career choices

The highs and lows of a career as an artist in NYC.

Letter To My Younger Self

I wrote this gem of a letter to myself when I was 28. I re-read it this week at 32 and I found it beautiful to remind myself. While I’ve made leaps and bounds in aspects of my person, some of these tendencies still remain feistily intact. So I wanted to share this with you in hopes that you will write a letter to your younger self and then open it up to read it 4 years later. What is one important thing you would tell yourself?? (And, the better questions – Do you still do this now against your best interest?)

Enjoy…

Dearest Christina,

Relax.  Everything you dream and desire, and then some, will come true when it’s suppose to.  Not at the exact time you expect it, or want it, because you love to be ten steps ahead of yourself. This is a blessing and a curse all at once.  Let yourself to be beautifully surprised as opportunities reveal themselves to you at their own pace.  No need to squander your endless ambition, but aim high with a patience and an absolute relish for the present.   You’ll want to get that job a year before, you’ll want that role a season beforehand, and a family for yourself while you are still performing. Each experience is beautiful in its own right, no need to rush the process.  You’ll get there girl!  Just trust your instinctive ambition and your positive daily intentions and actions and then let it go and enjoy.  Those daily baby steps in the right direction, no matter how small, are enough to get you where you want to go.  Please don’t rush the process.  Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself.  It’s necessary and allows you to clear your mind.  It is not time wasted.

Don’t fret about money.  You’ll pay you’re bills and quickly forget about last months struggles, until you get stressed the following month.  You paid them before, you’ll pay them again, and you can do so without the whining.  Look into your finances without a furrowed brow and a whine, or perhaps just a glass instead.  Understand where your money is going without overly concerning yourself with your less than ideal dancer-paycheck.  Your desire for a “real” job is strictly stemming from a desire to assimilate with consumeristic culture and grant yourself luxuries that are by no means requirements.  And it’s a simple math equation.  Do the math.

You have one body.  It is a lot more beautiful and capable than you like to give it credit for.  Your skin will not always be clear, your ankles will not always be able, your weight will not always be your most slender, you will almost always have a stray hair that needs tweezing, your boobs may feel like a hundred pounds each, your tush may have cellulite, (gasp!).  All of those versions of you are absolutely perfect.  Your capacity to change is infinite.  Your mind and body are never static and welcome the shift of perception.  There is no such thing as perfection, so whenever you want to stop holding yourself to unnecessary ideals, the more you’ll live.

Listen to your gut.  Sometimes you hear it, but opt not to listen.  It’s right.  Believe it, own up to it, and speak from it.

Love,

Your 28 year old self

Cut the crap and get inspired people… and keep it that way.

It is in our job description as dancers to provide inspiration to the masses.  The arts are seen as the part of our culture that uplifts people out of the looming malaise our society is said to sit in (hate that…get off your butts people and do something about it).  Art makes you think outside of yourself and pulls you out of your mundane daily grind and can allow you to think about things differently, be moved.  The artist being the vehicle behind the work is the hub of this inspiration.  Furthermore, as dancers, our art is witnessed through our bodies and expressions.  So venerable, so exposed, so terribly clear when inspiration is absent, and consequently, so much beautiful potential to impact others.

 

As dancers, when we are in that special place, lost in the moment, we can feel immortal, not of this earth.  The music starts, the dance begins, and we get enraptured within it, miraculously performing steps that just seep out of our limbs while our soul goes on a journey that doesn’t give us the reality check until it’s over, be it the music stopped, or the audience applauds, or we simply realize the steps for the piece are finished (that’ll do it!).  We have this gift to share.  It is our responsibility to share this gift and have it manifest itself as inspiration for others.

 

Now how do we, as inspiration givers, keep this inspiration going ourselves?  Particularly when the practicalities of life (insert excuse #523 here) take over and we find it hard to get to that special place?

