Friday, 19 August 2011

Friend Friday: Don't Give Up The Day Job

This week Friend Friday explores quitting the day job to follow your heart and do what you really want to do.  Katy of Modly Chic who runs Friend Friday writes "this month I have been overwhelmingly inspired by two separate blog posts I read in which the blogger quit their day job and has started on the path to self-employment doing what she loves to do.  We all have dreams, goals, aspirations. Putting them down on paper is often the first step to realizing those dreams."

1. Fess up - if you could do anything professionally what would it be? 

Dance flamenco.  I actually did the quit the day job thing once already to pursue this, but over the years I've settled on having a day job to make a decent living and dancing professionally on the side, more for the love of it than the money.  Obviously it is a compromise but as much as I love flamenco, it has limited appeal and a small market compared to other art forms and ultimately, I found that I had to be practical about how I approached doing it professionally.

2. When did you first start dreaming about this ideal?

This wasn't something I dreamt of growing up to be as a kid.  It started as a hobby twenty years ago now and in terms of my relationship with it, it was more like a slow burn that turned into an all consuming passion.  About eight years ago I had been dreaming of going to Spain to study flamenco full time so I could make the leap from an advanced student to perform professionally when the perfect opportunity to do so fell into my lap, so I took it.   I declined a new job opportunity and instead went to live in Andalusia for two years and trained intensively - we're talking dancing six, seven hours a day, five, sometimes six days a week, sometimes more.

Despite all this Herculean effort, as a dancer I still really don't profess to be any Carmen Amaya, in fact it is extremely rare for foreigners to reach the levels of professionalism of those who are embedded in it from a young age in Spain.  I am however, more than good enough to dance professionally on the UK circuit and continue to have the encouragement and vote of confidence of the flamenco teachers I studied with in Spain, both as a performer and now as a teacher.

3. What's holding you back from going all in? 

Fear of starvation.  Seriously, only those who have tried making a living from the arts will know what I am talking about.  I have already tried on two previous occasions to make this work.  I didn't even make the taxable income threshold.  Living in London, possibly the most expensive city in the world, this is a very grave situation to face.  Both times I had to take up a day job just to remain solvent and getting back into the workforce in a profession was a real challenge after the glaringly long break on my CV.  As a result, I don't have the house, 2.1 kids, dog, car in garage and position up the career ladder that Mr and Mrs Average in my age group do.  Although I can attest to have led a very interesting life, I do sometimes wonder about how much greener the grass is in those back yards of the financially stable, those bricks and mortar crew who've never been tempted to bankrupt themselves by upping sticks to live in a foreign country and train to be a performing artist in a culturally remote art form.  I feel really behind.   It doesn't help that I am also a die hard fashionista who loves shopping!

The other thing is that you have to be tough to be a flamenco dancer, really tough.  Flamenco is far from a bed of red roses.  You can love it as unconditionally as you want but, like an abusive lover, flamenco can refuse to love you back.  Its ugly side is that it really can be the most cut throat, back stabbing, unpleasant and frustrating business to be in at times and too often you find yourself swallowing that bitter pill of realisation that talent and hard work often doesn't get you where it should.  The right contacts or the right look does.  Being Spanish is more important to some promoters and audiences than an actual ability to dance flamenco.  You will watch complete charlatans walk away with British Arts Council funding you could sorely use just because some public servant can't be bothered to find out what distinguishes good flamenco from bad when dishing out the grants.

Although expensive to live, London is where the most interesting opportunities to perform are.  Whilst most dancers teach to subsidise performing, studio space in London is so expensive that rehearsing or setting up your own classes is financially very difficult.  Many very good teachers have lost money for years running classes before they get enough students to comfortably cover their studio costs.  Without a source of independent income I've found that costs of doing flamenco here to a high standard are too prohibitive - the rehearsing, the costumes, the continued study required.  For better or worse I decided some time ago to concentrate on performing and work in something else to provide me with stable income.

4. Sometimes the first step is the hardest... what's one step you can take now on the way to realizing your dream? 

As you have probably realised by now I am not writing a blog post to sugar coat the process of realizing your dreams.  Making a dream come true is hard graft and you might find you don't ever get there after putting in the blood, sweat and tears.  I actually am already self employed as a flamenco dancer and I've been doing performing on the side of a day job for a few years but I have to say that the cost of costumes, shoes, studio hire for rehearsal, promotion costs, and taking classes and courses to upkeep my dancing skills more than outstrips what I make from performing.

Most full time flamenco dancers teach in order to survive.  This year I actually started up teaching again as the recession has seen a big drop in demand for performing acts.  I'm doing both freelancing and running my own fledgling class which I am hoping to grow.  However the freelancing and the day job is currently subsidising the losses of running my own classes!

