for advice to show how hungry I was. If I was competing, I wanted to win first place overall. I guess I could say that I went from zero to 100 in a short period of time. I never threw any of my peers under the bus or cut anybody off, but I was competitive in spirit and made sure that I was seen and that my presence was known.

An old audition photo (Photo: Rosemary O'Connor)
Once I started attending auditions for ballet summer intensives, my experience at conventions helped me out. Having learned combinations amongst hundreds of eager dancers in ridiculously close proximity on carpet, as well as my ambition to be discovered, helped me gain notice more than my technique. I knew how to step out of a crowd and be seen. My competitive spirit didn't allow for shyness or measure. While I had really started to excel in my jazz, tap, and contemporary technique, I was quite far behind in my ballet technique. Ironically, I had fallen in love with ballet at 15 after seeing several School of American Ballet students perform besides me in a small company's Nutcracker. While I didn't have the chops to back up my eagerness, my competitive edge pushed me to audition out of my comfort zone. I attended any and every audition that I could. I talked to the teachers afterwards. I followed up the auditions with written letters of interest. And, after a failed first year of summer auditions, the next year I received a handful of non-scholarship offers to a number of summer intensives (which, being male, is a great testament to how much technique I was lacking).

While my mom wanted me to attend the Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Arts, a full-scholarship program, I insisted on attending Houston Ballet's summer intensive; one of the only ballet programs that offered me a partial scholarship. I knew that I would be surrounded by more male dancers in Houston than I would have been at the Governor's School. During this summer, I became much more intensely competitive. For the first time ever, I wasn't one of the best in class. I was surrounded by dozens of talented guys that had been focused on their ballet training for much longer than I had been. I was light years behind them and well aware that I had to play catch up. While I was never outrightly competitive towards the other boys in the program, I think that my intense approach to catching up was off-putting to a handful of my classmates. I didn't understand the culture and I didn't care what others thought of me. Everybody has heard that they shouldn't be competing with anyone other than themselves, but I didn't agree with that. I had spent a majority of my training in competition with myself and a bunch of girls, and I felt that this approach had only gotten me so far. I needed to be front and center in order to be seen and receive corrections. I also spent a lot of time watching other guys who got more attention than me analyzing what they were doing better. At times, I didn't understand why other teachers were drawn to them. I was under the impression that I was just as good as these guys, but they seemed to be on track for an invitation into the year-round program.

By the end of the summer, I somehow left with an offer to join the academy for their year-round program, but with very few buddies that I had really bonded with during my six weeks in Texas. I didn't understand why I had connected with so many of the girls at the program, yet so few boys. It is all quite clear now. In order to push myself towards the central focus of the teachers and obtain my spot with the school for the year, I had inadvertently segregated myself from many of my peers. When my mom refused to let me attend HBA because she felt that I needed to finish out high school (which I did the next year as a junior), my loss of competition (and, in my mind, improvement) made for a miserable year. During that summer, I had learned that I improved the most when I had comparable or better competition surrounding me. Returning to a local school, where I felt that I had none, felt like a deadly blow to my future in dance.

Returning to my alma mater as an adult - The School of American Ballet
My junior year passed and I finished out my last year of high school ready to finally make my move to Houston. While I was offered to attend again, I ended up finishing my training at the Kirov Academy of Ballet and the School of American Ballet. During this time, my approach to competition became much more aggressive. The thing about this is that, at the time, I didn't see myself as being competitive. Dancers often tell themselves that they aren't competing. I had convinced myself that I wouldn't talk to any of my peers during class because I needed to focus on myself. I still felt that I had to make up for lost time since I started focusing on ballet so late. I also convinced myself that I very strategically chose barre spots and center spots because I learned best in the front and center. While I felt this was practical, it came off as cut-throat. When a friend did well, and I didn't understand why they were called out instead of me, I was genuinely happy for them, but genuinely disappointed for myself. Then, I would find myself watching those that were doing well, analyzing what they had done to beat me to the punch, and changing my behavior to hopefully surpass them on their successful path.

Some of my closest friends and closest competition while @ SAB '03 (Jermel Johnson - Principal PA Ballet, me, Arron Scott - ABT, Troy Schumacker - NYCB, Will Lin-Yee - Soloist PNB, Andrew Scordato - NYCB)

Throughout my training, I would constantly tell myself that my competition did better than me because they had a better body than I did. Their feet were more flexible, knees were hyperextended, and their extensions were sky-high. So, I focused on what I thought I was good at. Intelligence, work-ethic, and sheer hunger for success. In the end, these things worked for me. And at high-level schools like The Kirov and SAB, you learn that you can become good friends with your competition. As long as you understand and support one another in their successes, a strong bond can still be formed within your competitive circle. Also, you begin to understand that you are all working towards a similar goal, but each end point is never exactly the same. Through this, we were able to bond, even with the possibility that a friend could outdo you and take a spot in the company that you desperately wanted to dance.

