Life of a Dance Podcast Host

I feel like I'm on the verge of something big. I don't know what, but I feel like my voice is being heard and recognized in new ways throughout our beautiful dance world. And, even more important to me, I feel like I'm making a difference. As you all know, I began hosting my own podcast, Pas de Chat: Talking Dance, on the Premier Dance Network nearly two months ago. In that amount of time, I've been contacted to write articles, I was asked for an interview to offer insight for a dance book, I've been sought to teach and choreograph, and for general advice. The press keeps coming out as my producer continues adding exciting new hosts to our network. From former New York City Ballet Soloist Kathryn Morgan (who was recently featured here on LOFD) to Ballet West & Breaking Pointe star Allison Debona, American Ballet Theatre Principal James Whiteside, and new Miami City Ballet Soloist Lauren Fadeley, it is very exciting to be a part of this revolution of dance artists finding their voices!

An old pic in Huntington Beach, CA back in 2006 right after we met
I'm getting married to the love of my life on Sunday, then heading off to Alaska for my summer intensive next Thursday. While I take some time to enjoy these events, I thought I would leave you with a list of my first set of podcasts that have been released. It's a holiday weekend coming up, so be sure to download these onto your phone for easy listening while you have a relaxing lay on the beach. If you enjoy, please be sure to share, rate, and review. Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

1. Let's Meet Your Host - Just a little introduction and what Pas de Chat: Talking Dance is all about

2. Determining Your Value - An exploration on whether professional value is determined by our own feelings of worth or the influence of outside factors like rank, company, salary, etc. Listen in as I chat about looking inward at your own value and how others perception of your worth can change dependent upon multiple factors.

3. How to Choose a Show to Go See - Many potential dance-lovers find themselves nervous to purchase tickets to local dance productions, touring musicals, and more. In this episode, I discuss the best ways to go about choosing which performances may be a best fit for you.

4. Emotional Training - In this episode, I discuss the importance of developing and integrating emotional training into the world of dance. While much of a dancer's training focuses on building physicality, most programs leave out cultivating these young professional's psyche.

5. Getting Fired - In this episode, I talk about my experience getting fired from a small contemporary ballet company in Philadelphia. Listen in as I discuss this experience and chat about coming to terms with being fired from this job.

6. What Does a Choreographer Do - Many people believe that the work of a choreographer only takes place in a dance studio. While much of a dance maker's product comes to fruition in the studio, there is a great deal of effort that must take place outside of this environment to complete a true work of art. In this episode I talk about my career as a choreographer and explains the many aspects of a dance maker's job that takes place outside of the studio.

7. Education for Leadership - In this episode, I discuss the track of most incumbent directors into ballet companies in the U.S. and their lack of formal education on the administrative side of the Artistic Director spectrum. Included in this discussion are details on the recent expose in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Artistic Director Angel Corella, comparison of leaders in the ballet world to those in the business world, and conversation on education versus starpower.

8. Explaining Company Ranking Systems - In this episode, I discuss the function and purpose behind the strict structure of most dance companies and their ranking systems.

9. The Challenges of Success - It is ingrained in our culture to praise talented youth and their successes. As we have seen in popular culture, young talent rises quickly and often falls just as fast. Dance is one of few professions that is largely comprised of ultra-talented teenage and 20-something professionals working in the highest levels of their field. Success is thrilling, but difficult to maintain. Listen in as I discuss the challenges of gaining success and how it becomes exponentially more difficult to maintain with each additional achievement.

10. Rating National Ballet Companies - In this episode, I offer a break down of most ballet companies in the United States and how they compare to one another in both quality and public opinion. Sharing research on information ranging from budget, roster size, repertoire, visibility in press, and more, listen in as I explain this fluid 3-tier system of national, regional, and local dance companies.

11. Contemporary Dance Training in the US - In this episode, I discuss how contemporary dance has evolved over the past decade from both classical ballet and modern dance forms. I also share my pick of the best training and degree programs in the U.S. for anybody interested in pursuing a career or education in this hard-to-define genre of dance.


Developing Your Networking Skills

I've been taking a lot of trips on Greyhound the past month. Getting up way before my usual waking hour to sit among a group of strangers ready to flood New York City the moment we get off this inexpensive commuter bus. Maybe some of my seat mates are going on vacation or maybe a few actually commute regularly to work, but I doubt any of my fellow northeast corridor travelers share the same intention that my visits hold.

