- I’ve always worked in dance, but it’s a main job and a side job.
- Instead of taking “Joe Jobs” and wearing myself out, I focused on creating a lifestyle that worked for me.
- My smart career choices have brought me to a place where dance now represents 30-40% of my income.
My first career was working in dance as a choreographer and dance teacher. Over the years, my dance work has evolved from my main job to a passion project, then to a bona fide side hustle, and has become the only constant in my professional life.
Making my passion my secondary activity allowed me to keep a foothold in the art world and supplement my income, while developing other more lucrative skills to build a stable, fulfilling and diversified professional life. Here’s how I made the side hustle model work for me with a gig that can shrink and grow as needed.
I always knew I should have a ‘Joe Job’
I grew up dancing. By the time I reached high school, attended a reputable art school, and apprenticed as a dance teacher at my local studio, it was clear that I wanted to make a living out of dance. I had few illusions about what this would mean for me financially and made peace with the fact that I would probably still need to have what is sometimes called a “Joe Job”, or some other more stable way to support myself.
It’s a cliché for a reason: entertainers moonlighting as waiters, bartenders, and the like. I have a lot of extremely talented friends working side by side in the service industry and elsewhere. There’s my best friend who’s a brilliant visual artist/waitress, my girlfriend who runs her own successful contemporary dance company and makes handmade pasta, and my ex-music producer who does woodworking, bartender and odd jobs here and there to pay the bills.
When I entered the world of Joe Jobs, I chose to work as a nanny and spend my weekends working in a sportswear store. I’ve done this kind of work for years and I understand why many artists choose this model: there can be a kind of healthy separation and distance in earning your income in a different industry than your career. .
But working in childcare and retail has sapped my energy and contributed little to my dance job or my life in general, other than providing me with some of my funniest anecdotes, stories of horror and dear friends I met while working in the trenches.
At the same time, after years of having him work professionally as a choreographer and teaching dance to support myself (barely), I felt exhausted and disillusioned. Between my main dance gigs and other side jobs, I worked more than full-time, running around town teaching here, there, and everywhere, and writing grant applications on the weekends. Even when my work was scheduled by popular venues and broadcasters, the fees I received barely covered production costs and could never fund the hundreds of hours of rehearsals with dancers, lighting and videographers. Never mind paying me a salary – which happened very rarely.
I finally turned my “main” gig into my side gig
So in 2016, I changed course: I changed careers, I moved into the voluntary sector and I developed another facet of my personality and my potential. I have always kept a sharp foot in the world of dance as a teacher. As my career with the nonprofit took off, my teaching fluctuated from one class a week at first to more than nine or 10 classes a week over the years. In my busiest and most lucrative year, my side hustle pushed me into a new tax bracket. I scaled back my teaching the following year in an effort to strike a balance and get the best of both worlds: a stable income earned doing work that connected me with a sense of purpose and service, and that aligned with my core values, and creative work in dance that connected me to my deepest sense of myself.
Shortly before the pandemic hit, I had found a happy medium: I was advancing into my salaried position as a program manager at a national nonprofit and teaching two nights a week at a dance studio. where I had an established group of regular students. I learned to focus on what worked and what didn’t in my secondary hustle. Teaching in a studio instead of running around town, keeping my weekends free, and setting myself a realistic hourly rate helped create the conditions for a side-hustle that did me good and supplemented my income.
The pandemic has again changed my income and my professional life
The pandemic has led to a great toll for me, as it has for many. I left town, moved to a small town, bought my first house, and quit my nonprofit job to start my own freelance business as a writer and program developer. . I have since stepped up my dance teaching activity, both virtually and in person. And it’s now my most stable source of income, usually accounting for 30-40% of my total income.
The lessons I learned from my early career in dance, where I worked a Joe Job to support myself, prepared me for my now fully independent career as a writer and dance teacher by myself. showing what was not working for me. I wonder now, which of my jobs is secondary hustle? And which is my main gig? To me, it feels like a healthier, more sustainable model and allows me to have so much more than a Joe Job.