Finding Work/Life Balance as an Artist

I was supposed to write this post a month ago. I gave myself a deadline of April 9th, 2018. I am late because I am juggling a lot. As Artistic Director, I manage communications, grant writing, artistic projects, internship program and the dance education programming. I also work full-time in the College of Fine Arts at UT-Austin and part-time at Dancers Shape. I am also President of Emerging Arts Leaders of Austin. To top the cake, I begin obtaining my MFA in Dance in less than two months at The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

In between all of that, I fly home to Florida every two months to hug my family, volunteer with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas once a week, and try to maintain a social life. I love bubble baths while binge watching Forensic Files, working out, cooking, baking, hammocking, hiking and basically staying outside 24/7 when the temps are 75 degrees plus.

In the past month, I forgot to pick up thank you cards for Amplify Austin donors and I obviously have delayed writing this blog post. I have bailed on a couple of professional development events I should have been at but decided to take a nap instead. I have a load of laundry sitting on my bedroom floor that needs to be folded and put away but instead it is blending into the dirty clothes pile and I am starting to be unsure of which is which. I don’t have it all together all the time – or rather, any of the time but I do think I have set guidelines for myself to find work/life balance as a practicing artist and arts administrator that have worked well for me. Why is this a priority to me? I want to set myself up for a sustainable arts career and thriving life – one free of burn out in both areas.

If you are looking to find better ways to juggle work and life and/or avoid burnout, I hope you can find the guidelines I use helpful.

People over projects

I strongly offer this advice: Make time for people over your projects. Your projects will come and go but the people in your life will be with you forever. I am not saying all people – your stylist, cashier, or girl scout cookie dealer. I am saying YOUR people – the people that you need quality time or communication with in order to thrive as a person and as an arts professional. For me, that is my immediate family and about three close friends. I can promise you that you will feel more fulfilled and energized in your creative work when you make quality time for your people. Your relationships will feel richer as well.

Prioritize

Know how your personal needs affect your professional needs. Your personal needs will be entirely different than mine and they may even affect your creative practice differently than me. I will share mine as an example.

  1. I need to communicate with and/or see my closest family and friends frequently. I find myself more focused in my artistic work when I am able to flush out my day and ask for advice when needed from my closest family and friends.
  2. I need time outdoors (hiking, hammocking, being at the pool, etc.). I am able to approach my artistic work rejuvenated when I have been under the sun.
  3. I need drive time. I have always found that I am able to think, process, reflect, and create better when I am behind the wheel than anywhere else. I purposefully live about 25 minutes away from work so I can have this time.
  4. I need to cook/bake. It’s therapeutic to me. I also feel healthier. I also save money by cooking myself and therefore, can outsource expenses elsewhere for things that I do not have time to do.

If I am lacking in any of these areas, I find my artistic work suffers for it. I am less creative, less motivated, and actually feel more drained. Either way, we both need to acknowledge our personal needs and the effect they can have on our creative practice.

Say no

We often think that people are going to get hurt if we say no to them, but I find more often people are actually understanding and appreciate your honesty – in fact, they might even look up to you for it.

If you feel you need to say no to a potential obligation, that is enough of a reason. You do not have to reserve “no’s” for when you have other commitments solely. Saying no to an obligation can mean yes to yourself, your relationships, or your personal creative practice if you have been spending your time elsewhere.

Set boundaries

  1. Unless it is an emergency, I generally do not respond to emails after 5 PM (from any of my works) OR I read them but respond the next day. I also try to refrain from responding on the weekends if possible.
  2. If I have company in town or if I am planning a trip, I notify everyone that I am “out-of-office” – even if I plan on working a bit so that no one is expecting anything from me.
  3.     Have many hats but only wear one at a time. I am the daughter of two real estate owners. I grew up around dinners of not just casual “here’s how my day went” talk, but actual work meetings. If boundaries are not set and met, at least within moderation, it can lead to burnout of either work or relationships – sometimes even both. When hanging socially with Dance Waterloo colleagues, I generally try to not bring up business. Small talk about DW is bound to happen, but if any of us needs to start pulling out a notepad and pen, that’s when it is time to save it for a meeting.

