Focus on Freelance: The Best Advice I Ever Received

The most valuable kind of advice will help to guide you through life’s challenging moments. As a freelance dancer, hurdles loom around many corners, but in the course of my career, I’ve collected a few words of wisdom that I turn to whenever I get overwhelmed. Here are a few of my favorite pieces of advice:

Focus on one correction at a time
When I first moved to NYC to study at Joffrey Ballet School, I had a hard time adjusting to the technique after spending years studying the Vaganova method. I felt overwhelmed by all the adjustments I had to make until one of my teachers, Eleanor D'Antuono, told us that while it is important to listen to corrections, we should "pick one thing each class to focus on." Her advice was liberating because I no longer felt like I was spreading myself too thin by trying to perfect everything at once. Today, I still use this method in class. Whether I’m challenging my mind to pick up choreography faster, stretching my extensions, or perfecting my port de bras, recalling  Ms. D'Antuono’s tip has made it possible for me to hone in on one crucial detail at a time until it becomes part of my muscle memory and my brain is free to give its full attention to the next thing.

Put your goals in writing
Years ago, when I started an internship at Broadway Dance Center, the school’s then-owner, Allison Ellner, asked each intern to write letters to ourselves about our career goals and what we hoped to learn over the course of the internship. At the end of the six-month program, she returned our letters. As soon as I read mine, I could see how much I’d grown. Many of my goals had changed completely as a result of all I’d learned about the commercial dance world since I started my internship. I’d accomplished some of my goals, like learning new genres of dance and landing an agent, but other goals had changed completely. When I wrote my letter, I was anxious to see the world but I thought that the only way to do so, outside of joining a ballet company, would be to tour with a cruise ship. However, by the time I got through the program, I’d learned that there was a wide variety of jobs for dancers that require travel and I concluded that going on tour with a musical artist would better suit my personal style, so that became my new ambition. Reflecting on my original goals helped me to refocus and create a new set of goals that more accurately reflected what I hoped to get out of my career going forward. I still use this technique periodically to make sure that my career is always moving in the direction that I desire.

Remember that you’re an athlete and treat your body accordingly
For most of my career, I’ve avoided any major injuries and I didn’t think I had to work very hard to keep it that way. I’d always thought of physical therapy and massages as frivolous luxuries and preferred to spend my money on training. However, two years ago, I injured my neck in a show and the pain kept creeping back just when I thought it had passed. I attempted to treat the injury with extra stretching and hot showers, but my efforts didn’t help much. The pain continued on and off for more than a year until my friend Kiva convinced me to try physical therapy. The lessons I’ve learned in the sessions with my physical therapist have helped me to heal and perform in ways that I never would have been able to on my own.

So, now that you’ve heard some of my advice, I want to hear yours. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received? Share your words of wisdom on Dance Spirit’s Twitter and Facebook pages!

Latest Posts

Trans dancer, choreographer, and activist Sean Dorsey in his work Boys in Trouble (Keegan Marling, courtesy Sean Dorsey Dance)

8 Phenomenal Trans and GNC Dancers to Follow

Whether through color-specific costumes, classes separated by sex, or the "traditional" view of the roles boys and girls should play in ballet, most dance students are taught that their gender determines their role in the studio beginning in elementary school. And, especially for those struggling with their own gender identity, that can cause harm and confusion. "From a very young age, I did not see myself reflected anywhere in the modern dance field," says trans dancer, choreographer, and activist Sean Dorsey. "There was a really intense message I received, which was that my body and identity don't have a place here."

Despite significant societal progress in regards to gender representation, the dance world has trailed behind, and many transgender and gender nonconforming teenagers still feel lost within the world of dance. Prominent trans and GNC professional dancers are few and far between. "Being a Black trans woman means I have to work extra, extra, extra hard, because I have to set the tone for the people who come after me," says Brielle "Tatianna" Rheames, a distinguished voguer.

But the rise of social platforms has given Rheames, Dorsey, and other trans and GNC dancers a path to visibility—and that visibility helps create community and change lives. "Social media plays an extremely big part," Rheames says. "You can't just hide us anymore." Here are eight incredible trans and GNC dancers to add to your own Instagram feed.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Project 21 dancers (from left) Selena Hamilton, Gracyn French, and Dyllan Blackburn (Photo by Quinn Wharton; hair and makeup throughout by Angela Huff for Mark Edward Inc.)

How Project 21 Is Shaping the Next Generation of Competition-Dance Standouts

"I wish I had a better story about the name," says Molly Long, founder of the Orange County, CA–based dance studio Project 21. In truth, it's a play on the fact that she was born on the twenty-first of August, and 21 is her favorite number. "I was away on a teaching tour, the audition announcement was going live on Instagram the next day, and I desperately needed a name. Project 21 was just the least cheesy of the options I thought of!"

The fact that fans might expect the name to have some profound meaning speaks to the near-mythic status Project 21 has achieved on the competition and convention scene since its founding in 2014. Long's dancers are all wholly individual, yet jell seamlessly as a group, and are consistently snagging top prizes everywhere on the circuit. Each season brings a slew of new accolades, high-caliber faculty, and legions of devoted followers.

The industry has taken notice of the studio's unique ethos. "Molly gets through to her dancers in a special way, and they have this incomparable level of commitment to their craft as a result," says dancer and choreographer Billy Bell, who's worked closely with Long and her dancers. "That's what sets them apart—it's like a little dose of magic."

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

Enter the Cover Model Search