A Love of Labor

June 4, 2015

People love to romanticize dance. To be fair, there are very few careers that can be viewed romantically at all. Dancers especially get a wonderful reputation for being die hard givers to an art form without expecting anything in return. We put long hours in the studio every day. Injuries plague us almost as a requirement. Combine that with a below average yearly income and high levels of stress it is no wonder why people view what we do as a work of love. Dancers in today’s industry know that it is anything but simple passion that gets us through the day. Walk into any Kinkos or print shop and you will see dancers by the bunches printing out headshots and resumes. On Facebook, Twitter and Vine it seems like you have to fight not to see a great video of one of your peer’s dance reels. Meanwhile, stunning clips of pirouette and lifts flood Instagram. We are in an age where the visibility of dance is everywhere.

The truth is though that for the working dancer these gifts to the world wide web are not optional. They are part of a necessary part of the business that the casual observer might take for granted. The fact is that dancers today are not just romantics. We are individual business and networking machines as well. In order to even be considered for a company position many directors ask for head shots, dance photos, and a video reel of work that matches or is similar to the existing company repertoire. This means that dancers have to find ways to accumulate high quality images and footage of themselves from season to season. This is not always as easy as it seems. Oftentimes industry professionals like dance videographers and photographers have several projects they shoot in the same season. So video production and image editing can take months and sometimes over a year. Other times, companies either do not want to give away videos that they could sell to the public, or they do not have enough money to hire a videographer. It oftentimes becomes the dancer’s responsibility to find ways to get footage of themselves to market with later. When you compound that with the fact that many studios prohibit casual photography for legal reasons, the cost of putting together a simple audition package including a quick fifty second audition video can be far beyond the average person’s means.

Dancers, of course, are not average people and we usually find ways to get what we need one way or another. Usually the work pays itself off with a company or agency contract. The labor only increases with a paying gig though. It is from within a company that the dancer’s efforts are expected to increase. Most dance companies function as not-for-profit organizations. This means that they receive funding primarily from donations and grants and generally do not have very much to hire a large executive and administrative staff. This is where the company dancers go to work yet again. Many company dancers are expected to assist with academy classes and rehearsals. Those dancers with clerical or administrative experience also can be called upon to help out in an executive capacity. The more technically inclined may end up helping lay down marley for shows and figuring out light cues in a tech rehearsal. Dancing is very oftentimes only part of the job.

With the boom of social media, we see more and more professional dancers being asked to bring exposure to their respective companies. Dancers with larger companies very easily see the followers climbing up in the hundreds and thousands while smaller companies help their dancers gain an audience and build their own. I was asked by my director to begin taking over the company’s social media applications (Youtube, Facebook, Instagram) to help create content and develop an online following for the organization. For me I saw it as an opportunity to help myself as well as the organization I work for. I decided to develop a fundraiser to help bring some additional financial support and help to create an online base for prospective audience members. The process has been extremely informative. For one, I gave myself an excuse to buy a camera and a tripod which I think every single dancer should invest in. By having your own recording equipment you make it that much easier to put together your own dance reels and photo shoots. It does not have to cost an arm and a leg either. A simple high quality camera set up should not cost you more than the cost of a professional photo shoot.

The other awesome part of working with a web-based fundraiser is learning how to edit HD videos for youtube. Again, this skill can easily help dancers avoid the cost of hiring pricey video editors and waiting around months for a disc that you now need to get copied. You also get to control how you look on camera. You can find that right angle for your arabesque, or the perfect pirouette clip. iMovie costs $20 and allows you all the bells and whistles you need to slow down that amazing grand jete you recorded on your phone. By using Youtube, you create a professional and simple interface where people can see your work. It is also just a lot of fun to get dolled up and shoot in a ballet studio. The other part of crowdfunding that has been fun is seeing the response. Watching your likes and views grow each day is like chain smoking—each additional one is no less pleasurable but you wonder sometimes if you are being self indulgent. In any event, the very first video I shot is our campaign video and is linked down below.


Robert Graham

—Dancer, Writer


A Love of Labor