My 2016 Highlights - Year in Review

It has been a really interesting year for many of us here on this grand planet! Over the past few weeks, I have seen a variety of status updates wishing, hoping, and dreaming for 2016 to end as quickly as possible. Yes, there were a handful of challenging events that have taken place; from the presidential election to celebrity deaths and terrorist attacks galore. While many of these events have happened in quick succession of one another, in reality, many of them were completely unrelated to each other. I feel that people are overwhelmed by the quantity of these events and feel that passing into a new year will bring a fresh, clean slate to start anew. Although there were certainly challenges this year, there were many great things that happened for many people, including myself. And, in the spirit of the upcoming new year, I'd like to share with you my highlights and year in review. Happy new year to you all! I can't wait to see where 2017 takes us!

Danya & My Wedding Day (Photo: Emily Yamamoto)

Reclaiming my Life and Sanity:

It may sound funny, but ever since I started writing here on Life of a Freelance Dancer and saw my freelance work explode (in all of the best ways), I felt like most things that were happening in my life were out of control. My work was flying me all over the country and I was barely home for any length of time. It started to take its toll on me and, at times, I felt like I was losing all sense of self. This year that all changed. I was proactive in making major changes in my life and career that allowed me to stay home more and regain a sense of balance that had been missing in my life for nearly 5 years. I think I slept in my own bed at least half of 2016, which is a record for me at this point. Beyond that, I got to see my husband a bunch, connect with friends on a regular basis, and see my family more than I have seen them since I moved away from home in 2001. While ambition and success are important, sometimes you just need to hit the brakes and remind yourself of who you are, how you got where you are, and breathe a bit before you figure out where you are going next.

Seeing the Aurora Borealis:

Aurora Borealis swirling above Fox, Alaska (near Fairbanks)
I knew that it was going to be a great year from the start. I finished my 2nd AK-BK Contemporary Ballet Workshop program in Anchorage, Alaska around January 3rd at the beginning of the year. Immediately following my program, my Danya and our friend JRo flew up towards the Arctic Circle to spend 3 days on the side of a mountain and wait for the 4 hours of daylight to pass for us to view the Aurora Borealis. While we were lucky enough to see the magical Northern Lights the first two nights, we were gifted one of the most extravagant light shows ever on our last night up north.

Being Featured in Dance Magazine:

It was a complete and total honor to be featured in the print issue of Dance Magazine this past February. I was featured alongside New York City Ballet Principal Megan Fairchild in a piece that discussed our social media work and how we artists are finding unique ways to break the fourth wall with audiences. Thanks to this feature, I was asked to host my podcast and was later featured in April by Dance Magazine on their social media.

Getting Married

I've always been kind of a weirdo when it comes to following any cultural expectation, especially when it comes to babies, dogs, and weddings. It took about a year and a half of gay marriage being legalized for me to finally agree to wed my love of 11 years. We celebrated our wonderful wedding day at a historic theatre a few miles from where I was raised and were surrounded by family and friends from all over the country. And by the time the wedding day came, I finally got it! I understood why the day was so special!

Being Hired to Teach at Steps on Broadway & Broadway Dance Center:

The screen at the front desk - Steps on Broadway
The first time I went to New York City on my own was at the ripe young age of 15 to take class at Broadway Dance Center. Eventually, under the mentorship of Bob Rizzo, at the age of 16 I started taking classes on a more regular basis at Steps on Broadway. I remember thinking what a supreme accomplishment it would be to have the opportunity to teach at these famous institutions. Beginning in January, it took 6 months of ambitious effort for them to give me a chance. But in both June and July, I realized my childhood dream of getting to teach at these schools. Now, I am on my way towards hopefully earning permanent classes and am glad to put in my time as a regular guest faculty member.

My Pas de Chát: Talking Dance Podcast on the Premier Dance Network:

As I stated above, after being featured in February's Dance Magazine, I was contacted by the CEO of the Premier Dance Network to produce and host a podcast on the largest dance podcasting network in the world. In April, I began recording Pas de Chát: Talking Dance. Getting the chance to share my voice on such a major platform has brought me an array of new opportunities. From guest interviews on the This Show is So Gay and Barretender podcasts, to teaching, speaking for the Dancers Resource|Actors Fund about Managing the Freelance Life, and more things that I can't yet discuss, I have been so grateful to have a growing number of avenues to share my art. I have never particularly wanted to be famous. But I have always wanted to be respected in my field and to feel like my knowledge and work is important and respected. Getting this nod and platform has definitely been a great push in the right direction to achieve my goals.

Getting to Sleep in My Own Bed Often:

Mmmmmmm....My Bed!!!!
This goes along with the first highlight of my year. One important aspect in reclaiming my own sanity was to sleep in my own bed more regularly. The idea of this doesn't just represent resting in my own comfort, but it also means that I got to see my husband more often and to have time to show him that he is just as important to me as my career. It doesn't matter how many times I have had to ride the Megabus or Bolt Bus back from my 2-4 weekly trips to New York City to teach, network, and more. Just getting to sleep in my own bed, cuddled up beside my Danya has been a major highlight of my year.

Taking Nancy Bielski's Class on the Regular:

One of my biggest challenges since I stopped having the option to take company class regularly was finding a ballet class that inspired me to show up every day. While I haven't necessarily been able to make it up to New York City every day this year, I have been sure to drop into Nancy Bielski's class at Steps on Broadway 1-5 times a week. A major part of my burn out was feeling like I had to go to ballet class every day, even if I felt uninspired. Well, Nancy definitely inspires me to show up, work hard, and not take myself so seriously that I cut myself down all the time. Beyond that, what is more inspiring than plie-ing and tendu-ing beside the likes of dancers like Alessandra Ferri, Misty Copeland, Diana Vishneva, professional ballet dancers, Broadway dancers, and beyond. 


View on the train from Machu Picchu
While I have gotten to travel a ton since I began my freelance career a handful of years ago, all of my work has been domestic. I'm still struggling to figure out how to find teaching, choreographic, and speaking work outside of the United States. Due to the quantity of my work and the stress of feast or famine periods, Danya and I haven't gotten to travel internationally since I left Pacific Northwest Ballet in 2011. Well, that all changed this year. Thanks to the generosity of our friends and family at our wedding, we were able to travel to Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay for the most awe-inspiring 3-week honeymoon this past September. Beyond the amazingness of seeing the clouds slowly swirl out of the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu, we visited culturally rich Lima and Cuzco, grafitti-laden Santiago and Valparaiso, and the artsy glamour of Buenos Aires. I feel it is so important to travel the world and experience other cultures. It teaches us that there are so many ways that people can live on this earth. And while different, each of these ways of living is just as valid as my own.

I think a great way to end this post and ring in the new year is to discuss my coming to terms with the end of my performance career. While I hadn't really performed publicly that much since my injury with Oakland Ballet in May of 2014, I still didn't consider myself retired for quite some time. After giving myself the time to reclaim my life and sanity, I finally found the strength to announce that I have concluded the majority of my performance career. While this was difficult to vocalize publicly, it was, perhaps, the most important moment of my year. It allowed me to give my mind and body a break, while also allowing me to fully focus on the next stages of my career. Since I posted about this back in August, I have had more opportunities to teach and speak. As I head forward into 2017, I look forward to taking greater advantage of this and building my choreographic portfolio immensely.

Closing the Chapter to 2016 (Photo: JRo)


Catch Up on LOFD (Vol. 3) - Previous Blog Posts

My instep in Steps on Broadway - I'll be teaching Contemporary classes 12/19-12/22

Life of a Freelance Dancer has become so much more than a blog. With over 175 posts, 200,000 views, and readers in more than 70 countries, we have become a great influencer in the world of dance and independent contracting work. It has become a major part of my life and career, a tool for dancers around the world, and has influenced a great many artists as they embark on their professional careers as freelance artists. I've always been a fan of Blogger and enjoy keeping my blog in a simple, old-school format. But one issue that this poses is that there is no easy way to look back into the archive of blogs that I have curated. So, every few dozen posts, I do my best to list every blog that I have ever written for easy access for all of my readers. So, welcome to your semi-regular list post. When you look below, you will find every post I have ever written. And if you want to dig deeper into our archives, you can click on the first and second volumes of Catch Up on LOFD. Enjoy and Happy Holidays!!!!!!


See Blogs 1-123 here - Catch Up on LOFD (Vol. 1) - Previous Blog Posts

148. See Blogs 124-147 here - Catch Up on LOFD (Vol. 2) - Previous Blog Posts

149. New York Called

150. Money Talks - Determining Your Value

151. How to Write a Freelancer's Resume or CV

152. LOFD receives significant mention in Dance Magazine

153. Good & Bad Ways to Deal with Freelancing Anxiety

154. How to Come Back After an Injury

155. Freelancing from a Woman's Perspective

156. I'm a Modern Day Gypsy

157. "Pas de Chat: Talking Dance" launches on Itunes

158. Over-Promoting on Social Media

159. The Freelance Instructor & Ballet Master - Matthew Powell

160. Developing Your Networking Skills

161. Life of a Dance Podcast Host

162. Adapting to Differing Company Practices

163. Determining Rates for Teaching

164. The Freelance Choreographer - Outside Perspectives

165. Respectful Ways to Respond to Issues

166. The Art of Putting Yourself Out There

167. A Candid Perspective - Curate This

168. The "R" Word - Retirement

169. Sharing LOFD on Popular Podcasts

170. How to Reach Out to Somebody You Don't Know

171. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone - Honeymoon Edition

172. Acting Professionally in a Rehearsal Studio

173. Halloween Edition - 11 Scary Thoughts Dancers Have

174. Healing Divides through the Arts

175. *EVENT ALERT* - Managing the Freelance Life - Monday, Dec. 5th

176. Who to Thank & How to Do It

177. Accepting Payment at the End of a Gig


Accepting Payment at the End of a Gig

Performing with the cast of CVDA's The Nutcracker
I recently performed in yet another production of every non-dancer's favorite holiday production of The Nutcracker. The shows went well, I wore white tights onstage for the first time this season, and I made a pretty penny all while playing the role of King of the Cranes, or the actual title of the role, Sugar Plum Fairy Cavalier. When all was said and done, I'm glad that I participated yet again in this seasonal tradition. One of my favorite memories from this year's production was watching one of my former students from Alaska, whom I still mentor, perform in one of his first professional guesting gigs. He performed the role of Snow King and did a stellar job at jumping in, learning the choreography quickly, and delivering solid performances. During the final intermission of his 3 show run, as I took the stage to warm up and prepare my presentation of the Sugar Plum Fairy, I noticed my student sitting on the side of the stage, fully-costumed with sweat dripping down his brow. I took a moment to determine why he was still sitting around in costume during the intermission when I quickly noted that his hands were holding a handful of Amtrak tickets that needed to be reimbursed for his travel to rehearsals and the theatre. Considering I have been mentoring this kid for some years, I kindly walked over, suggested he get changed, and hang around to watch the 2nd act of the production. What I hadn't contemplated until that moment is that there is actually an art to receiving payment that nearly every freelancer will experience at some point as a gig comes to an end.

There are a handful of different payment arrangements that can be made in order to make sure that a freelancer is compensated appropriately and within a respectful time frame. I've spoken about some of these in previous blogs, so I am not going to go into way too much detail here. If a dancer is spending a handful of weeks dancing for an employer, they often receive weekly paychecks or direct deposit into their bank account. But for many freelancers, especially during times like the holiday Nutcracker season, directors often save payment until the end of the last performance of a series. While I have sometimes received a nice little thank you note with payment at the top of my last show, it is much more common to be handed a check after you've received your applause, taken off your makeup, and changed into street clothes. This makes sense, especially if this is your first time working for a company or school. The organization likely wants to be sure you fulfill all of your contractual obligations before handing over your handsome fee. Sometimes, this transaction is taken care of quickly and goes over without thought or attention. Other times, you may be ready to head home, to your hotel, or to the airport, and wondering when you are going to be compensated for you artistic services.

For my student, he found himself in an awkward predicament. He wasn't performing or bowing in the second act, plus he had a local friend ready to drive him to the train back into the city. Since the train wasn't until later, I suggested he wait around and watch the rest of the show. I offered this advice for one reason. The director of a show, who usually issues payment, is likely overwhelmed with the process of making sure that the performance is running on track. From dancers to crew to wardrobe, audience, and beyond, there are many aspects of a show that a director must take care of in order to keep things running smoothly. To stop the director in their tracks asking for payment could be a huge distraction and may even make your intentions and desire to work come off greedy. You don't want it to look like you are only focused on the paycheck. You are a part of a production and there is a certain amount of excitement, emotion, and cultural etiquette that can quickly be cut off or broken by asking for payment. This may be especially true if you head out before the show is over. You want to be supportive of the show and your cast, especially if you are performing for a school and being brought in as a role model.

Now, if you absolutely have a time crunch where you need to get out of the theatre to catch transport, be sure to discuss this with the director prior to the beginning of the show. This is quite understandable, but should be addressed in advance. Usually, the director will make sure that they or an advocate are available to pay you on your way out. Or they often will just give you payment at the top of the show.

So, what do you do if the show has finished and you still haven't been paid? Sometimes, the overwhelming chaos at the end of a production can make a director forgetful, as the crew loads out, the wardrobe collects costumes to be cleaned and stored, and the dancers congratulate one another and change into street clothes. It is possible that intentions can get lost. In this situation, it is perfectly appropriate to seek out the director and request payment. This can be a bit awkward since nobody likes to talk money. But I find that writing a simple thank you card and handing it to them after the series can be an easy pathway to remind them that they owe you something. Think along the lines of a reminder that some type of exchange should be happening. Beyond this, it is good etiquette and relationship building to do this. If you didn't think ahead and get a thank you card, be sure to say goodbye and offer a verbal thank you. And if you still aren't handed your hard-earned salary, do ask when you should expect to receive a check. This is a customary way of saying, "I need to be paid", without demanding it. Usually, by this point, you will be collecting your salary. If not, then that is an entirely different conversation and blog post.

