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By Lauren Kay
Four dancers who left the city for calmer options
When dancers move to New York City, they’re greeted with the artistic riches of countless classes, diverse performances, nonstop auditions, and inspiration from peers. But there’s a price for this abundance: sky-high rents, packed subways, fierce competition, and taxing survival jobs. Sometimes these hassles are worth the payoff, but sometimes the frustrating, expensive city can gobble up creativity and hope.
If you are based in New York and find yourself fighting the city more often than loving it, perhaps it’s time to consider this: There are myriad opportunities outside of New York for dancers who are looking for a more “normal” life—without sacrificing a career of dancing. Dance Magazine spoke to four dancers who said goodbye to New York but maintained a successful career. Here’s why and how they made the move.
Katie Sina Kindig: Finding Broadway Anywhere
Musical theater veteran Katie Sina Kindig had found success in the Big Apple: With a sparkling personality and fierce technique, she landed roles in national tours and regional theaters. The energy and constant opportunities to train appealed to Sina Kindig, but the inevitable rejection, cost of living, and lack of space took their toll.
In 2011 she started to think about leaving. “I didn’t have a hate relationship with the city, but after 10 years I knew it was time to go,” she says. “I wanted more space, and in terms of eventually having a family, I knew it’d be more affordable elsewhere.”
For Sina Kindig, the place to move was clear: After first working at the well-respected Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in 2007 (dancing in the ensemble of Thoroughly Modern Millie), she had already been hired there six more times. Gradually, she started exploring the town of Lancaster and realized that its blend of cosmopolitan feel, thriving artistic community, and idyllic setting suited her. So when her rent was raised $200 a month for the coming year, she seized the moment. “I loved my community in Pennsylvania and I knew I would be able to build a career there,” she says.
During the transition, Sina Kindig had an epiphany: “The quality of shows at the Fulton is like being in a Broadway show,” she says. “It hit me that when I perform at Fulton, it’s the way I’d perform on Broadway. No less. How is that different? Wherever you perform, perform full-out.”
Stephanie Wolf: Stable Security
Stephanie Wolf danced with the Minnesota Ballet, James Sewell Ballet, and Ballet Montana before moving to New York in 2010. “I was always curious if I could make it there, especially after summers spent at American Ballet Theatre and Joffrey Ballet programs,” she says.
While she was initially interested in musical theater and commercial work, the New York scene steered her back to concert dance. She enjoyed freelancing with Continuum Contemporary/Ballet, Ballets with a Twist, Covenant Ballet Theatre, and the Metropolitan Opera. But “the actual living felt like a full-time job on top of dancing,” she says with a sigh. “I hate the subway and felt unsafe often, and having roommates was stressful.” Wolf also felt her networking skills were inadequate. “The hustle you have to have to get the next gig was shocking,” she admits. “I struggled with that uncertainty of not getting a steady paycheck. I got sick in New York more than I ever had.”
She’d kept in touch with the artistic team from Ballet Nouveau Colorado after a 2008 audition, tried out again in 2011 and got the job. “I felt so relieved,” says Wolf. “I didn’t realize how ready I was to leave the city, and it was an overwhelming positive feeling.”
While her work at BNC is demanding, “my life feels so much easier,” she says. “I can focus on dancing without a million other jobs. I’m more centered and can reach deeper into my artistry because I’m not worrying.”
Wolf says the first step to feeling comfortable leaving the city is realizing how rich the rest of the country is in dance opportunities. “Minneapolis is bursting,” she says, “and you can make a living as a freelancer there, just like Seattle and Denver!”
Wolf suggests building connections early on. “Reach out to companies you’re interested in,” she says. “I cultivated a relationship with BNC over years and I knew what I was getting myself into.”
Matthew Cumbie: Full-Life Opportunity Over Location
A latecomer to dance, Matthew Cumbie started training while at Texas Lutheran University before attending an Ailey summer program in 2007. Though he was excited by the energy of the city, he was overwhelmed and left to earn his MFA at Texas Woman’s University. “I had always imagined I’d be involved in the educational aspects of dance,” he says. “But in the MFA program I started to find my voice as a performer.”
When he moved back to New York in 2011 he was thrilled to find working with choreographers like Christian Von Howard, Jill Sigman, and Keith Thompson was satisfying, though exhausting at times. Soon, he started dancing with Cassie Meador, artistic director of the Dance Exchange in the Washington, DC, area and began splitting his time between the two cities.
When Cumbie was offered a full-time position as dancer and education coordinator at the Dance Exchange last summer, he decided it was the right move. “Though I didn’t fully want to leave the city, the opportunity to have a full-time contract with a company I believe in both onstage and off was unbelievable,” he says. “Sometimes I think dancers forget to look at the whole picture. Those full-life opportunities with a salary are hard to come by in New York.”
Now in DC, Cumbie says he relies on his company as a starting point for networking and support, and is still looking for his niche. He seeks out contacts and friends by engaging in the arts community, taking as many classes as possible and playing in a gay soccer league. He uses Facebook and DC’s neighborhood Listserve system to connect with new friends.
Courtney D. Jones: Constant Contact
A 2012 “25 to Watch,” Courtney D. Jones graduated from the dance program at SUNY Purchase in 2004. When she moved to New York, she joined Jennifer Muller/The Works for four years before hitting the road with the first national tour of Wicked. “In New York, there was the feeling of opportunity standing outside your door, and a hunger you don’t see anywhere else,” she says.
While she loved—and still loves—the city, Jones felt a nagging sense of urgency. “I was anxious and ready to achieve certain goals, like teaching and creating work that I hadn’t been able to do in New York,” she says. “I wanted to set my own path. I might have been able to do it in the city, but not as soon.”
While on tour over an eight-month period, she sent out feelers to cities she was considering, prioritizing her hometown of Houston. “I felt a responsibility to bring all the information and art I had gained back to Houston,” she says. When she contacted Jane Weiner of Hope Stone Dance Company to ask about the Houston scene, she was not only greeted with info, but was invited to join the company. When Wicked visited Houston, Jones stayed for good.
Jones says her decision to stay in Houston was encouraged by a simple piece of advice from Weiner. “Jane said, ‘Give it a year to see what happens in Houston. If you don’t like it, go back to New York. It’s not going anywhere.’ It’s so true! That worked for me and now I’m enjoying dancing and serving as an adjunct professor at the University of Houston. Here, I can do all those things at once.”
Jones stresses that maintaining a connection to New York is key to her success and happiness overall. “I feel it’s my duty as both performer and teacher to know what’s happening there and in L.A.,” she says, “so I can offer that information in my classes and use it in my own process.”
Now Jones helps her students broaden their horizons. “My kids are so Los Angeles– and New York–focused,” she says. “But seeing me back in Houston is turning on different lights for them.”
Lauren Kay is a dancer and writer in NYC.