 

Inspiration comes and goes.  Being an artist and living in the waves and wakes of inspiration, it’s proven itself helpful to have my big future goal clear and in the forefront of my brain.  Then, setting tiny little goals for every class and rehearsal acts as stepping stones towards this ultimate desire.  Knowing I want to open my own business within the dance industry down the road helps me be the best dancer I can be now, helps me take class with clear intentions, helps me work that much harder because I can see the ultimate payout.

 

Point being, when class, and just as equally your five-year plan, is this focused you have an agenda of which to grow and learn.  You are not thinking of your degaggé the same way you did the day before since it is looked at through a new lens.  Attending class in the first place has a larger purpose to obtain that goal of perhaps dancing with your dream company.  You can accomplish this level of tremendous growth outside of an educational realm because now, even better, you get to be your own teacher.  Perhaps you take class this week and are focusing on your relationship to the music, taking space, or maybe just letting go a bit more and enjoying yourself instead of being such a constipated thinker.  Whatever your reason for taking class, do it intelligently and purposefully.  Then see where you will end up one year down the road.  Without an agenda, a purpose, a goal, you cannot grow and inspire at your upmost potential. Don’t just show up to class, or the audition, or the performance.  It is not enough.   It is not enough for that audience member who came to be uplifted.  It is not enough for your parents who supported you following your passion perhaps when they came from a household that didn’t allow it.  And it is not enough for that little girl sitting in the front row who’s dream it is to be on stage.  (Yes, I went there.  On board yet?)  But most of all, it is not enough for you.  Don’t sell yourself short.

 

Let’s be brutally honest here.  It is not easy to get your butt to class, let alone be inspired for your big dreams while contemplating if this deflated industry is enough to support you financially and artistically.  I’ve questioned my career decisions with dance and the arts (and at times with some shame in that however unfortunate and unnecessary).  It is not always simple to dance; if your artistic side doesn’t feel fulfilled on a large enough level, then the financial sacrifices we make are no longer justified.  These are practical and wise thoughts, but we can allow “real” life to complicate things and serve as excuses for attacking our long term goals and keeping on a daily inspired pathway.  It has been these woes primarily that kept my mind wandering form a livelihood in the arts and shadowing my potential. (No thank you!)

 

Let’s be simple about it.  If you love it.  Do it.  And stay strong when life makes you waiver.  When we chose this profession, or it chose us, we did not come to it for security or pragmatism.  We came to it because of how it made us feel – for the push, the sweat, the odd love of burning foot tape to our broken feet (yes, masochists), for the support from an audience, for the rush on stage, for the camaraderie of others dancing with us.  We can’t just follow the money and security and leave our passion behind….that would make us sheer mortals rather than inspirational superheroes.

 

I had an eye opening conversation with an incredibly smart, slightly socially awkward (of course…), science engineer in the coffee shop a few weeks ago.  I’ll admit to feeling a bit out of my league while hearing about his fascinating but somewhat technical description of having game-changing insight on a mishap of a space shuttle mission.  He felt compelled to write his story on how this mishap could have been prevented, why it happened, and how he knew about it before the launch, only to know it couldn’t possibly work, and how the high powers that be wouldn’t pay his insight any attention.  What an incredible story to tell!  This happened over a decade ago and this very intelligent man was still questioning whether he should take the time to write and share it.  What a waste of time – write it already!!!! I could tell he was aching to do so – clearly, you don’t just tell people this full story within the first five minutes of meeting them without it impassioning you and constantly running circles around your brain.  So when I asked him why he hadn’t written it, he raffled off two common and perhaps sound excuses. – 1.) Who would read it (meanwhile I have this pea size blog!) and 2.) would this story ever reap any profit for him?  I told him politely that he was crazy and he had to write it.  Call me foolish, but money and notoriety follows passion.  He has no idea where his story can go unless he writes it.  He could get it published in a trade magazine, a journal, asked to talk publicly about it, asked to mentor other engineers in similar circumstances.  The opportunities are endless…..if he writes it.  Are you willing to risk a little to write your passion and win big?  You have to do what you are zealous about, sometimes foolishly and completely lacking any practicalities, to allow your fullest potential to surprise you.  Maybe you’ve managed to slip off the wagon a bit and let your story lie dormant.  That’s ok, but stop wasting time.  Let the time passed be what jump starts you back into gear.  You can start over and fresh at any moment.

