I’ve moved around a lot and boy has it taken a toll. It takes skill to land in a new city and hit the ground running, and considering I’ve lived in 6 states in 13 years, I’ve certainly had my fair share of stumbles. As my mother says, “You shouldn’t move to a new city unless you have a job waiting for you”, but we all know that life takes you where it wants, when it wants. I’ve moved because I had a job, because my husband had a job, because I’d hope I’d get a job, and because I just needed a change in a big way.
Whatever your reason for finding yourself in a new city, know that it’s hard and that you’ll be practically starting over in a career that is based on your known reputation. Now it’s time to pull up your big-girl/boy tights, put on your game-face, and be really, really patient all over again. Since it’s still considered gauche to have your resume printed on your leotard, here are some things I’ve learned along the way that will help you to hop into your new city’s dance scene as fast as possible:
1) Update Your Website and all social media contact points with your current location and employment status and clean up your privacy settings. No embarrassing party pictures, please. No artistic director wants to worry about hung-over dancers in Sunday morning rehearsals. I like to make sure I have a current posting pointing people to my next project right before I friend/link/follow anyone new.
- Your name, picture and contact information
- A short biography
- A page for media (make sure you have permissions squared away for these)
- A page for your full CV. This is all the teaching, choreographing, dancing and dance-related work you’ve done as a professional. If you don’t have professional work, list the professional choreographers you worked for in school.
2) Do Your Research so you know who you want to dance with and every company you might want to work with. You may not heard of your perfect company so Google “dance companies in –insert your city here-“, consult arts columns in local media sources, search on Facebook, and most importantly: get personal recommendations from anyone you’ve ever danced with for people they might know in your new city. Then make a target list of companies you’re interested in and:
- Sign up for every mailing list: of every company on your list as well as every presenter, theater, and studio you can find. Friend them all on Facebook, link with them all on LinkedIn, follow them on Twitter, etc. Mailing lists are also the way to find out about the myriad open showcases, works-in-progress showings, grants, and festivals you can apply to.
- Read all the director and dancer bios of every company on your list and find out where else they dance, teach, and where they went to school. You might meet an alum that will be able to help you out or recommend people for you to meet. Many of these people will have professional social media sites. Connect, connect, connect.
3) Networking cards. You must have these cards to hand out like candy. They can be fancy or home made, but don’t assume everyone will have time or want to become “friends” on Facebook or “link” with you on Linkedin. Have something easily accessible (I like to put 2 or 3 in my back pocket right after a show) and make sure it has:
- Your name
- Contact Information like your website, email and social media
- Degrees and/or certifications
- Your specialties ex) teaching, musical theatre, pointe, tap
- A recent picture (optional)
Since you are giving out info, have a pen/smartphone ready to take information as well. You’ll want to follow up the same day or the next. This is a great time to mention if you’ve already connected with them through their professional pages.
4) Take Class. This is where you’ll get most of your dancing jobs and keep your technique up for the next gig. Plus you need class. Need it. Anyhow, regional choreographers can rarely afford to take a chance on someone they haven’t already thoroughly vetted in class. Do they hire someone that hasn’t been in their class? Sure, but only for 2 reasons:
- They’ve seen them dance professionally enough to know their level of artistry
- The dancer was highly recommended by someone they respect and you can bet your buttons the dancer was in THAT person’s class or company.
Boom. Need that class, like you need Misty Copeland’s manager, because let’s be honest… girl is everywhere!
5) See Shows. This is the only way you’ll really know what companies are worth their salt or if they are actually doing something you are interested in or not. Online videos are edited to the hilt. In-person is still the way to go. This is also a great way to be seen by other dancers (since we all know that the audience is mainly other dancers or people connected to the dancers).
Can’t afford a ticket? Volunteer for the show. Many companies need volunteers to handle will call, be ushers, set up or tear down, etc. This is a great way to save your pennies and get into the show for free. The biggest benefit to you will be that the staff for the venue, company, or presenter becomes familiar with your face and your name. Every dancer knows that insiders work all the shows. You might as well be one of them.
6) Introduce Yourself to people and follow up. This is no time to be shy. Those “likes” and networking cards will do yourself no good if you don’t know what to do with them. If you’re like me (a spotlight hog who is painfully awkward in social situations), you’ll need some incentive and practice:
- Dancers: They know who is hiring and who isn’t, which classes are worth their hard-earned cash and which aren’t, who is terrifying to work for and who pays well. Best of all, they’ll help you to avoid all of the mistakes they made. Taking classes with them and setting up dates to see shows is the best way to see if you might like to dance with them or make dances with them in the future. Yes, I know other dancers can occasionally be… shall we say… chilly. It’s best to find out who’s friendly right away. Approach with a smile. Dancers can’t help but catch that smile. Must be our amazing mirror neurons?
- Teachers: As a teacher, I expect students to interact with me after class, so come on over but have your questions ready and brief because I have 4 more classes and a 5 hour rehearsal after this and I need my 10 minutes to cram lunch into my face. My go-to questions for teachers are:
- If I’m in love with their class: “Are you teaching anywhere else?” Show that you’re interested in what they have to offer. Also, you’ll find out about other places to dance and find great classes.
- If they have their own company: “Do you have company classes?”
- If I don’t know if they are making work, but I hope they are: “Are you making work or have something coming up that I should check out?”
- “Can you recommend more teachers I should take class from?” No one knows a good teacher like a teacher. They’ll steer you well.