It is a rare occasion when payment isn't received at the end of a show, unless another arrangement has been agreed upon. As I always say, make sure you get an idea of when you should receive payment in writing (or at least in an email). It is never appropriate for an employer to pay you whenever they feel like it. You should know when to expect payment in order to keep track of whether you've been compensated or not. In fact, New York City recently passed the Freelance Isn't Free Act (have they been reading my blog 😉), which requires any freelance artist that makes more than $800 with an organization to have a written contract and receive payment in full within 30 days. This seems like a fair guideline to hold all organizations to, whether you live in New York City or not.

As I've stated many times in this blog, money can be one of the most awkward and uncomfortable things to discuss. But it is important that you get paid within an appropriate time frame. If you don't know when to expect being paid, don't wait around hoping it will happen. Be proactive and start a conversation. Just make sure that you don't start that conversation too late or in the middle of a hectic performance.

Be sure to check out my Holiday Shopping Ideas for Dancers on Pas de Chát: Talking Dance on iTunes - Me & my niece playing around before Nutcracker


Who to Thank & How to Do It

There are many rituals and etiquette that exist in our beautiful dance world. Some of them are more universal across companies, like saying "merde" or "toi toi" to cast mates to wish them well before a show or making sure you don't step over a fellow dancer's legs to stave off bad luck. Other practices can be more specific to a company and their culture, like performing a pinky circle with the cast prior to curtain or giving a speech to performers right before the show starts. There are a variety of practices and superstitions that take place from production to production, including ways to say thank you. Considering the holiday season is upon us and Thanksgiving launches us straight into Nutcracker season, I thought I should share the people you want to thank and how to thank them appropriately.

Dance Partner:

R&J w/Fort Wayne Ballet (Photo: Jeffrey Crane)
If all goes well throughout the rehearsal process, you and your partner may become quite close. Whether things work out that way or not, it is appropriate to offer thanks to your partner in some way. Most commonly, dancers say thank you in the shape of a merde gift before the first show of the role you dance together. If you are doing 10 shows in a production, you can leave a card and a small gift to show your appreciation in your partner's dressing room spot. I've always enjoyed looking for gifts that make sense for the role we were dancing. For instance, when I danced Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, I gave my partner a rose, a card, and some Hershey kisses to represent the love we created onstage. If you interact with your partner a lot, definitely at least offer a card. If you have short fleeting moments onstage together, it isn't necessary to go out of your way to get them something. A simple spoken thank you at the end of the performance should suffice.


If you are performing a role that requires great depth and are assigned a single coach to help pull out the best qualities in your performance, it may be appropriate to get a thank you for their investment in your career. Like I said above, if you are having a normal rehearsal interaction with a ballet master, then a simple thank you will do. But if this coach has gone out of their way to bring out the best performance you can give, be sure to write them a note and consider buying them flowers, candy, or something meaningful related to the role that you are performing.


If a choreographer creates a new work on you or a stager comes in to set a ballet and does a stellar job of preparing the dancers, it is completely appropriate to purchase a gift to show your appreciation. Back when I danced at Pacific Northwest Ballet, we would designate somebody or a dancer would claim responsibility to come up with an appropriate gift for the occasion. Whether it was flowers or an inside joke between everyone in the cast, this one responsible dancer would determine the cost of the item/s to be bought and collect cash from each dancer who wants to contribute. Once the purchase was made, there would always be a card on hand for those that contributed to sign their name and, perhaps, write a short note.


It is extremely rare for a dancer to go out of their way to express thanks to their boss outside of a verbal display of appreciation. Buying a gift for somebody that holds a lot of power can make it difficult to tell if it is truly to express thanks or is instead a way to seek favor and positive attention from the big guy or gal who is making decisions about your career. If you really want to let your boss know you appreciated getting a role or enjoyed an opportunity to try something new, schedule a meeting or wait for your evaluation.

Cast mates:

Sometimes, you and your cast mates really click in a work. And, sometimes, people go out of their way to do something kind for the whole cast. This is rare, can become expensive, and can take a lot of time to prepare during your precious downtime. The best and most common way that I have seen dancers do something to show appreciation for their fellow dancers is to go home and bake something tasty. Cookies, cake, or candy are the perfect way to say thank you to a large group of people, as they are relatively inexpensive, can be produced en masse, and are also a good pick me up during difficult show weeks.
My Cast at the National Choreographers Initiative (Photo: Dave Friedman)


If you are freelancing and find yourself living with a host, it is considered gracious to leave a little thank you on the counter when you head home (or offer in person if that floats your boat). If you are only staying with a host for a few days, a simple thank you card will do. But if you have spent a significant amount of time living in your host's home, it is appropriate to get something more for them. My favorite go-to is a bottle of wine or Prosecco if they drink alcohol. If they don't, something thoughtful with a card leaves a nice impression and can help build long lasting friendships. And, even better, if you are a freelance artist, you can write off up to $25 of the cost on your taxes, as this is a business expense.

Anybody That Went Out of Their Way for You:

It isn't necessary for you to thank each and every person that does something for you. Maybe your dresser was extra helpful or the conductor paid extra attention to your request to slow down the tempo for your solo. Since these people are just doing their job (and are stellar at it, too) a simple verbal thank you is more than enough to express your appreciation for those that have helped you perform at your best. Now, if somebody went way out of their way to assist you in getting on the stage, like if a physical therapist gave you extra attention in an emergency or somebody from wardrobe saved your life helping with quick changes, it could be a beautiful gesture to write them a short thank you in the form of a card. Here, it really is the thought that counts. And this is just good, basic relationship building skills at their best.


Don't forget that it is also really great to thank yourself. Give yourself a day off at the end of a production that doesn't involve going to a party, drinking alcohol, or anything else that could be too draining. Buy yourself that cupcake you wouldn't allow yourself to have because you had to wear a white unitard. Or, even better, treat yourself to a good deep-tissue sports massage or for a few dips at your favorite Russian baths. It is easy to think about being thankful to those around you. But you were just as much a part of creating magic onstage as everyone around you.

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!!!

I will actually be releasing a podcast on Pas de Chát: Talking Dance tomorrow about Cultivating Thankfulness. So, if you are looking to find ways to be more thankful in your life, be sure to tune into that starting Friday! Happy Thanksgiving!


*EVENT ALERT* - Managing the Freelance Life - Monday, Dec. 5th - 5-7 PM at Gibney Dance

A few years ago, I produced a New York City-based event called Contact: A Networking Event for Freelance Dancers. While I haven't produced this event in the past few years, finding new ways to bring the freelance dance community together continues to be an important aspect of my work. Back in September, I was called into The Dancers' Resource and Career Transitions for Dancers to talk about events that may benefit those dancers, choreographers, and teachers who already work as freelancers or need more information about how to freelance. I am very excited to say that these great organizations asked me to speak at their first event catered to the freelance community on Monday, December 5th from 5-7 pm at Gibney Dance (280 Broadway). So, if you are looking for information to begin working as a freelance artist, need some tips for success, or are looking for a chance to meet other freelancers, feel free to join us for this free event, Managing the Freelance Life - Strategies for Success. Please share this with all of the freelancers you know (dancers, dance educators, choreographers).  If you plan on attending, please be sure to RSVP by clicking here. I hope to see you there and be sure to come up to me at the event and let me know that you heard about here on Life of a Freelance Dancer! Cheers!


