I work as a freelance dancer, teacher and choreographer in New York City. Happily, I’m fairly busy these days, but the fact that I work in three different areas of my chosen field means marketing myself in three different ways, juggling three sets of schedules, and sharpening three skill sets that, though connected, are inherently different from one another. By doing so, I’ve learned the value of efficiency when it comes to time-management. As the saying goes, “time is money.” With today’s job market in the dumps, I suppose this rings true to a degree. Freelance workers, however, fall into a completely different category with a unique set of challenges all their own. Most, myself included, have taken a leap of faith into the unknown to follow an insatiable passion or lifelong dream. It is an extremely rewarding, yet often volatile place to be. Consequently, the concept of time takes on an entirely different meaning. For us, time is not only connected to our livelihood, but also to our dreams and our schemes. Here are a few pointers that have helped me tackle the exciting and crazy life of a freelance worker in New York City.
Prioritize your gigs. After spending a year taking on every single odd job that came along, I realized that attempting to be the Joan Rivers of the dance world would quickly lead to burnout. When considering taking on gigs, prioritize which will ultimately be the most beneficial, long-term. Factors such as the size of the project, who else is involved, and how the job can feed you artistically should all be considered. To an extent, money should also be considered; after all, we gotta pay the rent. However, those of us in the freelance world need to be stimulated artistically in order to grow, and I’ve found that the jobs that pay the most are not necessarily the ones that will lead to personal and artistic growth within your field. I always prioritize a chance to perform over any other gig. Performing years for dancers cover a very short span of our lives, and I want to make the most of those years while I can, even if it pays less or means that I have to turn down another gig. The jobs that stimulate you the most will ultimately have the best pay-off, no matter the size of the paycheck.
Watch the Food Network. OK, not really. But DO remember to take some time for yourself every now and again. Freelance workers are driven – perhaps too driven. It is easy to sequester yourself in the “bubble” of work and completely forget about the outside world. Though it feels like you are being more productive by spending more minutes of the day working on a project, in all actuality, productivity quickly comes to a halt when your brain turns to mush. The finished product won’t be what you or your client wants, and you will ultimately spend more of your precious time reworking the flubs you made. All-nighters are best left in your college years. If you find yourself reading the same line of a paragraph more than three times, it’s time to put away the work for a bit, turn on Barefoot Contessa, and pretend you are one of Ina Garten’s dinner guests in East Hampton. At least, that’s what I do.
Define Your Personal Worth. In high school, I won the yearbook superlative of “most gullible”… two years in a row. My personality is such that I naturally take things for face value, and then realize my folly in retrospect. Though, at the time, I was resentful of the fact I was the Rose Nylund of my graduating class, this trait of mine has, after some painful life-lessons, taught me the importance of assessing my personal worth when considering the jobs that I do. This form of worth has little to do with dollars and cents and all to do with confidence and sense. It is a direct reflection of your assurance in relation to both your chosen field and your life, in general. It is important to know (or have an idea of) who you are, where you came from, and what you want. Once this is defined, stick to your guns. This will ensure that you attract the gigs that are the most fulfilling and worth your time. Working in the freelance field provides unique opportunities that are stimulating and inspiring. However, there are times when a job comes along that can compromise your personal worth. When this happens, remember these two pointers: it is ok to negotiate, and it is ok to say politely, “no, thank-you.” This is a lesson I wish I had learned earlier in my career.
I’m a lucky fellow. My “work” doesn’t feel like work. Every morning when I leave the apartment, I know that my day will be anything but routine. I have the privilege to dance, teach, choreograph, or otherwise collaborate with some of the most inspiring artists in New York and the world. Managing my time wisely allows me to cover a larger scope of work within the field that I love so much. “Time is money?” Perhaps, but for passion-driven freelance artists, time is best viewed as opportunity.
Post authored by Matthew Powell
Matthew was almost the champion of his seventh grade spelling bee, but threw the competition in order to get home in time to watch the “Charlie Brown Christmas Special.” He now works as a freelance dancer, teacher, choreographer, and, on occasion, writer. Recent projects include assistant directing “The Magic Flute” for Michigan Opera Theatre, choreographing a new ad campaign for Bloch Dance Wear, and his ongoing classes at Broadway Dance Center and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet.