Keeping Busy: How to Build a Stream of Consistent Dance Work

Eleven a.m. Thursday morning… School is done for the semester, shows are closed and rehearsals for next season are yet to start. It’s quiet, thank God. I look at my calendar for the next month, checking to see what gigs I have booked, what events I can work, and who I still have yet to reach out or respond to. It’s clear, my to-do list needs updating.

You see, being a full-time artist is not all fun and games, nor is it the ever hopeful act of praying to the universe and waiting to be discovered. It’s work. It is a combination of cultivating unbridled passion and taking over 150% responsibility for yourself and your efforts. Interestingly enough, within the arts, getting the work is half the struggle. Here I hope to provide you with a map of sorts for finding and retaining consistent work. Keep reading for tips and lessons that my colleagues, peers, and I, have learned over the years.

Before we get into things, let me preface with this: fame is a fallacy. The arts has a funny way of weeding people out so honestly ask yourself, do I enjoy the work?  The rehearsals, the training, the studying, all of the nitty gritty aspects leading up to the show (not just the show itself)? Key to success: don’t get weeded out, or find a different sector to make a living in.

With that out of the way, let's begin.

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 1. Learn to take 100% responsibility for yourself and your actions.

This is simply a hard and fast rule in life. No one enjoys working with people who can’t carry their own weight or who spend their time blaming things on others. Directors want to work with individuals who contribute and deliver, and I've known several who would rather work with a less talented artist than one who constantly brings drama onto the set. (Life is also easier once you decide to step up. Just saying.)

Be sure to practice self awareness, and get to know yourself. How do you learn? How do you work/interact with others? How do you react to different stressful situations? Can you challenge yourself to change any of these answers? Learn how to act, not just react.

2.  Learn to say yes.

This can be applied to many different areas of life. Psychologically speaking, the more you say “yes, and...?”, the more you facilitate finding solutions versus creating roadblocks and stress. For instance, while choreographing a drama piece recently, one of our actors fell ill during the show’s run, and another actor was injured. With no understudies and less than an hour until showtime, we had to make some quick and clear adjustments.  Recognizing this, I reached out to the director, laid out the situation, and let go of the stress. It wasn’t long until we found a solution, and the audience was none the wiser.

When it comes to finding work and building a name for yourself, abandon the idea of “getting discovered,” and instead, learn to say yes by taking action.  You can start by opening up to networking.  Consistent work is created through cultivating relationships, whether that be a direct relationship or a referral.

As you gain experience (and more importantly build a network), you will acquire more opportunities. The ideal place to be is in a position where people are reaching out to you, but where you’re also never above having to find work yourself. Remember, your employment depends on a combination of relationships, performance, reliability, and staying humble and hungry.

3. Work with integrity.

Unless you plan on writing, producing, directing, and creating every aspect of your own work, plan on interacting with others. (This is the real reason they gave us recess as kids… yay having to deal with people!!)  It doesn’t have to be stressful, this… working with others. The golden rule is to treat others the way you wish to be treated, and a smart sub-rule to remember is that not everyone follows the golden rule.

Other than that, building relationships really comes down to helping others and doing what you say you’re going to do.  And when you don’t, apologize, and actually fix it. There's no use moping around what you can’t fix and no sense in wasting someone else's time. You’ll have to learn to be an adult by keeping your word and honoring your commitments.

4. Ask those who've already done it.

This can be done both directly and indirectly. Directly speaking, you can personally ask someone for advice.  Keep in mind that some individuals may be stingy, attempting to “protect their market,” but, generally speaking, many are willing to give genuine support and advice.

The internet can be also be an indirect resource to find answers. Facebook groups exist for all sectors of the art industry, and posts are created every day in search of artists. However, when it comes to finding work and seeking help on the internet, treat it like online dating.  Just as we advise our pre-teens against strangers on the internet, be careful of scams and undesirable sources. I always let my roommates know where I'm heading if I'm unsure of an interview or a particular gig.  In regards to getting paid, always make sure agreements are in writing.  It’s up to you, no one else, to make sure your bum is covered.

5. Plan ahead and stay organized.

If you’re working on a gig-to-gig basis, you aren’t paid as consistently as when you're working a day job. (It may be wise for you to have a “regular job” as a baseline of support. Companies like Favor, Uber, and Lyft work well around art schedules.)

So know your industry.  Do you need to plan three months ahead, or are you getting paid on the spot and just need to make sure it lasts?  Your calendar and wallet are the two things I would advise NEVER to lose track of. Always keep them as organized as possible while still being flexible enough to adapt to what is ahead. Whatever killed the dinosaurs did so because they couldn't adapt to the change. Don’t be a dinosaur, learn to adapt.

And that about sums it up... A baseline off of which to build a steady stream of work. One final thought: amidst all the rules and matter of factness, please don’t ever lose your passion or forget to take time for yourself. You’ll need it. You need passion and tenacity to make your dreams happen, and you need personal time to relax and work on things that you truly love (just in case your current project doesn't do that). Remember you are amazing, and you are doing what others only (and quite literally) dream of. You can do it. Just do it.

About the Author

Sarah Maggard Sarah Jack

Sarah Maggard (also Sarah Jack) is a performing artist and teacher within the Austin arts community. Currently working on her B.F.A in Dance at the University of Texas at Austin, she studies acting, acrobatics, and voice outside of the program. She began dancing and performing at the age of 15 with aerial swing; soon-after leading to her decision to study concert dance and choreography in college. Since then, she has involved herself in various levels of work, from student to professional.  Connect with Sarah on Facebook | Connect with Sarah on YouTube

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