Apryl's Musings

Bittersweet Pill

Our electronic sign not functioning as many of us would lovingly say #TruEMU!

Our electronic sign not functioning as many of us would lovingly say #TruEMU!

During my visit to Portland, I was offered a new job.  It is not as an educator in higher ed yet it is something that I’m equally passionate about.  As of Monday, I will be transitioning from dance instructor and part-time dance lecturer to full-time labor organizer. 

This transition brings up a host of feelings.  I’m excited about my new job.  I am looking forward to this new adventure.  I wonder what I will discover along the way. 

I feel anxiety and trepidation.  For the most part, I feel I am putting all my eggs in one basket.  This terrifies me.  I have spent most of my adult life working multiple jobs; constantly in pursuit of the next gig.  I’ve realized that I have found a strange sense of comfort in the very precarious nature of my income streams.

Those income streams haven’t amounted to much of an income.  That has been a continual source of anxiety.   There have been times I have waited 2+ months for a paycheck as adjunct faculty or for a client to pay for me for my work. 

My gig work is being whittled way as I transition into one job.  One job that promises the highest annual salary I’ve ever been offered with benefits.  I could live life somewhat comfortably for a change.  What a concept.

Finally, I am feel deeply saddened.  I do love my work as a teacher and professor.  It was really difficult to tell my students.  Over the past 2 and a half years, I have taught at my alma mater.  I love all my students.  It’s been deeply meaningful to return to Eastern Michigan University to teach.  It was coming home for me.  Being able to guide, foster and advocate for students in our department was an utter privilege. 

After I told my students, there’s was an unexpected outpouring of support.  I’ve received this from my colleagues as well.  Often times as a teacher, you have no clue as to how you are impacting people.  All I’ve ever hoped for was that maybe I’ve planted a seed that will grow later.  I know there were a few teachers who did this for me and for that I am grateful! 

(Mr. Bott and Viv, I did eventually figure it out.  My deepest gratitude to both of you for believing in me.  Your generosity has meant a lot and I’ve tried my best to pay it forward.)

In a perfect world, I would be a tenured faculty member.  However, I realize that I don’t have the pedigree for such a position.  This doesn’t mean that I can’t be or haven’t been a capable professor.  It simply means that I don’t look attractive enough on my CV to even a third tiered university like my alma mater. 

It doesn’t matter how much I give.  Or how passionate I am (or any of my peers are) about the work, I will not be given the proper chance to prove myself.  This has been a bitter pill to swallow. 

As an adjunct professor, I am not afforded the prestige nor respect I deserve.  I have fallen into a what I have begun to consider as a type of serfdom or caste system that is endemic in academia.   As I became more and more mired in academia, I spent many sleepless night preparing lessons for classes I was offered on a minute’s notice.  I did my best to advocate for my students and colleagues.  I did my best to resist the feelings of isolation, invisibility and veiled academic propriety.  This has left me exhausted and burnt out. 

Furthermore, I didn’t hide this from my students.  I am certain this makes me a bit of a pariah in a university setting but it is what is right.  Academic/professional propriety is an attitude that silences and white washes what are growing inequities in academia. 

Leaving is bittersweet however, it is not the end.  My support and advocacy will continue for students and my colleagues.  It will look different, but it will always be there.  You are my extended family. 

Found this stenciled on the wall outside Porter Hall on Campus a few months back.

Found this stenciled on the wall outside Porter Hall on Campus a few months back.

Soul Mates

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Over the past 10 days, I have been in a process of redefining what “soul mate” means to me.  “Soul Mate” is not a one and only love interest.  It is not a solitary life defining monogamous relationship.  Soul mate is a plural.  It is soul mates.

Soul mates are people who challenge us.  They turn our world upside down.  They get us to think outside our comfort zones.  They are people who agitate and push us to be better people.  They are people who don’t always share our world view.  They are people who make us curious and push us to want to know more.  They question us in ways we may not like.  They are our brothers and sisters in literal and figurative ways.

I spent the past 10 days with a soul mate, Jen Gwirtz.  Jen is a friend.  Jen is an artistic colleague.  Jen is one of my soul mates. 

I’ve known Jen for 20+ years now.  Back in the day, Jen showed me a different way of thinking about dance, performance and art.  Her approach was/is outside of the standard academic canon.  She introduced me to new philosophical thought and methodologies.  Jen introduced me to happenings.  She introduced me to pop up performance that was quirky, funny and subversive. 

Through Jen, I started to think of the creative process as modular; as packets of data and information.  That excited me!  That inspired me to go back to school and pursue my master’s degree. 

Jen and I are sisters from another mister.  We agree on most things but not on everything.  She considers herself a liberal capitalist of Jewish heritage.  Myself, I’m a Buddhist with socialist leanings from a working-class background. 

