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How to Get Gigs by Cera Byer

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Cera ByerCera Byer (director of Damage Control Dance Theater) wrote a note recently over on Facebook about what it takes to get gigs. With her permission, I re-post her pragmatic advice here for your enjoyment. (punctuation and grammar were copied as written)

“a lot of people have been asking me recently how i get dance jobs/how i get hired at festivals, so i thought i’d just make a public post about it.

here’s the answer: I ASK.

yep, that’s it, no magic. i just ask.

i have a browser window that’s always open that has the following tabs open at all times:
craigslist, danceplug audition board, theater bay area audition listings, and one empty one that cycles through google searches and dance magazines.

every single day, after i check my email, i look through each of these, and i apply to everything that looks interesting. EVERYTHING. even things i may not be able to do because of the date or how much it pays, just so people have my resume on file.

if there are no listings that look good, i will google dance festivals, theater companies, anything that i know pays dancers in my area, and i send in an unsolicited application – this means, even tho i dont see a listing saying they’re hiring, i write to them and tell them who i am and say i’d love it if they had my resume on file for future projects. some companies dont like this, but i’ve had people write back and say ‘OMG a choreographer just quit, can you come in today!?’

i applied to teach at tribal fest every year for 6 years before they hired me.
i applied to teach at kosmos camp every year for 3 years before they hired me.
i applied to teach at bellyfusions, and paid out of pocket to bring my company with me when they didn’t cover all our travel.
every year, even tho they didn’t hire me, i showed up as a participant, i said hi to all the organizers, i shook their hands, and i attended happily, knowing that one day, i’d teach there too.

i ask to be introduced to people if i find out that people i know are friends with people i’d like to know/should know. i walk up and introduce myself to the owners of theaters and the organizers of events, and then i exchange business cards, and then i write to them and follow up. i friend them on facebook, i tell them happy birthday. i stay connected.
i seek out choreographers that i admire and i ask them for critique on my work. i seek out directors and actors i admire and i ask them for critique on my work. 
after a while, people start to ask for you by name, because they know who you are.
i try to connect people if i hear that someone i know is looking for something that someone else i know could help them with, so that if they hear about a project i could be good for, they do the same for me.

the arts business (like all business) is about RELATIONSHIP BUILDING. the first time you meet a new contact may not be when you start working together, sometimes it takes years of saying ‘hi’ at events before the right project comes along – but trust me, if you keep connected, eventually the right project always comes along.

once you have a gig, be cool with EVERYONE. exchange cards with the tech guys, the venue owners, the bartenders, the dancers, the directors – treat everyone like your peer, because you really dont know who’s around. everyone you meet may be the person who hires you for your next job.
be friends with everybody. you dont have to be fake, but work to find a common thread (even as simple as ‘we’re all on the same gig’) with everyone you meet. be punctual, manage time well, deliver a strong product, take criticism well, follow through on commitments as best you can and own mistakes where you cant – like every other relationship you’ll ever have – and one job will easily turn into 20.

one of the most important things i ever learned is that you dont have to be the most talented candidate if you’re the best to work with. there are lots of talented people out there who aren’t cool to work with. if you’re both, it puts you way ahead of the game. if you’re talented and not cool to work with, you wont get repeat business and referrals, and in a small arts community, that’s what it’s all about.

if you’d like dance to be your job, treat it like a job. be professional, submit resumes, keep your pro-kit (resume, photos, cv, website, videos, etc) up to date and attractive, and put it into the hands of anyone and everyone who could help you get somewhere. 
most folks would never sit at home and wait for a job to fall into their laps without applying for anything, but people have told me they just figured eventually they’d be ‘invited’ to teach somewhere. DONT PUT YOUR FATE IN ANYONE ELSES HANDS! if you want it (fuck, if you want ANYTHING), just go ask. you may be surprised at the answer you get.

hope this is helpful =) 

Follow Shay:

Shay Moore is the director and primary instructor at Deep Roots Dance in Seattle, WA. She loves writing, movies, costuming, knitting, cooking, and bellydance to the moon and back again; and loves her amazing husband and doggies even more than that.

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