Being a freelance artist.

Why such a subject?? Because lately
many people asked me why I chose not to be part of any other company
than the Finnish National Ballet, and my decision was welcomed by
rather various statements, from family and friends. Therefore, here
are a few aspects of being a freelance dance artist.

To
start with, before I took the leap, I had been working for many years
on small projects, including dance and photography, yet I did not
realize what it took until I jumped in the wild of freelancing by
investing all my time into it.
As it
seems to happen, I also worked quite a while with small and big dance
companies, and I honestly must admit that I would never have imagined
that it would be more difficult than being a dance company member.
Actually,
we often talk about the difficulties of being part of a dance company
from within : the competition, the lack of social life, the
financial struggle, the amount of work… Well, here are a few points
that will help you understand the difference between being a
« professional » dancer and a freelance dance artist.

What
does it take to be freelance ?

It
actually takes much more than it seems to be freelance.
First
and foremost, once you are at it, you are directly exposed with the
cost of every single services
which are free if you are part of a
dance company. For example : morning classes, whether it is
ballet, pilates, contemporary… Well guess what ? There is no
one wiling to make you train for free, because most probably these
coaches and teachers are also freelancers, and also have bills to
pay.
But it
doesn’t stop here. As stupid as it will sound, professional dancers
often take for granted the smallest things in their daily work :
where you train, where you rehearse (renting a space also costs),
buying training clothes (or buying ballet shoes), purchasing a
costume and taking care of it… So it does take a lot of effort in
order to financially manage that situation.

On top
of that comes time management. Yes, silly indeed, but you do have to
make up your own schedules, including every bits of training,
changing locations, rehearsing and so on. I will not even talk about
the amount of time you spend writing emails or funding applications,
or even making phone calls. To all the producers I ever worked in the
past : I love you and I admire all you ever did for me from the
bottom of my heart.
Talking
about time management… Space management is also another point, and
unless you live in those cities where you can always find work
(Paris, London, Berlin, New-York…), being a european freelancer
will require from you to travel, A LOT. One might have a homebase
somewhere, but one will have to move a lot. So be mentally and
physically ready, because that means you will go to places where you
can’t even train properly, or perform in spaces that do not fit your
usual conditions, but hey, positive thinking is the way out, and
always remember that you do what you love.

At
last, being a freelancer requires a lot of versatility: to be
at the best of what you want to offer or do you have to get involved
with what makes you better. I myself work with ballet and modern
dance, they are in my opinion, the best combinations. It does not
make me the best at neither, but it does allow me to land much more
projects than others can.

How
much time do you spend working ?

As you
might have already understood, it requires a lot more than just
showing up where you are required to be. Actually, your producer or
your director has planned that out for you a while ago already.

So the
working shifts can be quite exhausting, going from place to place,
trying to make each minute productive and meaningful. And as I
already said, every service you buy, becomes a service in which you
have to be the best of yourself. Why ? Because you can not let
yourself down after making it to this point, and rely on the work you
have done so far.
Becoming
a workaholic is often what happens for many independent artists. But
not only to be stable on a financial level. It is actually due to the
liberty that such a status gives you : you have to be focussed
to aim in the right directions, plan your projects in the best way,
and whenever it happens, make the best out of your collaborations.

Being a
freelance dance artist does not happen by just showing up. There are
no repetitors, ballet masters or coaches to tell you exactly what to
do. Therefore every single bit of time spent in front of a mirror, or
on a dance mat by yourself, is a research and a moment for you to
become better : nobody will do the work for you, or teach you
through how to do it.

Finally, for some of us, being a freelance means working a second/third/fourth job… And on top of all the physical work might come working shifts in order to simply pay your bills. With that comes also working on partnerships and toher artistic projects. You might also have “to work” for free, just so that people get to know you. Be ready to face the challenges of not getting paid, or getting the recognition you deserve, but never agree to anything if you feel that your capicities are being looked down at.

Photography by RaKai Photography.

What
makes me strive to keep on going ?

There
is beauty in every single moment of freelancing. Being your own boss
condemns me as much as it frees me. I am a perfectionist, and I’m not
ashamed of it, yet it does come in the way of my work sometimes.

You
want to keep pushing to make the best out of your work, and apart
from knowing that you might not make it at the end of the month, it
is also for you to become the best of what you have to offer as an
artist and a person.

