We went to New York and survived.
We stayed in a hostel in the Upper West Side, and we performed and rehearsed on the Upper East Side. I was not as charmed by the city as my partners; Portland had disillusioned me to any charm that a city is capable of having, and I found much less in New York than they did.
There are people everywhere. All the time. Waves and waves of people, never ending throngs of bodies pushing and rushing, like a zombie movie from which you can’t escape. All of these people are held by endless buildings and sidewalks. There is no land as far as the eye can see, the exception being Central Park, a small comfort for someone who grew up with the mountains and fields and rivers of North Idaho.
The city was much dirtier than Portland, too. Trash was everywhere, piled up in bags, strewn across the sidewalks, pushed up against buildings and gutters. It was much filthier than Portland, especially with dogs relieving themselves all of the sidewalks, but I do have to say that I barely saw any homeless people or buskers in comparison to my daily jaunt through Pioneer Square.
The upside to all these people is that all of these people bring with them ideas and dreams and creation. There are shows to go to every night, bars to explore, food to try, shops to rifle through. The problem is that it is such an ordeal to get anywhere, and everywhere you go, there are people. It was very hard to find a quiet spot anywhere. The energy never dies, but this gets exhausting.
To be entirely honest, I am biased. I grew up in an unpopulated part of the country where I can drive anywhere I need in fifteen minutes. There’s not a lot of trash, little crime, and trees and beaches galore. I am completely biased against cities, which is unfortunate given the nature of the career I want.
That all being said, the moments when I appreciated the city were the moments I was dancing. We went to class at Gibney and PerriDance, and both were lovely experiences. I talked to dancers at both places and found them to generally be friendly and cool, and the culture at both places as very relaxed yet focused. Being able to go to Doug’s show and watch the other dancers and choreographers was nice; it’s great to see so many viewpoints from so many different people not only across the country but across New York.
I love that this is what is available in the city. I would love to take at Gibney and get a work study there and take class and meet dancers. I am so insanely jealous of the sheer number of options all of these dancers and choreographers have.
The downside to everything is, as usual, the money. There’s no friggin money in this field. The big companies are collapsing in favor of small time choreographers hiring dancers on a project to project basis. There is no salary or health insurance to be had. Classes themselves start at $17-$20; even in Portland without a professional discount, one could get a class for $15.
One NYC choreographer revealed the dirty secrets to us, the things they don’t tell you in school or at intensives: most of the dancers who dance “full time” are on unemployment. They of course have other jobs teaching dance/yoga/zumba/pilates, but they have to be on unemployment to survive. In a city where $1200 gets you the bare minimum studio apartment, this scares the shit out of me. He told us that $10/hour was a great rate for a dancer, and that more of them were making something like $4/hour. Plenty were only getting stipends (since it costs money to take the subway or park every time you want to go somewhere). Plenty weren’t paid at all.
What other highly specialized professional makes $4 an hour? But dance is not a commodity. Of course.
Then to choreograph in NYC is just as much as a nightmare as being a performer. One had to procure the money to pay the dancers. You have to work with all of your dancers’ schedules, because you won’t be the only choreographer they’re dancing for. You have to find a place to rehearse (which is going to cost $20 plus an hour) and then a venue to perform. In Portland or Seattle, you could put on a decent looking show for under $1000. Not so in NYC.
This will all come off very whiney and bitchy. The city has AMAZING things to offer, and there are amazing people making amazing work there. But when it comes to me being a young professional, trying to figure out where to go, these complaints are all important factors to keep in mind. I honestly don’t think I could make it there, not in terms of skill, but purely in terms of finances and the mental hardship it would be to work constantly and make no money and have a bad quality of life.
What I hope is that I could get some projects in NYC where I could live there for, say, eight weeks at a time or something like that, then go back to the west coast where I would have a more permanent residence. I would like to be able to take class and work on stuff over there without committing to live there full time. This is the dream, of course.
None of this really touched on what it was like to dance in the CHIN Project, but that will be for next time.