There's More Than Waitressing

By Sperling, Jody | Dance Magazine, April 2001 | Go to article overview

There's More Than Waitressing


Sperling, Jody, Dance Magazine


DANCERS INTERPRET FOR DEAF, HAWK REAL ESTATE TO MAKE ENDS MEET

So, you're a dancer--what do you do for a living? This is a familiar question to me and many fellow dancers of all styles. The truth is that most dancers who are not in major companies don't make a living at their art. Last fall, the National Endowment for the Arts released a report, "More Than Once in a Blue Moon: Multiple Job Holdings by American Artists," that backs up this observation with a few numbers--one study has 84 percent of surveyed dancers working outside the field. So when we're not onstage, in class or in the studio, what do we do to pay the rent? A lot of different things--we're not all waitresses, yoga instructors, massage therapists or office temps.

A 30-year-old dancer-choreographer (and sometime writer) from New York City, I've been working for the past year and a half as a real estate agent at Fox Residential Group. I get a lot of double takes when people find this out. In a way, it's a perfect fit with my dance life. As an agent, I make my own hours and can take time off for rehearsals and out-of-town gigs. Real estate is also a moving-around job; no risk of desk-butt here. Scheduling appointments feels like choreography to me. My job is to organize people in time and place; that is, I have to make sure that they show up at the correct addresses at the appointed hours.

Another similar aspect of real estate and dance is that both rely on personal marketing. It's taken me a while to get comfortable with promoting two separate, coexisting identities of myself, as performer and broker. Many people know me in either one capacity or the other. Previously, I worked as a photo editor and videotaped dance performances. But real estate offers me a more viable and flexible way to make a living and to help support my dance habit. (A warning to real estate wannabes: The deal making can be an emotional roller-coaster ride. Don't try this unless you can stomach it through the dry spells.)

"I would go absolutely bonkers if I had a desk job," says Audrey Cooper, a 34-year-old dancer from Oakland, California, who works as a sign language interpreter. Her performance experience helps her assume the interpreter's first-person mode of communication; her challenge is to tune her senses to the speaker and to physically express spoken nuances in American Sign Language. Cooper works as a freelancer twenty to twenty-five hours a week. She gets paid, on average, $40 per hour plus travel expenses, but receives no benefits. Because California emphasizes support services for people with hearing disabilities, interpreters are in high demand. Cooper translates regularly at university classes, corporate meetings, conferences and hospitals. Although she has master's degrees in both dance therapy and social work, Cooper finds that interpreting provides a lifestyle more amenable to dancing than full-time employment in either profession. She has time to perform with local choreographers (including Maxine Moerman), practice Authentic Movement (an experiential, improvisational dance form) and develop her own dance works.

Signing is a physical labor. On the downside are the repetitive motion stress injuries--the strained index finger and the beginnings of carpal tunnel syndrome in her wrists. As yet, she has no disability insurance. Cooper can't even stop signing when she gets home: Her husband, a doctoral student in linguistics, is deaf and a fourth-generation signer. A couple of years ago, Cooper cast him in one of her pieces; he performed a short dialogue while others danced on stage. Cooper's own dancing has been informed by her experience with ASL. …

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