Begin Again: Side Hustles!

July 19, 2022

Whether it’s because many dance gigs don’t pay much, freelance schedules are unpredictable, or a dancer is just starting out in their professional journey (like me), most dancers have side gigs to pay the bills. Mine are writing for Dance Media (obviously) and teaching recreational dancers between the ages of 3 and 10 at my own school, City Dance, in New York City’s Upper West Side neighborhood. Here, I share how I chose my nonperformance jobs and how the combination of careers has benefited my dancing.

Choosing My Moneymakers

Growing up, I never really thought past a professional dance career; it was such a mammoth goal that I feared entertaining anything else might jinx it. But when my health tanked and I couldn’t perform, I needed money. What’s more, I needed to feel connected to dance—thankfully, at the same time Center Stage Performing Arts studio in Orem, Utah, needed a teacher and offered me a job.

Over the course of four years, I taught ballet, jazz and private lessons to some of their top competitive teams. Some of my former students even went on to dance on So You Think You Can DanceDancing with the StarsWorld of Dance and Dancing with the Stars: Juniors. In fact, two of them, Carter Williams and Alexis Warr Burton, are on the current season of SYTYCD!

Hilton with her City Dance students. Photo by Kadey Kia, Courtesy Hilton.

Simultaneously, I got a degree in journalism from Brigham Young University—a path I decided on because I’d always enjoyed my English classes in high school. When it came time to choose my senior-year internship, it was a no-brainer. I had grown up reading Dance SpiritDance MagazinePointe and Dance Teacher and was certain I would enjoy working for them. Once again, it was a job that would keep me connected to the dance world while I couldn’t perform myself. What’s more? It was located in New York City. Which meant if I somehow got healthy, I would be in the perfect place to start dancing again. (Which is exactly what happened!)

I didn’t think I would have the energy to write full-time and teach while in Manhattan, but a year into living in the city, a mother in my neighborhood asked me to teach a class for her child and a few of their friends. After teaching at Center Stage, I was skeptical of recreational training, but I decided to give it a shot. Since then, that small class of five dancers has grown into a small school, with about 30 kids, that I’m super-proud of. Earlier in my life I never envisioned myself teaching or writing, but now I can’t imagine my life without either!

Symbiotic Side Hustles

Choosing two plan-B careers that incorporate my natural skill set as well as what I’m passionate about (dance) has turned out to be a major gift. (Of course, there are an infinite number of side-hustle paths to take that aren’t associated with dance at all, but, for me, this has been the right call.) Each one weaves into the other, benefiting my writing, my teaching, my dancing and my happiness. 

Hilton and her dancers after a performance. Courtesy Hilton.

For example, I noticed there were some gaps in my teaching arsenal that I wasn’t sure how to fill. I figured other teachers might have similar questions, so I decided to take a teacher training program (ABT’s National Training Curriculum) and write about it for Dance Teacher. The experience gave our readers valuable information and also helped me become a better educator. While I was prepping for my students’ recital this year, I was struggling to clean the numbers. I figured this might be a common problem for other teachers, so I pitched a story and interviewed experts who gave great advice that helped both me and my readers. And, of course, the clearest example of career symbiosis is in this very vlog/column. Writing about my return benefits my dancing by pushing me to do things I might not have tried otherwise, which in return benefits my writing, giving me interesting anecdotes to share with our readers. (And hopefully help them, too!)

Teaching and writing about dance has been ideal for me, but I would love to hear about the opportunities that have kept you afloat financially during your dancing years. Head on over to Dance Magazine’s Instagram account and comment on your favorite side hustle/day job to date! And check out this month’s accompanying vlog over on Dance Magazine’s YouTube channel to see one of my side hustles in action—my school had its recital and I documented the whole process. The results are positively adorable!