I hope you find these guidelines helpful in your quest to practice work/life balance in the arts. If you are an arts leader, I hope you will also encourage your employees to implement modes of work/life balance. We are not art making machines. We are humans with souls, desires, and goals both within our craft and out – both must be fostered. Dance Waterloo experiences a higher retention rate among hired artists when they are free and encouraged to communicate and implement modes of work/life balance.

Most importantly, keep in mind that your work/life balance will not always be a true equal balance of all your time – and it shouldn’t be! But setting boundaries, saying no when needed, prioritizing personal needs, and remembering to make time for your people over your projects can help you determine where your time should be spent and when.

 

morgan modern dance event austin

Morgan Teel

Artistic Director & Founder

Dance Waterloo

New Girl On The Block: An Interview with Heather Meeboer

 

Heather Meeboer is our newest company member this year. She hails from Atlanta, Georgia and received her BFA in Dance from Radford University. We recently sat down with Heather so you could learn more about this dance and teaching artist.

 

How did you get into dance and what is the path you have taken up to this point?
I told my mother I wanted to take dance lessons at age two. She enrolled me at a local studio and I never stopped after that! I danced throughout school, went to university and completed a BFA in Dance with an emphasis in Classical Ballet, and began dancing and choreographing professionally after graduation. In addition to Dance Waterloo, I also perform with Austin Metamorphosis Dance, where I am Assistant Artistic Director. I consider myself a dancer first, even though I’ve gotten more and more into choreography in the last few years. I’ve also begun teaching dance classes more recently and have really enjoyed exploring and learning from that new challenge.

 

Heather in Dance Waterloo’s Modern In Mueller class.

 

What is some advice you would give to your younger self? 
Advice I would give to my younger self is – be bold! I was terrified for many years that no one would think I was talented enough to dance professionally and it stunted my technical development. I have since learned that directors and choreographers are looking for confidence and performance ability, not technical perfection. Do your best and be confident in your abilities!

 

What is your favorite thing about dancing with Dance Waterloo? 
With Dance Waterloo, I love getting to dance and create movement in unique spaces! It stretches my creativity and I feel that it makes me a more well-rounded artist.

 

What is your favorite memory of dance through all these years? 
One of my favorite dance memories was dancing the role of Alice in a ballet production of Alice in Wonderland. It wasn’t my first principal role, but it was the first time I had danced a “title” role that was onstage for almost the whole length of the ballet and it was gratifying to earn that honor.

 

Has your family been encouraging and supportive of your dance career? 
My parents have always been very supportive of me dancing. They want me to be happy, whatever path that takes me. They did insist that I get a college degree first, though!

 

Does Pilates training influence how you participate in site-specific dance? 
I think Pilates has helped keep me strong and injury-free throughout my career. Especially performing on uneven surfaces, I’m always thankful that I have the core strength to stay upright! I also feel like Pilates helps provide my body the freedom to move the way I need it to and that allows me less things to worry about when I’m dancing.

Heather in Dance Waterloo’s Modern In Mueller class.

 

You can find Heather in the premiere of therefore May 17-20, 2018 at Epoch Coffee on Anderson.

 

morgan modern dance event austin Morgan Teel
Artistic Director & Founder

2017-2018 Season Audition FAQ’s

How many dancers are you looking for?

We generally cast around five to six dancers. We like to keep it a bit flexible.

How much will dancers be compensated?

We are doing something new this season. Dancers are compensated hourly for rehearsals and performance. Hourly amount is based on a combination of experience and seniority.

What is required in the contract?

Dancers are required to take at least 50% of our technique classes and at least 50% of our community program classes. Dancers are required to attend all rehearsals on time. Dancers are allowed one absence per dance they are casted in. Dancers must be available for all performances.

When are the rehearsals and performances?

We are doing something new this season. Auditions and Company Members will be Announced in August. Technique classes are September-December. Rehearsals are January-May. Our rehearsal calendar will be set around October. The calendar will be based off of company members casted. Performances are May 17-20, 2018.