Healing Divides through the Arts

"Dear Barry. Don't sit down and consider what you want to write. Open up your iPad, take a deep breath, and create a post about exactly what you want to talk about in the moment."


I'm glad I'm giving myself permission to write freely, openly, and without prompt. I've been spending a great deal of time since Tuesday feeling the pull of generalized and social media telling me how to feel. When I angrily turn off the television or slam my computer shut, I sit in my own mind and begin doing the same. "Barry! It's time to move on. You need to find some way to focus and accept what has happened." It feels nice that by writing this I can remind myself through my work that it is alright to choose my own path through any experience.

Not all, but a great majority of us United States artists experienced a devastating loss early Wednesday morning when Donald Trump was named President-Elect of our great country. Aside from the explosive release of the most stressful, negative campaign on record, people of all minorities sunk deeply into their seats imagining how their rights, safety, and livelihood would be affected by this news. I wasn't sleeping at home that night, instead on my friend's couch on the 19th floor of an apartment overlooking a frighteningly silent New York City. I felt alone and dazed until I finally fell asleep. But not before only one tear dropped down my cheek onto my pillow.

I woke up the next morning equally dazed. I couldn't turn on my regular morning talk show, The Today Show. I couldn't watch anything where I had to see people happy or faking their disposition for a television audience. I almost couldn't bring myself to pack my clothes and get changed to stop and take class at Steps on Broadway before I headed back to Philadelphia. But I somehow found myself standing at the front of the studio, barre in hand and taking the deepest breath as I began moving my body to the sullen melody our pianist played expressing himself in the best way he knew. Like the moments before a drug kicks in, you are already committed to the ride. Just you don't know exactly how profound or regret-filled this experience may get.

With such intense emotions clearly at the throats of this room of 40 or so dancers, we all began to do the one thing we knew. We began to look into ourselves. We began to look at ourselves. And we began to work on the only thing that was truly in our control. Ourselves. And slowly, but surely, teary eyes and broken hearts turned into smiles, hard work, and determination. At this point, I knew everything was going to get better.

We dancers are the lucky ones. We truly are. On even the darkest days, we have something to turn to, something to distract us, something to improve our very being. And even better than the fact that art heals, it makes us more compassionate people. People who understand the way the world works a little better, who can look at someone unlike us and see that they deserve no more than we do, and who aren't afraid to express the best and worst parts of being human. When tragedy strikes, we share our voices silently and express physical grief to heal others. When seething differences become apparent, we explore how to look at this person with compassion and understanding.

There is so much that art offers during trying times. And I fear that we may need art more than ever over the next few years as our leader's core-values seem to be heading in the direction of reinstating old, regressive, and potentially hateful ideals within our progressive nation. So, as we continue on this journey of life in and out of the dance world, I urge anybody who reads this to go out and work on improving yourself first. Then, once you feel that the time is right, find ways to use your art to help society cope, understand, and move forward with the challenges that our great nation will face as it tries to find a middle ground among a divided nation.


Halloween Edition - 11 Scary Thoughts Dancers Have

It's been a while since I've done a list post. And it's Halloween weekend, so I thought I'd have a little fun with this one. If you are looking for high-brow, in-depth quality content, stay tuned for my next post or look at my previous posts via this link. For now, please enjoy these 11 SCARY thoughts that different types of dancers have.


The Freelance Dancer - "Well, this is a really nice gig, but I don't have anything else lined up after this. Could this be the end of my career?"


The Street Dancer - "What if this subway car slams on the breaks while I'm doing my big finale?"


The Company Dancer - "If I show up to class in costume, will the director think that I'm not serious about my dance career and take it out on me in casting?"


The Open Class Dancer -"What am I going to make for dinner after this class?"


The Broadway Dancer - "If I have to do this show one more time,  will I lose my mind!"


The Break Dancer - "Does spinning on my head increase my risk of balding?"


The Pre-Professional Dancer - "This is my second year at this finishing program. If I don't get a job by the end of this year, does that mean I need to quit and go to college?"


The Ballroom Dancer - "Why is she talking to that other guy over there? Is she plotting to switch partners?"


The Recreational Dancer - "What will ever come of my true aspirations to have a dance career if I'm not cast as Clara in The Nutcracker this year?"


The Club Dancer - "If I go out there and dance, everybody is clearly going to only be watching and judging me, right?"


The Stay-at-Home Dancer - "What if my Husband is secretly filming me sing and dance to my 90's playlist while I am vacuuming the floor to post it on the internet?"



Acting Professionally in a Rehearsal Studio

The Royal Ballet in rehearsal (Photo: Unknown)
Rehearsal etiquette is one of the many unspoken areas of our silent art form. There is no particular way that each and every rehearsal studio is run. But at the same time, there are general no-no's (and yes-yes') that are taught within the culture of a company as they create, fine-tune, and prepare a work for the stage.

Back a handful of years ago I was working with a pickup company that employed enough dancers to fill a small rehearsal room. In other words, our athletic group of 8 had to get along considering our company's size. A few of us were more seasoned than the others. But one dancer was enjoying the raw, empowering, and often shocking experience of their first job as a professional. Previously, I talked about my experience at my first full-time job with Houston Ballet and how I stepped on dancer's toes without even realizing it. After watching this type of situation from the other side, as a senior dancer, I was taught a lesson in kindness, patience, and humility.

Dancing for a big company is very different than dancing for a small ensemble. In a bigger company, dancers often feel more comfortable being up front (if not, sometimes, mean) when trying to streamline a young dancer into their place in the unique culture of a professional company. If any interaction becomes tense, dancers can retreat into their clique for comfort or hide behind other dancers who are more willing to stand their ground. But in a small company, there is nowhere to hide, very little hierarchy, and everybody has to interact frequently with one another in the studio.

Smuin Ballet in rehearsal (Photo: Chris Hardy)
Back to the occasion of watching this new dancer enter a rehearsal studio without the assimilation that the rest of us dancers had. It was a generally difficult situation to endure. The leadership wasn't very good at running a rehearsal studio and they let the dancers have a bit too much control over what happened. This new dancer became a stressor for other dancers as they were acting in ways that went way beyond the etiquette of most professional environments. Things like actively telling other dancers how to fix their dancing, counting over the choreographer, and regularly interrupting the process to crack jokes became the norm. And while the other dancers with more experience didn't approve of this behavior, the director and ballet mistress chose to allow it to continue.