 

Dance like you did when you were a kid.  When doing the economical and sensible were the furthest from your concerns.  When you didn’t have bills to pay and your main concern was whether Eddie in the third row in Social Studies liked you.  Dance for something again.  Give it meaning and give it purpose.  Otherwise, why the hell would you do another grand plié with burning thighs, another pass across stage while the wind is knocked out of you, another knee crawl with bruised shins?  You need a reason to do the piece better this time than the time before, for yourself and for the audience who came to be enlivened.  So set a single personal goal this week, this year.  Be specific.  Carve your own path to stay inspired and leave the excuses for mortals, us dancers are such superior beings (yes, waft that nose in the air).  And if you can’t find a good enough reason to foolishly pursue your childhood dreams (lame, and probably bs), do it for your grandma who always wanted to live on stage but let her damn feet get in the way….poor mortal.

 

 

Thank you my Fairbanks dancing all-stars from Alaska Grown who reminded me why I love what I do every time I saw you.  Thank you my science engineer for reminding me even smart people can be foolish.  Thank you Jared for keeping my big dreams in constant reach every day.  Thank you Melissa Ullom, Steve Vaughn, Elena D’Amario, Eric Bourne, Ian Spring, Jason Macdonald, Sarah Braverman, Abby Silva-Gavezzoli, Lauren Garson, Leeann Ramsey, Kate Scarpetowska, Liz Koeppen, and David Parsons for being my family and the generous artists you are who keep me going;  it’s an honor to share the stage and studio with you always.  And (tear, tear, sniff, sniff) thank you Mom and Dad for letting me be a dancer from day one.  And yes, I proudly accept this Oscar.    

Growing through Injuries. Being smart and not a sissy.

It’s unfortunate but true; it sometimes takes a series of brutally depressing, disappointing, disturbing, heartbreaking, twisted, gruesome (is this going to far??  …point made?) events to find the beauty in those things we take for granted in our daily grind.  Hopefully, we don’t have to get as far as gruesome to come to this realization, but better late than never.   In this past summer, I’ve had three of my dearest friends – Evan Copland, Elena D’amario, and Sarah Braverman – out of commission from dancing due to major injuries.  Just to give some of their contextual backstory, this was the longest break they’ve had from dance ever in their lives.  Not only are these dancers not able to move their bodies in the extreme ways our profession demands, but they are also unable to walk around and enjoy the mobility of “normal people,” something we all forget is a luxury.

So straight from the horse’s mouth.  Here’s the scoop on Evan’s, Elena’s, and Sara’s injuries and their words of wisdom from their altered perspectives us healthy and able-bodied folks just can’t embody:

Evan – 27 and one of the most versatile and nasty dancers (nasty’s not the first word that pops out of my mouth when describing damn good dancing, but believe it would slip out of his and serves as a perfect description) with the purest of hearts I know.  He was on tour with Sean Curran in Karkol in the Kyrgyz Republic, dancing in the last piece of the final show of a month long tour; he did two little runs on stage followed by a precipitaté that did not end as sweetly as inclined.  Heard offstage, something snapped loudly.  That was just his entrance.  He proceeded to finish his duet and even attempted to go back on stage for the final section in the true committed animal he is, but he couldn’t stand.  Evan broke his fifth metatarsal just below the joint, in a place where there is no blood flow which means an agonizingly slow healing process.  What always impresses me about Evan is his complete level-headedness about his injury (shout out to Dharma Punks and his Buddhist approach to life).  He’s not one to waste his energy being unnecessarily upset or stressed about a situation he simply cannot change.  His initial concern was letting down his dance family.  He primarily dances for Shen Wei Dance Arts and working with Sean was a project that conveniently slipped into his schedule during time off.  Shen Wei was just about to start rehearsals and a series of touring, now sans Evan.  As much as we dance for the love of the art, we do it endlessly for those beside us – who we sweat with, go on these performative journeys with, who we partner and support.  This support was graciously reciprocated back in his time of need and leaving Evan feeling blessed and positive.

