Why blog when it brings me no income?

A typical blog-writing situation for me
One of the first questions people usually ask me when I tell them that I have a popular blog is if it makes me lots of money. When I answer, "no," many people are baffled that I spend so much effort creating and working on such a time-consuming, journalistic venture. It was never my intention to use this social media platform to roll in the dough. I, initially, thought it would be nice if I could make a little extra cash through my writing. But I always had different, non-monetary motives.

A few years ago when I found myself unemployed mid-season, I immediately had to find a way to keep working. I didn't have a financial cushion to wait until the new dance season started. I desperately needed to find a way to make a living and continue on with my career. At that time, freelancing seemed like the only way to survive. I knew if I wanted to find employment, I needed to market myself. But I didn't know many other ways to sell my product outside of Facebook. While brainstorming up ideas, I remembered how much I used to enjoy blogging on Myspace. From that moment on, I knew that I had to create Life of a Freelance Dancer.

When I first started blogging here, people constantly told me I needed to include Google Adsense to my postings. But I always felt that I needed to spend a solid period of time developing my writing and audience before adding this money-making tool to my site. Additionally, I never really wanted my readers to feel that I was using them to make money with the facade of a blog. So, I gave myself a number, 10,000 views, before I would try to add these ads to my pages of writings.

It took me about six months to reach my goals on viewership, which was right on track for my best-case scenario. Right as I reached my mark, I wishfully opened my browser and started going through the application process to place Google Adsense advertisements on my blog. After a few days had passed, I received an email that unapologetically denied me use of this popular revenue tool. Why? Because the unique niche that made my blog so popular was also so unique that they didn't feel that they had any products that would appeal to my audience.

When I got the news, I wasn't really that disappointed. I didn't really want aimless, materialistic ads flashing at dancers and independent contractors around the world. In fact, I was afraid that the appearance of ads would not only deter building my audience, but that it could turn away the audience I had already cultivated from reading my content.

Lacking any instant financial reward leaves many who have inquired about my blog confused about why I would put so much effort into such a time-consuming activity. There are a few reasons why writing about working as a freelance dancer without any compensation is so worthwhile. The easiest and corniest reason (but still true) would be that I get to help people around the globe. Whether using my blog as a tool in one's own dance career or an unrelated career as an independent contractor, I get to help people move forward in their vocation and navigate tricky situations that are not all that common in the gainfully employed world. Beyond that, I am humbled by the numerous people that have sent me messages from the US to Iran to India and beyond about how my openness has helped them in their careers, times of need, and searches for inspiration.

Beyond all of this sappy stuff, writing about my experiences, successes, failures, and evaluations of situations does help me make a living. While I've never made a penny directly off of LOFD, developing a public persona on an online platform has helped me greatly. I can't tell you how many employers have told me that they have felt much more comfortable hiring me sight unseen and trusting my product because of this blog. Not only that, thanks to all of this, I have been featured in Dance Magazine and Dance Informa magazine and received professional writing jobs, too.

While blogging technically gives me no income, it creates the basis for me to make a majority of my income. Other than all of this joy, warmth, and glory, writing is one of the best ways that I have found to express myself. I get so much out of writing and have learned so much more about myself as a dancer, businessman, and person. For all of these reasons, having a well-read blog is way more valuable than having my readers make money for me by clicking on ads. 


Reacclimating to Home After Being Away

Excited to come home to Philly - Italian Market
On December 7th, I will return to Philadelphia after being away from home for 108 days, or about three and a half months. This has been the longest I have been away from home without at least passing through for a day or two in between gigs. The first time I spent more than a few weeks away from home, I was surprised to find that getting back into my normal patterns was much more difficult than I had expected. Spending any extended period of time in a different environment requires some adjusting to get back into the swing of things, even in the comfort of your own surroundings.

I've often found while preparing for a performance, my focus becomes very intense and I may become completely consumed by the process necessary to get ready for stage. When I worked at Pacific Northwest Ballet, this was built into the fabric of my every day life. I woke up in my own bed, worked at the same facility daily, and returned home to rest in my own apartment. When I had weekends off, I would rest, hang out with friends, and enjoy the surroundings of my city. Developing patterns over time and repetition are natural and make living your own chosen lifestyle comfortable.

Dance is my business (Photo: Brian Mengini)
While preparing for a show as a freelancer may be similar to my experience at PNB in some regards,
it can be quite different when you don't work where you reside. Essentially, a dancer is often forced to start from scratch with their lifestyle and friendships in each locale that they are hired. You generally can't call your close friends to hang out, go to that same yoga place that always helps you find your zen, find the exact same ingredients to that favorite meal you make every week, or drink at your favorite watering hole to let off some steam. Each freelancing gig can be an exciting, fresh adventure in a new city. But while you are building an alternative, short-term lifestyle elsewhere, everything still keeps running like usual back at home. Dealing with this reality can often be one of the biggest challenges for anybody that travels for extended periods of time with their work.