Now, it is perfectly healthy to run a studio where dancers feel that they are a valuable part of the process, where the environment is light and friendly, and where a dancer feels that they can speak up when they feel that something isn't working properly. But this dancer started to become a distraction and affected the ability of others to work to the best of their abilities. Due to the size of the company, where another more experienced dancer may have talked to their freshly minted colleague, this dancer was left continually breaking "rehearsal-code" for the extent of the gig. This was most likely due to the fact that, in such a small group, everybody knew that a small amount of tension between two dancers would be felt by all.

In this company, many of the dancers looked up to me and respected my work. And for that reason, it was suggested by some that I speak to this dancer to give them an idea of professional rehearsal etiquette. But, as I stated before, I felt it would cause too much tension and that it was actually the responsibility of those in the front of the studio to hone this character in. Looking back, I'm glad I maintained this position. But this is the advice that I would offer that dancer today if I were the person at the front of the studio.

First things first, the way you act in a rehearsal studio as a student is completely different than when you are a professional. Most students who become professionals have reached the top of the hierarchy of a school. Essentially, if the school had a ranking, these dancers are the Principals of the school. In a professional company, a top-level student most often enters at the lowest rank and seniority. In most professional rehearsal setting, Principals have more leeway and freedom in their choices, actions, and vocal interaction than others. Not to say that a new professional can't have a voice or input. But it is the job of an apprentice or first year dancer to sit back and absorb what is happening around them. They don't have equal cultural standing to those higher ranked or more senior dancers. Just like in medieval times, the apprentice to the blacksmith didn't walk in on day one and start working with the iron. It may have taken a long time before the mentor allowed the apprentice to even touch any equipment, let alone lead the creation of a work of art.

My next bit of advice is to keep an open mind about your idea of what a rehearsal should look like. School rehearsals are often much slower paced with more time to retain choreography, fine-tune, and engage in conversation. Many professional environments are much faster-paced and don't open up the room to ask questions or discuss particular material until all of the material is already out. This is to help streamline the process and may even be an effective money-saver. In school, most of the students are paying to dance. In a professional environment, time is money. The longer dancers are in rehearsal, the more they get paid and the more time spent paying for rehearsal space (esp. in freelance or project based gigs that don't have a home studio). There are reasons for professional rehearsal culture that go beyond personalities and people getting along.

Joffrey Ballet in rehearsal (Photo: Lenny Gilmore)
The final idea I'd like to share about rehearsal etiquette is a grey area that is fluid from company to company, but generally recognized in some way or another. I'd like to bring up seniority and respect for dancers with more experience. One of the big issues with this fresh, new dancer was that they felt their presence in the studio was absolutely equal in contribution to the more experienced dancers around them. I'd love to say that this is the perfect ideal, but it was actually one of the most challenging aspects of working with this person. The difficulty laid in looking at them as a person versus their job and position as a dancer. As a person, we all enjoyed this dancer very much and wanted to give them a chance to find their place. But as a dancer, many of us felt disrespected by this person's actions. For instance, a young dancer should never think it is acceptable to offer unwarranted corrections to a more senior dancer. Additionally, taking over a rehearsal space and telling dancers how to count or how your exploration of the process is more correct can be horribly disrespectful and doesn't acknowledge a dancer's wisdom gained from time put in. Whether a young dancer is more naturally talented than a senior dancer doesn't play into the fact that dancers with seniority have spent years fine-tuning their technique, movement, and rehearsal practice. The value in hiring more senior dancers is that they have existed in a professional dance studio much longer than younger dancers. They are brought back to dance for an organization because they have a very keen sense of how to work effectively and professionally in a variety of work environments. Even a dancer with immense talent can not innately understand this. And for this reason, it is extremely important that they take a step back and absorb the culture that experienced dancers project. Because in the end, these senior dancers are not projecting their own idea of the culture. They are projecting the culture that came before them and taught them that culture and so on. You are essentially being taught the cultural history of the company by learning from those who came before you, absorbing it, and then will hopefully pass it on when you aren't the young or new one any more.

As you can see, I shied away from sharing too many specific items about how to act in a studio. This is mostly because each and every studio functions differently and most effectively per the needs of an organization. I don't want any dancer to ever feel completely stifled by trying to fit in to the culture of a dance company's rehearsal process. But if you approach a professional rehearsal studio with respect for those around you and respect for what came before, it will be much easier to acclimate to dancing for a company. And, if you are lucky enough, perhaps, you will have the staying power to become one of those dancers that helps the next generation learn a company's culture from your fine example.


Get Out of Your Comfort Zone - Honeymoon Edition

One of my images from our trip to Machu Picchu
Hola mi amigos! I'm BACK!!!! I hope that you haven't missed me too much. At the moment, I'm flying high on a travel-bender sitting in the aeropuerto in Lima, Peru. This isn't the first or second time I've been here in the past few weeks. But it is definitely the longest period with my current layover time queueing at 6 hours (only 2 more to go). Over the past 3 weeks, I have bartered at ramshackle markets in horribly broken Spanish with excessively wooing Peruvian ladies in Lima. I've experienced the short and light-headed breathlessness of Soroche (or altitude sickness) that walking only a few wildly tight, steeply climbing streets of historically scenic Cusco, Peru can quickly bring on. Shortly after my time in Peru, I was again fumbling through my Spanish to order enough pisco sours to loosen up and dance among the locals at a club in Santiago, Chile. Whether struggling through a conversation to purchase a bus ticket to Valparaiso, Chile, navigating the Subte (subway) in Buenos Aires, Argentina, or finding our way to the historical center of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay, my husband and I spent our amazing 3 week South American honeymoon utterly and uncomfortably out of our comfort zones. But it was all worth it to make it to the centerpiece of our journey, and to one of the new 7 Natural Wonders of the World, Machu Picchu! I know you've missed me (or at least my posts ;-) ) over these past weeks, but I hope you forgive me for my silence during our travels. And, even better. There's a lesson here for all!

Exploring the historic Plaza de Armas of Cusco, Peru
These past few weeks of travel have been full of fun, excitement, discomfort, frustration, unexpected joy, utter submission, and much love. A flooding array of emotions and challenges can accompany what sounds like a fun, daring adventure. But with good intentions come hard lessons. Here, food poisoning from eating at a questionable airport restaurant, exchanging money on a random street that all the travel blogs wrote to go to in order to save big bucks on exchange rates (too bad they stopped writing those blogs two years ago when these cambios, or cash houses, became obsolete and...maybe...even illegal), or walking a few miles into a sketchy neighborhood without any phone service or knowledge of transportation out of there. But at the same time, watching an ancient Inca site breathing through heavenly clouds, haggling a silkenly soft alpaca sweater to the equivalent of $10 USD, seeing the most incredible display of street art carved into the cutest city on earth, and standing by your new spouse's side to share these experiences was well worth the moments that thrust us anywhere but close to comfortable.

