Working to dance, dancing to live - Page 2

A look into the not-so-conventional lives of San Francisco's freelance dancers

When she's not dancing on stairwells, Gabby Zucker rests her muscles by working a gig as an author's assistant

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."


You guys should be high school tutors. It's sedentary, flexible, fun, and if you produce results, you can charge up to $100 per hour. While exercising your already sharp minds, it pads the pocketbook. San Francisco has no shortage of wealthy people with children. Just sayin'

Also, good article. It's very readable, and that's how a journalist's article should be. The beginning, middle, and end are tidy and connect well. The flow from word to word is smooth and predictable. Nice craft :-)

Posted by Parmesan on Jan. 26, 2011 @ 10:58 pm

I am a big big fan of Ms Wiederholt's dance writing, both her articles and her dance blog! "Working to Dance" is another great example of her work. Great insight too, on one of the critical aspects of our local dancers lives.

One of America's best symphony conductors once said, "...I conduct so I can compose. I compose so I can live..."

I have pursured my passion for dance and dance writing for the past couple of years now. I work so I can pursure that passion for dance. I pursure that passion, my passion, so I may live...

Thank you again, Emmaly, for a great dance article!

Posted by Jim Tobin on Jan. 26, 2011 @ 11:52 pm

Ok, but let's play devils advocate here, I mean I appreciate the fact that dancers are so motivated, but where does the responsibility start when it comes to making a change in finances? As directors and choreographers we should be paying our dancers to work, even if it is what they love. We all need to stop saying yes to working for next to nothing as dancers and as choreographers we need to start writing more grants, doing more fundraisers, support each other in the theater when work is produced, whatever it takes to break this cycle. Our dance jobs are worth just as much as any other job out there and it our responsibility to make that change, no one is going to do it for us.

Posted by guest on Jan. 28, 2011 @ 2:01 pm

Very hard to do, but a very good point!

Posted by Guest on Jan. 28, 2011 @ 6:51 pm

I think sharing figures of income comparing the earnings of someone with a typical full time job or entry level position with the earnings a performing artist (or any striving educated & talented artist) holding the multiple part-time jobs would present a whole new reality to those who may not get the picture still. The sacrifice we artists make financially is so extreme when numbers come into play. Yes, it's of course worth those moments we experience onstage that you can't recreate or ever imagine go paycheck to paycheck, but it's also a very scary place to put ourselves in. What happens if I'm seriously injured when I have little to no health insurance? Or what can I have for dinner tonight besides rice & beans?

If more people knew that we're making less than half the annual income of many average working citizens with little to no savings to speak of, I think we may see more support. We work hard so we can share ourselves and our potential with the world...such a priceless commodity....

Posted by another starving artist on Jan. 29, 2011 @ 7:15 pm

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