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