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.