Archive for March, 2010

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.

Some photos with Parsons @ Joyce some photos from my 60 second solo (now turned group dance) from 60×60 choreographic collaboration! Stumbled upon this blog post about maintain focus to achieve your goals and find it right in line with performing!

Remember Me – no really, don’t forget! My last one…for now I hope!

Just came back from Park City, Utah after my final performance of Remember Me and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nostalgic for the constant rigors of performance and rehearsal, plus the fabulous company of gifted dancers.  Not to mention I am essentially unemployed and slightly broke!  Interested in teaching positions if anyone knows anyone hiring!  Ruthless plug I know, but desperate times call for desperate measures!  Moving on…

My movement tendency, much like my personal tendency is to do more, do all I can.  So it didn’t surprise me one bit to watch a tape of my performance at the Joyce and take notice of my exuberant energy (hate watching past videos but actually found this to be productive rather than a self-loathing experience).  During those performances while I felt my energy was high, I noted a lack of finesse in some of the finer moments.  I wasn’t able to control all the details and articulation as well because of my outward energy.  A sense of grounding and rootedness was lacking.  With these observations and some corrections from Liz (associate director extraordinaire) and David, I decided my aim for this final performance was to maintain a clear precise focus; directness to all the movements trumping an over-zealously quality.  Not to mention there was some necessity in this goal – I was winded!  The elevation in Park City was at 7,000 feet while NYC is a mere 33 feet.  Now, I thought I was in decent shape but I definitely felt the altitude’s effects, even during barre.  Everything seemed a bit more labor-intensive particularly after a flight and sitting around all day prior; my muscles were quite lethargic.  Note to other winded performers: I did use the oxygen tank at a level 3 for about 8 breaths at half hour and I didn’t feel as winded as I was during the tech run.  (Liz mentioned to us previously that using the oxygen at half hour seemed to work best for her in the past and while I don’t have any comparison it seemed to help me out).  So needless to say, efficiency and directness was my official approach to a glorious, stellar performance.

The curtain rose, lights came up, I danced around a bit, and took an ever-divine bow.  Overall, my performance was much more focused and my mind was quieter.  The constant writing and thinking about non-judgmental, present focus made it a primary importance and translated into the performance.  This clear focus in body comes easiest when I have clear focus with my vision.  Actually tangibly looking, seeing, and identifying all moments is key.  To have a clear definition of each moment in a dance penetrates to an audience and back to myself as a thorough performer.  Those tiny transitions are some of my favorite to indulge in because they give the meat of the movement its reason.  In this case, a more distinct focus helped to relax my body into the movement and heighten my awareness of the others around me.  I found ease in mind and my body when I thought, “ this is all I have to do, no more.”  I felt my body relax and I did gain an awareness of more subtle details.  I wasn’t as physically exhausted from over-exerting myself unnecessarily so the execution was smoother.

One exercise I am particularly interested in doing after all this thought about the mind in performance is to record myself performing and speaking my thoughts aloud.  It’s one thing to write about a performance after the fact, but there is significance in the immediate thoughts and sensations which are worthy of investigation.  However, so many thoughts overlap and are inexplicable in terms of concrete words.  I’ll have to think about this one…

This was my last performance for a bit so back into class, choreography, and teaching mode!

“Remember Me” with Parsons Dance at the Joyce – Lady Gaga step aside.

Backstage in the dressing room of the Joyce, I tediously and ritualistically applied my makeup entirely too early.  I literally did it as slow and methodically as humanly possible just so I didn’t have ions of time before curtain to psych myself out.  My hair had about a full 20 minutes of unnecessary maintenance time.  All the teasing and spraying was putting the girls from Jersey Shore to shame.  Then I put on my costume just-so right before I covered up with layers of warm ups and headed for the stage during half-hour call.  After going through some last-minute partnering details, there was nothing more I could do; rehearsal was over.  Now it was just between me, the music, my partners, and the stage.  All the hours of rehearsal seemed to culminate during these select performances.  I couldn’t help but feel entirely energized and slightly nervous for my first performance of Remember Me.  It was marking my debut with Parsons Dance and felt like somewhat of an audition to see if my efforts and talent in the studio adequately translated to performance.  As an understudy, I had never danced the piece with lights or an audience and it was my second time dancing with the full company on the stage.  Crazy fun!  I was grateful to be nervous.  There have been times recently where performing onstage felt like another day, and to be nervous reminded me of how important dance remained to me.  Then the cool breeze from the house rushed in as the curtain lifted and the music began.  I thought with my first steps, “No stopping now.  What ever you do is right.  Enjoy the ride.  Have fun.  Be a rock star.”

Performing is somewhat of a mind game.   Remember Me was still fresh in my body.  More than the movements themselves (which trust me still need improving), what seemed the most unfamiliar was simply being in the space with the other performers.  It was no longer me, in the studio, executing the movements solo.  Now there were 10 other dancers on stage, slightly disorienting lights, and an audience including my friends and family watching.  I swear I thought I could hear my mini fan club chatting about me from the front rows.  Gosh this could be terrifying or thrilling!  One reason I crave dance is for the rush and high of live performance, so go figure, the performance-junkie chose the latter.

I would be lying entirely if I claimed to have no judgmental thoughts in the midst of my two performances at the Joyce.   These were not performances of complete glorious abandon, taken over by movement, music, and character.  Dispersed between moments of divine abdication were contrasting moments of vicious counting to stay on time, extensive use of my periphery to make sure I wasn’t crash-carting another dancer, fleeting last minute-corrections and partnering techniques, and thoughts of “damn this is so fun,” all whipping past my mind.  Also, I cannot be more gracious to all the fabulously talented performers who literally rooted and egged me on from start to finish.  Their endless encouragement and energy carried me through all the curve balls of live performance.  Did some moments work out better in the studio? Absolutely.  Did a new energy and aliveness come through the movements?  Of course.  Regardless of what happened on stage and my judgments on it, at bow someone could have told me I just one a million dollars because that was exactly how I felt – or at least how I imagine I would feel because the jackpot has definitely yet to come my way.  Rock star moment – check!  I was totally Lady Gaga at the Grammy’s (or perhaps Lindsay Vonn on the gold medal podium)!

I’d like to give myself the luxury of saying abandoned performances completely devoid of judgmental thoughts come with time and being comfortable within the material.  However, I don’t believe this to be true.  As a professional, a majority of your performances occur under-rehearsed, without the luxury of time.  Fresh material can serve as a gateway to a purely present performance.  You choose to be either daunted and distracted or elated and in the zone.  Despite however foreign the material is, your mind, body, and spirit are the tools you have and can rely on – they are not unfamiliar.

Some of my most liberating and transcending performances have been those where my mind goes quiet; there is no other concern in the world beside the existence of the present moment.  My endless goal is to achieve this presence as much as possible when dancing – be it studio or stage.

I have one more final crack at Remember Me in Park City, Utah where I fully intend to question this process of performing and the mental focus necessary to Just Dance Gaga-stlye.