Nancy Bielski working with a student at Steps on Broadway (Photo: Dancemedia.com)
I made the decision to exchange subletting in New York and paying two rents for the less expensive, more exhaustive option of commuting into the city bi-weekly (or more often). Other than feeding my soul and technique in my favorite ballet guru Nancy Bielski's class at Steps On Broadway, it is to keep myself present in people's memories and to make new connections with my community. The power of networking is a great skill and resource, especially in our dance world. This was quite evident, if you remember, from our last post when Matthew Powell received the support of his mentor to work on Flesh & Bone, the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and the Slovak National Ballet. For this reason, I need to remain present to fulfill my ultimate goal of finding an institution (or a few) to call my career-home and to bring my choreographic and teaching career forward into their next phase.

In this day and age, one can easily apply to a million jobs and never receive a response. My husband-to-be (May 29 😊) experienced this modern day dilemma before he gave up on living the corporate life and chose to start his own business. While the dance world is a little bit different, many positions in our career field (outside of dancing) require one to submit their information electronically in the most impersonal and out of touch way. Most put in a great deal of time and effort to create a carefully curated representation of what they have to offer an organization, but there is often no guarantee that your information will even be looked at. While this can save these organizations a great deal of time and energy, it can leave the job seeker feeling at a loss when they don't get a response for their efforts. And, beyond this, a majority of higher profile positions often go to someone who already has some type of connection to the organization or their name is suggested by a reputable person who works for them.

The above reasons are why it is important in this dance world to be an ultimate networker. I don't know how I became savvy at this skill. Perhaps, it was innate. But, even at a young age, I would try to learn the name of every peer in the dormitories at summer programs I attended and ask them to share their email and phone number in a small journal at the end of our time together. Honestly, I just wanted to make friends. I didn't realize that I was actually cultivating this valuable skill of connecting with people.

Performing Mercutio w/friend James Moore in Romeo et Juliette at PNB (Photo: Angela Sterling)
Have you ever asked yourself why you don't have a vast network of professionals that you are connected with to offer support and help you navigate our tricky dance world? Are you too shy to talk to people you don't know? Let me offer you some tips to help open up and grow your network. It's funny, actually, when you first meet me I tend to come off as a bit shy. It's a complete facade that I have little control over. I'm a horribly anxious person and I get awkward about getting into conversations with people, even though I enjoy it immensely. I like to talk (a lot), and I know that every person I come across doesn't necessarily want to chat. So, at first, I tend to awkwardly sit back and wait for the other person to initiate.

There are multiple times throughout my days where I am surrounded by people that could become a part of my professional network or my circle of friends. For instance, when taking class with Nancy at Steps, there is an ever-changing array of professionals in class from Misty Copeland to Irina Dvorovenko, Katie Morgan, and beyond. Additionally, there are amazing instructors, former professionals, and non-dance professionals tendu-ing and pirouette-ing by my side. One doesn't usually want to strike up (nor is it really appropriate) a conversation during barre. But there is a bit more freedom for a short chat during the breaks and banter that take place in center. In reality, though, it is best to catch up or initiate a conversation well after you have exited the classroom. If you do try to meet connections through open classes, be respectful that a majority of the attendees are really just trying to focus and prepare for their day.

Beyond this time in open class when I am surrounded by people just like me, there are a few other times to network and make your community larger. If you aren't sure how to surround yourself with those in your field, go to a performance, attend a fundraising event, seek out educational arts programs in your community, or look online. 

Dancers networking freelance networking event
While networking in person at events allows simpler access to meet up, shyness is often a challenging factor for many. If you are going to an event and don't know how to initiate a conversation, bring a friend that is a little more outgoing (but who is aware of your intentions and not going to own all conversations). But be sure to avoid the pitfall that I often fall into, where I only end up talking to the person I came with. Grab a glass of wine (but not too many) if you need to loosen up a bit. Don't interject yourself into somebody's conversation, but don't be afraid to walk up to somebody who looks a little lonely and say "Hi. How are you today?" They may be feeling the same way you do. Once the ice is broken, be sure to ask the person more about themselves and their interests before you talk about yourself and your work. Be sure to bring your business cards in the event that you want to connect beyond your first meet or if a good conversation ends abruptly.

While I don't get to do this often enough, I find it easiest to connect with people at educational events and programs. When attending a pre-show lecture or an informational arts workshop, you know you are surrounded by people who are like-minded and seeking information. Whether they are seeking knowledge on something specific or looking for interaction with their peers, they are generally going to be on the same page as you. And as an added bonus, you will already have a topic in common to hit off a conversation. My only advice here would be to wait until the lecture or meeting is over until you attempt to begin chatting anybody up.