What will the audition be like?

For starters, you should submit your audition materials (headshot and resume). They are due to info@dancewaterloo.org by August 26th at 6 PM. That is a firm deadline. We like to thoroughly read through materials beforehand so we can see you actually dance at the audition. We will start with an introduction of Dance Waterloo followed by a warmup, directional pattern, technique, improvisational task, phrase work, and end with a Q & A where you can ask us anything (& we mean anything!)

I do not see the answer to my question. Who can I contact?

Us, duh! Shoot us an email at info@dancewaterloo.org. We’re pretty fast at responses.

A Dancer’s Guide To Self Care

As a teenager and throughout college, I knew I was supposed to take pristine care of my body, but I seldom did. As is the norm around that age, I ate unhealthy foods, stayed up late, skipped warm ups and cool downs, and for the most part there were little to no immediate consequences. Even after graduation, as I taught fitness classes and wrote articles about how important it is to take care of the body, I rarely heeded my own advice. That is, until I started working with Dance Waterloo. Outside of the comfort of a dance studio with sprung floors, my limitations became increasingly self-evident. Dancing in ever-changing conditions on uneven terrain left me in serious need of some “me time.” I completely overhauled my wellness routine. And while much of it is tailored to my specific needs, some of the takeaways I’ve learned in the process of creating the routine are applicable to just about anyone. So, I’d like to share a few nuggets of wisdom!

 

Stay Hydrated

There are a ton of different philosophies on how much water you should drink in a given day. But I’ve found the best, and simplest, method is to drink when thirsty. However, sometimes you don’t even realize how thirsty you’ve been until there’s a glass of water in front of you. For this reason, I recommend keeping a reusable bottle with you at all times as a reminder. Refill it each opportunity you get. As an added bonus, if you have a water bottle with you when grabbing a quick mid-day bite, you might be less tempted to order a sugary beverage with your meal. Win-win.

Pro Tip: Sometimes our bodies’ mistake thirst for hunger. So if you feel hungry at an odd time, try reaching for your water first to avoid unneeded snacking!

 

Get Some Rest

Getting enough sleep is essential for the brain to function optimally and for the body to recover from the day’s wear and tear. Each adult needs somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. But sleep alone is often not enough for the busy, modern American. That’s where rest comes in.

Try implementing 15-30 minutes of constructive rest. Lie supine (on your back) on the floor with your lower legs propped up on a chair. Ideally, do this in a dark, quiet space and listen to your breath. Physically, this posture optimally aligns the spine and enhances blood flow from the legs back to the heart. Mentally, it is a form of meditation and if done in the evening, it reduces feelings of restlessness when going to bed later on. While I do this just about every day now, it is especially helpful on the days you’ve spent excessive time on your feet, had a vigorous workout, or are having trouble settling your mind.

Pro Tip: On particularly strenuous days, I sometimes add a heating pad to my lower back.

 

Pamper Yourself

It is really easy to put yourself all the way at the bottom of your priority list, especially if you have a demanding career, growing family and/or prominent social life. But every once in a while it’s important to treat your mind and body as well as you treat your friends, colleagues, and pets! For me, this often looks like Epson salt baths, self massage, watching a good (or sometimes really bad!) television show or sitting by the pool. Determine what makes you feel relaxed, pampered and important and go for it!

Pro Tip: You should literally schedule these activities into your life – that’s right, I’m talking about writing it down in your planner. If you allot a specific part of your day/week to pampering yourself, you’ll be less likely to put it off until “later” (a magical time in the future when everything you never end up doing is often sent).   

 

Implementing these three practices – hydrating, resting, and pampering yourself – will have you feeling energized, healthier and more in tune with your body. But finding time for all this may seem daunting. If that’s the case, start slow and pick just one tip to focus on. Once you’ve incorporated it into your routine you can add the others at your own pace. Tell us how you plan to take care of yourself in the comments below!