- If I am looking for teaching gigs: “I have been teaching for __ years. Do you know a studio/school/college that is worth contacting?” I steer clear of saying, “hiring” because studios rarely hire, but are always looking for subs. The key is getting the names of studios that other professionals recommend. Happy teachers = happy students and happy owners.
Make sure you follow up with them in subsequent classes. Show that you’re a regular. Regulars are committed. Committed dancers get hired.
- Choreographers: Catch them after a show or in the hallway between rehearsals. Keep it short because they have to talk to many people or have to catch a quick break before the next few hours of rehearsal. Have those networking cards handy. My go-to questions are:
- “Do you have any company classes?”
- If they don’t have company classes, then ask if any current company members are teachers and where their classes are held. New company members come through recommendations!
- “Do you have any open rehearsals?”
- “I loved your show, and I have your next on my calendar. What other shows around town shouldn’t I miss?”
- If they are a peer, I ask “What are you working on next?” Then I explain what I do (15 second explanation) and ask “Would you consider a collaboration or recommend any showcases or festivals that I should submit work to?”
7) Email the people you won’t casually run into or who you didn’t get to connect with after the show. I do this for all studios, companies and universities that it would be appropriate for me to apply to if they had an opening. I mention:
- Who I am
- What I do
- Anyone who recommended me to them or relevant connections we might have in common
- An explanation of how I could be an asset to them or their organization
- A link to my website where they can find out more detailed information about me
- My contact information
This gets a response 60-70% of the time. Much better than the 0% response that no email would’ve garnered. Depending on how well I am acquainted the person, I will ask them to recommend other companies or schools that I should look into. This kind of advice is priceless. Thank them every time.
Here’s my deal: I’ve grown increasingly worn out every time I’ve had to start over. By the time I hit my 6th move, I thought, “I can’t do it again, I’m just too tired to start over”. It’s tough on the psyche, the ego, the pocket book, and it’s tough imagining that if you had just stayed a little longer you might’ve really taken off with this or that company. But, I’ve had great support from my family and friends. They’ve pulled me through every time.
Here’s how it happens: You are going to spend the first couple of months in high-speed mode with your class-going, show-volunteering, networking, and friend-making. Then you’re going to slow down and hit a plateau where you’ve met everyone you’re going to meet for a while, you’ve found your favorite classes and companies and you’re waiting… waiting… waiting…
When you hit the dreaded plateau stage, it’s time to text the bestie, call grammie, message your former company members and do whatever it takes to stay the course. Make them tell you to send out another round of emails and, for goodness sake, not to throw your dance bag in the river out of frustration. Blog/journal/snapchat/talk away those quitter feelings. You’ll get you through that dreaded plateau and on to the next phase of your new-city life.
9) Friend the other newbies. This will be your new crew, the new freshman class, the ones to keep you on the course. Now, some of them will drop off of the radar, but that’s okay, you won’t. These are the best people to explore the city, schools, and shows with because like you, they’ll be sitting alone too. You can express your horror at what passes for art in your new city without fear of offending a former company member (just don’t say it too loudly, you never know who’s sitting nearby) and share audition horror stories.
10) Never wait to create. In the past, this has been my worst mistake. I waited to make something because I thought I needed to get established first.
Don’t wait. Take your new newbie friends (or call in favors from your buddies from your last city) who are all willing to make something for free and make something for that free open showing that whatever studio is having next month. Do it and do it now. You’ll all chip in $5 for rehearsal space, you’ll make something together and then you’ll all rehearse solos in the shared space. Bonus, you’ll get feedback from your new friends.
This will get your name out there as quickly as possible and people will get to immediately see you dancing in your own style which is always the most flattering. It will also enable them to assess your level of expertise immediately and lead to more fitting recommendations of classes, companies, etc. The best thing I ever did was to friend 2 other newbies at an audition my first month in Washington D.C. A couple of months later, they asked me to join them in the collaborative Telephone Dance Project and we recently began touring our own show. It’s been the best career booster in my new city yet.
Good luck, and add your own suggestions and stories of how you’ve made it in a new city in the comments below!
Contributor Katie C. Sopoci Drake, MFA, GL-CMA, is a Washington D.C. based professional dancer, choreographer and teacher specializing in Laban-based contemporary dance. Holding an MFA in Dance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a Graduate Certification in Laban Movement Analysis from Columbia College – Chicago, and a BA in Theatre/Dance with a minor in Vocal Performance from Luther College, Sopoci Drake continues to take classes in as many techniques and practices as she can handle to inform her work and life as a curious mover.
Katie has been on faculty at The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Nova Southeastern University, Miami Dade College-Wolfson, Miami Dade College-Kendall, Carthage College, and Lawrence University. She currently guest teaches and gives masterclasses around the D.C. area and wherever her travels take her.
As a performer, Sopoci is described as a “sinuous, animal presence of great power; watching her dance is a visceral experience.” (Third Coast Digest). Company credits include Mordine and Company Dance Theater of Chicago, Momentum Dance Company of Miami, Wild Space Dance Company of Milwaukee, and Rosy Simas Danse of Minneapolis. Katie has also made appearances an an independent artist with many companies including Brazz Dance, Your Mother Dances, The Florentine Opera, and The Minnesota Opera.
Katie’s choreography, described as “a beautiful marriage between choreography, music and poetry” (On Milwaukee), arises from her fascination with the idiosyncrasies of daily life, and the flights of fancy that arise from ordinary inspirations. Her work has been performed by numerous companies, colleges and studios across the country and her latest collaboration, Telephone Dance Project, will take her to states up and down the East Coast while investigating long-distance creation and connecting far-flung dance communities.