by Olivia Wood for The Dance Journal | photo credit Mike Hurwitz
I’ve never liked the term, “starving artist.” It implies failure, a lack of purpose, and disconnection. To me, calling someone who is pursuing a career as a performer a “starving artist,” is belittling to the artist and diminishes the value of the work. While it is true that the arts are not the most lucrative of pursuits, their value transcends words. During times of crisis, we seek the comfort of literature, painting, film, and of course, dance.
As a freelance professional dancer, I’m no stranger to long hours and commutes, constant auditions, teaching at various hours at different studios across the state, and doing several performances a year. I’m also accustomed to scrimping and saving. Like every other professional dancer in the field, I suffered pay cuts and canceled shows. For the first couple of weeks, I worried every hour of every day about the future of my career. Once the initial panic subsided, however, I began to adjust and to notice the silver linings. I realized with immense gratitude that I am one of the lucky ones. I am anything but starving.
My loved ones and I continue, thankfully, in good health. For the first time in months, I can sleep until I wake up naturally. As my boyfriend is working from home, we share meals and hobbies together. Every day, weather permitting, we take a nature walk through the leafy trails near our apartment. The air smells fresh and I’ve soaked up more sunshine during the past two months of quarantine than the winter and last autumn combined. As I’m no longer traveling to work, I have more time to read my ever-expanding list of books. I’ve even taken up watercolors. The extra time also allows me to keep in more regular contact with my friends and family. I look forward to our weekly Zoom sessions. Ironically, during this time of social distancing, I have enjoyed the company of those whom I normally wouldn’t see for months on end.
Social media has also helped me to develop professionally. With reduced hours, I teach my students through Zoom. Although it is not the ideal platform, I am learning how to convey my ideas more clearly and am learning how to structure effective lesson plans for small spaces. These are just some of the new skills I am learning through trial and error, and through the classes, I can now take from choreographers I wouldn’t ordinarily get the chance to meet. Every week, I sign into ballet with Glen Edgerton of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Foco technique with Yin Yue, Countertechnique with Rosanna Tavarez, Taylor technique, and contemporary with Larry Keigwin. In addition, I am also taking Gyrokenisis, various conditioning classes, and Graham technique. With these classes and extra time, I hone my craft. The limitations of my living room studio have forced me to focus on different things. My balance has improved (thanks to practicing relevés on a plush carpet) as has my spatial awareness. Mentally, physically, and emotionally I am getting stronger and more flexible.
While I do yearn to perform, to take a class in a spacious studio with proper flooring, and to see my students and friends in person, the quarantine has made me more aware of my blessings. I don’t have to strain my vision to see the opportunities awaiting me in quarantine. And though my wallet may not be bursting with cash, I do not consider myself a “starving artist.” I am abundant, and I am grateful.