NYC Newbies: How Three Dancers Are Making It in the Big Apple

Robyn Williams (Dirty Sugar Photography, courtesy Williams)

Ah, New York—the center of all things dance, and the place young professionals flock to in hopes of starting a career. Want to join in on the Empire State of Mind, but not sure how? We asked three rookie dancers, who all moved to the city recently, for their advice about everything from finding an apartment to getting around town. See how they've learned to navigate life in the Big Apple, so you can make your own transition as seamless as possible.


Meet Our NYC Newbies:

Robyn Williams, freelance dancer

Williams, originally from Fort Lauderdale, FL, moved to NYC last August to attend Broadway Dance Center's Professional Semester. So far, the 19-year-old has booked gigs like New York Fashion Week's Moncler Grenoble presentation, choreographed by Luam Keflezgy, and Vogue magazine's NYFW behind-the-scenes recap video, choreographed by Will “WilldaBeast" Adams and Janelle Ginestra.

Emma Sadler, RIOULT Dance NY apprentice

Twenty-three-year-old Sadler moved to NYC from Dallas, TX, last June after receiving her BFA in modern dance performance from the University of Oklahoma.

Stefanie Roper, BHdos member

Raised in Utah, 25-year-old Roper performed with the Repertory Ballet Ensemble while studying at Utah Valley University. She moved to NYC last September.

Why They Moved to the City

Stefanie Roper: “I moved here for Ballet Hispanico. Since I'm half Hispanic, the company's repertoire and Latin influence was something I wanted to be a part of. Once I was accepted into BHdos I knew I had to move, and that it would be worth it."

Robyn Williams: “Before I considered moving, I was registered to attend Nova Southeastern University on a full academic scholarship. Then, Clear Talent Group agency remembered me from a scouting two years ago and offered me a contract. I knew I had to make the move at that point."

Emma Sadler: “I had nothing to lose—I wanted to dive into NYC headfirst and see how I'd do. I knew that I'd regret not trying. I wanted to know that at the end of the day, I could at least say I gave NYC my best shot."

Emma Sadler (Simon Hurst Photography, courtesy Sadler)

Where They Live

SR: “I live in Harlem with two roommates, a cat named Kiki and five goldfish. Harlem is so lively—there's always music playing and people are always out dancing, singing or socializing. My typical commute to BHdos rehearsal is about 25 to 30 minutes by subway."

RW: “I live in Astoria, Queens, with one other roommate, who I met through Broadway Dance Center. Before I moved I knew nothing about Astoria, but I like that it's residential, and much quieter than busy Manhattan. The commute isn't a hassle—I take the subway and it's about a 20- to 30-minute ride to midtown."

ES: “I live in northern Manhattan off Broadway, in a neighborhood called Hamilton Heights (it runs from 135th Street to 155th Street), with two roommates. I really love my neighborhood, and thankfully I live by many subway lines, so I can easily get to any area in Manhattan. I give myself an hour to get to rehearsal because I like being early."

How They Found Their Apartments

SR: “I found my apartment when one of my high school friends posted that she was renting out her room. We got along well in high school, so I knew it was going to be a good, safe place for me to stay, and that I would have great roommates."

RW: “I found my apartment through a friend in the Professional Semester. When I originally moved here, BDC helped us find living arrangements and get settled in."

ES: “I met my roommate at OU—she left after her first semester to be a Rockette. I knew I had to have some stability with my living situation since I had no idea what my dance career was going to be like, so we used a broker who found us a beautiful, huge apartment. Broker services do cost money: Our fee was about 12 percent of a year's rent. You can always haggle the broker fee down. Initially they tried to charge us about 15 to 18 percent."

How They Get Around

SR: “Subway and bus is the way to go! Get an app and check it constantly. I paid a few dollars for NextStop and I use it every day. It tells you the times and arrivals of the trains at the stops near you. Also, check MTA.com for service changes or delays in subway service, but always leave early just in case—especially on the weekends, when there tend to be more delays."

ES: “I learned to navigate the system by picking various destinations—the Museum of Modern Art, or a restaurant in Brooklyn—and forcing myself to just hop on the subway and go."

How They Supplement Their Income

SR: “I have two part-time jobs. I work as a front-desk receptionist at a wellness center and at a Pilates studio."