By the time that I had made it out of school, I was reaching the peak of my competitive streak. I was hired into Houston Ballet with 5 other apprentices. Since the company's union contract only allowed dancers to spend one year as an Apprentice, I knew that I had to make an impression to get promoted into the Corps and make one fast. To make matters more stressful, 4 of the 6 Apprentices were male. I immediately began to stake my claim in the front of class and to bond with one of the other apprentices, who would eventually become one of my best friends in Houston. A few weeks into my first season as a pro, one of the Principal dancers pulled me aside and yelled at me for standing in front of him during company class. I didn't understand why he was so upset, as he had already proven himself to the director. I felt that I had to compete to prove my worth to my new boss. Later in the season, my best friend was hired into the company before I had heard if I would be offered a Corps contract. A combination of these two factors started the decline of my competitive fierceness with other dancers around me. I was given two abrupt lessons. First, once you become professional, being competitive can actually cause greater stress than it can success. Second, I realized that I could potentially hurt a great friendship if I chose to be competitive instead of supportive.

Once I had competed my way into the professional world, I began to notice how cut-throat competition was not as much a part of the bigger picture of great success and I began to understand the idea of competing with oneself. In a company of 50 dancers, everybody wants to be on top. But the idea of what it means to be at the top is constantly changing. Did you dance opening night of a leading role? Were you featured on that poster that is being hung around town? Did Dance magazine feature you as a rising star? Were you called out with positive praise in the most recent review? There are many possibilities for dancers to rise to the top. The top is also fluid from program to program and often out of a dancer's control.

In green tights - PNB in Glass Pieces by Robbins (Photo: Angela Sterling)
After I joined PNB and started to really get a sense of what it was to be a true Corps member, I realized that I needed to start working towards something more cohesive with my fellow dancers. In order to improve, I had to start looking at what I needed to do and not where I was compared to everybody else. The idea of competing with myself became very true. I started to become off-put by dancers that acted exactly as I had when I was younger. And I realized that overtly competitive dancers often elicited the remark, "Who does he think he is?"

After a few years in the same workplace, you can get pigeon-holed into the type of dancer that the director thinks you are. When I was younger and casting would go up, my competitive nature might have made me feel like somebody took a role from me that I felt I deserved. In reality, it was not so much the idea that somebody took a role from me. Instead, it was the idea that I had to convince the director that I belonged in that role (whether through my dancing or verbally). And, of course, politics always comes into play. As I spent more time working besides the same colleagues who I had once felt the need to compete with, I began to feel that they weren't standing in my way to the top. Instead, my way to the top was in trying to convince the people casting ballets to believe in me and see in me what I, myself, and others saw.

Lucia Rogers & me as Romeo and Juliet w/ Fort Wayne Ballet

(Photo: Jeffrey Crane)
Working in the manner that I do as a freelancer, competition is nearly non-existent. Since I am not working with a company from program to program, I don't feel the need to compete for roles. I usually have a good idea of what I will be dancing before I show up for my first day of work. I have walked into companies and felt a strong sense of competition projected onto me from a few different dancers. One, in particular, was a dancer in his first year with a company where I had previously freelanced. This dancer felt so intensely competitive towards me that they became stand-offish and began walking up to me during rehearsals to give me corrections. After a firm discussion telling them that they needed to let the director do their job if they felt I needed fixing, they left me alone. Perhaps, it is the time that I have spent in the field. But, more likely, it is the fashion in which I currently conduct business. As a freelancer, I feel that I am not a threat to any dancer in any organization where I work. I am brought in to do my job and leave. I'm not going to take a dancer's job. I'm not going to take their future roles. I come in, I do what I was brought in to do, and I leave. It's essentially a non-competitive position.

Typical self-promotion - Did you see me in Dance Magazine?
I find that while I feel mostly uncompetitive, there is one place that I still feel a hint of competitive comparison. While I love social media and stay connected through these venues due to my travels, I find that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are more often used by professional dancers for self-promotion than as a way to stay in touch. I am one of the biggest offenders on these platforms. Whenever I sign into one of these sites, I am proud to see what successful friends I have. But I find that, at times, I have to keep myself in check when I feel the need to start comparing my successes with their self-promoted successes. In the end, we were all wildly competitive as kids, which connected us on similar paths and pushed us upward and onward towards great successes.

No matter how mature I grow within my competitive nature, there will always be a sense of comparison to others in my field. Competition was an exciting aspect of dance that not only grew my interest in the field, but helped me grow to the level of artistry and excellence I have achieved today. Dancers learn through healthy competition. It is important for us to keep in mind that the kindest, healthiest competition is one that supports others and supports oneself in the most positive, growth-forward way.

