dance

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.

Performance Pressures….bring it on!

Inspired by:
Rick Pitino, with Bill Reynolds
“Success is a Choice: Ten steps to overachieving in business and life”

….it’s been awhile since I’ve posted but here’s for some ruthless gumption!

My boyfriend (at the time….unfortunately a long story) lent me Rick Pitino’s “Success is a Choice” when I was craving a motivational, self-help if you will, read. I didn’t know what to expect from the former NY Knicks coach, but turned out his motivational mantras proved more than valid and helpful when applied in reference to dancing and working effectively within a dance company, which at times is absolutely a team or family. As I enter my second season with Parsons Dance, it is my upmost priority to make this season more fulfilling than the first. To take what challenged me, and make those weaknesses into my strengths, and to maximize my strengths to capitalize on what makes me special as a dancer. One aspect I wish to focus on here is performance pressure. As performers we’ve all had our moments where we feel these pressures seep into our bones, when the thought of convincingly moving those rattling bones becomes a much more daunting accomplishment than moments prior in rehearsal. In class and rehearsals, we can more easily tap into the glorious freedom of taking risks with movement and being fearless to make big mistakes and take a wipeout in lieu of finding where our physical limitations lie; these moments are exhilarating because we are pushing ourselves to our maximum. Performance can be exhilarating as well, when those limitations found by falling in the studio, can be trusted and so closely breached as we propel our body full throttle through space with the somewhat-calculated knowledge gained from hours of rehearsal. Most shocking however is, as a professional, this liberty of rehearsing specific works repeatedly to gain the confidence and full comprehension of how our bodies respond to each moment, simply doesn’t exist. Lack of funds, relates directly to the amount of rehearsal time allotted which relates directly to the feeling of preparedness prior to lights, costumes, and stage. I’ve been off-stage with only a single-hand of run-thrus under my belt, partner and all – “Slow Dance” this past summer is reminiscent – and forced to take this pressure and turn it into a positive influence and deliver a moving, elating experience for myself and the audience. Was I completely certain about every moment in the piece? No. We can never be entirely certain of a performance. It hasn’t happened yet; we don’t know what lies ahead. That’s life and what makes it exciting, unless we prefer to take this unknown and make it feel daunting instead. The choice is ours. Pressures exist, and thank god they do. They make us strive harder, longer, seeking finer details and additional nuances. If deadlines of performances and expectations of artist directors and fellow dancers didn’t exist and impose the feeling of wanting to be the best version of ourselves for them, we would be floating around in the blasé realm of mediocrity. And as far as I’m concerned, when we feel ourselves slipping into coasting mediocrity, which inevitably happens from time to time, we need to gratefully seize the opportunity to up the ante, set new goals, reach for higher sights.

So lets not feel negative pressure from the audience and those we wish to impress; that simply leads to stress and fear of failure – completely stifling. Failure is only an emotion we chose, not in definitive existence. Choosing to fear failure of certain moments within a piece, or not having the best performance, we are allowing those fears to take control unnecessarily. Instead lets use the pressure opportunity to see how far we can go. No two performances will ever be the same and this uncertainty is exciting.

So, easier said than done. How can we feel we have a grip on this pressure? For one thing, be confident in the moments we do know in a dance. Do our homework. Know every count, study a video, get into the studio and do some extra work to ease out the moments we don’t know as well or don’t feel as organic on our bodies. No rehearsal time with the rest of the company doesn’t mean we have to stop our work there and settle for not being as comfortable as we need to feel prior to a performance. Eliminate the uncertainties we have control over because other obstacles will always throw us for a loop in live performance – costume malfunction (Nasciemento skirt becoming untied and strings playfully doing another dance around my ankles), odd wings and back stage space (try an octagonal stage in FL with wings about two feet deep with 3 dancers hiding before a grand entrance), makeup running in our eyes (performing Envelope with my glasses pressed onto my face so hard my mascara runs and I’m forced to see out of one, barely open, blurry eye, which tends to happen on multiple occasions). Who says I’m talking from personal experience?? ; )

The performance is going to happen regardless. We choose to experience it trepidatiously or with an all-out vigor leaving no moment full expressed. Lets find trust in our work ethic and discipline. Performance is the prize for all those endless hours of rehearsal and class. So what if we’ve only rehearsal a dance 5 times before we perform it. We’ve had countless hours of dancing under our belt that prepares us to fly under this moment. So lets bring on the pressure and find out just what we are capable of; I bet we’ll surprise even ourselves.

(….gosh, even re-reading this serves as a helpful reminder!)