A major challenge to Evan’s inner zen came with his doctor visits and unmet expectations (hard not to have ’em but damn unnecessary expectations…).  He would be expecting his recovery to be more advanced; wanting to be told to get off the crutches, or remove his oh-so-fashion forward sleek boot sooner than allowed.  With some patience and fatiguing dedication to PT work, his first day of sneakers, August 10th, eventually came.  The same day he shaved his head.  Fresh start.  This time off made him evaluate his life choices; does he want to focus on performing or teaching?  How does he want to direct this next chapter in his life and career?  He has come back with a broadened perspective.  He is not just a Shen Wei dancer but is passionate about outreach and moving in an endless number of ways.  And now, talking with Evan is as contagious as ever.  He’s amped up to start dancing again and dive head first into classes; not too shabby of a place to be.  The injury was a blessing in disguise; he was forced to address what he wanted and head back to his passion with this new experience under his belt.

Elena – 21 year old stunning Italian beauty on and off stage was dancing with a meniscus tear for 9 months (amazing how the body can function when the surrounding muscles are there to support – thank you training!).  Yes, that means it was torn all throughout our Joyce season and full 6-week, non-stop Italian tour until it actually flipped over during swift, consecutive sauté de basque turns during the Parsons Summer Intensive.  Her thoughts?  It’s more psychological work over physical.  While not able to dance, something she has clearly done her whole life, the internal struggle comes to identity.  “Who am I?  Am I interesting still?”  We tend to identify ourselves as dancers, and this gift elevates our self worth; the reason others find me attractive and likable is because of my relationship with dance.  How unfortunately comprehensible, but utterly untrue.  Elena piggybacked this personal conundrum with filling her life with other activities she typically doesn’t have time for and started taking pride in the other things she loves to do beyond dance.  There are innumerable facets of our personality that make us beautifully individual and we are so much more than what we do (how much I can hate that as a first question when meeting someone fresh….).  Also, she now has a new found perspective on how fortunate us dancers are to do what we love, which puts complaining on the petty minutiae of the daily grind completely out of the question.

Another (completely unwarranted) fear?  “Everyone is going to be in rehearsal without me.”  Being removed from the group and loosing touch with the dynamics of the tight family unit and missing out on the progress on the fresh season was a concern.  My vantage point?  I blinked my eyes and Elena was back in the studio working.  To be exact, the summer intensive was at the end of June and she is back in rehearsals now at the end of August.  Nothing was lost.  She could never lose the beautiful connection we have as a group, and in terms of physical material developed, it is nothing she couldn’t pick up and learn in a heartbeat.  Her healing process and how much every day she can see the the growth of her muscles and diminished swelling serves as a constant inspiration and her new found perspective brings vigor to her dancing.

