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A Letter To Dancers

From the Director of Dance Gap Year to young artists trying to find their way.


When I decided to pursue a career in dance, I wasn’t aware of the many avenues I could explore. In today’s culture we as artists have an unlimited amount of resources that inspire and educate us to absorb, process, and express our individuality. Even so, all the information out there can often paralyze dancers, sending them into a whirlwind of confusion: Where do I fit in? What am I trying to say? How do I brand myself? Why do I need to brand myself? The questions that come up for us are never ending. I could write an article that promotes the story of Dance Gap Year (DGY) and how we have a remedy for supporting the individual explorer, the creative inside you, but instead I’d like to write a personal letter to the aspiring dancer who dares to enter this field and find their footing. In this letter I will share with you things I have learned as an artist, as a student, and as the director of a gap year program dedicated to working with those interested in exploring their creative voice. So here I go.

DEAR DANCER,


When I first started on my journey I had one mission: become a successful entertainer. It is important to start with a sentence. One simple goal. I as a dancer will ________. This is a way to stay focused, to not get distracted by other people’s accomplishments and most of all to avoid the hardest thing for us, which is comparing our success to another person’s success. Your story, your journey is yours and as the grammy winning artist J Cole, says ‘No such thing as a life that’s better than yours.’ We are art, humans are art and the only way to succeed in this field is to be authentic, clear in your desires and value exactly where you are and what you have in that moment. I as a dancer will get signed to an agency, I as a dancer will get into a college BFA program, I as a dancer will start a podcast. When you can stay on task with one goal you will network, connect with others who have a vision similar to yours. New doors will open which will lead you to building new goals. Along the way there are a few things that all dancers require no matter the direction you choose. (1) Networking skills are the absolute primary source to making it in any industry. The saying is true, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Everyone is knowledgeable in something and the ability to pick their brain, apply those resources in your favor, will without a doubt lead you in the direction of your desired goal. (2) Organization and financial literacy is something I have found to not be taught in most institutions but it is an absolute must in order to sustain working as an artist and not falling into what we call a studio performer or part-time artist, and (3) visuals are the foundation of your branding. Who you are today and the message you share publicly is critical to building your audience. The good thing about branding is that the story you tell is ever evolving. Re-inventing yourself is a part of the creative process and its evolution is part of your growth.


NETWORKING

As I shared in the beginning, there is a benefit to all this knowledge and social media accounts just as much as there are the lows of it, but we will focus on the upside. See today dancers aren’t just performers. They are entrepreneurs, or as we like to use, 'Artprenures.' You want to find talks, meet-ups, and events led by other artists both visual, musical, and experimental. You never know who you will connect with and what collaborations can come out of those connections. What I’ve learned from traveling abroad and comparing that to our way of approaching projects in the U.S. is that we tend to feel the need to do it all ourselves. In the arts, it’s just unlikely to succeed that way. Collectives, with everyone contributing what they can, make things more sustainable, and people are likelier to succeed. Remember creating is just half the battle, now you have to have an audience to entertain. People to market your concept to. This is the power of a network and genius group: To learn from, bounce ideas off of, and to share the work of bringing together a group of people.




TIME MANAGEMENT & FINANCIAL LITERACY

Whether you choose to go on a gap year for dance through an organization or you plan to create one on your own, budgeting and time management are about organizational skills. Time is money, in retrospect to renting space for shoots, for hiring other artists and crew. All of this goes hand in hand. All too often, my DGY cohorts work for three months building their portfolios and creating video content, and they don’t realize until time runs out that following a timeline means being organized, which directly affects how their budget is used or used up. A gap year provides students with the opportunity to learn skills in organizing and budgeting. If you plan to travel independently, say you want to go to L.A and audition for gigs, you will need to really research what it costs to live there, how many hours you can afford to spend auditioning, and how many hours you need to work. If this isn’t clear, you can find yourself working all the time and becoming burnt out with little to no time auditioning. Then,if you book a gig, when will you have the time to take on the rigorous rehearsal schedule? See, we all want to book that big gig, that movie, that tour, but those too come to an end. Did you save enough to quit your job, do the gig, pay your rent while you are gone, and then come back to a sustainable life? These are the reasons why organization of your time and a clear understanding of your budget are so critical. For all independent artists, I recommend Quickbooks Self-Employed This is excellent for keeping your receipts for tax deductions, and viewing the ways in which you spend your money.

VISUALS

Yes, Instagram is your best friend and is the most powerful tool for building your portfolio. Having a portfolio solely dedicated to your craft will help tell your story. It allows us to see your past, your present, and imagine your future stories. It’s a free resource that helps you network, allows companies, agencies (which now, unfortunately, ask for your handle) to see who you are and what you are about. With that being said, having high quality photos and videos are a must. Get creative, use your phone, play with filters, connect with photographers and videographers who would like to collaborate Note everyone has a starting point so playing with your phone with a few friends is totally doable and highly respected by all as we too had a starting point and effort and attention to details speak volumes. Find outdoor spots, use unique backgrounds, search photographers who shoot dancers for inspiration. An excellent example is @Jordanmatter.



In this field we must be resilient, we must believe in ourselves, we must support others, and must be clear about our goals and how we will organize our benchmarks. But most of all we must be kind to ourselves on this journey. You don’t fail, you just learn new ways of going about things. Whether you choose to join a gap year program who can help you facilitate that as we do at Dance Gap Year or you choose to create your own. Never fear asking questions, never hesitate to reach out to people or to groups, and always tell a story that is genuine and authentic to you. Artists push boundaries but can articulate those boundaries. Artists extract the deepest feelings from their audience and that is always risky. Be confident in your ability to make others feel, and accept that if you do so with clear intention, you will receive clear results.

I have a BFA in Choreography and an MA in Dance Education. I have toured domestically and abroad. I was signed to McDonald Selznick Associates Agency (MSA), the first dance agency in the U.S. I lived in Los Angeles, in Argentina, and for the past decade in New York, producing live shows, dance films, and running both gap year programs and artist residencies. I am registered on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) as both a performer and choreographer and I have to say my most favorite role in the world is being a student. In the dance world we have a saying, you must know when to turn it on and when to turn it off. To sum it up, this industry is about wearing multiple hats, knowing when to step up and when to follow. Every experience you have from performing to being rejected at auditions is a learning lesson. It builds character and exposes you to more and more of how the industry functions as a whole. There is no right way there is only the way of perseverance so keep creating, keep leading, keep learning, and never stop looking ahead. Signing off… Dom




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