What exactly does “Freelancer” mean?

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What exactly does “Freelancer” mean?

A couple of years ago when I decided to fill in my job on Facebook and Linkedin, I decided to refer to everything I do as “freelance,” and hence labeled myself a Freelance Flamenco Dancer.  At the time, I had been working part time as a freelance flamenco dancer, and in all honesty, I didn’t know much about what that entailed.  As college was coming to a close and the never ending question of what my plans post-graduation were, I always answered, I’m going to dance flamenco.  And the response was more often than not, “I didn’t realize you could make a living doing that.”  Well, so far so good; I am making a living as a freelance flamenco dancer…so what does that mean I actually do?

A free-lance; this is what I do, more or less 😛  The term freelance comes
from Sir Walter Scott who used the term to describe a Medieval mercenary
whose lance is not tied to any particular lord.   

I basically work for anyone who will hire me as a flamenco dancer.  I do a lot of work with Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana, a NYC-based flamenco company.  I toured with Flamenco Vivo this past fall, and will be on tour again in March.  I also do shows with the company in NYC and do some work as an assistant teaching artist in their residency programs in the NYC schools.  I do a little bit of administrative work in their office along with work study hours in exchange for rehearsal space.  I also do gigs in NYC with various groups of musicians and dancers.  Many Spanish restaurants here hire flamenco groups as entertainment and it’s a great way to have a “tablao” experience here in the city.  I also teach flamenco classes (currently I am teaching a workshop focusing on the technique of the shawl) and private lessons.  And if someone offers me a babysitting or tutoring gig here and there–I’ll take it; any bit of extra cash for dance classes or groceries is a good thing!

Dancing at a gig in NYC. 

That still doesn’t tell you much about what a typical day as a freelancer is like.  Well, every day is different. That’s both the best and worst part of being a freelancer.  It’s great in that I have a lot of interesting projects going on, I have a flexible schedule, and I definitely NEVER get bored.  It’s not so great in that sometimes I don’t know if I will have work, many gigs are scheduled last minute, and I feel like I spend half of my time trying to get work or wondering what will come next.  It’s hard for every day to change, because having a regular schedule is an essential part of the creative habit.  (If you haven’t read Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit, I highly recommend it–here it is on Amazon.)

So here’s an example of a typical day:
I like to wake up around 8am or so.  I could get up much later, but I like to get the day started early.  I begin with a cup of tea and then some pilates exercises.  I’ve learned over the years if I don’t do these first thing in the morning, I won’t do them.  And I’ve also learned, they’re essential to staying in shape and healthy as a dancer.

After that, my morning could be filled with any of the following:
-heading to a school to teach a residency
-going to the gym
-rehearsing in the studio
-catching up on email correspondence
I prefer to rehearse in the late morning/early afternoon.  That’s when I get the most work done; knowing what time you work best at different tasks is key to success.  And being flexible when you can’t work at those times is even more important.  A freelance dancer has to be flexible in more ways than one!

My afternoons can be filled with any of the following:
-work in the Flamenco Vivo office
-personal office work, i.e. emails, researching performance opportunities, applying for various performances or grants, updating my website, or my blog 😉
-studying flamenco history and music

And my evenings are usually filled with one or more of the following:
-taking class
-giving class
-seeing a live performance

What I’ve learned the past several months is that navigating the freelance world can get a bit crazy. Time management alone is a challenge on a day to day schedule and on the larger scale of organizing shows. Generally, flamenco dance companies understand that flamenco dancers work as freelancers.  If you’ve already signed a contract to do a show on a date, a company has to understand if you cannot do their show on that same date.  Finding time to rest during a busy time is also hard because you never want to say no to work.  And sometimes there are periods of very little work, which can be scary. That can be a good time to take classes and improve, so when there is work you’re ready to blow away an audience.  I’ve learned that word of mouth is one of the most powerful aspects of freelancing–and it can make or break your ability to find work.

And life as a freelance dancer in NYC means you are all over the place.  Literally.  All over the city.  In turn, that means you’d better have an idea of where you’re going very clear. (My planner is my best friend!)  And it’s not just knowing that you have to be on D train by 4:45 so you can get to the class you teach in midtown on time, but the broader sense of your goals in life as a dancer.  I am a “for hire” flamenco dancer, but that does not mean I don’t also have my own artistic ideas and goals that I am working towards.  Right now, I want to get as much experience as possible, learning as much as I can from many different people.  Yet I have my own ideas for shows and where I want my dancing to go. And I don’t want to lose track of that in all this running around the city from gig to gig.

Barry Kerollis from the blog “Life of a Freelance Dancer”

There’s a lot more to being a freelance flamenco dancer–like taxes, staying healthy, networking, life on the road, etc. etc.  I’m sure this won’t be the last time I post about freelancing.  And I recently discovered the following blog about freelancing as a dancer with a lot more details and personal experiences.  Check it out! http://lifeofafreelancedancer.blogspot.com/


About the Author:

Alice Blumenfeld is a flamenco dancer, choreographer, writer, and educator. She holds a MFA in dance from Hollins University and currently directs Abrepaso Flamenco.

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