ES: “I work two part-time jobs. I'm a certified Pilates instructor, and I teach several nights a week at IM=X Pilates. I also work weekends at Yumiko NYC Boutique. I'm working seven days a week, but it's worth it!"

How They Budget

SR: “Groceries are expensive here, so I have to make sure I'm prepping and planning my meals carefully. Look around and take time before deciding to buy anything in the city—most likely you can find it cheaper at smaller, non-chain stores. And Walmart.com has free shipping on orders over $50. It's great for getting food, makeup or other toiletries, and they deliver within a few days!"

RW: “Try not to eat out as much; making your own food is the way to go. I know everyone loves Starbucks, but I invested in a coffee pot because having to pay for coffee every day isn't smart when you're living on a budget. Also, when you purchase your MetroCard, buy the monthly, unlimited option instead of putting more 'value' or 'time' on your card. It costs more up front, but you can swipe as many times as you want for a flat rate. It ends up being cheaper."

What They Splurge On

RW: “My favorite classes. Besides the basics, I try to sneak a tap class in when I can, or my favorite choreographers' master classes."

ES: “The Joyce Theater brings in some really incredible companies, and they have $10 tickets if you buy them early enough. It's worth every penny to see companies perform live."

Where They Take Class

RW: “I take at Broadway Dance Center and Peridance Capezio Center. I love classes at both places because the environments always feel welcoming and the classes are always challenging."

ES: “I like to take at Steps on Broadway with Kim Abel, and at Gibney Dance Center and the Martha Graham School. I love Kim Abel's ballet class because she's extremely intuitive and knowledgeable about the body."

How They Afford Classes

SR: “Groupon is great! Also, ask your dancer friends for news on cheaper classes or specials."

ES: “Many studios have class packages, where if you buy a block of classes up front, the per-class cost is cheaper. It can be a lot of money to put down all at once, but it's more cost-efficient."

What They Never Leave the Apartment Without

SR: “I always carry $10 in cash, because some places here are still cash only, and I make sure to remember my earphones. When you're in a packed subway car, listening to music is a great way to tune out and relax."

RW: “I always bring an umbrella, since New York weather is unpredictable. And an extra shirt, deodorant and body spray in case I get sweaty from walking everywhere."

ES: “I always make sure I have a water bottle and a few snacks like Clif Bars or a grapefruit. Most importantly, I always have a book to read on the subway."

What They Miss the Most About Home

SR: “I miss being able to see the mountains every day. Also driving. I love driving. It's almost therapeutic."

RW: “I miss my cat, Snickers, and of course seeing my parents."

ES: “I miss the space! Everything is bigger in Texas."

Stefanie Roper in a BHdos rehearsal (Alona Cohen, courtesy BHdos)

Newbie Tips!
  1. “Tour the neighborhood, especially at night, when apartment hunting to see if you feel comfortable there," Sadler says. “Check every apartment's pipes for mold, open all the cabinets to see what the storage space looks like (and to make sure there isn't a little critter family wanting to live with you!) and check the water pressure by running the sinks and turning on the showers."
  2. “I made Google Maps my best friend, and once I started venturing out on auditions and taking class at other places, it started to all piece together," Williams says. “Also, don't get stuck in Times Square—it will eat you alive." “About two weeks into living here, I finally found the express A and D trains," Roper says. “I had been taking local trains to get to midtown from Harlem, and had no idea some trains ran express! Discovering that cut my commute in half."
  3. “It's extremely important to eat well as a dancer, even when budgeting," Sadler says. “Spend money on groceries that will sustain you, instead of eating empty calories because it's cheap. It's worth investing in your health."
  4. “Know that when you start dancing professionally, whether it's with a company or freelance, classes can be tax deductible!" Sadler says. “Save all your receipts, because you may be able to write them off in your yearly taxes as a business expense." “Follow the dance studios you like on social media to get information on discounts and deals," Williams says.
Why They Love NYC

ES: “I've never regretted moving here, not for one moment. I love what the city has taught me about myself—I've discovered my strong, compassionate, fighting side. Also, I love that you can sit on the subway and look around and see so many different faces and different cultures."

SR: “Living in the city is everything I thought it would be and more. The opportunities are here! Plus, I walk outside and have the most breathtaking views of buildings and lights. It makes my long, crazy and exhausting days worth it. Every day is an adventure."

RW: “The fact that I have the option to dance every day is truly amazing. I'm living a life that people dream about and I'm so grateful."

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