A look into the not-so-conventional lives of San Francisco's freelance dancers
Perhaps the most obvious way for a dancer to make money is to teach dance. Gretchen Garnett, director and choreographer of Gretchen Garnett and Dancers, taught dance 25 hours a week at three different studios around the Bay Area when she first moved here. Since getting married, she has been able to teach a more reasonable 14 hours a week at two dance studios and dedicate more time to her company. Whitney Stevenson, who moved to SF within the past year to dance, enjoys teaching gymnastics to children because she gets to be active.
Although an active job like teaching classes or working in a restaurant might seem perfect for someone physically inclined, many dancers find it essential to sit down and rest their bodies while working. Gabby Zucker does transcription and reads drafts for author and music critic Jeff Chang. "It may sound silly, but I prefer desk jobs to waiting tables or working retail because I feel it's important to rest my body when I'm not dancing," Zucker says.
A more common sedentary line of work for dancers is administration. Maggie Stack works as the administrative assistant for the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, and for her, the support and promotion of dance goes hand-in-hand with the medium. But for Julia Hollas, dancer and administrator for Dandelion Dance Theater, the realm of arts administration also became a bane. "There is always too much work, not enough funding, and the incredibly good people who stay in the field consistently take on more than they can comfortably handle," says Hollas, who is currently seeking Pilates certification. "There is something quite noble about that fact, and I will always feel admiration for anyone who works as an administrator in the dance world. But what I was beginning to see in myself was a consistent state of burnout that took away from the inspiration I needed to pursue my art as I wanted."
There are also those who take on jobs that are out of the ordinary. Darya Chernova moved here from Russia and was amazed by all the dance opportunities and classes available. Luckily, she found a job to facilitate that interest. "I have been working at the farmers market for an apple orchard farm for five years," Chernova says. "Farmers market work is great but tiring. It can be very physical and socially exhausting. But I love fruit and being outside."
Kaitlin Parks, who worked as an EMT before the job became too overwhelming, is another example. "Lights, sirens, and the glory of helping fellow humans are great, but the 10-hour shifts and the physical and emotional demands were dipping into my energy and attention for dance," she says. "I currently dance with Alyce Finwall Dance Theater, the courage group, baby-sit for six different families, teach young children's dance classes, and teach both EMT skills and CPR."
When it comes down to it, making a life in dance is often an act of creativity in itself. Rachel Dichter helps organize people's closets. Tyson Miller works room service at the Mandarin Oriental. Ri Molnar models for art classes, gardens, and assists people with disabilities. Paul Laurey lives in a theater basement with low rent to redirect time and financial resources to dance. While some may respond to his living situation with pity or concern, for him the luxury of pursuing dance outweighs any sacrifice in creature comforts.
Of course, pursuing dance becomes a whole different story when a family is involved. InkBoat dancer Dana Iova-Koga found that having a life in dance took on new meaning with a daughter. "Now that I am a mother, I've had to get more intentional with dancing," Iova-Koga says. "It's much harder to find the time to do it, and it has to be very planned out. But now, when I get to perform, it feels more essential and I appreciate being there in a whole new way."