Practical Advice for the Would Be Dance Professional:
My Top Ten Observances
Welcome to the second article in my (A.V.O.) blog friends! At my recent residency at Duke University for the American Dance Festival, my discussions brought up lots of great points. So I decided to create an article based on my favorite tokens of dance life wisdom.
Here is a compiled list of my Top Ten Observances (there were many that I could’ve shared – but it would’ve made this article too lengthy).
From the point you decide to become a professional dancer, you must observe the following:
1.) Your body is a vehicle of your passion and talent, it will take you to where you want to go, or it can break down. It depends how well you maintain it. So eating, sleeping, training and exercise must become a priority.
2.) You must focus your time and energy to the most relevant art form in your life. You can bounce around at first, to experiment, to discover your niche, but at some point you must hone all your energy and talent to a set of skills, or styles (however you want to look at it) and do not spread yourself too thin. Mastery is discipline…there’s no discipline in floating around your entire life.
3.) If you want to achieve big things, keep your personal relationships in check so they do not take your dreams away. I have seen people drop their dreams for a relationship that turned out to be a curse. If they cannot be “a part” of your dream, they will force you to be “apart” from your dream.
4.) Start early on in life working towards your career and avoid having children in your youth. Being an adequate father/mother and a professional dancer does not always coincide. The artist career can be too unstable at times. I have seen people that have made it work, but I would lie to you if I told you it was easy. It’s not easy. I have much more to say on this subject but we will cap it here.
5.) Study Taxes & Pay Your Taxes. As a dancer you enter a “1099” world (Independent Contractor), where you pay your taxes at the end of the year and it’s not discounted from your checks. You can get yourself in lots of trouble friends. When you can afford one, get a CPA (Certified Personal Accountant) and have them make sense of your mountain of receipts.
6.) Be a Man before you’re a B-Boy. You should adapt the mentality that you must handle your business as an adult first before you dedicate yourself totally to your craft as a profession: have a constant flow of money, a vehicle (if you live in a city/state that requires one), a roof over your head – get some health insurance – maintain a good credit score – but don’t fall into too much debt. Being a good dance professional means having the benefits of working for a corporation, without having to work for one.
7.) You should learn the ways of being professional by observing “Corporate America.” Like: being on time; communicating; using the proper speech when in a professional environment; having a general knowledge of hierarchy and professional courtesy; networking; putting personal feelings aside to achieve goals; dressing the part; acting the part; fulfilling your duties on a timely manner; being proactive in your all your actions etc. Just to name a few for there are many more things that we can learn from Corporate America.
8.) Know the career options in your respective dance field. There are various industries that dancers can get work from: talent agencies, dance companies, stage productions, Broadway, Off-Broadway, artist tours, movies, music videos, commercials, cruise ships, theme parks, entertainment companies etc. Research is the name of the game. Without it, you’re flying blind!
9.) Study the current trends in marketing, branding, social media, creating a lure to build a true following. Then create a brand and develop it, build yourself the way someone would build a company – because – as an individual you are already seen as a money-making corporation by the government. So you must learn how to conduct yourself like a working business so you can maximize your own profit.
10.) The key to longevity in this career is evolution. You have to know when to grow and how to grow. The dance career is a gateway career that can lead to many other jobs in entertainment - like a coordinator, or tour manager as I have been. It can open doors to becoming a choreographer, director, educator, producer, videographer, stylists, production assistant, etc. Know when to step through the right door at the right time and keep dancing in other ways in your life. If you are not evolving somehow in your career and life, you’re devolving. At some point you may want to choose “stability.” So don’t be ashamed of how you find it!
I hope these ten points of advice have rattled your thoughts and summoned some clarity. I wish someone had sat me down and told me about some of these simple observances (not rules) when I was young in the game.
I will conclude with an amazing, inspiring throw-back video of the legendary Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr. The clip below is a heartfelt tribute Greg does for Sammy at his 60th Anniversary. Long after Sammy had transitioned through the careers of dancing, singing, comedy, acting and living the life of an entertainer, he still had those magic feet that Sammy was known for. Watch the magic all over again at around (7:00). Sammy is a perfect individual to sample inspiration from. You want to speak of legendary talent that never stopped evolving? Here’s to the timeless Sammy Davis Jr. and Gregory Hines (another multi-talented entertainer)! Rest in rhythmic paradise my brothers.
Thank you y’all! Until next month!