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.

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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.

Things I Would Have Written in My One-Sentence Journal if I Was Still Keeping Up With That

Knee-deep one-liners from my life:

  • Most of being an adult is just sitting on different types of transportation.
  • You can’t have shade without light.
  • I like my guys like I like my fries: on occasion.
  • I deal with feelings like I deal with laundry: probably later, when there’s not so much going on.
  • Reclaiming is when you go through the garbage that’s been hurled at you and notice that some of it is actually recyclable.
  • If you don’t understand high art, sober art might be more your thing.
  • This is probably difficult for you to hear, but more difficult for me to not say.

Me and My Life (Profesh and Unprofesh)

It is profoundly weird and disorienting having summer end and no set structure to go back to. On the other hand, I’m starting to piece together a structure for my post-grad life, and I’m pretty thrilled with some of the pieces! Here’s what’s up with me:

(As usual, you can check the news page of my website for details and a constant supply of self-promotion.)

The internets:

  • First off, I finally gave in and got an Instagram (@nadiainherownworld) after years of avoiding it for no particular reason! I look forward to expanding my skill set by wasting time in ways other than Facebook. I mean networking.

Day-ance

  • I’m really excited to be a part of Gotham Dance Theater, and we’ve recently begun rehearsals for the fall season!
  • In other performance news, I will be dancing in a piece by Joe Monteleone as part of Amalgamate Dance Company’s Guest Artist Showcase! The performance, which also includes work by Douglas Gillespie, Tiffany Mills, and Joya Powell, will be September 17.
  • It still feels way too warm to be hearing snow music, but we’ve begun rehearsals for Giada Ferrone’s Nutcracker NYC: A Contemporary Ballet. Performances December 8 and 9!
  • I recently joined Artery, a platform for hosting/performing at/finding pop-up showcases, and it has been one of my favorite things ever. Basically, I have been improvising solos at various rooftop showcases alongside amazing singers, musicians, dancers, and visual artists, and getting to know some wonderful, supportive people.
    • Stay tuned: my roommates and I are looking to organize an all improv showcase before it gets too cold: all improv, any genre (music, dance, theater, comedy, etc.)

But also…

  • I’m a tutor, office assistant, hopefully soon-to-be dance teaching assistant, and barista-in-training.
  • At the moment, I am also a deeply congested  and foggy person.
  • Yesterday, I got on a train in the wrong direction, spaced out, and drifted to Queens. Clearly, my brain is killing it.
  • I tried trimming my hair with a comb-thing which, from the Amazon reviews, seems to be mostly used by people with long-haired cats. Although I am not exactly the same as as a long-haired cat, I figured that we have enough similarities. It worked pretty well.

So What Am I Actually Doing?

If you follow me on this blog and not in real life, you probably have picked up on the fact that I am no longer in college. You know that I continue to have feelings and thoughts and jokes which I post on the internet. But perhaps you are wondering: what is this Nadia person actually doing with her life?

Well I am starting have some answers!

I’m incredibly pumped to have some performances lined up in the near future! You can check out the “News” page on my website for full descriptions, locations, and times.

In slightly less performative news, I am also tutoring, doing the work/study program at Mark Morris Dance Center, working as an office assistant for a psychotherapist, and continuing to write stuff (hopefully some of which will get published).

Are Adult Humans Supposed to Have Hobbies?

…you know, things that are not their job and not their life calling, and they enjoy doing those things sometimes without caring terribly hard about whether or not they are good at them?

Don’t get me wrong, I think it is very cool that my sets of “things I would voluntarily choose to do anyway” and “things that I am trying to do for my job” are largely converging, but this also sounds like a recipe for being an exclusive workaholic.

So should I start woodworking? Join a science fiction book club? Get really good at video games?

I’m trying to develop inexpensive and non-messy hobbies in particular:

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And generally trying to slurp creative juice out of neat little boxes. As adults do.

Academia: a Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a princess who lived in a shiny white tower which stretched above a big forest called The Real World. She had entered the tower when she was young so that she could escape from the scary market forces and tax monsters in forest.

 

Of course not everyone could get into the tower. To get through the gates, she had answer a very long set of riddles sent from voices higher up.

Every so often, she would have the opportunity to climb one story higher in the tower if she followed the rules. And she did. She would answer more long sets of riddles. She would do a special kind of magic, turning very small ideas into very big books. She would create perfect illusions, appearing to know everything when she didn’t. She would learn to speak in peculiar tongues so that no one below her could understand. And of course, she would worship the voices above her. And so, over the years, she steadily rose higher and higher.

Each story of the tower was narrower and narrower, and fewer and fewer people would rise each time. Sometimes, people wouldn’t pass the tests, or the magic drained all their energy. And some would choose to leave. Either way, they would be sent tumbling down, scraping their skin as they brushed the thorny treetops of The Real World and bruising their bones as they found themselves at the very bottom.

But those who rose had their eyes on the tower’s tiny top floor. If you made it to that level, the prize was that you got to stay there forever and never leave.

The towers had windows where the princess could look down upon the people in The Real World. With each level she rose, the people became smaller and more distant. The higher voices said that the further away you were from people, the better you could understand them. This seemed true enough: she could see wider and farther than ever, noticing their numbers and patterns in ways she never did before. But most of all, she could see how small and faceless these people were, and feel bigger herself.

columbia princess

But one day, as she looked out the window, she could no longer see people, only a mass of tiny dots. She thought about the floors above her with fewer people around and tinier people below. She was starting to miss seeing faces.

She began to sit on the windowsill, thinking about what it might be like to live outside. One of the voices above warned her: “When you’re down there, you’ll be just as small as all those people. They won’t care about your crown or your magic tricks, and they won’t listen to your funny words. But if you stay here and keep climbing, I think you can make it all the way to the top.”

But as she imagined getting higher, lonelier, and further from the ground, she wondered if she should make the jump before it got too far.

Epilogue:

She hit the bottom and it hurt. The market forces blew away her crown and the tax monsters chased after her. She started crying “Take me back to my ivory tower!”



Yeah, I guess I’m feeling kind of cynical right now.