Monday, June 20, 2011

The Job of a Performer

The professional title that adorns my business cards and follows my name in all my emails reads: Dancer, Choreographer, Teacher.

I chose those words, in that particular order, because that's where my current professional priorities lie... in theory. I am also a writer and a scholar, but for now I have less of a concerted effort in these areas (kind of).

The thing is, if I am going to be a performer, NOW is the time. I already know I'll be on stage 'til I die (cue Martha Graham), but I am young, able-bodied and energetic in a way that I physically won't always be, thus, the urgency. The problem is, that I am also itching to do a million other things, not to mention the need to work to live, so I can't focus all my energies on performance.

Truth be told, my title should probably read Teacher, Choreographer, Dancer, because I teach every day to pay the bills, when I'm not making a dance my heart ACTUALLY aches, and after that, I rehearse, perform and sometimes take class. Performance some how ends up taking a back seat.

It makes me sad.

Today, INSPIRIT had tech rehearsal for our show tomorrow at LIU. We'll be dancing "Past Her Rites," a staple repertory piece of the company. I learned it a while ago, but since have had to learn another part - just last week. Running it today was disastrous. (My fellow dancers would never say this, but like most dancers I am highly self-critical.)

When Christal came over to give notes she asked, "You got a lot on your mind?" I nodded. (Window Sex Project first workshop THIS WEEKEND!) "Okay, I'll leave it at that."

The thing is, I always have a lot on my mind. The only time that I am able to really be focused on the work is when I am IN rehearsal or performance. If I am not in that space, then my mind and body are elsewhere. I am a freelance dancer in New York City (most are) where multi-week contracts are hard to come by and rehearsal space is expensive. So while it is the dancer's JOB to be in shape, know the steps, and give thought to the intention and expression of the work - the things that make a performing dancer a performing artist - they must be done on one's OWN time. That's hard to do.

Why? 1. My professional interests are so many, and 2. The financial structure of being a freelance dancer doesn't allow for it even though it is my job.

Regarding the first point, you can save the "You don't have to do everything all at one time" speech. I know. But I've been overscheduled and multi-tasking for years now, and I actually like having my hand in different cookie jars. It's just the lack of quality in this particular area that displeases me.

Regarding the second point, I have to say that I am thoroughly jealous of my best friend who is going into his 3rd season with Ballet British Columbia. There, he is not only a contracted and salaried employee with ooo-gobs of health insurance (it helps that he's in Canada), but he takes company class everyday AND rehearses work for multiple hours a day, DAILY. For many dance performers, it is a luxurious dream.

Instead, most dancers here wonder how long they can take being a starving artist, and if the system will ever change.

To steal a page from Oprah's book: What I know for sure is that the system is not changing anytime soon, even if I am working toward it. I also know that I am a performer and if I want to be the best that I can be at it, I have to give it the attention and focus necessary so that I can grow. That probably means not doing something else. What do I cut out (or more likely, cut down)? I'm not quite sure.

But I'll figure it out. I usually do.

Come out to see INSPIRIT Tuesday, June 21 7:30 pm Kumble Theater at LIU Brooklyn Campus. We are a part of the Souls of Our Feet: People of Color Dance Festival. Tickets $12-$15.


dawnne46 said...

I don't remember who said this but it stuck with me. It was addressed to people who say things like "I really want to be..., or I really want to do...or I believe I was meant to be..." the response was "if you really want to be...or would".
So just decide what you want to do and do it.

Neena Jay said...

I love your blog! I've danced all my life! check out my blog and follow me on twitter @neenajay...

<3 your newest follower,

Sydnie said...

Hi Neena! Thanks for stopping by, commenting with enthusiasm, and following! Be well!


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