If you need online suggestions, check out Dance.com, BalletAlert, or look for community groups on Facebook. Dance.com is a brand new networking resource along the lines of Facebook, but for dancers. I'm not completely clear who they are catering to yet (professionals, organizations, or Maddie Ziegler wannabes), but you may find what you are looking for here. BalletAlert is an interactive forum of dance nerds. Whether looking for links to reviews of recent performances, discussing your favorite dancers, or digging into the history of ballet, this is a favorite of many. Just beware of falling into the pit of snark and negativity that sometimes runs rampant among certain posters. Lastly, if you are a Facebook junkie like me, use your search bar tool to seek groups catering to art in your city, organizations you love, or topics that interest you. As always, the internet provides a million and one resources if you know how and where to look.

The power of networking is more and more important as we grow more detached from in-person interactions. The Age of the Internet has given us access to most anything we seek. But, surprisingly, it has made it harder for us to actually access people. As I continue seeking ways to continue exploring my choreography and passing on my craft in New York City and beyond, I know that it is less likely to happen based off of cold-emailing and online submissions. My reality is that my network of friends and professionals that I have created and maintain will continue to help guide me on my path of sharing my art worldwide as a dance professional.

(Don't forget to check out my new podcast on the Premier Dance Network & iTunes!!!!)


The Freelance Instructor & Ballet Master - Matthew Powell

As you all know, I have written over 150 posts featuring my experiences as a freelance artist and my analysis of the dance world. If you didn't see my post from April 15th, I recently launched my Pas de Chat: Talking Dance podcast on the Premiere Dance Network, which recently received some nice press from Dance Magazine. It has taken a lot of preparation to get this show ready and raring to go, so I reached out to some of my freelancing friends to offer a few additional perspectives on the work of freelance artists in the dance world.

Most of the material written on Life of a Freelance Dancer features the work of freelance dancers, hence the name. But there are many other types of freelancers involved in this beautiful world of dance. I recently reached out to a new friend of mine, Matthew Powell, whose dance credits include dancing with Pacific Northwest Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, and as A-rab in the international tour of West Side Story. Since retiring from dance, Matthew has taught everywhere from Broadway Dance Center to Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, worked as Ballet Master on the Golden Globe-nominated series Flesh & Bone and at Slovak National Ballet, and choreographed around the country. Continue reading below to hear what Matthew has to share about his work as a freelance instructor and ballet master. Enjoy!

Matthew Powell (Photo: Brian Jamie)
Where do you currently work?

When I'm not freelancing, I am on faculty at Broadway Dance Center and Ballet Tech. Additionally, I am permanent guest faculty at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (CPYB), which means I travel to teach for a few days each month and teach for their five-week summer course. I offer private coaching in New York City and substitute teach at Juilliard and Peridance Capezio Center.

Tell me about your transition to becoming a full-time freelance instructor/coach.
Honestly, I feel like one of the luckiest guys ever. After my performing career, I moved to NYC to finish my college degree at the LEAP program, a wonderful offering through Saint Mary's College, which allows dancers to get their degree while maintaining a flexible schedule. I knew I needed a job, so I started scouring the web for any opportunity I could find. I started teaching at 19, and thankfully already had a resume to work with. I got lucky very quickly. Petrov Ballet gave me a job and Broadway Dance Center gave me a class in a tiny studio on Sunday afternoons (which has now built up to five classes a week). What I will forever love about these two schools is that they took a chance on me based off my resume alone. I didn't know a soul in NYC, but they gave me a shot to prove myself.

Matthew teaching company class at Slovak National Ballet (Photo: Costin Radu)
How has your teaching evolved over the years? How would you describe your class?

When I first started teaching, my classes were given instead of taught. I would carbon-copy the exercises I'd get as a professional dancer and spew them out to students expecting them to understand. It wasn't because I didn't care. I simply didn't know any better. Now, I look at who is in the room, I look at what I've learned, and I look for ways to help. Teaching is never solely about the teacher. Teaching, for me, is a collaborative effort between yourself and the student. By being a supportive (rather than authoritative) voice, I think you can better open their minds to accept what it is you have to give.

How do you go about finding work?
The early years in NYC were all about hitting the pavement. Countless answers to Craigslist postings, doing Nutcracker gigs with an encore tap number at the end set to Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You (yes, I've been there), and literally saying yes to anything that came along. I still say yes as much as I can, but now I get to do the jobs that fulfill my soul the most.

Do you have an agent or do you negotiate your own terms? Do you have any advice for others about setting up terms/negotiating?

I don’t have an agent or manager, but it’s something I’ve just started looking into for choreographic work. I am admittedly terrible at negotiating. It's either, "yes," or, sadly, "I can't afford it." I try to do a cost/benefit analysis when a gig comes my way. This might not be what you think, however. Cost/benefit has less to do with money and more to do with life. I am not rich in the monetary sense, but I value both the art of ballet and who I am as a person very much. This is a lesson I've learned along the way. If a potential gig comes along that I feel will not benefit me as an artist and human or if I feel it jeopardizes the art I love, I will say no.