Next up – Sarah- 26 year old talent to behold onstage and stunner in person, tore her lateral meniscus, needed to get an ACL reconstruction with a hamstring autograft (yes, they snipped part of her hamstring and braided it to become her ACL.  Amazing huh??), and have the frayed tissue covering her kneecap shaved down.  A more severe injury, resulting in a 9 to 12 month recovery.  Sarah’s meniscus had also been torn throughout the season, but her ACL snapped on-site.  For better or worse, Sarah was at an audition, asked to jump hurdles, when she full gusto, swan lake-style jetéd (how’s that for proper French!) and landed all her weight down on her front leg, fearful of allowing her back leg to drop and (god-forbid, in our dancer mindset!) knock over the hurdle.  Apparently, she “was not Flo-jo,” and instead her foot remained turned out as her knee decided to shoot forward instead, just for fun.  Her hide sight? Know your limitations.  The audition was actually something she repeatedly declined until she gradually succumbed to the request.  “Know your limits.  You will get other jobs. We are trained to say yes.”   And some advice she now notices?  While dancing, we have an amazing capacity thanks to body knowledge to meander through movement artfully even when we land from jumps without perfect technique.  Know your body and it’s imperfect technical tendencies, and work on correcting them.  In physical therapy, there is no cheating from doing exercises properly; in dance we get to emote out of a jump that doesn’t go exactly as planned without anyone else noticing, and fooling even ourselves.

The dancer mentality is truly a double edged sword.  Most of us are not one’s to complain, and we accept minor wear and tear as part of the occupation.   We time and time again sacrifice the health of our bodies in the name of the work and those in the wings with us.  We act as if pieces of tape on our toes and torn muscles are enough to get through a performance and the adrenaline rush of the stage conveniently helps us forget these pains.  Where’s the line between quietly managing through expected minor setbacks and taking personal authority over our bodies which may mean a (gasp!) much needed break?  Sometimes it is better to sit one out and be able to come back full throttle rather than turning a minor injury into something that unnecessarily grows to become a larger problem.  In the moment it can seems like it is an absolute must to perform a piece full out, be it for a show, in front of a director, or for an audition.  We always have a choice, no matter how high the stakes of the performance.  Our bodies must come first, and at the end of the day, we know our bodies best.  Everyone has a different threshold for pain, but we need to be smart about pushing ourselves and know when it is going too far.

How can I take better care of my body?  I am definitely guilty of turning a blind eye to minor injuries and muscular sorriness.  There are nights when I pass out, exhausted from my day – not icing, not bathing in epsom salts, not getting a massage, and grossly enough, sometimes not even cleaning out cuts on the bottom of my feet before my head collapses on my pillow.  (I like to think I’ve built up my immune system??)  I am now reminded these small acts of tlc for ourselves are our insurance plan for the long run.  It just takes minutes to prevent injuries from further advancing.  Writing this is serving as a vow to myself to take the time.  Once the wake of these loved ones’ injuries are long settled, it will be easy to slip into old ways and feel the need to take a few more moments in my bed rather than tending to the needs of my instrument.  Dancing isn’t forever.   Nothing is.  My ability to dance at this level of intensity is finite.  It is an extreme blessing to be capable of moving my body, especially in the high demands dance insists upon.  Every day I wake up, I receive the opportunity to dance and reap the joy it brings.  This is not a guarantee.  But life has its roadblocks and time away from dancing doesn’t have to be disastrous; it just means more time devoted to other things you love and enjoy but never seem to have the time to accomplish.

Gratefully, Evan, Elena, and Sarah are on their way to a full recovery and are around those who love and support them in order to help keep their spirits high.  As dancers, let’s keep our bodies mobile and happy and henceforth, our hearts the same.  (Ahhh, so sappy!!)  Let’s be smart with our bodies, take care of what we have to the best we can, and still manage to not turn into whining sissies in the meantime.

Money, Money, Money, Moooonnneeeyyy: Dancer v. Donald Trump

In college it was easier for me.  I knew if I worked hard and did my best at x, y, and z then I would be rewarded.  There was a linear pathway where I could easily see the rewards my efforts would reap.  Nothing seemed to prepare me adequately for life outside of college as a dancer.  Suddenly, Denise Vale wasn’t peering over me while in the midst of a deep contraction during the infamous Graham 16 bounces at 8:30am. Now instead of having classes guaranteed to me 5 days a week – nothing was guaranteed.  The structure of school, which was entirely comforting for me, was gone.  No one warned me that even once you begin to work with a company, the sense of a consistent work period remains ambiguous.  Now with the economic recession looming over the arts and non-profit sectors, dance companies across the board seem to suffer having adequate rehearsal periods and performance opportunities.  With the inconsistency of work as a dancer, how do you maintain the life style, health, and mindset of a performer?  Where’s the how-to-guide artist survival guide?  Believe me, Barnes & Noble doesn’t have it because if they did I would have at least 20 copies of it and knowing me they would all be highlighted and doggie-eared galore (thank you Dad for my anal-retentive qualities, that is all you shining through).