People
often talk about the discipline you acquire by being part of a corps
de ballet/dance group member (which I never had), yet going freelance
gave me a whole new lot of responsibilities and helped me mature.
Do not
listen to those who forget about those artists who make it and only
work by themselves, often say it just happened because they were
talented or so. No, hard work is also the key to make it. I do not go
to bed before I know I have completed my daily tasks list and have
done every thing I could to make my road a little bit longer.

Being a freelance artist teaches me gratitude, and it also teaches diplomacy. We live in a world where all of that if being forgotten, and just for that reason, it makes me strive to keep on going further.

The
pros and cons ?

One
would like to think before taking such a path. I must admit that I
chose to jump in this emptiness a bit hastily and was not really
prepared for it, just like many artists I meet. But never become a
freelance dance artist by default
, whether you decide to be a
performer, a teacher, a coach… It will just lead you to being
unhappy and frustrated. The world out there is full of beautiful
opportunities
, do not waste your time with something that clearly
doesn’t stick to your skin.

If you
want it, plan it. Write down all the financial aspects that come to
your mind, study the cost of being out there, and the possibility of
getting any income according to a time frame you have set for
yourself.
Get
educated and open your mind. This is the only way you will survive.
It means that you might want to study a bit on producing, marketing
financing, designing (lights, costumes, sounds…).
Have a
plan B
to pay your bills, whether it is waitering, or petsitting, there
are no little jobs, and the most important is for you to feel calm
and relaxed so that you can work in a healthy environment, at the
best of your capacities.

Let’s
face it, it is and it will be hard, especially financially. But being
a freelance artist is so gratifying and humbling.

Photography by Marko Rantanen.

The
clicheys ?

Nowadays
there is this myth about being an artist in general. I often read in
social media or magazines that artists are the low ranks of those who
didn’t make it at school. Freelance dance artists are the ones we
like to put even lower, just so that we can establish a hierarchy
among the art circles, and within the dance spheres. Directly linked
to that, these artists are perceived as lazy, or marginals :
they did not invest there time at studying something that would
eventually pay, therefore they are lazy (and a bit outcast).

Guess
what?!
It took me as much time and effort, if not more, to
become a professional dancer/choreographer than it might take you to
become a doctor.

Well, I
speak for myself, but I know that most of my peers can relate… I
was a grade A student, and graduated with better scores than those
who went on with their academic studies. Few people know, but I
actually also studied philosophy and I am now studying other fields.
Yet, I do not do something else only because I can’t. I remain a
dance artist because it makes me happy to give all my time to me and
myself only, as well as those who cherish what I have to offer, on
top of those smiles and sparkly eyes I can awake when my work is
performed.

One
clichey is also that freelance artists are weak and technically
limited. Well, I assure you that I met so much more talented people
in the freelance circles than in dance companies. Dance companies
often limit themselves to meeting standards
, such as beautiful lines,
heights, weights… Yet entering the freelance sphere is overwhelming
once you witness all what others have to offer, and compare it with
your ex-company-dancer fresh tool box.

That is
another struggle once you are out there : staying relevant and
competitive. Because you do want your work to sell, and even if I
never compared myself to other with hostility, one does have to have
very wide eyes open in order to cling onto artistic projects and
remain on top of what you can do. So that’s one of the other
stereotypes: freelance artists just go with the flow : NO,
they go at it teeth and claws out because they want it more than
anyone else.

Will
I do that all my life ?

Probably
not. Like I already said to those who asked me. But it doesn’t mean
that I will quit just because it is hard. It is because it’s hard
that I keep on going. Yet my road might change at some point because
alike many other freelance artists, I have other interests, in
different fields than the one I work. For example I love social
sciences, I love psychology, I love nature… So, the spectrum of
possibility is huge and maybe I’ll choose to redirect at some point,
which we all have to do as dancers anyway (at some point), and I
encourage all my readers to do the same : open your mind and
your heart to new experiences and further horizons.

I hope
you liked that blog. I want to hear what you thought about it, how it
made you feel, and get back to me here :
info@thibaultmonnier.com
.

Soon I
will talk about conceptual dance. So stay tuned for more, because it
is just dance, and we just love it.