Matthew teaching at the Rock School (Photo: The Rock School for Dance Education)
Have you ever felt that you were stretching yourself too thin as a freelancer? If so, how did you resolve that?

As a teacher, as a choreographer, and as a dancer, you love what you do. But you give...and you give...and you give. Last year I gave too much. My social life, my health, and my work were taking a hit as a result. It was a huge wake-up call for me, and I started making some changes.

While it's been difficult, I've had to learn to categorize what I do as a part of my life, but not my complete life. My art and my passion is also a job, and work cannot overtake the whole of your existence. I make sure nowadays to do something for myself. Less than half an hour ago, I unashamedly left the 7:30 showing of My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. No ballet, no wondering where the next pay check was coming from, just some time for myself. Loving yourself comes first, and I think it's important for artists to recognize that, especially freelance artists.

What has been your most challenging freelance experience?

My Wednesday work days in 2011. Hands down! I'd teach two morning classes in New York City, take a train two hours north to Fairfield, Connecticut to teach from 4-8 PM, catch the 8:30 PM train back to Grand Central station, take a shuttle train across town to the Port Authority Bus Terminal, grab an 11pm Greyhound bus to Philadelphia, get to my Philly apartment around 2:00 am, then teach from 10 AM - 7 PM the next day at the Rock School for Dance Education. I love and miss teaching at the Rock. But after a year of that, I had to make a change. It was my own fault, not any of the schools where I taught. I tried to convince myself I was invincible, and it really took a toll on my physical and mental health.

Matthew giving notes to the cast of Starz show Flesh & Bone (Photo: Starz)
What has been your most interesting freelance experience?

Undoubtedly, ballet-mastering the pole dance sequences for the TV series, Flesh and Bone. That was a first! But man, pole dancing is hard! And incredibly good for your core strength. It's also a ton of fun, and doesn't need to be a sleazy affair. It's an amazing form of exercise, and there's definitely an art to it!

Tell me about your work as a guest Ballet Master.
The guest ballet master side of things came about via a glorious chain reaction of events. There is a wonderful ballet guru, Jeff Edwards, who took me under his wings when I first came to NYC. He recommended me for a teaching position at Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. Things went well there, so he put me forward to apply for a full-time Ballet Master position with Royal New Zealand Ballet. Ethan Stiefel was the Artistic Director at the time. I made it to the final round, which included going to New Zealand to interview and teach. I didn't get the job. I was pretty bummed, but went forward with life. A few months later, Ethan emailed me with an offer to guest ballet master for a few months in New Zealand. He also asked me to Ballet Master a new television show he was choreographing, which ended up being Flesh and Bone. It was a pinch me moment!

Shortly after Flesh and Bone wrapped, I headed off to New Zealand. While there, I met Daniel De Andrade, a Ballet Master with Northern Ballet. We hit it off and he invited me to Slovakia to work as Ballet Master for his first full-length commission.

What inspired you to produce your instructional ballet video, Find Your Fifth

While working with Royal New Zealand Ballet, I taught some outreach classes to students in the various cities we toured. After a class in Auckland, a little boy came up to me and thanked me for "bringing a slice of New York to New Zealand." On the plane ride home, I penned the idea of an instructional video shot like a Hollywood film; complete with bustling scenes of New York City and a group chat session at the end with our dancers. My hope was to give folks an idea of what it's like to live and dance in "The Big Apple." Hence, Find Your Fifth was born! We're in six countries now and I couldn't be happier. (see below for information on Find Your Fifth)

The Cast of Find Your Fifth (Photo: Shane Ohmer)
Do you see yourself freelancing forever? 

Absolutely not. I'm trying to scale back these days for the sake of work/life balance. I love my job and I love new experiences, but it's very easy for work to become all-encompassing. I'm a domestic-type by nature and I want to find a home. Also, I'm ready to put the knowledge I've gained on the road to use. With that said, I want to make sure that home I find is a right fit, so I’m taking my time. Anyone want to hire me?! 

What work do you have coming up?
More teaching, and more creating! I have a ballet being performed at a benefit for the United Nations in June. Additionally, I'm traveling to Anchorage, Miami, Zurich, and Las Vegas to teach. I'll also be teaching at CPYB's summer course.

Any advice you would offer for artists considering a career as a freelance instructor/coach?

I think it's all summed up with the answers above. But in a few words; don't rush, enjoy the process, and be good to yourself. Things will happen when the time is right. 

Matthew Powell (Photo: Brian Jamie)
For More Information on Matthew Powell, His Work, and His Find Your Fifth DVD:

Instagram: @matchoopowell
Find Your Fifth Website: www.findyourfifth.com