Monday, December 6, 2010
THE HOLIDAYS: A DANCER'S SURVIVAL GUIDE
The holiday season is wonderful and amazing; with all the beautiful holiday decorations sparkling everywhere, we dancers can’t help but feel as though we are totally in our element.
But as we all know, the holidays can also be stressful time, and not just because of the frantic pace at the malls. As usual, many of us are juggling our gigs, classes and rehearsal schedules with day jobs and family obligations…but in some cases the family situation itself may not be optimal, and during the holidays especially, this adds into the mix and creates stress.
During the holidays, more than at any other time, temptation abounds- scrumptious food and alcoholic beverages are everywhere, enticing us to fall of whatever wagon we may be on with a resounding thud. The urge to make unhealthy choices is always heightened by a hectic schedule, lack of sleep, underlying anxiety and keeping late hours.
Over the years, I experimented with a number of ways to keep my holidays “safe and sane”... and one of them is re-thinking my holiday gigs.
For many dancers, the holiday season is a usually huge moneymaker. There are oodles of private gigs for Christmas, Hannukah and New Year’s Eve parties. There are also many corporate gigs, office Christmas parties, and charity events going on. Clubs and restaurants are more crowded and want more live entertainment that during other times of the year, and patrons customarily tips more generously, too.
I don’t have to tell you that the bad economy has affected everybody- we can all feel it. This is probably having an influence on the amount of holiday gigs-and rate of pay- you are being offered this year. The standard rate for New Year’s Eve gigs used to be triple what you’d normally receive, but with money being tight everywhere, this sadly isn’t the case so much anymore.
Still, though there is an opportunity to make bank, this year, especially may be an opportunity to think of what you are forfeiting by doing those shows. Since we dance so often on holidays no matter what time of year, they usually don’t seem like a day off for dancers.
Basically, because of gigs, you are spending your holiday away from loved ones, to begin with. You dance at other people’s holiday celebrations ( not to mention birthday parties, weddings, graduation ceremonies, etc.) year-round, but don’t celebrate those occasions yourself, because you are working! Also, during Christmastime through New Year’s Eve, in order to work, you’re braving bumper-to-bumper holiday traffic, long lines at police sobriety check-points, and even if you don’t imbibe at all,risking the potential hazards of others who are driving while under the influence.
I have always had a steadfast rule about my holiday gigs- especially New Year’s Eve: JUST SAY NO. It doesn’t mean that I don’t accept holiday gigs- I do, frequently. It’s just that I am ultra-choosy about which ones I accept, as well as how I schedule them.
Though it might seem crazy, throughout the years, the “Just Say No” policy has served me well. Unless I am absolutely certain I can get to and from a show (or multiple shows) on time and get paid what I am worth, I’d rather stay home. That means I won’t be spending the New Years Countdown stuck in traffic, stressing cause I’m late for a show; or shivering in a drafty backstage or lonely hallway waiting through endless techno renditions of “Auld Lang Syne” and lengthy toasts to perform a set for a bunch of revelers who are more focused on where their next glass of champers or spiked egg-nog is coming from! Choose your holiday gigs wisely, and decide for yourself it it’s worth the sacrifices you will inevitably make.
Another thing to think about is your own safety- and I don’t mean the common-sense rules that usually apply, like bringing an escort to a private gig or making sure you get a deposit in advance.
Holiday gigs present a variety of “hazards” that may not be present at other times of the year. Specifically, I’m talking about things like open flames from candles, spiky evergreen boughs, breakable glass ornaments, and clusters of snaking extension cords for holiday lighting. While these all make a home or restaurant pretty and enticing, they could be dangerous for YOU…so scope your performance space out carefully, don’t get too close to anything that could break and cut you or snag your costume – or set it on fire! And seriously, while you are performing in a smaller space, really try to get a bead on the drunks in the audience (they’re always there, but even more so at this time of year!) and practice your crowd-control skills…because you’ll need them!
If you are an animal loving dancer like me, you’ll protect your pets, too. While you’re out running around, they could potentially be in danger in your own house. Mistletoe and Poinsettias are extremely toxic to cats, and chocolate –in any form- is horrendous for cats and especially dogs. Don’t leave any of these things around where your pets can reach them. Tinsel and metallic elastic gift-wraps are like catnip for the kitties – so shiny and pretty and interesting! But they can be ingested and cause massive internal problems that require surgery, as well as being a choking hazard. Glass and glitter-covered ornaments should never be hung low on your tree for the same reason, and your electrical cords should be taped down securely or housed in a box (secured at the spot where they plug into the wall) so they don’t get chewed on, causing a short and possibly electrocuting your pet. Need I mention that you should turn all your Christmas lights off when you leave for a gig?
On a less-cautionary note, just after Christmas has passed is always a fantastic time to go shopping for your year-round costume needs. Everything you need to make fantastic costumes and accessories will be on sale, from beaded garlands to luscious fabrics and metallic ribbons, from fantasy feathers to fabric paints, sequin trim and crafting supplies…stock up while it’s cheap, and use them later in the New Year!
Though many people find it hard to stick to their New Year’s Resolutions, making resolutions you KNOW you’ll be able to keep easily is a good idea. It doesn’t have to be a grandiose plan, it could be something as small as vowing to take an extra class per month, or learning some new songs, or experimenting with a new style of dance. I always make a ritual of spending the first couple of days of the New Year going through my costumes and accessories, making sure that everything is in working order, to start things off right. I check to see if hooks need to be sewn on to costumes, or if skirts need to be hemmed, shoes re-soled, crystals replaced, that sort of thing. I also toss a lot of old make-up (especially liquids and creams) that could be contaminated with bacteria, and sew new elastic onto all my finger cymbals… and believe me, that’s a damn chore!
One last thought: give yourself a holiday gift. As dancers we spend most of the year giving: we give our time and energy all year round to students and to audiences. We are always “on”, whether we are actually onstage or not. Though we may try to rest and prepare for this, we always seem to put ourselves last on the list of recipients. It’s a wonderful thing to do, that whole external out-pouring of energy… but by the end of the year, you may develop a deficit that can sap you emotionally and mentally as well as physically.
During hectic holiday season, make sure to take some much-needed “quality time” to recharge your batteries and give back to yourself… even if it’s just a few moments of quiet each day! A massage, mani-pedi or a nice hot bath with Epsom salts are great year-round, but a necessity at this time of year, so treat yourself, because you deserve it!