Really I'm doing a lot already and most people would say that all that's left is to quit the job and focus on the flamenco (and that would probably mean stopping that time consuming and pesky habit of blogging too!).  However, even when I've had the time to really push the promotion the lack of cash quickly restricts what you can do on that side.   Believe me I've been there and done the hypnotherapy.  No amount of positive thinking will feed you and pay the bills.  Right now I'm just trying to build up some savings for some future projects and formulate some plans.  I'd love to organise a show where I bring some Spanish artists over or spend another year in Spain studying or even open a dance studio - in an ideal world all three!

5. What draws you to this?

I've purposely left this to last because I find it the hardest to explain.   All sorts of people become drawn to flamenco with stereotypical ideas of a fiery art form that is all about unrestrained passion.  While this is certainly part of it, it really is just one ingredient in the mix.  Flamenco is so much more, an entire world of it's own, a rich language by which you can communicate all the emotional states of the soul, a heartfelt expression of everything it means to be human.

Forget the image of the flamenco dancer in her red dress dancing up a storm atop a table for her Latin lover with a rose clenched between her teeth.  The real flamenco is a far more earthbound and grittier character.  When real flamenco works as it should being a part of it is a thrilling experience and the most incredible feeling that stays with you, possibly forever.

My personal experience is that you only get that feeling at its most intense dancing in Spain and then spend the rest of your performing life outside of Spain trying to recapture it, as nothing else really ever lives up to it afterwards.  The rhythmic drive of the guitars and palmas behind you, the sound of your own footwork pounding in your ears, the adrenaline and the speed of the compas, shouts of warm encouragement from your fellow artists and a boisterous Andalusian audience, and a gypsy singing for you like their heart is about to burst.

And for those who have asked before - a video.


  1. I sometimes feel unbelievably lucky to be self-employed in a field that's creative and challenging on a day-to-day basis (manuscript consulting and development), but other days--being self-employed is brutal. While my photography ends up under this umbrella (it's amazing how many writers love working with a photographer/art historian--so much so that it's part of my PR), I'm under no illusions of it providing most of my income. Art doesn't pay. Especially with those people doing the grants (I know exactly what you're talking about).

    It's good to hear that someone else thinks about that other grassy yard. So have I--on occasion and without the 2.1 kids. :)

  2. I have to say that I really enjoyed reading your post, both because it's interesting in itself but also because you're very realistic in terms of the actual cost of pursuing your dreams. Like you say, it takes more than positive thinking to pay the bills. That said, having a day job and at the same time being able to what you love as a hobby, isn't bad eiter:)

  3. Eres tú bailando???Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh Qué maravilla!!!
    El flamenco se lleva en el alma y veo que está muy cerca de la tuya.
    Qué súper post from the heart, ahhhhhhhhh.
    Toda mí admiración y cariño,andaluza de corazón.

  4. Thank you for an eye-opening post! Like AA said above, art doesn't pay. That's a sad but true statement. But it sounds like you love it with all your heart, so you *have* to do it! And pls don't quit your blog - it's so good.

  5. I know nothing about Flamenco, so this post is interesting on many levels!

    I respect you for going out and trying to make it work and then realizing you're a lot more stable financially with multiple jobs. I feel like anyone who loves the arts has to do this. I've seen it with my sister, who's a writer and maintains about 3 to 5 jobs at any given time.

    I'll have to watch the video later tonight when I'm at home!

    I've started to believe that being an adult is finding a way to make all your interests work in some way. When I was growing up, I wanted to be around animals all the time. I consider myself an animal rights activist, but at the same time I'm not going to go and become a vet. So instead, I volunteered and fostered dogs and cats at shelter for 2 years. Sure, it's not "The Dream," but it's part of the dream that makes me feel satisfied.


  6. Wow! Loved this post and your open and honest opinion about the struggles that come when trying to follow your dreams. I completely agree that it is important to dream big but also keep your feet firmly planted in the real world. It isn't all roses and great music. ;) So glad you didn't give up dancing altogether. - Katy

  7. I understand 100% what you mean about surviving as a performing artist. If it wasn't for Nate, and the fact that I get to teach too I wouldn't be in the boat I'm in.

  8. Omg that's awesome! You look gorgeous dancing :)

  9. That video was AMAZING!!!! I loved, loved, loved the energy, the confidence, and the dancing - I just loved it. And it's so funny because I'm reading through your answers and I'm saying to myself, I wanna see a video of her dancing! Thanks so much for that!