So survival out in this concrete jungle means the basics – shelter, food, and clothing and for the dancer this list extends to include the oh-so-necessary class.   Beyond the basics, everyone has a personal list of lifestyle requirements to uphold and maintain a feeling of normalcy and contentment.  For me this has been a process of trial and error.  I now know I prefer to live in Manhattan rather than in a borough; it may have taken a U-haul, 50 boxes, lots of sweat, 4 months in BK, 50 more boxes, select curse words, and a moving company but its about the journey, right?  I prefer to eat organic, but I definitely make sacrifices for the sake of affordability.  I feel sane and in optimal health with my yoga membership in my neighborhood so when I can’t make it to class one day I know I can do something physical and stimulating.  If I take Zvi Gothermier’s ballet class I work well on improving my technique and have fun doing it.  Seeing and experiencing art and performances is a necessary part of my routine.  Last but not least, when I am not actively working with a company, I need to be creating something of my own or learning a new form of dance.  These “needs” are what allows me to feel personally content and connected to my career as a dancer even when I am not immediately employed with a project.  Why it seems to have taken so much time to figure out this ideal equation is beyond me.  Once again, patience is something I need to work on!

So the catch – how do you afford these personal requirements?  Also, how do you juggle the job and these necessities so you feel you retain the lifestyle of an artist rather than an office manager?  The biggest news flash for me after graduating and obtaining my immediate goal of getting into a dance company was that it simply wasn’t enough financially.  The most fantastic dream job comes around, and the money woes are still there.  Whether the way you earn a living is through a dance-related field or not, everything you do informs the other.  The skill set and relationships you learn and develop while in an office advance your dancing and your dancing mind and devotion readily enhance the work you do in any other profession.

There is no scientific equation to finding the optimal parallel/intermediary job, I can only share what has worked for me.  In addition to dancing, I have made a living as an office manager with Cornfield Dance, occasionally guest teaching/choreographing, and bartending/waitressing at sister restaurants Bounce sports bar and Vero wine bar on the UES.  The administrative work I do enjoy because I am constantly learning about the inner workings of a dance company alongside people who understand and appreciate dancers.  I see what works and what doesn’t within the company and since having one of my own is something I long to embark on in the next chapter of my life this information is endlessly valuable.  The guest teaching and choreographing are ideal opportunities, but at the moment these gigs are few and in between.

My main gripe stands with my simultaneously wonderful and painful restaurant job.  It does have its perks – good food, free liquor.  How many occupations encourage you to drink on the job?  Counting money at the end of a fuzzy night, being told by my manager, “good job today,” still makes me laugh.  I can enjoy meeting people and working in a relaxed atmosphere and making quick money.  The long, occasionally alcohol-induced hours have brought prioritizing to a whole new level – post-work cocktail versus ballet at 10am?  While in the bar atmosphere, it is the life-style of most employees to stay out late and sleep in until their next shift which typically doesn’t start until late afternoon.  As a dancer, I need to intentionally separate myself from this lifestyle to ensure my main focus doesn’t slip away while in between gigs.  Lately more than ever I’ve been feeling the nagging tug to leave the restaurant industry in the dust and obtain my income through more “adult-like” ways – whatever that means.  The only thing I fear is relinquishing the flexibility of my schedule.  I tested my theory and set up a meeting with a temping agency.  May be another flexible income option, however any line of work not incorporating my art is just another parallel step.  I have a feeling that leaving the bottle opener at home and trading it for pumps and business slacks may only give the illusion of adulthood.  The meaningful work takes place on my time off, further establishing and networking myself as an artist.