My friend Jermel & me waiting for a bus to go on tour w/ABT in the middle of a blizzard


Injuries: How to Handle Injury & Preventable Factors

On the table with one of my favorite people, PNB Physical Therapist Boyd Bender
I feel it is time that we have an open, honest conversation about injury. One of the worst things you can do in this dance world is to speak publicly about a current injury. A dancer doesn't want to be thought of as weak, a liability, a repeat offender, or anything else. Even worse, a dancer doesn't want an employer to turn to them years after their last injury and say, "I read that you've had this injury before and you lied about your health when you arrived." But I am going to do it anyway. I am going to proclaim in public that I am injured. I feel that it is important that dancers stop hiding issues like this and speak out about our experiences. Every professional dancer will face injury at some point, and while many will share their comeback stories after they're fully recovered, few will share about it as they are going through it. Yes, I have been lucky enough to spend the last 2 1/2 years healthy (albeit minor aches and pains). But today, and for the last month, I am suffering from an injury that kept me from performing at my last gig and has forced me to take the last month completely off from most physical activity.

Where does one start with a topic like this? Usually the first question is, "How did you get injured?" Again, another taboo topic, but I'm gonna be as honest as possible here. While there are times that a dancer may become injured due to some freak occurrence, one can usually look to a variety of components that contributed to their injury. I have a pretty clear idea of what caused me to suffer a lumbar (lower back) sprain.

There are what I consider to be four factors that, when neglected, often lead to a dancer's body breaking down. Rehearsal/ performance conditions, rehearsal procedures, physical maintenance, and rest periods. When I became injured back in the beginning of May, I felt that three of these factors had absolutely contributed to me needing to pull myself out of a performance series.

When it came to rehearsal conditions, we rehearsed for weeks on end in a studio that was not sprung and without proper heating. Throughout the rehearsal period, we were also asked to perform on concrete at multiple venues indoors and outside, often without any spacing rehearsals.

Our rehearsal procedures were also uncommon throughout much of the process. While we had six weeks to prepare for our performances, we learned a majority of our choreography at breakneck speed. After urgently learning the material, we immediately began running the complete works full-out. A very important part of the rehearsal process was lost. The actual rehearsing, digesting of material, and building of stamina. As for rest periods, our typical 2-day weekends during rehearsal weeks were often taken away by outreach and event performances.

What I looked like sleeping in that child's loft bed
Lastly, housing wasn't provided for out-of-town dancers. I definitely learned my lesson here, as a host that I found through a home-exchange website stopped responding to my messages after I had already arrived. This left me to move 5 times over 5 weeks; sleeping on couches and a child's loft bed for an entire month. While I made sure that I had enough sleep, my body and mind couldn't ever fully rest. Not having a proper place to sleep surely had a great impact on my spinal health.

It seems that the only factor that was positively met during my stint was in my physical maintenance. I found a great chiropractor, San Francisco-based Dr. Kevin Linzey, who not only was a skilled practitioner, but cared more about my ability to practice my art than charging me a rate I couldn't afford. If you look at all of these items, you can see that it came as no surprise that I left this gig in so much pain that it prevented me from performing.

In a full-time company without freelancers, there is a common procedure that most dancers follow when it comes to an injury. Initially, most dancers aren't sure if their injury will improve enough to perform. Unless they experience a fracture or major sprain, there is always the possibility that the dancer can dance through/around their pain. It isn't uncommon for a dancer to mention to artistic staff that they have an injury and need to rest for a few days or take it easy in rehearsal. This period is an assessment for the dancer to determine if treatment and/or rest is improving their condition or if it is going to take a longer period of time to get better. Once a dancer determines that they are unable to dance, the director will usually find a replacement for the dancer and allow the injured dancer to take the necessary time to rehab and get better. From here, a dancer will usually open a worker's compensation claim, which is their legal right as an employee of the organization. Generally, worker's comp will provide the necessary treatment (doctor, X-ray, MRI, therapy, surgery, etc) for a dancer to get back on point. Beyond taking care of treatment, worker's compensation will often pay a portion of an injured dancer's salary, so that they can sustain themselves during the recovery process.