Jen is a woman with strong and stern maternal instincts.  Me, maybe not so much.  I have intentionally dismantled my biological clock.  If you knew my family background, you’d most likely understand my decision.  

Both of us love to cook.  It is one of the ways we explore and share our creativity.  We are both artists who are in the process of continually honing our voices. 

Jen and I started planning my trip to Portland about 7 or 8 months ago.  On Feb. 21st, I flew out to Portland. 

The two of us haven’t inhabited the same physical space for nearly 10 years.  The last time we saw each other was maybe 2010.  During that visit, I might have had an hour or 2 with her, her husband John and their daughter. 

We met at an ice cream shop in the Richmond district in San Francisco.  I remember wanting to spend more time.  I remember feeling a deep need to spend more time with her, John and their daughter.  However, I felt a tension from my husband (now my second ex).  He was anxious to get on the road.  He wanted to head back to Las Vegas so he could gamble with impunity. 

Now it was my/our time.  Someone else’s agenda wasn’t dictating the schedule.  The only limitation was winter break.    

As I rolled my luggage out of baggage claim, I felt a wave of emotion overwhelm me.  There was Jen, all 5’ of her.  I felt a lump grow in my throat.  A quiver in my voice and that all to familiar need to fight back tears. Cause Detroit girls don’t cry.

We gave each other a huge bear hug that felt like home.  Sisters reunited on a creative mission!  We spent 10 days talking about relationships, art, art creation, social issues and politics.  While we were mostly on the same page, there were times we weren’t in lock step.  Then it was listening.  Deep listening that honored each other’s position.

We spent time in rehearsal creating. We paid attention to the differences in our body types and artistic approaches. Deep listening played a crucial part in our collaboration. Now we have a 10 minute piece (a sprout of a piece) about mushrooms, mycelium and trees. Its a metaphor for our long distance relationship and how I seem to just pop up in new locations like a mushroom. (More on that later.)

Jen is a soul mate.  A soul sister who continues to challenge me.  She opens me up.  Makes me feel vulnerable in ways that are safe.  And yes, this woman from Detroit working class roots made room for that vulnerability.  For that I am deeply grateful. 

As my soul mate, she makes me realize that I have many soul mates.  Brothers, sisters, friends, work colleagues.  People who temporarily cross my path.  Others who are there for the long term.  People who make up a vast mycelium network (pun intended) and become family.  Soul mates aren’t a special one and only.  They are a vast network of people who can pop in and out of our lives and they are often right under our noses. 

Dance Hive:  Collective Dance Creation

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In two weeks, I’ll facilitate workshops on movement generation for Diamonds in The Rough Dance Intensive hosted by Dance in the Mitten.  There is something really interesting about the chaotic mess of emergent processes.  For those who know me and have worked with me, you know my obsession for creating performative messes.  This obsession collides with two other passions, interdisciplinary work and creative collaboration.  Ahhhhh!  For me an opportunity to belly flop straight into artistic mayhem! 

For 2 decades, I have created performance work in a collaborative fashion.  In my previous personal artistic narratives, I would say that I create and mold a piece from the margins.  I’ve always appreciated creating work in this way.  Dancers/performers always add their contributions.  The process becomes communal; social; relational. 

The creative work always grows beyond my initial thoughts.  The work needed people; community to evolve.  Without them it just wouldn’t exist.  I guess a question for me is how to do I push this further.  How can dance/performance creation be further decentralized?   What if a dance is created by a swarm? 

Dance Hive will invite participants to generate movement material through open space technology.  If participants wish, it could result in an informal showing a Diamond in the Rough.  A variety of materials will be available for experimentation and foster curiosity. 

  • Text (old books, magazine advertisements, newspaper articles, cookbooks etc)
  • Drama Techniques
  • Computer code and algorithms
  • Collaborative drawings
  • Ordinary objects and props
  • Participants can add to this list

Specific ideas can be generated from the participants themselves.  Groups form around these ideas and begin to generate small modular sections.  The participants can decide how the sections fit together to create non-linear work.  It could be a ritual.  An informal performance.  The sky’s the limit. 

Advocate for yourself

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Wow this is my first blog in 4 years!  Since, I’ve started to update my web presence, I’ve been thinking about my first blog entry.  What to write?!  What to write?! 

Well it fell into my lap this afternoon.  I’ve been giving a young woman some advice as she embarks on her career beyond graduate school.  As she asked me questions, one thing has become so apparent. Our education has not prepared us for advocating for ourselves in the work place.  Especially if you are a female dancer and instructor.  Even more so if you are a woman of color. 