Another bizarre phenomenon post-graduation is to look and see how many of your fellow graduates are still dancing.  It is interesting to see the wonderful spins everyone’s lives have taken.  However, if a career in performing is where your heart lies, make sure you can maintain a lifestyle which includes class and auditions.  I often see dancers who have jobs which slowly start to creep in on their dancing and take over their lives.  This is by no means a negative thing.  Rather it is quite wonderful to have a job.  It is only negative if you want to have a job in performing and you find all your time is spent in an office sorting papers and answering phone calls.  Where are you making your connections?  Who are the people you are meeting?  What skills are you honing?  If the answers are geared towards your non-performing job, just take note.  Maybe you quit, open up your schedule and find a job with more flexibly.  Maybe you love it and educate yourself further to advance your new-found skill set.  Any choice you make is ultimately just a choice.  Nothing is permanent or lasts forever, both the life of a performer and the life of an office worker.

Instead of fighting it, which trust me I did plenty of, I’ve learned to accept the less-elating, profitable, non-dance weeks.  My current goal is to generate my income through dance-related work and to wean out my waitressing/bartending/temping positions all together.  Sad as it is, I fear it will be a pay cut and I am concerned about maintaining the lifestyle I have created and become happy with for myself.

You can’t just dance for a living.  However you can make a living submerging yourself in the industry in various capacities.  Those pointed toes can only get you so far.  Your mind and dedication you use to think about your artistry can and is useful in the “real” world.  Tap into your vast intelligence as an artist and apply its practical use to make the most of yourself while not physically dancing.

To Dance or Not to Dance, that is the Question. Coming soon to daytime television.

Just about a few months ago, I was walking down 2nd avenue on my way to my waitressing job (a kind reminder of not being on my way to rehearsal or anything entirely productive), on the phone with my poor mother part-crying, part-laughing demanding, “At what point did we think getting a degree in modern dance was a good idea?!  Really modern dance, couldn’t I have been happy being a doctor and having some sense of a secure-future, a normal life?”   For the full intensity of this dramatic moment, picture the dreary puddle-bound city streets in winter rainfall, me being tangled by leashes all with two-pound chitsues dressed in Louis Vuitton rain coats and matching booties on one end and Jimmy Choos and Prada clad women on the other.  Damn, these dogs were living more pampered lives than I was as I gazed down in self-pity to view my soaking wet ripped jeans hovered under my $5 umbrella that only had the lifespan of five city blocks during even the most trivial rainfalls.

Let me just start with how saintly my mother is for putting up with my antics.  I am notorious for being a true Pisces at times – highly emotional and dramatic, constantly change my ideas about what it is I should be doing in order to achieve something higher.  The ugly low of the on-again-off-again dance career and pathetic title of starving artist was looming over me.  Someone hire me to be on “Days of our Lives,” really or perhaps “The Young and the Restless” might be a better fit.  I believe that week I debated going to school to be a psychologist.  A few weeks before I was planning on being a personal trainer to support my dance career.  Before that it was a yoga instructor.  The list goes on and on.  All these ideas were diversions for me; I was having a hard time dealing with the unemployment aspect of the dance profession and seeking fulfillment in the fanatical ideas of another career or parallel career.

My dream job as a dancer always included dripping sweat, diving blindly head-first further into movement than ever thought possible day in and day out, hitting the stage feeling the lights and eyes of the audience on my every move, all while traveling the world and experiencing different cultures.  Right?  Youthful naivety is bliss.  Pinch me, please.  Those are the highs that make it all worth it.  No one mentions that even when you have a dance job this kind of glory comes few and in between, particularly in this economy when dance companies are struggling to have performance seasons and lengthy rehearsal processes (I’ll save the drama of the lack of rehearsals for another episode of this overly dramatized daytime television).  My point being, all careers have their pitfalls.