JKOHS students dance to impress

Back in 2009, I received the opportunity to teach a residency at Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis High School on behalf of Buglisi Dance Theatre and their outreach affiliation with the NYC public schools.  I restaged excerpts of Jacqueline Buglisi’s Caravaggio Meets Hopper. Honestly, teaching these students was such a treat for me and I am eager to teach more residencies both on behalf of BDT or Parsons (in due time, hopefully!) and with my own choreography.  I was impressed with how well they executed the work when they applied themselves openly to the movement.  Congrats dancers!

The engaging challenge for me is to actively reach out and engage each and every student to have them put forth their best effort.  One of the most eye opening experiences was to see one young woman in particular have so many “can nots” and personal limitations imposed upon herself, when she truthfully had some of the most potential and mental swiftness of the bunch.  She wouldn’t dare push herself, but when myself and dance instructor for the program, Vivian Ullman (bless that woman and the tremendous work which she does!), milked it out of her she was nothing short of remarkable.  Gets me thinking so much about how our upbringing and background has such an impact on our perception of ourselves and the possibilities we have available to us.  I believe I can thank Malcolm Gladwell for this – reading Outliers now!  Perhaps a post about the patterns instilled in most “successful” (gosh whatever that means) dancers to come!  So without further ado and any more distracting side-bar remarks, here is intimate video footage of the dancers working, from the studio through to dress rehearsal.  Enjoy!

How she do that? De-mystifying the job landing process.

With college dance programs graduating a cornucopia of talented, eager dancers and only a handful of established dance companies, with of course a limited number of artists on payroll, how the hell do you make sure you are one of the fortunate few?

There seems to be two schools of thought – you either 1) follow a particular company, giving adequate face time.  You go to all their workshops, auditions, shows, classes taught by company members, etc. or 2) spread your energy to various classes, lacking focus on any one particular company or technique.  If you put all your eggs in one basket you can potentially master a style, making you the most likely candidate for hire.  “Yay!” But when the time comes, will they hire someone else leaving you feeling like you just lost your big shot? “Ekk! No!”  Unfortunately, I’ve seen it happen both ways.  If you go with route number two, are you training yourself to be versatile in this world of eclectic and ever-changing choreography or are you lacking objective?  All are good questions to ask ourselves periodically in the midst of attempting to obtain dance jobs.

Some companies seem to have a more linear pathway to hire such as Ailey, Graham, and Taylor.  These companies have second companies from which they can recruit into the first company.  Note the word “can” because for sure these companies have hired dancers without this seemingly logical progression.  If I want to join Ailey, you better believe I’d be taking classes there and assimilating myself with those dancers, teachers, and choreographers.  If Graham is your shtick, there are tons of classes at the Graham school and so forth.  However, these are companies with institutions attached to them.  What about Andrea Miller, Sidra Bell, or companies lacking a second company such as Momix and Parsons?  I believe networking and adequate face time is a must, in addition to obviously passion and inquisitive training.  Companies, and not just dance companies, hire based on who you know.  Bottom line, being in the game – in class with the dancers of these companies, incessantly honing your craft – counts for something.

Companies hire more than just talent.  They are hiring you as person to be a part of their creative family.  This kind of deep seeded relationship takes time to cultivate.  Your energy needs to gel with the others in the group, on a physical and personal level.  This works in the best interest of both parties – there is nothing worse than dancing in a company who’s work you do not believe in and who’s creative environment doesn’t allow you to prosper and grow.  Yes, not only do we need to be dancing, but we need to be dancing work we are passionate about.  Otherwise, what’s the point?  We clearly do this because we love it, not for the whopping paycheck at the end of the day.  Damn it.  Let’s make this even more challenging!

I’ll share my path so far, not because it’s all that fascinating or because I want to write about myself (hmmm, who doesn’t? Please note sarcasm).   Purely because when I first graduated, I would have loved to hear a personal story rather than being mystified and preoccupied with the how-the-hecks of the job-landing process.

I started dancing with Jacqueline Buglisi after learning Requiem while at Marymount Manhattan College.  I love that piece.  I remember performing it for the last time in college, saying to myself right before the first low bellowing note of Fauve’s Requiem, while having my torso draped over the edge of my box whispering, “Please don’t let this be the last time I perform this dance.”  And luckily, it wasn’t.  And the reason it wasn’t, was because I loved it that much and wanted to work so deeply on it, and that enthusiasm and passion shined through – at least that’s what I like to believe.  While in college I was lucky enough to do a few performances of Requiem with the company.  So upon graduation I was able to begin dancing with Buglisi Dance Theatre full-time once a fresh rehearsal process commenced.  Trust me, I remember sitting at the Joyce as an office intern with the company my senior year, wanting so badly to be a dancer on the stage with them for the following season.  I still had no idea if my efforts to stay connected with the company would prosper into Jacqueline asking me to join on for the season and the not knowing was arduous and exciting simultaneously.  However, I wish I felt more excitement being on the brink of a job rather than worrying if I would receive the opportunity.  Bottom line my efforts paid off and moreover, the company was a great fit for my movement style.