Back in 2012, when I first spent 5 weeks away from home with Alaska Dance Theatre, I was thrilled to return home to enjoy the familiar, see my partner and cats, and visit my friends and family. When I left home, tons of friends showed up to throw me a party to send me off on my adventure. Once in Anchorage, I became so immersed in my work that I didn't really think to shoot off a text message or make a phone call to check in with what was happening with most of those people. After my time away, I expected the exact same reception for my return upon my arrival. A few people had reached out to me on Facebook and stated how excited they were to see me. But the reality of my homecoming was more like walking onto an empty country field in the dead of night. Instead of stepping back into a scene of revelry, I came home to crickets. Most of those friends who sent me off were continuing on with their lives as they normally did. Nobody was holding their breath waiting for my plane to touch down.

Dan working from home
Beyond my local social network, another place that, surprisingly, had changed was in my home. While my partner and I had been together for over 7 years and talked on the phone nightly, he had started to develop patterns that didn't include me. Since he works from home, he had gotten used to working alone in our living space and enjoying the quiet and freedom that came with it. A simple midday question from me could lead to a stressful conversation about interrupting work-related activities. Where I used to be in a pattern of performing household chores, I had gotten more lax living in a home with a host family. I even expected extra attention. I felt like we had to make up for lost time. But things had continued on without me, even in my own home.

What I had originally thought would be an easy reintroduction, turned into a stressful period of examination and carefully executed re-entry. I spent my first week at home depressed and sitting around waiting for my phone to ring with invitations to reconnect. I quickly realized that any effort to see old friends was going to require me to be the one to reach out. One of my biggest challenges was that I had started freelancing almost immediately after moving to a new city. If I had been living in Philadelphia for a few years, it probably would have been easier to reconnect with friends. But I was still in the development period of most of my friendships in the city. I had to be very patient to connect again and found myself spending a lot of time exploring Philly on my own to occupy my time before my next travels.

Exploring Philly on my own
When it comes to reacclimating to living with somebody that you have a relationship with, I find the best route to take is to leave all expectation at the airplane door. Yes, you still have the same relationship that you used to have. But it is human nature to adapt to your surroundings quickly. For this reason, instead of stepping into your situation with expectations, I would suggest taking a step back and letting things find a refreshed order. Even though you missed each other, you don't have to feel that you have to fit five weeks of time into the first week after you've returned. Take your time, don't overwhelm one another, and allow for a little added space than you are used to. Where you may have spent every non-working moment together in the past, you have likely gotten used to spending a bit more time to yourself. See where each of you are and slowly start to get back into more common patterns.
Time away from your home environment allows for one to return with new and fresh excitement. But don't let expectation get in the way of a happy return. Reach out to friends while you travel and after you've come home, but don't put the pressure on yourself to have an exciting homecoming party waiting for you. Don't feel like you need to live your life exactly as you did before you left. And don't suffocate your loved ones with immediate expectations. While traveling for work and time apart can make the heart grow fonder, break mundane lifestyle patterns, and refresh your outlook on living, it can also add stress to what used to be regular patterns. If you approach your return with less expectation and more awareness, you can gain a great deal of life experience to enrich your lifestyle at home.

Me and Dan during 2 weeks inbetween gigs


How Failure and Risk Helps Me Succeed

A few months ago, when I walked into the advanced ballet class at Alaska Dance Theatre on a warm summer afternoon, I am pretty positive that I caught a few of the kids off guard. I am far from an easy instructor. In fact, I can initially come off a bit harsh in my teaching methods. I'm no bullshit and I will tell a student exactly what I saw. If I truly think they did well or if I have seen marked improvement, I will tell them. But I don't really care to coddle students, patting their backs with comfort, or telling them that it is OK and maybe they'll get it next time. At the time, there wasn't much room for nonsense, anyway, because I wasn't even sure how long these kids would get to have me as their instructor. After what was probably a shockingly difficult barre that required exact precision or a restart to the beginning, I stood in front of the class and told them this. "I want you to fail in my class. Ballet class isn't about succeeding. It's about trying the same step incorrectly multiple ways until you find what works for you. Trip, fall, hold your leg until it is shaking with exhaustion. The studio isn't a place to constantly succeed. It is a place to fail, so that you can ultimately become successful." I don't remember if an instructor ever put it to me this way, but perhaps I feel this way because this is how I live my life outside of the studio.

Attempting to get a good shot as the sunrises over Masada & the Dead Sea in Israel
I've been dancing my whole life, but I didn't fall in love with ballet until I was 15 years old. I was a jazz competition kid who just happened to get bit by the ballet bug while working with choreographer and former New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre principal Robert Lafosse. Once I fell in love with ballet, there was no stopping me from achieving a career. With that said, there were countless times that I was told to give up my ballet dreams and head in the direction where I excelled, jazz and musical theatre. Each time I was given that talk, sometimes from the people I most respected, it pushed me to work harder. After finally succeeding at getting into Houston Ballet's year-round program, I probably took the first major risk of my career. After accepting my offer to attend and an August summer intensive with ABT, I came home with three days to pack and head to Texas. As I tried to mentally prepare for a move that I had been waiting over a year to do (I was accepted the year prior, but my mom wouldn't let me go), I slowly began to feel that I shouldn't isolate myself in the middle of the country during the last year or two of my training. I begged my mom to let me risk this opportunity and we drove to New York City to audition for the School of American Ballet year-round program. We drove to Lincoln Center, I auditioned, and the next day I got my results directly from the horses mouth. "No. The notes say, generally poor technique and extremely large quadriceps. Goodbye." I was beside myself!