I wanted to talk a bit about what I've been up to, and at the same time create some relevant content for you guys. In my thought process while prepping to write this piece, it clicked for me that it was time to talk about getting out of our comfort zones. There are many ways to get out of your comfort zone. For instance, I am an expert traveler. But only when it comes to domestic travel within the United States. I haven't been out of the country in 6 years as I've focused on building certain aspects of my career. For me, I could have stayed comfortable and had my honeymoon in the US. But that idea, while easy and relaxing, would have been completely within my husband and my comfort zone. We threw around the possibility of traveling somewhere international, but in a more developed country with lavish, comfortable accommodations. This option would have been slightly out of our comfort zone, but still offer us some ease of mind and relaxation to celebrate our union. But if any of you have gotten to know me over the years while reading Life of a Freelance Dancer, you know that neither of those experiences are close to my style (nor my husbands).

Enjoying art in the Parque Esulturas in Santiago, Chile
When Danya and I looked into honeymoon options, we were most excited by traveling to places where there was a strong language barrier, where in some places you can't even brush your teeth with the water, where people asked to pose in pictures with me because they had never seen somebody with green eyes before, and where there is the possibility that we may find ourselves in potentially dangerous situations (nothing too crazy, right). Why, you may ask, would a newlywed couple want to thrust themselves this far out of their comfort zones on such an occasion as their honeymoon? Because we thrive on experiences that force us to grow, force us to question the way that we live our lives, and force us to open our minds to the possibility of greater understanding (in many areas of of life) than we have today. I feel this is a relevant lesson in life, society on a global scale, and even dance.

I remember back when I first fell in love with ballet. I didn't know much about what I was doing, aside from the knowledge that there was this amazing school where kids were selected to dance in the mornings and afternoons (the School of American Ballet) and got to focus on dance like I had been focusing on math and science. I also knew that I was a little behind, but felt I might be able to catch up if I did enough research and worked my ass off. I pulled open the January 2000 issue of Dance Magazine and decided to ask if I could audition for the summer intensives I had found with either the biggest ads or in the biggest cities (because, ya know, the bigger the city or the bigger the ad, the better the company?). I was lucky to have a supportive family and an even more supportive teacher and school director to help me follow my uncultivated dream. I jumped into the deep-end fast, and nobody stopped to second guess my ambition. And I guess a lot hasn't changed since then.

Enjoying the centerpiece of our honeymoon, Machu Picchu
After all of my summer intensive auditions that year, even as a male, I had only been accepted to a small handful of the programs I applied for (practically none with scholarship). One that gave me a minor scholarship and really stood out to me was Houston Ballet Academy. I had also received a full-ride to the now defunded Pennsylvania Governor's School for the Arts, where my mom was an alumni in their vocal department. Obviously, after her experience there, I was given a gentle, but clear push to go where the money was because I was almost guaranteed a lot of attention (especially being a male dancer) and my mom knew I would have a positive experience there.

But in typical Barry fashion, I had my eyes set on jumping into a pool of water with no definitive bottom. At the time, I just did it. But I can explain this decision more clearly now. I innately knew that there were two ways to grow as a person; in small, safe building steps or in one fell swoop with great potential for success or failure. I made the choice to put a lot of money on one number, instead of buying a handful of inexpensive scratch tickets from the lottery.

Dancing thru a tour of Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires
Looking back, I feel I did this for a good reason. If I went to the Governor's School, I would be exposed to something slightly comfortable and something slightly unknown. I would slowly begin developing a new taste for different styles of training. From there, I could slowly build to the next step. Going to Houston Ballet Academy for the summer, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Nobody I knew had attended the program previously, but I had heard positive things about it through the grapevine during auditions and from the company's very limited internet presence (remember, it was the early days of the internet). Something told me that I needed to be in an environment that I didn't understand, that tested my belief system, and that showed me a new way of looking at the world, only here it was the ballet world. I truly believe that this first risk I took in my career, before it was even a career, changed the trajectory of my life and was a major turning point in getting where I have been, where I am, and where I am going.

There is so much to learn from putting oneself out there in multiple different aspects of their lives, especially as an artist. It is the job of an artist to offer unexplored perspectives to audiences for acceptance, discomfort, and expansion of their own values and life experiences. If one doesn't want to push themselves outside of their own comfort zone, it is our responsibility to share our experiences and challenge them to grow. In life, we are often presented with three different options. Ones that allow zero growth, little growth, and great growth. Those choices that often offer the greatest growth can be the most painful, challenging, and uncomfortable experiences. Like a caterpillar bursting out of its cocoon as a butterfly or like a mother giving birth to a child, these experiences are likely very frightening and often painful. But the rewards from stepping into the unknown, discomfort and pain in growth, and expansion of mind, self, and being can reap benefits, rewards, and joy that couldn't be understood or experienced in one's life otherwise.

Taking in standing atop the amazingness that is Cusco, Peru


How to Reach Out to Somebody You Don't Know

Will this be me during my honeymoon in Buenos Aires? (Photo: Say Hueque blog)
I can't believe that this is even about to happen. But I am heading to South America on my honeymoon and I am taking my first major break from all of my teaching, choreography, and media work for the first time in 4 years. So, while I'm sauntering around the arid coast of the Pacific in Lima, Peru, absorbing the breathtaking summit above the Incan ruins of Machu Picchu, watching the sunset over the Andes from my 17th floor apartment in Santiago, and breathing in the Paris of the South culture of Buenos Aires, I will be taking a much needed (and hopefully well-deserved) 3 weeks off from blogging. I hope you don't fret too much, but if you are really hankering for some fresh new content, I have pre-recorded 3 quick concept podcasts, the Flashcast, to release every Friday that I'm away on my Pas de Chát: Talking Dance podcast. You can also catch up on the plethora of old Life of a Freelance Dancer posts by clicking on this link here. (And if you want to feel like a part of the celebration for our honeymoon, you can see my choreography/poem I performed for my husband at our wedding, you can watch the video via this link here)

Now, moving on to what you are all here for... some fresh content! I'm inspired to share information with you today from a recent experience I had. Now, I must forewarn you all. While I am ecstatic to share myself as a public persona that is both approachable and candid, at any point anybody I know/meet or any experience I have may become a topic of conversation within my media work. I don't do this for a laugh or to shame anybody. I take my work in sharing information and learning through each other's experiences very seriously. But I think that we can all learn strong lessons from one anothers missteps, failures, and successes. So, with that disclaimer out there, let's move forward with this post's topic.

Performing in "The Nutcracker" (Photo: Glenn Mata)
I recently received a Facebook message from a contact that shared mutual friends with me, but with whom I had no previous connection. I didn't know this person, but they had talked to a friend of mine who suggested she get in touch with me about freelancing. I have felt quite honored that people feel comfortable/trust me enough to contact me on the regular seeking advice on how best to go about freelancing (among many other requests that range from questions about careers to promotion). But this occasion was one of the first times that a message turned me a bit off. And, while my immediate reaction was to ignore this message and move on with my busy life, I chose to give it a day or two to settle before I made the decision to let the message sink deep into my inbox or to respond. I did this because I have actually committed this Internet Age misstep before and I wanted there to be value in my response without coming off as arrogant or offended.