While dancing for Jacque I continued to do artistic projects with Sue Bernhard and Maxine Steinman (with whom I still work with) who were teachers of mine at college.  Also, through sheerly being close friends with the dancers of Shen Wei Dance Arts, I was able to be a part of their structured improvisation Behind Resonance at the Park Avenue Armory.  Shen Wei asked his dancers if they knew of anyone who would be great to work with for the project and my dear friend Javier included me into their process.  Being in a dance environment fosters dance opportunities – that simple.  Working in the restaurant also generates more bar and waitressing opportunities.  Take note of where you invest a large amount of your time.

The only dance job I landed solely on an audition without any particular connection to the choreographer was Take Urykemo.  I have danced in class and in college with some of the dancers in his company, which whether or not this helped in the audition process is unbeknownst to me, however it did bring a comfortable and familiar energy to the audition.  Importantly, the movement style felt familiar on my body and exciting simultaneously.

Most recently (as of last Friday!!), I received a job dancing with David Parsons.  (I believe the news threw me in a frenzy of screaming “Yes!!” in tandem with jumping up and down doing some semblance of some pathetic “happy dance” you would do when you were five – somehow I believe it was probably much cuter at five and slightly ridiculous at twenty-five, but who the hell cares?!

While I received news of landing this job in a single instant, so many other relationships and classes earlier in my training and career have made this a logical step.  My training prior to college consisted of jazz classes similar in attack to Parsons’ style.  I have performed work by Robert Battle and attend his classes whenever he offered them.  This was the most direct influence of Parsons technique and repertoire.

However the connection was established more concretely when I was taking Zvi’s ballet class at City Center – loving life, having a great class – and Parsons had rehearsal in the space directly afterwards.  From being involved in the small New York dance community and having auditioned for his company before, David casually talked to me after class.  Nothing significant, just small talk – water cooler chatter if you will.  The next day, I thankfully went to class again at City Center which was quite the feat considering I worked at the restaurant until about 3am the night prior.  When my alarm woke me up at 8:30am for class, it took countless times of lifting my head off the pillow in a wearied eyed debate with myself.  Finally, my will won the fight over my puffy eyes and tired head and I supremely decided I really wanted to go to class – there’s always time to sleep later.  (This personal mantra tends to bite me in the butt time to time – I’m not the most sane while sleep deprived!)  A cat nap was plotted on as soon as I got back home.  Little did I know that after ballet class, David would invite me to stay for rehearsal directly afterwards to just pick up some of the movement, mess around in the studio – “no guarantees.”  I was so beside myself excited and exhilarated.  Exhaustion was the furthest thing from my mind for those next hours.  I looked like a loony, jumping around the back of the studio trying to pick up anything I could while they ran through their pieces.  Turns out loony enthusiasm works.  (Should this be method 3 for getting a job?)  The next day, David asked me to study Julie’s track in Remember Me because there may be two performances at the Joyce when he need her role understudied.  What?!?!  Friggin’ awesome day.  (Yes, awesome day was not enough.  Classy I know.)  The next weeks all I did, and all I wanted to do was my best with the opportunity I was given.  I worked hard, but more importantly I enjoyed every second of it.  The company was such a great group of people and I felt I worked positively in their environment.  I felt challenged and appreciated.  I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of and I felt that it made sense for me.  Boring story short, the Joyce performances lead to a performance in Park City, Utah, which lead to a small fundraising improvisation, which lead to a performance opportunity with them in Maryland to perform a new repertoire piece, In the End.  They offered for me to take their summer intensive and learn the material for the Maryland performance during this time.  Fantastically, they also held an audition for a full-time position.  While I recognized I was in a great position for potential hire, I truly didn’t know if I was going to get the job, ultimately because so many things play a factor into hiring.  I had a blast dancing at the audition and worked hard.  The next day, David professed I got the job and…insert Happy Dance!

What has worked for me so far, and by no means have I reach some ultimate success, is taking classes and mastering to the best of my ability, techniques which make me feel the most alive and enjoying the various company of my colleagues along the way.   My take on the two methods of getting a gig?  In this day and age when variety seems to be a valuable asset it is ideal to have different disciplines in your back pocket.  That being said, when you are asked for a true Graham contraction, don’t put a Parsons spin on it and vice versa.  Listen and watch intently for these details because every company has a language being built on the detailed vocabulary of its movers.

Relax and recognize the relationships and training you established will get you somewhere in due time.  Nothing in life is guaranteed, but have faith in your efforts and keep going!  No audition is a wasted opportunity even if you get the boot at first.  Ya’ just never know…

Mystification disclosed?  I hope to at least some degree.

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.

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