Do you dream of life in a dance company? The reality is, full-time professional dance jobs are getting harder and harder to come by. But it’s not all bad news. Life as a freelancer can be incredibly rewarding, varied, and fun and challenging in a whole lot of ways. I’ve been freelancing for 15 years as a dancer, teacher, choreographer, actor, model, writer, editor, publisher and occasional gardener, and I haven’t once been out on the streets – yet. I think I actually prefer my life of freedom and variety to the days when I was in a ballet company. It can be tough out there, though, friends, but I’ve got some tips to help get you through.
#1. Network – and be nice.
Life in general, and especially this industry, is often about who you know. Go to classes, shows, workshops, and be open, friendly and genuine. You never know who you’re going to meet. You also don’t know when you meet someone what they might be doing in the future. Treat everyone you meet with equal respect, and always represent your best self.
#2. Get other skills.
In reality, you’re probably not going to be dancing all day, every day. In between jobs, try to develop your skills in other areas to create more opportunities for yourself now and in the future. You’ll probably need other sources of income in between dance jobs, so look for something you can do in a freelance capacity. Years down the track, when you decide it’s time to hang up the dance shoes, you’ll have a lot more to offer to potential employers, or if starting a business or going into further study.
#3. Put your health first.
When you’re moonlighting your second job and still struggling for cash, it can be easy to forget about looking after yourself. Remember, your body is not just your instrument; it’s the only body you have! Use your resources wisely, and look after it. You don’t have to spend loads to eat well, sleep well and stay in shape. Plus, when that dream job suddenly falls from the sky into your lap, you want to be feeling fit and ready to grand jeté right into it.
#4. Manage your cashflow.
One month, you might have an awesome job that pays you thousands, but it could be months, even years before that happens again. Learn how to manage your cashflow so you don’t blow those sweet pennies when you have them. It may be boring, but taking control of your finances is essential. Keep a diary of expenses and income so you know where your cash is going, and to make it easier at tax time.
#5. Get a good accountant.
Sure, you could do your tax yourself if you have a good head for numbers and a high tolerance for boredom. Or you could put aside a couple of hundred dollars a year to have someone do it for you. Look for an accountant who specialises in the arts and knows how to save you as much money as possible. And don’t forget to keep receipts of everything that you might be able to claim on – and a spreadsheet of your finances.
#6. Be resourceful.
What skills do you have that you can use to your advantage? In my first few years of being a freelancer, I used to help out at my yoga studio in exchange for classes. The job was easy – helping on reception, rolling up towels, wiping mirrors – but it gave me free classes and a way to stay in shape between auditions.
#7. Learn to drive.
So many dancers seem to delay getting their driver’s licence. Get yours. Having a car can be expensive and annoying at times, but if you’re relying on teaching and other work to get you by in between auditions, you’re much more employable if you have a car. And it means you can get to jobs in further-away suburbs.
#8. Consider getting an agent.
If you’re a musical theatre bunny or a commercial dancer, you probably already have an agent. If you’re more into ballet or contemporary, you don’t really need one. Agents, however, can be good for picking up extra work, such as TV commercials or promo jobs. Just make sure you do your research into one who meets your needs, and don’t pay any money up front – they are meant to be paying you. The only exception to this is that you may need to get professional photos taken when you sign up.
#9. Be your own PA… and publicist… and cheerleader… and…
To be self-employed, you’ve got to have sharp time-management skills, amongst other things. I have a friend who refers to her PA, Robyn, constantly. The truth is, there is no Robyn, just a super organised dancer who knows how to manage her time, her finances, her workload – and knows how to sell herself to prospective employers/directors. Nobody else is going to do it for you, so get your own Robyn.
#10. Know your worth – and your expectations.
When you’re a student or a new graduate, it’s perfectly fine to do gigs for little pay – even none, in some cases. (In fact if you’re very inexperienced, don’t expect to get paid the same as someone who’s been in the industry for 10 years or more!) It’s important, however, to know your worth. Don’t let yourself get taken advantage of; it happens a lot in our industry. Make sure you are clear on the conditions of any job before taking it on, especially if you don’t have an agent.
#11. Stay in touch.
In between all the teaching work and promo jobs, sometimes you feel like you’ve lost touch with the industry. It’s important to be aware of what’s going on (unless not knowing is your thing, creatively), but it can get expensive to see shows. How can you see them without forking out? Could you review them? Work as an usher? Help out with marketing? Again, be resourceful, think outside the square. There’s always more than one way to skin a cat.
#12. Don’t give up the dream.
It can be soul-destroying at times, when you find yourself making coffees all day for minimum wage, and it’s tempting to feel like you’ve failed. You haven’t. Almost everyone goes through times like this, and it’s up to you to find the positive in what you’re doing – or at least realise that it’s just temporary and it’s a means to an end. Stay true to your why, and never give up the dream. Unless, of course, your dream changes. Which is totally legit. When it’s time to start chasing that new dream, you’ll know.
By Rain Francis of Dance Informa.
Photo (top): Rain Francis. Photo courtesy of Francis.