Things I Learned As a Post-Grad Dancer (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1. Not real advice, just the best conclusions I can come up with so far.

I need to see more performances.

In a city with tons of incredible performances of all sorts, enough of them inexpensive and convenient, why am I not seeing them? Because I’m tired, dammit.

But I would really like to prioritize getting myself in the audience this year. Because I’m a hypocrite asking people to watch me without watching them. Because I need to learn and be inspired. Because I’m sick regretfully reading reviews of things I missed.

Maybe none of us were really prepared for this.

Having attended a liberal arts dance program that exposed us to some amazing faculty and guest choreographers, but did not emphasize producing professional dancers, I expected to be behind conservatory-grads in terms of training and career preparation.

However, it sounds like most conservatories are still preparing their students to enter full-time modern repertory companies, which is rare right now. So we’re all kind of floundering as we figure out how to keep dancing and hustling and navigating the freelance scene.

Given that this is the case, part of me still wishes I had the opportunity to really hone my skills in a distraction-free dance-bubble, before real life kicked in. On the other hand, my college experience offered practice in creating my own training schedule, fitting dance into my life around responsibilities, and creating and marketing my own work, all skills that have made it easier to build dance into my life post-grad.

Professionalism is about being able to work in non-ideal circumstances.

You didn’t have time to warm up. You’re tired from working a morning shift job before. The studio is small. The performance space is smaller than the studio you rehearsed in. The performance space is a concrete staircase and your knee hurts. etc. These are all real problems and bad excuses if you are being paid to perform. I’m finding that the most consistently-working artists have found ways to work safely, intelligently, and creatively around any physical or situational limitations.

And I’m challenging myself to use any given circumstance as an opportunity to practice creative problem-solving. Recently, little things like improv videos on my apartment staircase or coffee shop logbook poetry have helped maintain a thread of creativity in my life when I don’t have dedicated time and space to create.

The artist “lifestyle poverty” (which is to some extent a choice) is different from actual lifetime poverty (which is overwhelmingly not).

This is not exactly a new insight, but it does seem especially apparent and under-acknowledged among the “starving artist” class, as we gentrify working-class neighborhoods and dominate the better-payed service jobs. Expect a length post on this later.

I can’t take myself too seriously.

The world might be a an angry button-press away from annihilation, and I’m in a studio figuring out different ways to spin on my butt. And I would not be doing it if I didn’t deeply and wholeheartedly love finding different ways to spin on my butt. But how is that not hilariously absurd?

Besides, taking myself too seriously has never made me better at anything.


More Coffee Shop Logbook Poetry


Let’s call this collection ‘Oat Milk and Stevia.’

The Match:

Car-towed and phone-dead
You stumbled cold inside
Searching for a place to charge
So you could call a ride.
You couldn’t reach the taxi
But somehow, by mistake you
Came across some car-owners
Offering to take you.

You came looking for power
But upon further inspection
It wasn’t power that saved you
But rather, some connection.

A Haiku About Writing Over Sharpie Marks With Dry-Erase Markers So You Can Wipe Them Off (And Other Things):

The temporary
Is so quick to overtake
What seemed permanent

This Can Be The Last Poem Entitled ‘Almond Eyes’ Written:

Her eyes were like almonds
in that they produced a watery substance
that could not accurately be described as ‘milk.’


Things I’ve Learned as a Post-Grad Dancer (Part One)

Since I’ve been doing the post-grad shuffle for about 6 months now–dancing, freelancing, hustling, and a bit of adulting, as the kids these days say–I thought I would share some lessons I’ve learned so far about being a freelance dancer in New York. This is definitely not how-to-guide or expert advice–there are people much more qualified for that–but rather, some honest observations from my personal experience.

The dance field is less like a pyramid and more like a landscape.

Sure there are some positions higher than others, and plenty of climbing involved, but it’s certainly not a single hierarchy based on one standard of being “the best.” There is incredible diversity in what a successful performer, company, or career looks like, and being a professional is not necessarily about “having what it takes to make it to the top” so much as finding the right niche to carve out a sustainable career. That journey might involve moving around the field horizontally, as well as moving up.