    As for your experiences, I completely and totally relate to what you're saying about the day job. As much as I would love to be a writer full time, I'm not at the point yet where it can pay my bills and help support my family. I want it to be my full time job in the future but for now I have to keep the day job so I can puruse it with wreckless abandon and not worry about having an income.

  10. Hi my dear-what an amazing and insightful post, yes self employment is indeed very hard and as a part time vintage fashion seller I know its more for the love of it than the money. Well done on your massive achievements to date in Flamenco, following your heart and having the lifestyle you had was in my opinion a really good choice to choose. xxxx

  11. That is amazing!!! Sometimes I think it's better to take something we love and not make it our life. That way it remains something we love. =)

  12. Oh man, I just wrote the looooongest comment and now blogger has eaten it. I don't even know what I said anymore, it was so long... It was something about the change of dynamics when your passion becomes your job, i.e. your income and that I still believe an interesting life is more important than owning a house - and that I really enjoyed reading an honest post about this subject. X

  13. I can totally relate, my sister is a professional belly dancer. She performs and holds workshops internationally and locally, is really one of the best out there and yet, it's no walk in the park. It's HARD. I had started to pursue music and when my band broke up I let it go. I was so glad I had done it but it was demoralizing knowing I'd be struggling for so long. I respect your outlook and while you've had your share of struggles, you seem to have found ways to keep it in your life in a realistic manner.

    That dance sequence was unbelievable! Do tell if you ever perform in Northern California.
    xo, f
    The House in the Clouds

  14. You are a totally and utterly amazing woman, V!
    I'm late in commenting because I wanted to read your post properly and I'm in awe, not only with your brilliant writing but your dedication, enthusiasm and passion for Flamenco.
    That video is absolutely spellbinding. x

  15. Thank you all for your kind encouraging comments and your shared stories of the trials and tribulations of pursuing and living the dream!

    @Aesthetic Alterations - actually I thought of you writing this post! When I came across your blog initially your blurb made me think how much we had in common regarding spending time out to pursue a creative life.

    @sacramento - muchas gracias hija! Si soy yo bailando xx

  16. Wonderfully thoughtful post. It is such a difficult decision -- food/shelter or your art. Years ago, I nearly went the full-time dancer's path which would have meant giving up a lucrative (non-dance) career in NYC to pack up for the bohemian, and likely poor, dance life in Italy. I ended up choosing the comfortable life. Now, I am so blessed to have a very supportive husband who lets me enjoy my creative outlets. I have a good friend who still struggles, in middle age and alone, with her dancer's life.

    As for Flamenco, I absolutely love all of it and always try to catch a show when the opportunity presents itself. You are fortunate to have the gift of flamenco!

  17. Great post. Very realistic approach to work and following your passion. xx
    We Shop Therefore We Are

  18. This is well said and very, very honest. I know that years ago I spent 5 years building up a network to make a living as a free lance writer, primarily wanting to do creative writing. And then my marriage fell apart. Suddenly I was presented with the need to support three daughters...and I made the decision I needed to, but I did indeed have a fine taste of the creative life.

  19. I'd love to be able to dance, honestly)
    Great post, and I'm with you on so many points. I've always dreamt about being a full-time writer. I love to write, I've had a few publications, but it's almost impossible to make a descent living out of it. Well, at least for a few years, and there's no garanties that it'll took off and bring me success. And there's always the question with those gaps in CV (been there).
    I love that your post is so realistic. It's great to make a living out of things you absolutely love, but sometimes we have to compromise.

  20. I loved this post! It's so good to hear from somebody who has tried to make things work and is realistic without abandoning their passion. I don't have an all consuming passion (other than to keep learning, but it could be anything, I'm not fussy) but I'm not sure if I did, I would be brave enough to pursue it. I am so scared of financial insecurity, it's almost pathological. Not sure why really.

  21. I got goosebumps watching the video! Thank you so much for sharing!
    My brother is musician, so, I know very well how hard it is! He has two jobs to support his passion.

  22. best blog post i have read in a while. I adore flamenco, purely as a spectator. I tried to be a professional ballerina and have tried a few bits and pieces of flamenco over the years, i would love to study in Spain one day but confiednce of not being Spanish has always held me back. I LOVE that you went for it and you are superb!....duende ;)

  23. You are such an INCREDIBLE woman. No words, I have no words good enough to describe how AWESOME and AWE INSPIRING you are. And if you ever want to give up your day job again... it should be for writing... you blow my mind. Have just spent time reading your latest posts and just... wow.

    ...and watching you dance... if I can't describe how I feel reading the way you write... there's no chance describing watching you dance!!

    cripes I'm coming over all lovestruck!! oh well. You are an incredible woman and I have no problem gushing about that!


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