How to survive on nothing: No money? No problem! Find food, furniture, fun on a dancer's salary. (Young Dancer).
Jason Shipley-Holmes, a dancer at La La La Human Steps in Montreal, for instance, says it's entirely possible to furnish a spacious two-bedroom apartment with objects that are found for free on garbage day. He did just that when he was a student in the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's professional division. "It wasn't easy to find that last piece for my living room," Shipley-Holmes recalls. "A leg was bent when I found it, and it smelled like the subway, but it was nothing that a hammer and a bottle of Clorox couldn't fix." Suddenly, he had a totally retro, rolling, stainless steel TV unit that was the envy of the whole ballet school.
Garage sales, estate sales, and going-out-of-business sales are great places to look for furniture and fixtures. Check newspaper classified ads on Friday night or local internet bulletin boards, and show up early Saturday morning before the good stuff is gone. Don't be afraid to mention that you're a fiscally challenged dancer before asking the seller for the price--and remember to haggle. In many places around the country, you'll find a monthly antique flea market; sometimes, at the end of the day, sellers actually leave things behind because they don't want to schlepp them home.
After you have made your space habitable, you'll want to fill your belly. You can do this even when your wallet is almost empty. Gianni Di Marco from Boston Ballet showed me a delicious dinner of black beans and rice that can satisfy a big party of hungry dancers, and it costs about as much as an appetizer at Ocean Bar and Grill on 81st Street in New York City. All you need are some vegetables, black beans, rice, and a pot. The recipe is written on the bag of beans. If you want wine, Trader Joe's and membership wholesalers like Costco (find a friend who belongs and shop with them) have bottles for under $5.
Because dancers perform better when they eat nutritiously, go to inexpensive farmers' markets with your friends, because vendors will give good deals when you buy fresh food in bulk. Ikolo Griffin, a soloist at Dance Theatre of Harlem, has become an expert on how to eat fresh, organic food on a low budget. He says that health food stores tend to be too expensive for him, so he shops at a co-op grocery instead. Most cities have them. Griffin belongs to the Park Slope food co-op in Brooklyn, where membership brings numerous benefits. To belong, he works a two-and-a-half-hour shift every four weeks. "Not only is it easy, it's fun," he says. "In return for working I get organic produce, meats, and cheeses for about half the price I would pay elsewhere."
But being on a budget doesn't mean that you can't go to restaurants. You simply have to pick the right spots. Search for crowded places full of locals and low prices, where the owner of the restaurant cooks the food and serves it.
Following dinner, you can find plenty of activities to do for free. Most museums have special evenings when they are open late and don't charge admission. Check your local newspaper for art openings (sometimes with free wine and cheese). Look at university and college bulletin boards for no- or low-cost lectures and events. Dana Genshaft, a San Francisco Ballet corp's member (pictured browsing, above and at left), likes to see inexpensive films at San Francisco's German cultural center, the Goethe-Institut Inter Nationes.
If you have a student ID, use it to get discounts on performances, museums, and lectures. If you don't have one, consider enrolling in an inexpensive college. I took a class at City College in San Francisco in video editing for $45, and the ample discounts I received with my student ID card exceeded the cost of enrolling in the class. Plus, I learned an excellent new computer skill.
For dancers who want to work part-time, it is important to find a desk job. The dancing waiter is a myth--after hours of class and rehearsal, most dancers can't be on their feet all evening. That's why computer skills, if only data entry or typing, are extremely helpful for dancers who want to make a decent wage while their bodies recover from training. An entry-level temp job is a good place to start giving computers a try.
Cross-training on a shoestring? Ask people with gym memberships to let you take advantage of their free guest passes. The big boom in yoga means that many studios now offer free introductory classes. Gypsy around town from studio to studio for free. Then ask your favorite one to do a work exchange. At the San Francisco Bay Area's Funky Door Yoga, students get unlimited yoga classes in exchange for a four-hour shift every week. Also, look for workout zones in city parks.
Sharing an apartment is a popular way to save money. Serious dancers should look for serious roommates. Still, if your roommates decide to have a loud Super Bowl party on your only day off, the library can be your quiet sanctuary. Even crowded city parks or cafes can be good places for private time, especially when you bring a book or slip on your headphones. After all, the world is what you make of it.
Eric Wolfram was a financially challenged dancer for years. Today he is still relatively free of material possessions in San Francisco, where he is a writer and documentary filmmaker.
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|Date:||Jul 1, 2003|
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