Pickiness is not for me (yet).

There is value in only considering projects that you are truly interested in, particularly if you’ve been working for a while. But right now, I am learning a lot from showing up at classes and auditions that–at least from the description–are “not really my thing.”

Because sometimes the actual experience differs from how it appears on (virtual) paper. Sometimes I reconsider what “my thing” really is. Sometimes going into unfamiliar territory reveals some weaknesses that I would like to work on (one of my goals is to take hip hop classes next year).

And sometimes I just don’t like something. Learning more about what I don’t like and why is also artistically valuable right now.

Some of the most valuable networking* is lateral.

A lot of us have the impression that professional networking is about trying to shmooze with the person at the front of the room. It can be, but it can also mean turning to one of the very talented and creative person who got cut with you at an audition and deciding to hang out and make a piece together.

*(The word “networking” still makes me vomit a little inside.)

Personal administration for freelancers takes time and labor–so budget for it.

Once you add it up, the time it spends to coordinate schedules, respond to emails, and search for new opportunities is not negligible. And it takes extra mental bandwidth to keep track of multiple jobs/projects/clients, as opposed to focusing on one thing. If you don’t specifically budget time for this type of work, you  can either end up slacking on some important logistics or just over-exhausted.

Most of being an adult is sitting on different types of transportation.

And it’s always going to take more time to get there than expected. I had a tough time accepting that I can’t just pack my days full minute-to-minute like I did in college. Planning in more buffer time can feel wasteful or inefficient, but it’s really just responsible (and I’m taking podcast suggestions).

Affordable class options exist if you look around.

When I finished my work-study program in September, I was worried that I would be unable–or at least very de-incentivized–to keep up regular training with the cost of dance classes in NYC (up to $22!). However, while I do sometimes fork over the full-sticker price for class at big studios, I have also found several less expensive options to fill in my schedule.

Personally, I have attended The Playground ($5, usually improv-based classes), Access 8 Classes at Gibney ($8 with rotating contemporary choreographers), $5 Community Ballet, $5 Ballet and Contemporary Classes at Brooklyn Studios for Dance, Broadway Donation Classes (Theater Dance/Ballet/Hip Hop), donation classes With Allison Cook Beaty Dance (Modern/Rep/Conditioning), and complimentary classes at the Merce Cunningham Trust attached to (free) workshop participation. The Broke Dancer Calendar is also a great resource for finding $10 and under classes.

These classes may not have the hype or schedule convenience of larger studios, but they do offer equal quality instruction (sometimes literally the same instructors) and oftentimes, smaller class sizes. If you keep your eyes open on social media and ask around, there’s a lot out there.

Stay tuned for part 2 where I share my current thoughts on defining professionalism, college vs. conservatories, artist poverty vs. actual poverty, and seriousness.

Bad Ideas I Had That I Like

House of NO: an anti-nightclub where people sit on couches, drink tea, eat pretzels, watch TV, and collectively complain about being tired, after they’ve cancelled plans to go out.

Finding Wifi–The Musical: A connection-starved tourist wanders throughout NYC, searching desperately for some publicly accessible-Wifi and meeting various characters along the way. She accidentally finds love when she meets a barista at a cafe with no Wifi. Now she must choose between love and Wifi, as she decides which store to camp out in for the rest of the afternoon. (She eventually leaves and goes to Starbucks.)

Competitive Alexander Technique: Whoever drops the most unnecessary tension the fastest wins. Competitors walk into the room checking out each others’ postural tendencies and making snide comments like “She could stand to loose some neck engagement,” and “Do you even constructively rest, bro?”

Off-the-Book Club: A session where members conduct an in depth analysis of the artistic merit and sociopolitical implications of a book they haven’t read. Like college, but more honest.

