January is my “belly-versary” month so I always get a bit nostalgic around this time. Maybe it’s the introvert in me (which, for some reason, very few people believe about me unless they know me really well), but I am very content to sit with my thoughts and assimilate all that happened this past year pertaining to dance. I noticed a theme swirling around in my brain on this cozy snow day about my year and my gig habits. That old awkward dance between art and commerce rears its head when we rely on our dance jobs. Here are my thoughts:
1. The problem with gigs
This seems obvious but, in truth, it creeps up on us when we’re too busy to notice. It’s like feeling so relaxed on a train ride that you fall asleep and then wake up in a place you hadn’t intended to be. You can get back on track, but it takes a little bit of effort. Gigs are fun. They are exciting. They pay money…cash in most cases. They can have elements of glamor and allow us the chance to share what we train so hard to learn. But sometimes, they take control of our dance lives and there is not so much art in gig collection. They lead to unfair comparisons and envy when reading about the 20 gigs one dancer has in a week-end while I may have 4. Somewhere, another dancer has zero and wonders what she’s doing wrong.
Secondly, gigs deal with being an entertainer as opposed to an artist. Some of my favorite performances to watch are not ones that cause me to smile and clap. They move me and take me somewhere to a dream state that I can’t describe. Only getting to access the happy joyful state of entertaining birthday guests and celebrations is incredibly fun but over time (several years), it can lack the depth that true art produces. I love making people happy but there is something equally magical about moving an audience to tears ; NOT at a birthday party or at a Saturday night restaurant of course!
And lastly, they often follow a formula which allows little room for deviation. Every now and then I “rebel” and skip a drum solo one night or don’t use a balance prop just to keep it fresh and give me a chance to miss something. But, typically, we know what is expected at our performances and it’s an opener, a balance prop, a drum solo and pop songs. Thankfully, we love this dance so much that it is always fun to share it with a good audience and I love seeing their faces light up when they watch what we do.
In 2013 I was jarred out of the lull from my regular work due to restaurants closing or cutting costs to try and remain open. Suddenly without that guarantee of work, I noticed how comfortable I had become. How many dancers had popped up hungry for opportunity and utilizing more props that were taller, shinier and had more fire…yikes! I took advantage of more free time to take on creative projects, join a dance company, take every workshop/class I could attend (more than usual). It was expensive, humbling and exhausting but I have never felt more inspired or had more to share with my students. I am performing a bit less, but I’m enjoying every show so much more. To my pleasant surprise, I am getting nicer jobs and dancing better than I did when I was “gigging” like a crazy thing.
2. A big ol’ slice of humble pie
As I flexed my artistry, I noticed my artistry muscles were on the weak side. How can you strengthen them without regular opportunities to explore them? You can’t take those muscles to the gym. I was so used to relying on interaction from an audience/crowd that I disappointed myself as a soloist on stage. Nah, it wasn’t horrible. It wasn’t my best by a long shot. I had to take a good look at my weaknesses that would never have been revealed in “gig land.” I’ve written several posts about the differences between staged shows for dancer-filled audiences vs. restaurants and parties so…nothing new there, but, magnify those differences times 100 when you’re a soloist and not just trying to fill a choreographer’s vision. Humbling.
3. As a recovering gig-chaser, I can say that in certain periods of 2013 my main drive was financial. I was truly relying on money from my dance jobs to pay my bills. Creativity can start to feel like some sort of optional luxury when you’re counting tips. I cultivated other income streams to take some of the pressure off so I could enjoy the love more. What a difference!
A little distance from everything gave me some good perspective and I’m still looking for that perfect balance (aren’t we all). In the end, I’m more in love with this dance than I ever have been. After a lengthy night of dancing on New Year’s Eve, I was drenched in sweat catching my breath after my final show when a woman came up to me and paid me the best compliment of my dance life. It was as if she heard every rant, every internal thought I had about dance and hand-crafted the most perfect thing to say. I felt so validated and grateful. Bring on 2014 and fill it with equal parts performing and learning.
Tava is a professional bellydancer in NYC and CT. She teaches regular classes and is also available for Skype lessons and workshops.
Tava’s 2013 highlight reel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vq0YRvTv4zM