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!