Poems I Wrote In the Log Book at My Coffee Shop Job

No More Decaf After 5:

It seems your arrival today was belated
Had you come before 5, you’d see we had made it
There’s tea* if you’d like your buzz more understated
But no more drip coffee that’s decaffeinated

*(Also: Decaf Americanos and other expresso drinks)

No More Music:

There once lived Alexa the bot
She liked to play music–or not
Because sometimes mid-shift
Her mind goes adrift
She’s silently lost in her thought

No More Chocolate Croissants:

There once was a Brooklyn-based BIT [Barista in Training]
Sometimes her customer throws a fit
If the one last croissant
Isn’t the type they want
But she smiles and she nods through that sh*t


(Belated) Links To Things I’ve Done

Did you know that I sometimes do things outside of this blog? And here’s the evidence:

I finally put up the video from my piece “Teenage Angst Survivor’s Club,” performed at Gotham Dance Theater’s Emerge Choreographers Showcase in October (mixed rehearsal and performance footage due to video clarity):

More recently, I wrote a piece on the Dance/NYC Junior Committee Blog about anti-oppression work in the dance field, following the committee’s workshop with Race Forward:

Productive, but far from conclusive, our conversations left us with more questions, problems, and seeds for further brainstorming. One overarching question was how we can hold the people and organizations in power accountable for actions that perpetuate systemic inequality. How can we hold people accountable when they are our “superiors” in an organization’s hierarchy? When they are established and respected players in the field? When they control our access to opportunities and funding? How can we encourage others to respond with openness to change, rather than defensiveness, when their behavior is called out as harmful?

For many JComm members who are involved in arts administration, this raises questions of how they can shape the organizations they are a part of to challenge institutional biases. However, as a freelance performer and choreographer, with perhaps less direct access to institutional power, I am challenged to find ways in which I have power and responsibility in my professional choices. What is my responsibility in selecting which organizations I affiliate with and which messages my body can be used to tell? How can I challenge exploitative racial or sexual dynamics in rehearsal settings? How much ability do I have to do so as an early-career artist in a competitive field? And how might we freelance artists find greater power and voice through collective action?

Read the rest here.

Just Hear Me Out: Why I Chose A Career In Devil’s Advocacy

I want to clear up some misconceptions amongst you smug Human Decency Warriors: yes, I work as a Devil’s Advocate. But no, that doesn’t mean you can make assumptions about my personal beliefs and values.

Sure, I spend my days defending and supporting racists, rapists, corrupt politicians, and the occasional drunk driver, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I am personally in favor of those causes. After all, do you think the people who sort your recycling actually like polar bears? Polar bears are ugly, but we all have to do our jobs.

Now I do understand where the stigma surrounding this field comes from–I was once quite skeptical of the profession of Evil myself, and didn’t enter it without hesitation. Upon graduation, I initially looked at work in other areas–nonprofit management, research, public education–I  even briefly considered putting my excellent argumentation skills to work in defense of Good.

But let’s be real, Good is not a financially stable field in today’s economy, and I had student loans to pay off. When the Office of the Devil offered me a $10k signing bonus for a two-year commitment and my soul, I had to accept.

Still, I tried not to think of my decision as “selling out.” I rationalized that the best way to address Evil was to reform the system from the inside: perhaps they would be open to shifting their brand from straight-up-bad to morally-ambiguous-in-a-cool-and-edgy-way.

But while my youthful ideals were admirable, I would soon discover that Evil is a complex and  deeply established institution with operations in areas ranging from lawmaking and criminal justice to entertainment and global trade. When I realized just how much I had to learn, it became clear that I should focus my energies on becoming the best team member that I could before trying to shake anything up.

And I have come to respect certain aspects of the work we do. For instance, the profession of Devil’s Advocacy carries a standard of transparency that the business of Misguided-Do-Gooders could really learn from. At least when we Devil’s Advocates announce our presence, everyone knows what’s coming. It’s not like we would advertise ourselves as saviors, only to swamp communities with a bunch of incompetent, overgrown college kids looking for a brief experiment in employment. We do have ethical limits, and we draw the line at creating false hope.

So yes, I may be a Devil’s Advocate but God, please stop judging me: there are worse things I could be doing, right?