What happened was this freelance artist sent me a private message stating that they knew somebody I knew. Then without providing much additional information, requested I put them in touch with my contacts to give them freelance work. What threw me off here was the appearance of expectation that I would just offer up opportunities to any person that reaches out to me and requests them. When I first read this message, I thought to myself, " Who does this person think they are? And who do they think that I am?" But once my initial reactions began to fade, I recognized that this amateur (and sometimes professional) error was one I had committed before and was more revealing of this dancer's experience and understanding of how the dance world functions than anything else.

Let's get one thing straight. There is no magical, easy way that a dancer gets work; whether they are seeking company or freelance positions. I don't have dozens of people asking me on the regular to find artists for them. In fact, my freelance career has been full of quick bursts of fantastic feasts and sometimes long, desperately desperate famine periods. The success that I have obtained in both my dancing and choreographic/teaching career have been the result of insurmountably relentless hard work, trial-and-error, and unassuming vulnerability. Looking at this dancer's daring ask, I recognized she had tapped into her vulnerability by reaching out to a stranger who had figured out their own path to success in her field of interest. But, perhaps, her error lay in zeal. Instead of taking some time to develop a carefully curated approach, she asked to ride on the coat tails of my perceived success. Yet, even if I had work to offer, I already knew that she was unlikely to be in a place to best represent me as an example of my taste and consideration for excellence. It is important to remember that any referral almost equally reflects back on the person who suggested a dancer for work.

Before I even perused this dancer's Facebook account, I was already questioning whether she was working at a high enough level to perform some of the work that she had requested. Let me preface this with a disclaimer that I still don't know the true quality of this dancer, therefore I can't judge them. And if I did, I would not share that information publicly. But alarm bells rang the moment I finished reading the Facebook message I received because the request was missing important pieces of information, had one glaring statement, and read overall as an assumption that I already wanted to help. The missing information was a clear error, as there was no professional background or history given by this dancer whatsoever. No statement of past experience, no images or reel to validate quality, and no resumé or CV to inform me that "I am a highly-qualified candidate for work." The glaring statement that jumped out to me let me know that they were mostly looking to perform starring roles in works, but would be willing to step into lesser roles if they weren't available. And the final deal-sealer was the request I already spoke about to be put in contact with "my people" (which, unfortunately don't really exist). By the time I reluctantly sauntered over to her profile to perform a quality assurance search on photos, I already knew that if I could have helped that I would probably have passed up.

Me and "My People" (Photo: Danya)
Why am I sharing this story? I honestly fear that it may come off as mean-spirited, but that is not my true intention. And I can best prove this point by telling you about the time that I did this. When I was a kid at the young age of 19, I was hired by Roy Kaiser to dance with Pennsylvania Ballet 2 (PB2), the studio company to the main company. After accepting this position, but not having signed a contract, I received a better offer in the form of a company position as an Apprentice with Houston Ballet. I called up PB2 and gave them the bad news that I would not be signing the contract heading to me in the mail. A year later, they were gracious enough to let me audition for the company again. Though this time, my efforts didn't end with a job offer. After joining Pacific Northwest Ballet and feeling like I needed a place where I could progress faster, I reached out to PA Ballet again. Though, this time I was given some bad advice and made the poor choice to follow it. My young, overly ambitious Corps de Ballet self said something along the lines of this. "Dear Roy, I am contacting you to express my interest in joining Pennsylvania Ballet as a Soloist. My technique has grown tremendously over the past few years at PNB. Additionally, having come from the suburbs of Philadelphia, I feel that I could be a great box office draw and help bring in a wider range of audience members from the suburbs." There was more to it, but that is the gist of my note. There it is, perhaps, my most embarrassing correspondence ever!

So, I hope you can see how all of this relates. What I did there was I tried to show confidence and get the recipient on board with what I felt I had to offer. But it instead showed a lack of grace, humility, and general understanding about the way that things work in our field. This was the same mistake that this hopeful freelancer made when reaching out to me. By reaching out to me in the way she did, I already didn't trust her as a person and wrote her off as unqualified or having an over-inflated sense of worth as a dancer. This was almost to the point where I considered ignoring the message.

Now, let's move forward with this. What can we learn from these stories? In the event that you want to reach out to somebody to ask them for work (whether dancing, teaching, choreographing, or beyond - both in and out of the dance world), I always suggest that you introduce yourself quickly on a personal level and more in depth on a professional level. Don't wait for the recipient to request information to back up your requests for work or networking (like a website, CV/résumé, photos, reel, etc.). Do be sure to clearly express what you hope to get out of the contact while keeping your word count to a minimum. Be wary of making assumptions that this person already wants to help you. I always say the best way to go about this is to ask for assistance in reaching your intention or for information about how to go about getting what you are looking for, instead of going straight for the punch and asking for work. Sometimes, this is unavoidable, but try to be direct without being demanding. Beyond this (and this doesn't apply for me because I do suggest the public reach me via my website contact page for anything from work to personal questions or via Facebook message for personal questions), if at all possible, try and contact people via a professional email address. Most people prefer to keep Facebook personal. Requesting work or help with getting work is not a personal request and can really turn somebody off if they don't know who you are.

It can be challenging to determine the best, most streamlined way to find success and live out your dreams. One of the hardest pieces of this puzzle is helping to tie people into your network without coming off like you are only using that person for your own professional gain. Be sure that you are always prepared to share a sufficient amount of information and you will come off as somebody who knows the way our world works because you have functioned within it. We live in a tricky web where some things work for some people and don't work for others. But please feel free to use this information as a guideline to help expand your network and to hopefully get that work you are seeking!


Sharing LOFD on Popular Podcasts

It is getting closer and closer to my glorious honeymoon to South America and it is definitely starting to feel like crunch time. Exactly one week from now, my Danya and I will be on a JetBlue flight to Lima, Peru to spend 3 weeks south of the equator. I've got a great post prepared for you guys that I will be posting next week, but I've also been spending a great deal of time pre-recording podcasts for Pas de Chát: Talking Dance to make sure that there is still fresh content coming out for all of my lovely readers and listeners while we are gone. So, don't fret. I've got some really helpful content coming to you here in only a few days.

In the meantime, I have been busy, busy, busy mixing with a handful of people and organizations that have recently reached out to me for interviews and more. Soon, I will be featured on an app that is coming out that will offer you the opportunity to video chat with me for advice, information, or just to talk to me about dance. Beyond this, I have been in conversation with the Dance Network about possible collaborations. There are a few other things coming up that I can't yet talk about, but I promise you will know as soon as I can talk about these things.

Last week, I also had the wonderful opportunity to chat with Ken Scheck when he interviewed me on his so popular, so fun, SO GAY podcast. We talked on THIS SHOW IS SO GAY about everything from masculinity in ballet to my recent marriage. There was also an extended conversation about this blog right here and my recent post on retirement. I was so honored to be a part of this podcast. So, I suggest you go ahead and give this interview a listen while you eagerly await next week's post. It's gonna be an interesting one!