After this crushing failure, I could have easily jumped on that flight and began training. But I just couldn't bring myself to leave. One day later, we drove three hours south to the Kirov Academy of Ballet. After a private audition, the late director stated in broken English, "Very slow year for boys. One third scholarship." This was far from my full ride to the Houston Ballet Academy and way out of the financial abilities of my family, but we were able to get a sponsor for my first month in the academy. As I headed down to the Kirov, I knew that I had to get greater sponsorship to continue my training at the school, but I felt hopeful that I was still close enough to New York City to feel connected to the center of the dance world. Then, two days later, September 11th happened, my sponsor froze their assets and I was left with an impossibility to continue my training. After the school graciously allowed me to remain for the first two months, they eventually decided to put me on full scholarship and I finished out my year of training.

At the end of my time at the Kirov, I had obtained a corps de ballet contract with Colorado Ballet. While I was ecstatic to begin my career as a professional. I had also been accepted to the School of American Ballet on full scholarship for their summer intensive. SAB was my dream and it had eluded me until this point. Seeing four students who trained at SAB perform in the Nutcracker that Robert Lafosse had choreographed was the defining inspiration that changed the trajectory of my career. I knew that I had to take this summer opportunity to see if a year-round option opened up. If this happened, I was willing to delay my career to live my dream. I called SAB and asked if they were considering me for the year-round program. They told me to take the job with Colorado Ballet because they couldn't promise me anything. So, I excitedly, yet reluctantly, signed my contract and started looking for a place to live in Denver.

A few months later, I arrived in Lincoln Center to finally realize a 5-week version of my dream. After three amazing days working with teachers I had only read about in Dance Magazine, I was pulled into a conference room along with one other classmate. There I was with one of my peers being the first two dancers asked to stay for this world-famous year-round program. I was committed to Denver, but my dream had just arrived. There was no way I could turn down this opportunity, even though it meant I had to train for another year, as well as destroy a very positive connection in the dance world. I promptly called up the director of Colorado Ballet and profusely apologized as I explained that I had to follow my dream. That next year at SAB changed my life as a dancer.

SAB workshops 2003 (Photo: Paul Kolnik)
One ironic part of my path is that turning down Houston Ballet Academy to train at two other schools only led me to get a job dancing with Houston Ballet. I had an interesting year working as one of Stanton Welch's first hires as an Artistic Director. At contract time, Stanton doesn't typically offer re-engagement to any apprentice across the board. AGMA states that dancers can only spend one year with the company as an apprentice, so they either need to be promoted to corps or let go. Typically, the director waits to see amongst the corps who will stay or leave and, only then, starts to promote the apprentices into the corps. When we all were"let go," I didn't feel comfortable waiting around to find out if I would get hired or not. I quickly obtained a contract with Pacific Northwest Ballet and Boston Ballet and signed with PNB. I still wonder to this day if I would have been offered a corps contract, but I was ready to move on to a more positive environment in a more metropolitan city.

My time at PNB has been well-documented in this blog. It had it's mix of highs and lows. While I was secure in my position and well-respected as a union delegate, I was itching to experience something new. I risked all of this security and seniority to try my hand at working with a fledgling, start-up company. After a great first few months, I injured myself and the company didn't support me. I was eventually fired by that company, which I consider one of my greatest failures. It wasn't so great only because I had moved my life to Philadelphia, but more so because I had given up so much to take such a huge risk.

Taking risks daily
While I gave up all of my security and lifestyle to expand my reach and possibilities as an artist, I was now stuck in Philadelphia, burgeoning on poverty, and injured. In these dark circumstances, I had to find a way to survive. This brought me into freelancing, choreographing, writing, teaching, and traveling. If I hadn't experienced the failure that I did, I don't know if I would ever have traveled the country to dance, written articles that have been published in periodicals, been featured in dance publications, or directed an organization 4,000 miles away from home. If I had stayed at PNB, I would probably be stuck in similar circumstances that I was in nearly four years ago.

As I begin to close the chapter on my most recent risk-taking failure, I am curious where life will lead me next. I took a chance to do something that I wasn't sure if it would be a great or poor decision. While I could look at the whole experience as an utter failure, what I am realizing is that my life is much like a dance studio. I spend each day of my life exploring different ways of experiencing this wild career and testing out ways of achieving my best through trial-and-error, or failure. Some things have worked out perfectly on the first try and some things have failed immediately. But in the end, the knowledge that I have gained and the growth I have had will only make my future experiences more successful. Failure can have such a negative connotation in our culture. But I just don't really see it that way. It takes practicing a pirouette ten-thousand times to finally achieve the perfect one. And, sometimes, right after that perfect pirouette, you fall hard on your ass, get back up, and try to make it perfect again.

My greatest success at Alaska Dance Theatre