The initial stage of dealing with an injury as an independent contractor looks very much like that of a fully contracted dancer. When I woke up one morning barely able to walk, I sent the director an email giving him a heads up about my condition. Following the email, I hobbled on in to the studio to have a conversation and come up with a plan. Prior to entering the studio, I had already come up with my own ideas of how to resolve my potential absence. If you enter a tricky conversation with a plan, it can likely alleviate some of the stress that an injury can throw on an organization. Most freelancing jobs that I have worked have used 10 or less dancers. One dancer going out can cause a lot of stress and panic when there is nobody to cover for that person. My plan took into account that we had a week and a half before the performances. If I acted immediately on my pain and took myself out of the show, I may have put undue stress on the company had my back calmed down quickly. I told the director that I was going to get as much treatment as possible and would give them an answer by the beginning of our performance week, if not earlier. We, then, agreed that I would teach other dancers significant parts of choreography (as much as I could in my state) that only I knew. I also mentioned that I had some strong medication to help with my inflammation and that I would take it to give myself the best chance of a quick recovery (I always ask my doctor for a prescription when I travel for work in the event of an emergency while I am away from home. I have never used it in my 3 years of freelancing until this moment. Still, most any traveling freelancer should carry emergency medication with them in the event that they get injured. This saves a great deal of time, money, and stress). Once I had fully informed him of the possible scenarios, it was his choice to wait or take me out of the shows. We agreed to wait.

The hardest part about assessing an injury while nearing a performance period is staying calm. Most people's natural tendency is to keep testing their injured area to see if it is feeling well enough to perform, whether taking class or stretching into the injury. I really wanted to jump into class to see how much I could do when the medication started kicking in and relieving my pain. But I knew that I needed a few more days before I could test anything. Once I finished the medication and most of the inflammation had dissappated, I tested out my back with a few exercises at home. When I realized that twisting and bending was still causing me pain, even with my recovered mobility, I immediately messaged the director that I would need to pull out of the performances. I did this a day earlier than we agreed. I figured that the more time the company had, the more prepared my colleagues would be and the less stress would be added to their preparations.

Freelance dancers, unfortunately, don't have the privilege of utilizing their employer's worker's comp if they get hurt on the job. Since most freelancers are independent contractors, the leadership of different dance companies have absolutely no responsibility to a dancer beyond paying them and other loose terms in their agreement, even if they contributed to them getting hurt. If a director doesn't provide a safe workplace and a dancer chooses to continue with that production, the dancer has to deal with the conditions, speak up in hopes of resolving the issues, or, in a last resort, quit the job. If, like me, a dancer does become injured, they are on their own in taking care of their health.

My E-stim unit (my savior)
As soon as I became injured, I had an appointment with the chiropractor I had found. I also started seeing an acupuncturist, getting massage, and using an E-stim (electrical stimulation) unit that I was given by my physical therapist when I had been previously injured. While I knew I couldn't afford to pay for multiple treatments per week, I sucked it up and put nearly $300 on my credit card during the first week alone to try and get better. Not only was I losing money for therapy, but I was also in danger of losing money because I could no longer fulfill the terms of my contract. I knew that this would be a great financial stress for me, so I went ahead and asked the company if I could perform office work to continue getting paid. My flight didn't leave for another week after I stopped rehearsing and if I couldn't pay for my therapy, I surely couldn't afford to pay to change my plane ticket. Also, if I was still in town, I might as well make myself useful. This is always a reasonable request to consider if you are hurt and have to remain on location.

Luckily, the company agreed to let me do this, and I continued helping the organization by writing a blog, doing menial office work, and speaking at outreach events. While it was very helpful that the company was willing to do this for me, they had no responsibility to agree to it. Since returning home, I have taken nearly a month off with no physical activity for 2 weeks. I started incorporating gym exercises on week 3 and yoga on this 4th week. I have also maintained my therapy and am on a clear road to recovery, if hurting a bit in my pocketbook.

Now that I am home and have spent the last month recovering (and I'm feeling a lot better), it is easier to look back and see where things went wrong. There were multiple factors that amounted in my getting injured. It is clear to me that prevention is the most important item I would like to address in this post. I did my best when I began to fear for the worst by pulling the director aside and speaking about my concerns. After a good conversation, unfortunately, the conditions only showed minor improvement. At that point, I had to make a decision. Do I quit the gig or do I continue dancing in an environment that has a high risk for injury? For multiple reasons, I decided that quitting just wasn't the right decision. Once I did become injured, I handled the situation in a very thoughtful and respectful manner.

While injuries are not always preventable, they can be greatly reduced by considering the conditions and procedures that dancers have to rehearse in. I call on all companies that hire freelancers to please think about the four factors I've mentioned above before hiring dancers as independent contractors. While you are hiring them to help raise your level of dancing, create something new, or to fill in gaps in your productions, please take into consideration that our health is extremely important to us and our survival is our body. If conditions are dangerous and a dancer gets injured, you have no obligation to them. If a freelance dancer gets hurt because of conditions that could have been prevented or thought out more carefully, they can't make a living, may struggle to pay and get care for a faster recovery, and may lose their dancing career altogether. I urge each and every employer to consider what I have written and to do their best to assure dancers who are independent contractors (or any dancer) a safe and respectful environment.