Dancers are used to chaos and exhaustion; hell, plenty of us even thrive on it. There’s a certain comfort and satisfaction in coming home sore and bruised after a long day’s rehearsal.

The mental exhaustion that comes along with being a freelancer is something you can’t epsom-salt or foam roll away.

I was always prepared for the physical aspect of being a dancer, and I was prepared for the hectic scheduling. I knew that I would probably not have many days off, and that I’d be running from rehearsal to work to another rehearsal to the gym, that I’d be living off of Americanos and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Part of making it as a dancer these days (ie not the 80’s where we get contracts with Paul Taylor) means being able to embrace the unknown – the unknown of when your next project will be, the unknown of how much you will get paid, the unknown of when you’ll get a day or two off. It’s the unknown that is really the most exhausting part of it all, because you can only look into the darkness for so long before you wonder if you’re about to go blind. Having no end in sight means that you’re unsure when the madness will finish, and there’s also the terrifying prospect that you’ll wind up with too much free time if you’re not cast in any upcoming work.

Within the unknown is also not being sure who exactly you’ll end up dancing for or with. It means working with a brand new set of people every time. This can be mentally exhausting for socially awkward people (*cough*). It means learning a new movement style and choreographic process. I can take comfort in a process where I know what I’m walking into, but if you’re with a brand new team every time, it can be uncertain and exhausting, and all of those middle school feelings can come slipping back in (what if they don’t like me? What if they think I’m weird? Waah.)

There was an audition for 5th Avenue Theater that I didn’t go to, because it was tech week, and I’m tired. I really should have gone, because though I managed to book myself through the end of June, I’m not sure what my next project will be after that. A part of me is hungry for more challenge and more stage time, but the other part of me wants to have time to work on novel #2, to go to the gym before work, to have time to get up and drink coffee in the morning and listen to NPR instead of rushing off to rehearsal. Is that what people with regular 9-5 jobs do?

I suppose I just need to have faith in the unknown, in the fact that something else will come up, something that I can dance in. I’ve seen more audition posts, but it would be really nice if I could take a few weeks off between projects. It would also be nice if I knew I had a break of 3 or 4 weeks, rather than a break of an indeterminately long period of time.

This process of being a freelance has made me realize that self-care is a real thing and it should be taken seriously.

Self-care is sort of a buzzword around my parts right now, and it doesn’t have to be anything extravagant. It can be letting myself sit in the sun for 20 minutes while I enjoy a breve. It can be letting myself go to the gym for an hour to just run and walk away some of my frustration. It can be scheduling a 25 minute massage because something keeps putting knots into them. And yes, I know that some people might think cream based beverages and massages are a waste of money for a “starving artist” type who should really open that IRA, but if you budget correctly, they are reasonable.
These small bits of sanity, interjected into a hectic week and a stressful schedule, can make the uncertainty of freelance-dance life a little more palatable. So far, that’s all I’ve really figured out.

Here is what some other people have to say on the topic of freelancing.