A few days later (the timing of this is rather hysterical), I went to my friend’s apartment for her boyfriend’s birthday.  She is in graduate school for psychology and I was chatting with some new friends only to hear these soon-to-be psychologists had the same exact woes I had as a dancer.  Sinking deeper in student loans by the semester, having the desire to start a private practice of their own one day but not having the funds or networking quite yet to make it happen and feeling overwhelmed.   I may be a financially struggling artist now, but nothing lasts forever and I won’t be my whole life – take that pessimism!  I am simply a normal 24-year-old with dreams ahead of me, wondering how the pieces of the puzzle are going to fit together and create this career as a performer/choreographer in a lifestyle that makes me comfortable.

How do you stay happy when you feel you have put in the time and still no new windows of opportunity are opening?  I feared a one-dimensional dance career, and was craving change – professionally – although perhaps a new boyfriend would have solved some of those emotional woes.  Auditions for paid, functional dance companies were rarely being posted and I was investing all this time, energy, and money into a career wondering if it would ever pay me back.  It was completely logical for me to inquire about other career paths; ones with some return on investment.  However, no matter how many ideas I tried on for size – and trust me, every week I tried on something new – it felt as if I was denying what made me tick entirely.  I am sure I could live a very happy life as a psychologist because 1) I find the field entirely fascinating and 2) Dr. Christina Ilisije M.D. has a nice ring to it.  But toying with the idea of a career shift seemed like a cop-out.  There is so much in terms of dance I am striving to achieve and haven’t even touched upon yet.  For others a career change or new parallel career may be the necessary kick in the pants life needs.  I’m grateful to have questioned my career choice as an artist; I can recognize it as a choice I make daily rather than an obligation with no way out.  Who knows, if one day I feel I have accomplished my goals as an artist and I find a new challenge to conquer in another career – bring it on.  That day has not come yet, and my recent frustrations stemmed from not achieving them rather than needing a get away car.

So instead of feeling stagnant and bored with my current state, I went Obama and actively introduced change and some new interests into my weekly repertoire.  Either actively do something about feeling uninspired and bummed about lack of rehearsals, or start feeling positive about where you are presently.  Simple concept, but when feeling less than positive doing anything can seem like a huge chore.  Since I couldn’t find the positivity in having lots of free time – I wish I was one of those people – I took up salsa dancing (thank you Shelly for introducing me to your vivacious world!), took a capoeira class for the first time (thank you Aldy!), booked some rehearsal space for my own work (thank you Rebe!), and set a new choreographic commission at my performing arts HS in Howell, NJ.  All these activities were entirely fulfilling yet I didn’t have the luxury of doing them while under the rigors of performing.   Some of them even helped financially to fill in the gaps between dance gigs and lead to more job opportunities in the future.  Funnier yet is as soon as I dove head first with dance and stopped with my crazy delusions and side-tracked thoughts, opportunities came my way.

I do believe a profitable career is possible in any field as long as you have passion and wits to back you up.  Modern dance may not be Hollywood, but there are people who love it and keep it’s engine going.  Keep your head in the game and stay inspired and happy along the way and positive things will come.  If dance is what makes you tick, there is something to be said about constantly going to class, auditions, and shows.  The relationships you build with people now may surprisingly help you in the future. Where you put your energy, things will happen. So take dance classes that make your soul sing.  Stick with friends who share your passion and duke it out together during the down times.  Keep yourself productive.  What do you need to do to feel like you are a part of the dance community, even when you are not actively performing?  See more performances, write, read, and one of my personal favorites, drink vino and talk shop with fabulous company!  So go do what you love and stop worrying about ending up poor and unemployed.  And while I don’t have it in my heart to completely knock a pair of beautifully crafted, over priced Jimmy Choos and those who wear them, I don’t need to be walking my dog in them to be happy.