Dance artists need to be creative not only during their practices but also when designing their lives. The financial realities of working in dance mean that artists often need to find other work to boost their income. Luckily, the skills that dance artists possess are transferable to other fields, sometimes in surprising ways.
Because of the ongoing uncertainty around the future of the sector, many artists are vigorously pursuing parallel careers. The Dance Current spoke with folks who are already working in other industries alongside dance and asked how their jobs come together to inspire them.
Performer, maker and humanist wedding officiant in Toronto
Molly Johnson enjoys people; she relishes the opportunity to understand and celebrate them as a humanist wedding officiant. She also cherishes connecting with folks from outside the arts and culture sector.
As an artist, Johnson found herself saying yes to projects she wasn’t interested in. Now with a second income stream, she can decline gigs. A parallel career she discovered in a “light bulb moment,” when a friend described their partner’s experiences as an officiant, is now a part of her life that lives close to her heart.
While there may not be dancing inherent in the role, Johnson says there’s a “certain amount of performing to it.” She employs tactics honed as an artist: deeply listening for the explicit and implicit desires of the client, just as she does when working with a choreographer. However, the feedback she receives after a ceremony provides refreshment from her experiences as a performer. As she says, it “doesn’t have the hang-ups that art does where people don’t know how to talk about it.”
Ballerina and owner of Ballerina Couture in Toronto
When Tina Pereira, first soloist at The National Ballet of Canada, needed surgery on her foot in 2014, she bought herself a sewing machine. She had always been fascinated by how ballet and fashion influence each other, but she wasn’t sure what to do with this interest. She had already started a fashion blog, but the surgery and subsequent time off pushed her to start designing and making her own dancewear.
“Everyone wants to feel beautiful in their dancewear,” Pereira says. Ballerina Couture was created to fill a void of “well-fitting, aesthetically pleasing dancewear.”
Pereira’s colleagues at the ballet have become a key part of the research and development stage of her process; they test every leotard and provide valuable feedback. Because of their input, each leotard is named after a friend who was involved in this phase.
AMANDA HELEN COLLINGE
Interdisciplinary dancer and a senior manager at a financial brokerage in Vancouver
When faced with a problem, Amanda Helen Collinge thrives. Competitive and disciplined, she gets excited when discussing innovation and strategy. As a senior manager at Raymond James, Collinge has to think outside the box to find solutions every day. She attributes these skills to her dance training: the “creativity of dance and getting my mind thinking in different ways has helped [in a career] focused on excellence and innovation.”
Collinge’s years in the finance sector have also propelled her into a leadership role in the arts; she’s on the board of directors for the Canadian Alliance of Dance Artists/West. With her expertise, she has aided the organization by looking for more funding sources and investing money that would otherwise be sitting around. Because dance is no longer her only source of income, Collinge has been able to contribute her skills as a dancer and choreographer to various charity galas, raising money for mental health initiatives.
Having both finance and dance as pillars in her life has provided a sense of balance. As she says, you can “have a bad day [in finance], then dance makes it fantastic.”
Dancer, choreographer and life coach in Vancouver
Jobina Bardai used to get injured often. While this didn’t hold her back, it wasn’t until she worked with a therapist through the Dancer Transition Resource Centre that she discovered the reason for these frequent injuries: her relationship with herself was unbalanced.
This awakening showed her she wanted to help others whose minds and bodies were disconnected and out of alignment. So, through training at the Center for Creative Consciousness in Berlin, she became a life coach, which she describes as empowering. Bardai leads both individual and group sessions, and particularly in her embodiment workshops, she finds her experience as a dancer instrumental. She feels that the empathy and intuition honed as a performer have helped her connect with others while coaching.
Working as a life coach also provides flexibility; she can see clients from anywhere in the world. Bardai has been conducting virtual sessions since before Zoom was a buzzword.
Perhaps most poignantly, a personal transformation has taken place. With her training, she says she was able to become “more at ease” with herself, allowing her to align her body and mind, making injuries a thing of the past.
Dance/theatre artist and research co-ordinator in Montreal
Alida Esmail has an active brain. By pursuing a career as a dance/theatre artist and working full-time as a partnerships and knowledge mobilization co-ordinator at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Rehabilitation of Greater Montreal, she employs her many strengths, which provides more gratification than one career alone.
While the world of academia may seem opposite to the creative process of dance, Esmail draws distinct parallels that have allowed her to flourish. She notes both jobs centre around “dreaming of new ideas.” Grant writing, a skill Esmail sharpened as an academic, is also instrumental in both and has helped her artistic work. Recently, she earned a grant to develop a 25-minute piece based on her perspective as a second-generation immigrant Muslim and the perspectives of folks in the hard of hearing and Deaf communities.
For Esmail, finding a parallel career was born out of necessity. She felt she didn’t have the necessary tools to be a full-time artist after graduating with a BFA. She now believes that her research career has become more meaningful than just a job.
Emily Pettet is an artist, writer and The Dance Current’s marketing co-ordinator.