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.

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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.

7 Fun Alternative Facts of the Day

  1. The term “WiFi” is actually an abbreviation for “wildfire,” a nod to the original form of wireless communication, smoke signals.
  2. It is estimated that 5-10% of tomatoes are actually fruits, while the rest are merely vegetables.
  3. Technically, a doctorate in philosophy certifies you to prescribe certain psychedelic drugs.
  4. Elvis actually died of old age. He was lying about his age on his resume throughout his career, and moisturized frequently.
  5. Feminism isn’t actually about burning bras anymore. They stopped that practice in 1990 due to concerns about greenhouse gas emissions, and switched over to bra recycling.
  6. The Greek mathematicians Pythagoras and Isosceles, both known for their work on triangles, had a brief and tumultuous love affair in 550 BC–the little known origin of the term “love triangle.”
  7. There is no Nobel Prize for Attendance, because Alfred Nobel’s wife cheated on him with a guy who always showed up.

How To Do College

As you may have heard, I recently finished doing college. As a person on the internet, I firmly believe that having just completed something makes me both qualified and obligated to give advice about it. So here are my top pieces of fairly generic wisdom for people beginning to do college:

You don’t have to stick with whatever you picked first.
Majors, social circles, extracurricular involvements, worldviews, haircuts, or whatever–there is definitely pressure to make your declaration as soon as you show up. But remember that for the most part, nothing is holding you to whatever questionable snap judgements you made during orientation. If something is not working out as well as you thought it would, you have plenty of time to get over the shame of being wrong and try something else instead.

Don’t waste time pretending you know stuff you don’t actually know.
Even if you get a few judgey looks sometimes. The less time you spend trying to seem smart or talented or cool, the more time you get to spend actually learning stuff.

Learn from what you don’t like.
Hopefully, your time in college will be filled with fabulous experiences, but you’ll also probably run into classes you find disastrous, books you find overrated, art you find vapid, policies you find oppressive, personalities you find insufferable, and ideas you find really wrong.

But even when you are entirely justified in your disdain (sometimes you are), that doesn’t mean you’re wasting your time–you can learn plenty by negative example.

Notice what you don’t like, but more importantly, figure out exactly why you don’t like it.* Be as thoughtful and specific as possible. From there you can decide how to adapt to it, critique it, fix it, avoid replicating it yourself, create something completely different from it, or make sure you spend the rest of your life doing the exact opposite of it.

*Tip: in some cases, this might end up teaching you as much about yourself as it does about the object of dislike.

Live life with approximately four regrets.
I mean “no regrets” is a little extreme, right? If you’re having any fun at all–and even if you’re not–you’re probably going to make some mistakes for which regret is the appropriate reaction.

Sure, some people say that mistakes are not regrets, just learning experiences. But your mistakes are probably going to have consequences that hurt other people whose pain isn’t cancelled out by your lesson of the day.

So I’ve semi-arbitrarily picked four as the correct number of times to really mess up. It’s pretty low, but not as low as some other numbers, such as three.

Show up.
Things happen when you show up. (Side note: I hope to one day get the first Nobel Prize in Attendance.)

You won’t do all of the things.
Get over it now. You don’t have to feel bad about it. Don’t waste one of your four regrets on the newspaper you didn’t join while you were busy 3D printing/srat partying/protesting/baking cookies/dancing/actually studying. Just try to do some of the things pretty well and/or enjoyably.

Never “find yourself.”
College isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about realizing that the “self” as a unitary, discrete, and stable entity is an artificial construct maintained for its convenience in a Western individualist liberal social order.

(Or maybe that was just my college.)

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Note: if anyone has some advice on how to do life after this, send it my way

16 Things I Learned in 2016

Remember how I learned something in 2013, 2014, 2015? Well guess what–I did it again.

  1. “Doing it all” is kind of an overrated goal. “Doing some of it really well at a reasonable pace, and also having time to sleep, socialize, and be a person” is kind of an underrated one.
  2. Being interested in the ideas behind a field is different than enjoying the daily practice of it. Both are important if you want to be happy doing it.
    • Personally, I encounter this tension whenever I find an area of academic research super important and compelling, but realize that sitting alone in a library or in front of a computer all day makes me want to smash things. Ideally, I’d like to find ways to engage with ideas I’m interested in through practices I enjoy.
  3. Don’t trust people who always say it’s gonna be okay—it’s statistically unlikely. (Cheerleaders have a pretty bad accuracy record. So do some pollitical pundits.)
  4. Lots of people manage to have impressive careers without actually doing their jobs very well. My working theory is that whoever is mediocre the loudest and most confidently wins.
    • Or in the long-term, maybe whoever sticks around the longest wins.
  5. There is a such thing as trying too hard.
  6. Dealing with uncertainty is a skill. One that I’m going to need next year on several levels.
    • I did a lot of improv this semester, including a 15 minute piece of semistructured group improvisation on stage. In the process, I got pretty used to not knowing what situation I’m going to find myself in, but knowing that I can rely on the tools and skills I’ve developed to deal with it. And if I’m out of ideas, sometimes the best choice is to stop and look to the people around me.
  7. Ironic understatement is one of the overlooked love languages.
  8. Lots of companies/organizations project a positive/progressive image, but if you take a look at their internal practices, you might get a different picture.
  9. You know how some people gain so much academic knowledge but loose the ability to use common sense or talk in straightforward language? Or some dancers gain so much technical and performance training but loose the ability to walk naturally or dance at a party? Especially as I’m coming out of school, my goal is to make sure that whatever new/fancy/advanced skills I gain are supplementing, not replacing, whatever I had before.
  10. Half of knowing how to have a good conversation is knowing how to listen.
  11. Theories and frameworks can be useful ways to organize and understand reality. But if reality isn’t fitting your theory, you should probably rethink the theory, not the reality.
  12. People are always interpreting what they learn–news, history, other people–through the lens of narratives they already know. Sometimes that makes us ignore the people and events that don’t fit the pre-established narratives.
    • And if your reality doesn’t fit the dominant narrative, it’s a good opportunity to get an alternative narrative out into the world.
  13. One way to deal with feeling misunderstood is to get better at explaining yourself.
  14. Multiple famous/cool people died this year, but there are also lots of cool people still alive. We can appreciate those people too.
  15. Most things described as “it’s complicated” and “it’s a long story” can actually be summed up in one sentence.
  16. It’s been three years, and I’m still not sure what this blog is about.