The "R" Word - Retirement

The Nutcracker (Photo: Ruth Judson)
There really are few careers out there that are as strikingly unique as a performance career in dance. Those of us lucky enough to dance for a living chose our career path somewhere between the age of teen and tween. Plenty of my peers and colleagues left middle or high school early to attend a boarding school or finished their academics online. From the lifestyle required to maintain the elite level of an athletic artist to the odd set of job requirements, there is nothing normal about the life of a dance artist. One of the most defining aspects of our careers is a word that begins with the letter "R" and is a word almost as dangerous as the name Voldemort. Like many of the most beautiful things in our world, a dance career shines brightly and quickly, then usually fades as fast as a falling star. Like putting together a last will and testament, talking about retirement feels like a daunting task. But at some point, every successful dancer will retire. And only in the rarest instances will this retirement lead one into the sunset of their lives.

Martha Graham was once quoted as saying, "A dancer dies twice." I can tell you from experience that this is one of the most credible statements that has ever been spoken about the pathway a dancer takes as they end their performance career and transition forward into the next stage of their lives. I have been told that one of my most defining attributes as a writer is my level of candor in talking about the realities of our wonderful dance world. But I don't feel that I have been completely candid about where I am as an artist today. And I finally feel that I am ready to change that.

If you have shared the journey of Life of a Freelance Dancer, you have walked hand-in-hand with me from the commencement of my career as a freelance artist. If you look back to 2014, where I posted about dealing with injury and working my way back from burn out, it was quite clear that I was working through a difficult period of my performance career. I had been traveling non-stop for 4 seasons and felt that I was beginning to forget who I was at my core. While I recovered from injury and worked to figure out how I ended up so emotionally lost, I took a job with Alaska Dance Theatre, created my own choreography project, and began working to transition my career to New York City. While I spent a great amount of time giving myself technique class at the gym and dropping in to take classes from other instructors, my performance career remained on hiatus. And, for the longest time, I didn't even know why.

Throughout this period, there were a handful of times that I found myself giving awkward explanations about the state of my career. I've been lucky enough that this blog has given me a great deal of credibility and has offered me visibility to other artists in my field. I've been approached a handful of times for work through this blog or in person from those who have read it. I felt awkward turning down these kind offers, as my persona has become understood as that of a highly sought, successful performer.

But more difficult than turning down the work was trying to find the words to explain why I was turning it down. More often than not, I would offer to pass jobs on to my peers because I didn't feel I was in appropriate shape to take on a performance at that moment. But in all honestly, I just wasn't able to bring myself to get back into a rehearsal studio.

Often, I would find myself at social events and people would ask me what I did for a living. My natural response was that I was a dancer. But as my choreography, teaching, and media career started to take off, I found myself in an awkward situation where a friend corrected me mid-conversation about my position. Sipping a glass of wine after telling a party-goer that I was a dancer, this friend interrupted me and stated, "Actually, he is a choreographer. He isn't performing anymore." I sheepishly smiled at this person and nodded my head, but what they couldn't recognize was the rush of adrenaline flooding my body. That rushing of natural chemicals flowing through my veins mimicked the feeling you might get when you receive extremely bad news; like finding out about an illness or a death. In that very moment, I was forced to come to terms with the creeping, slow death of my performance career. My body's reaction reinforced the statement I posted earlier about the death of a dancer. A dancer dies once when their career is over and again when the person passes on.

Now, I know that I was deeply affected by this experience. But like many occasions when you receive bad news, you go into denial or silently acknowledge the issue while maintaining a certain level of public mum surrounding the item. After toying around with the idea that I may be officially retiring from my performance career for many months, I finally decided to work on transitioning my career base to New York City. This transition has finally allowed me to come to terms with what I am trying to tell you. Once I finally started getting into Nancy Bielski's class on a regular basis, I began to feel my body returning to it's normal ballet shape. While I still had aches and pains from the devastating injury I experienced dancing with Oakland Ballet, I was able to maintain my body and return to class daily. A few more offers for work came to me and I graciously turned those offers down. As you also know, I've been given a handful of teaching opportunities during this time, as well. Whether at Steps on Broadway, Broadway Dance Center, or teaching master classes across the country, I have found a great deal of excitement and growth in this facet of my career. With the addition of having my choreography sought out more and seeing my media work from my blog and podcast explode, things started to become clearer and clearer.

I don't know exactly when it happened and I don't know how it happened, but in the past few months I have finally been able to say it. And maybe the reason I hadn't been able to say it was because I didn't want to admit to myself that I had already moved on. Or maybe it was because it is the only thing I have ever known since I was a young child. And while I have finally admitted it to myself and in private conversation, I still feel slightly choked up writing this post to share what this experience is like for me and may be like for you. And I promise you it's coming. And it's coming right now. I am officially retired from my performance career (and my heart is racing just typing this).

The Nutcracker (Photo: J-Ro)
Alrighty. Now that those words are out there, I'd like to elaborate a little more before signing off from this post. I have not been retired from my performance career since 2014. I really only started toying around with the idea at the beginning of 2016. I had dreams of making this big comeback. I had dreams of maybe joining a Broadway show. I had dreams of performing with Suzanne Farrell Ballet and getting to dance a Balanchine work one more time. I continued to dream of sharing my love of dance from the stage. But with the growth of my media work, the greatly positive feedback for my teaching, and the interest in my choreography, I had to give myself a bit of a reality check. I have accomplished most of what I wanted to accomplish in my performance career. I danced with two of the best ballet companies in the country in some of the greatest works by the greatest choreographers with live music in every production. Then, I self-managed a traveling career across the country performing on stages large and small. I received some level of recognition and notoriety and I feel pleased with all of that. While I feel that I could push through for another year or two, I feel that I reached my peak and will only be maintaining the same level of work that I had been doing when I became injured in 2014. At the young age of 32, I feel that if I focus my work on choreographing, teaching, and sharing my voice with the world that I can do much, much greater things and with a head start. I may perform here and there on occasions that really inspire me (coming out of retirement a la Barbara Streisand). But for the most part, I'm looking forward to focusing on my growing work and continuing to offer my advice and experiences as a freelance choreographer, educator, and dancer here on this blog. As, even in retirement, I will continue to take class and maintain being a dancer off the stage.

Going through the process of finding the strength to use the "R" word, I feel that I did go through a grieving process. I didn't have a big retirement performance to let fans fawn all over me or to gain closure. There was no exact day I can look back to for the rest of my life to call the anniversary of my retirement. But over the last few months, I suddenly became comfortable with responding to my peers and curious acquaintances questions by proudly stating, "I am a choreographer, dance educator, and advocate for the dance world through my media work." I feel that any dancer working towards or going through retirement can benefit from having something to look forward to, no matter how exciting or mundane. So, when you find yourself approaching this new life of yours, remember this. While we may no longer be on the stage to share our gifts with audiences small and large, we will always be dancers. A dancer may die two deaths, but that doesn't mean they live two lives.

(As I enter this new stage of my career, if any readers are ever interested in booking me for choreography, master classes in ballet or contemporary technique, or for speaking engagements, you are always welcome to reach me on my contact page by clicking here. I am available for local, national, and international work).