Best Studio Practice: The Benefits of Going Freelance
November 29, 2001

From daily classes and recitals to competitions and The Nutcracker, chances are you’re constantly choreographing. But what if you’re ready for a new challenge, or believe you have the potential to present your choreography to a wider audience? There are a variety of options available to teachers who want to take their dancemaking to the next level, and getting your name out there is easier than you think. Here, three experts—full-time teachers whose work has been commissioned by studios, colleges and companies across the country—share the benefits of going freelance.



If you take on enough work, freelance choreography can be a great source of income, particularly on the competition circuit. For competition numbers, Emily Shock, owner of Applause Studios in Moore, Oklahoma, has set fees for solos, duets/trios, small and large group numbers—and when she creates multiple numbers at several different studios, the money can add up. Just remember that studios’ budgets for commissioning outside work will differ, and if you’re starting out, your fees may not be as high as an already established choreographer.


The intangibles can be worth as much as the money. Each time you choreograph outside your studio, you have the chance to impart your knowledge to a new set of students. “[Freelance work] is not a great source of revenue for me only because I don’t pursue it as much as I could. I do it for the experience,” explains Robert Kelley, artistic director of Santa Cruz Ballet Theatre in Soquel, California. “The companies I work with want their students to work with a professional choreographer.”


You’ll also bring back knowledge to your own dancers: “When I go out and set work on other kids, I look at what they’re doing well,” Shock says. “I’ll ask their teacher, ‘How do you work this?’ Then I can come back and implement new ideas at my studio.” And it’s not just about technique: Dancers at another school may have a quality or attitude that you’ll want to develop in your own dancers.


Stepping outside your studio will inspire you as a teacher—and an artist. “Every time I work with a new set of people, I develop new skills,” says Alvin Mayes, an instructor at the University of Maryland, College Park, who also teaches at Maryland Youth Ballet and throughout the Washington, DC, area. “Because I tailor each dance to those dancers, I have to look at their strengths, relationships and different body sizes, and work within that realm.”


Kelley finds that working with new dancers enhances his choreography. “My company knows me inside and out—they can often finish a phrase of choreography for me,” he says. “When I’m working elsewhere they don’t know my work, so it stretches me as a choreographer. I have to come up with new and innovative material.”


Why wouldn’t you jump at the chance to build your choreographic knowledge, become a better teacher to your own students, influence new dancers—and bring in a little extra income while you’re at it? If you’re ready to put yourself and your work out there, gather the tools and contacts in your professional arsenal and make it happen. New audiences are waiting.


Parts of this originally from “Going Freelance” by Kathryn Holmes. Click here for the complete article:

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