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.