Laura Merkel

Dancer

Dance Waterloo

Why The Starving Artist Myth Should Starve And Die

We recently sat down with Morgan Teel, Dance Waterloo’s Founder and Artistic Director, to talk about the myth of the “starving artist” and any misconceptions that people may have about the field.

Why do you feel like the starving artist myth should starve and die?

Several reasons. I come at it from my work perspective. I work with high school students interested in art and 2 or 3 times a week I get questions from parents who say things like ‘I just want my kid to have a job’ or ‘My kid is gonna be a starving artist!’

It makes it sound like art isn’t of economic value when it actually generates a ton of money. When people think of “starving artists”, they think art is not of value.

The Skinny:

Creativity continues to be deemed one of the most important skills that employers look for, and 72% of business leaders prioritize creativity when making hiring decisions.

Where do you think the idea of the starving artist comes from?

I think it originates from childhood. Kids go to school and then after school they take a dance class or painting class and it’s just an extracurricular. Its supplemental and not a core part of sustainable life.

Dance Waterloo’s Storybook Dance Making class

It starts from the get go when you hit school at 5 years old. Unless it’s fully embedded and valued as much as math and science, then it is viewed as an extracurricular. If it’s not ingrained in the school system as the same value, its setting generations up to always view art as supplemental.

The Skinny: 

Although the idea that art is only extracurricular exists, 1 out of 15 Texans work in a creative field and an average salary for someone in the creative field is roughly 80k as opposed to 44k for people who are not in a creative field.

What are some stigmas/misconceptions about artists?

I also think “starving artists” came from the stigma that artists are always carefree and free-spirited and not organized or structured and just go with the flow.

I think there’s this view of what an artist’s personality is like (to non-artists). That their personality is just like “I live day to day – just getting by” and “I don’t need anything other than my guitar”.

How is art essential to the economy?

 Artists are so central to the city. I think artists have the opportunity to reach people in ways that other fields can’t. Art does two things – increases economic vitality and brings communities together to understand each other’s culture, race, and occupation.

In terms of economic vitality, art creates energy, tourism, innovations and people in business. When you think about Austin in general and how big of a boom there is to live here, think about why people want to live here.

Dance Waterloo’s Panorama Playground at Hurlyburly

Yes, they have a job because the company moved. Austin is a happening place, and it all stems from us. It’s because of the art. It’s not possible to grow a healthy and vibrant city without investing in the arts. When there’s not an investment in arts/artists, the city is not a popular place to be. Businesses aren’t moving there and employers aren’t moving there.

The Skinny: 

$5.5 billion is contributed to the Texas economy by the arts. The arts also represent 756k business (1.4% of all businesses) and bring in over $22 billion that contribute to different arenas of government revenue.

What needs to change?

Change needs to take place on both sides – for the already grown adult, art needs to be more accessible and right in their face so they can see the value of it. If you’re already a grown adult and don’t have a high interest in the arts – you’re not going to go see a show or buy a painting unless the art goes to where you already are. Public art can be a catalyst for change and change the view of what artists do and who they are.

I also think initiation needs to start in preschool and kindergarten by having arts as equal and essential as math and science. Creativity and creative thinking is fundamental and essential to all life and any kind of employment.

The Skinny:  

The president has proposed a budget that completely cuts out all National Endowment for the Arts funding. That would mean that $148 million would no longer be available to support artists all around the country.

The Senate Finance Committee has also proposed a 34% cut to the Texas Commission on the Arts funding, which is more than any other state.

Art is not extracurricular, it’s essential to economy. Art brings communities together and cities cannot truly thrive without a vibrant art scene. If we want to see the starving artist myth actually starve and die, that is going to come from communities and education seeing art as essential and not extracurricular.

Other resources:

http://snaap.indiana.edu/pdf/2016/SNAAP_Annual_Report_2016_FINAL.pdf

http://www.nasaa-arts.org/Advocacy/Advocacy-Tools/FiveArtsArguments.pdf

http://www.texansforthearts.com/

http://www.topospartnership.com/project/arts-and-community/

 

Jasmine Crowley

Journalism Intern

Dance Waterloo