The Triumph of Will Over Ego

Story by Michael Deane, Dancer-Client

I took my first dance class in college as a lark.  At that time I had never seen a dance performance or even a Broadway show, but from the beginning I loved the physicality of it and the music (and the girls) and soon I was spending all my time in the studio, either taking or watching class.  By the time I graduated, I was determined to give dance a try. I ended up dancing for 15 years.

I got a scholarship at the Joffrey School and made my professional debut on Broadway with the Paul Taylor Company and Rudolph Nureyev in 1974.  Over the next several years I danced in the companies of May O’Donnell, Pauline Koner, Theater Dance Collection, Utah Repertory Dance Theater and the Asolo (FL) Opera, danced the original choreography of Agnes De Mille (Oklahoma), Hanya Holmes (My Fair Lady) and Peter Martins (Carousel) and worked with William Hammerstein and James Hammerstein among others.

By the time I was 35, I knew it was time to think about the second half of my life.  I received money from what was then called the Dancers in Transition program and took courses at NYU in Construction Management, started working at a cabinet shop, and then enrolled in Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Today, 25 years later, I am the Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at Turner Construction Company.

During my time of transition I often struggled with feelings of failure, loss and confusion.  But over time, I used the discipline, creativity, ability to focus and persevere against long odds that I learned as a dancer and applied it to learning a new skill set. I have now spent more time in the construction business than I spent dancing but I don’t believe I could be where I am today without the training and experience I got from dance.

Today I still try to take class most Saturdays with my wife and sometimes my 3 daughters. I think of it as “the triumph of will over ego” – which might be a good way of thinking about career transition – the odds are great, the work is hard, it’s sometimes embarrassing and confusing and you don’t know if you will succeed.  But change is inevitable and the rewards are worth it.  And if you can make it as a dancer you can do anything you set your mind to.  Remember – “Just keep smiling and keep moving.”

Issues of Race and Access, Dancing Around the Elephant in the Room

2006 CTFD Gala

I am young by many comparisons in the arts field (I’ve only done this for a bit over 15 years).  Yet, it surprises me that access still remains an issue for artists of color and therefore access to support services is also a challenge.  I have heard many institutions talk about the hiring practices of producers, directors, choreographers.  But the truth is, the field is full of dancers (or other artists) of color.

If I were to judge the dance world demographics by our roster of dancer-clients, I would think the dance world is filled with 90% women, 72. 88% Caucasian, 11.14% Black/African-American, 8.27% Latino/Hispanic, 4.6% Asian and 2.53% unidentified; thank goodness we know this is not the case!  With companies like Dance Theater of Harlem, Forces of Nature, Annapurna Indian Dance Company, Ballet Hispanico, Giwayen Mata, Sachiyo Ito and Company spanning or Complexions Contemporary Ballet performing great works; it is apparent the dance world is rich with dancers of every favor and stripe.

AJahi Nicole Adams

Being a former dancer of color and now a development professional, I realize it is not really an issue of casting (although that is true in some cases) it is an issue of cultural competency, authentic outreach and marketing.  The challenge now becomes knowledge and involvement.  This is not just a test or question for our organization but one for our union friends, artists’ service providers and other organizations in multicultural settings.  The advantage some institutions have is the resources to focus – be it time or human resources – on cultivating programs that truly address every member of their community.

To address this concern here at Career Transition For Dancers we consider ethnicity, technical training, trends and accessibility during our decision-making when creating programs. We are also reaching out to you, our members, to get involved.  Write a blog post that speaks of your experience and to the dance community you are most intimate with.  Volunteer as an ambassador in your city or town. Challenge us to create programs that address your needs (you can complete our annual program survey here) .  Volunteer to host a Career Conversation, host a party in support of CTFD, or visit one of our offices.  If you are interested in participating in any of the ideas above contact me here. Your involvement will not only address issues of diversity and accessibility but will help us create the programs dancers really need today.

Will all these things get us over the proverbial goal line? I am not sure.  But I know we will be very close.

Just my thoughts.  Let me know your thoughts, ideas and/or suggestions here or tweet with me with #Diversity @CTFD_AJNicole.

-AJahi Nicole Adams

What’s passion got to do with it?

By Laura Halm , Chicago Dancer-Client, Law School Student

I have spent the last 25 years of my life focused on a very singular goal, that of becoming a professional dancer.  Unaware of what it would ultimately require of me, I started dancing as a very young child. Even then, I was certain that if I dedicated all of my energies toward this dream, I would attain it; and, in truth, my path has managed to closely follow that plan.

Laura Helm performing Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Lickety Split”

I attended numerous dance schools of recognition and have had many opportunities that most aspiring dancers can only imagine. I attended The Juilliard School and have been a member of the Hubbard Street Dance organization in Chicago organization for over seven years. Nonetheless, a dancer’s career is short-lived by its very nature. The stresses of dance on the human body are great and eventually, it simply stops working as healthfully and efficiently as it once did. I found myself at that point last year. Refusing to believe that I had nothing more to offer the world, I looked both inward and outward to discover the next stage of my personal evolution.

I started reading various periodicals including National Geographic, Audubon, and the Atlantic in order to recalibrate my concept of the world at large. In reading numerous articles outlining current events, I became furious, disgusted by environmental destruction borne of ignorance, misguidance, and greed. Believing that I am capable of so much more than what I have achieved thus far, it is paramount that I continue to do something that allows me to make a difference in the world. I have already found (and wielded) the strength within myself to move audiences; it is now time to use that power towards a different end. Too realistic to believe that people will simply want to behave better of their own volition, I want to direct and influence others so that they may become better stewards of the planet.

I came to the conclusion, through much thorough deliberation, that above anything else, I want to study environmental law. Law school will give me the detailed and focused education that will arm me to take on my challenge of becoming a participant in policy creation and regulation.

I have survived a career in professional dance and despite my lack of practical experience in law, believe that I can apply that which is currently required of me towards this new endeavor. As a dancer, I already possess many important skills in a field where tradition and precedent is established, individual strength is respected, ability to think and react quickly is necessary, and intelligently directed creativity as a means of development is admired. I am, above anything else, disciplined.

I am honored that in August of this year, I will be joining the Class of 2014 at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. If my past successes are any indication of the future, I am going to be just fine.

The challenge of getting paid a decent amount

By Anthony Rue II, CTFD dancer-client

Dancing to me was about having fun.  Before I called any jobs, I started dancing with a couple of friends and we formed a group called AmountBoyz. Back then dance was not at the heights it is now.  We danced on the streets for money, joined talent shows, and performed at local block parties in the summer.  Once I started to work in the professional world of dance, I noticed a couple things that I wanted to change.  Dancers were not getting paid on time.

The challenge of getting paid a decent amount was also presented to me a number of times.  This is when I started to think outside the box.  Before agents and managers
were a big part of the NYC dance scene, you had to handle your own rates for jobs.

The companies or managers that hired dancers did not care about our rates.  You had to be a pest to get paid, so having an agent or manager helped a lot once they were set up in NYC.  Being a performer, we look at the business side of things.  With a different eye, different ideas filled my head.  I knew what dancers and performers wanted, needed, and loved to do, so I started to work on my own projects.

For example when I’m looking for a venue I’m not only thinking how many people can fit inside, I’m also thinking about the sound system at max volume.  Does the stage have a sprung wood floor?  It’s left to the performer to make the best of it.  When doing business I look to please the artist and the audience.  It excites me that I’ve been able to learn so much through my experiences of dancing with different artists on tours and that I can help the next generation coming in the door.  I can show them how to make choices for both business and artistic  development.  Dancers need to give both equal amounts of energy to have success.