The Professional Class-taker; or, How to Get out of That Rut
I want to get a conversation going about class. As a project-based choreographer and dancer, I take class often—especially lately, since I’m trying to meet more people out West—but there is definitely a balancing act about the whole thing. As dancers, taking class is our daily bread. And if you’re in New York (or, I’m learning, L.A.), then classes for professional dancers are a dime-a-dozen, availability-wise–but more like $150/10, expense-wise. That expense can be a burden on the one hand, and the potential for community-building and opportunity to dance are a boon on the other. If you are between projects and looking for your next gig, class can be just the place to find something. Still, for the “project-to-project,” “freelance,” “recently relocated,” “auditioning,” or “taking class…” artist, the class routine can, and does, become tedious.
Obviously, the routine of showing up–in rain, shine, or knee-deep snow–is invariably worth it for many dancers. Advanced and pro-level classes are packed, studios continue to exist, if not thrive, and teachers with strong followings make livings. I was brought up in the school of “If you can’t make it to class, then dance is not for you,” and for the student I agree with this advice. But, can attending class every day become a professional dancer’s Achilles’ heel? I went to college for dance and graduated into a world where the ratio of dancers to hiring companies was laughable; not much has changed since then. There’s something to be said for persistence, but as a means to its own end, rather than with a works- or performance-based focus, class can turn into a disabling comfort-zone, even a rut. Consider the title phrase “Professional Class-Taker.” Are we diehard class-goers just dancers who have learned how to be students?
Enter the DIY experience.
Dance is a pursuit of passion, making us a group of overwhelmingly determined, conscientious, resourceful, driven people. We can and do get more done than just get to class. Most of my friends consider themselves not only dancers but also choreographers, producers, filmmakers, musicians, visual artists, costume designers, lighting designers, production designers, ad infinitum. In New York, I self-produced work; in L.A., I’ve been introduced to a dance world described as “build-your-own-adventure.” I’m interpreting this as: dancers and dancemakers are coming together to get projects off the ground in a grassroots kind of way. Which brings us back to class. How do you use class to start a collaborative relationship? Or, does class, tight-lipped as it can be, prevent you from engaging in such project-oriented exchanges? Lastly, where have you taken an open class that strongly encouraged community? (Leave a response in the comments below.) In my opinion, focusing on community–in a word, networking–will lead to more productivity among dancers as we strive to create our own opportunities beyond the barre.
At the end of the day (or, perhaps more appropriately, at the beginning), class has its place. As with anything, a dance career is what you make of it; as a starting point, our foundation, the class habit is invaluable. In fact, I’m writing this now on my way home from a particularly revitalizing ballet class given by Reid Olson at Dance Arts Academy in L.A., where I’m beginning to feel a real sense of community and possibility. Today I was reminded that class is an open and relatively low-cost space where a dancer is free to explore, to be inspired, to take risks, and to say hello. The Playground in NYC is another space for contemporary dance exploration–i.e., class–that provides a strong sense of community at a low cost ($5). This Friday, I’m headed to Backhausdance’s donation-based open company class in Orange County, CA. From one class-taker to another, these are welcome, and apparently sustainable, initiatives.