Disclaimer:  I am directing this particular blog towards women in the dance world.  Men in dance, I do love and care about you too.  However, you have an advantage many of your female counterparts do not enjoy.  By general rule, you are born with a sense of entitlement.  You feel entitled to more and better over and above your female colleagues. 

University dance programs are keen to recruit us.  They are keen to engage us in philosophy, dance technique, composition, history but they often fall short on the practical stuff.  You know the nuts and bolts of negotiating fair pay. 

My initial reasons for going to graduate school, I wanted to be a professor.  Meaning, I was striving for a full-time tenure track position. No one was upfront with me about the realities of landing a university position.  No one told me that I would get stuck in adjunct purgatory.  I went deeper into debt for an MFA to basically pay someone else’s tenure line salary.

When I was learning how to develop curriculum, programming and lesson plans, no one told about negotiating fair pay for my work.  No one talked about things like commute, health care, public and civil liability insurance.  No one told me about all the unpaid time I would spend planning outside of the dance studio. 

When I was an MFA candidate at ASU, I met Yacov Sharir, a professor at the University of Texas-Austin.  Actually, I had just graduated a month before meeting him.  Our department sponsored a weeklong workshop in dance and technology and Yacov was a guest professor.  I worked as an assistant before and during the workshop.  The opportunity to work with him was amazing. 

After one long day of the workshop, Yacov and I went out for a beer.  During our chat he said, “Don’t work for free anymore!  It’s time to get paid for your work!”  All I could think was shit!  (excuse my language) After 3 years of graduate school, the best advice I receive happened in 2 hours with a visiting professor. 


Well, I struggled with this advice.  How the hell do you do this?  Seriously, how do you do this as a female dance/teacher?  After 14 going on 15 years, I’m starting to figure this out.  Let me tell you, I’ve learned it by becoming a labor activist.  So I want to share what I’m learning.   I want to share with young women getting their feet wet.  I want to share with women like me.  Women fighting for their self-worth.  We are the very women who allow more privileged women the ability to lean in.  So here it goes.

  1. Think about your ideal pay.  Hourly rate.  Annual salary.  Per project rate. 
  2. Think about your base salary.  What is the minimum amount you are willing to work for?  Take into consideration:
    1. Your commute time
    2. Car expenses (eg.  Gas and maintenance)
    3. Health care
    4. Civil and Public Liability insurance (if you a freelancer)
    5. Dance wear
    6. Dance training
    7. Prep time (for classes or developing an entire curriculum)
    8. Music and props
    9. Your geographic location.  More affluent places you might be able to charge more.  
  3. What are the prospective employer’s expectation?  Do they have a curriculum and lesson plans set in place?  If they do you will spend less time preparing for your classes.  If you are expected to come up with your own curriculum and lesson plans, you will spend more time.  This is development and you should be paid for it!  Period! Many dance studios only pay you for the time you teach.  Don’t volunteer your prep time!  Get compensated.  You are worth it. 
  4. Don’t work without a contract!
    1. Make sure you have a contract.
    2. Make sure you understand it and are comfortable with the terms and conditions.
    3. If not, ask for time to review it.  Ask for a deadline to have it signed and turned in.
      1. Get a trusted person to go over it with you.  Even better if they understand legalese and contract language.
      2. If you feel there are terms and conditions that need to be removed or added, take it to the employer and negotiate with them.
      3. Once you are happy with the contract, sign off on it and make sure you get a copy.  Digital (PDF) or hard copy.  Keep it in a safe place for your reference. 

With all this being said there are other things one might consider whether it is job with a dance studio, a performing arts school or a project etc.  There are certain things that I will give away for free.  I will let colleagues pick my brains.  I will offer my students advice and feedback outside of school.  Often times, I will pursuit my own creative projects at my own expense. 

I will not teach for free!  This is my bread and butter.  This is how I pay my bills; however, I will consider working with a particular studio, organization or agency for my base pay rate.  If their mission and vision are in line with my beliefs and values, I am willing to negotiate.  I currently work at two studios that align with my personal philosophy.  They are ethical.  They want to make dance accessible to their community.  There are not many studios that value this in my area so I want to support these studios.

For me this is about supporting my community.  Our community is too small and resources scarce.  As a result, we can often descend into a type of Mean Girls tribalism/territorialism.  This just upholds what I consider to be an exclusive system in the arts.  Privileging the haves over the have nots.  It’s a system that mirrors our increasingly neoliberal world that excludes many of us from participation.  Equally it exploits a good majority of us (especially women in our myriad diversity). 

I’ll sum up.  Here’s to my sisters. 

  • Be generous within reason!
  • Never undersell yourself!
  • Be your own best advocate!

I know how hard you work.  I know your stories.  I hear your stories.  Trust me you are worth way more than you think!