For Dancers, the Not-So-Lazy Days of Summer

For Dancers, the Not-So-Lazy Days of Summer

A body in motion tends to stay in motion, so summer can present a challenge for dancers. For those who work at ballet companies, the period after July 4 usually means a layoff of at least a few weeks. But free time doesn’t necessarily mean sloth. (Though, like all of us, dancers crave rest.) Summer is festival season. With events like the Vail Dance Festival or the Fire Island Dance Festival, the summer months can offer opportunities to try on new roles or different styles, to choreograph or maybe to collaborate with dancers from other companies.

It can also be a time of anxiety, particularly for dancers at smaller companies or freelancers. With downtime comes a loss of income, which must be supplemented in other ways.

For a lucky few, summer is time — at least in part — for some much-needed rest from the demands of an art that takes its toll on the body. I spoke with dancers from different disciplines: ballet, modern, tap and Indian classical dance, about what they do in the summer months. Their accounts have been edited and condensed.

Sarah Hayes Harkins, 29, has been a dancer with Charlotte Ballet in North Carolina since 2008. Though the company has no official ranks, Ms. Harkins has performed most of the principal parts: Cinderella, Aurora in “Sleeping Beauty” and Sugarplum in “The Nutcracker.” The company has 20 dancers, for whom it guarantees at least 36 weeks of work. (This arrangement is not unusual, and 36 weeks is considered good in the field.) That leaves up to 16 unpaid weeks a year.

During the summer layoff, my husband — a classical guitarist — and I definitely have to hunker down and be really conscious of the money going out and coming in. My main source of other work here in Charlotte is teaching private ballet lessons.

I also drive for Lyft. I have a Volkswagen Tiguan, a little silver baby S.U.V. I make a solid average of $10 an hour. I’ll do it for most of the day and not take a break. If I stretch for a while after I’m done, I’m fine. It doesn’t make my body feel any worse than it already does.

To be honest, the time goes by very quickly. I’m a super social person so if they want to talk I’m totally down for that. For me it’s the perfect little side job. Last year I drove Aziz Ansari. I picked him up from Bojangles’ Coliseum where he had been doing a show. Aziz and his dad came out the back door and hopped in. He was really nice. He was watching videos of the show he had just done on his phone. At one point, his dad was trying to give me directions, and Aziz stopped him and said, dad, she’s got the thing, you don’t have to tell her how to get there!

The Chennai-born dancer Shantala Shivalingappa lives in Paris and spends much of the year on the road. Her training is in the Indian classical dance form kuchipudi, but just as often, she works with contemporary choreographers and theater directors. Each summer, Ms. Shivalingappa, 43, leaves her performing life behind and returns to India.

I spend almost two and a half months in India, without anything related to performing. My parents have a farmhouse here [on the outskirts of Chennai] on a piece of land near the seaside, with coconut trees, a vegetable garden and a mango grove. The sea is just down the road. It gives me a lot of distance from my performing life. I have no plans, each day just happens.

For the first month and a half, I do no dancing at all. I don’t even listen to music. My day starts before sunrise. I do about three and a half hours of yoga on the terrace. This has been my routine for the last two years and it has totally transformed me. It’s made my body much stronger and more fluid, at an age when I started feeling certain tensions and aches.

In the afternoon, I help with watering the garden or pulling weeds or picking fruit. Then I go to the beach, usually right before sunset. The wonderful thing about a warm country like India is that you’re so in touch with the elements. You feel the sun on your skin, you walk barefoot, you sit on the earth. It’s very grounding.

Ms. Shivalingappa will perform her kuchipudi evening “Akasha” at the Joyce Theater in New York in fall.

Since then, I’ve been mostly teaching. Here in Calgary, I have a summer intensive that I started with one of my colleagues, Danny Nielsen, called Training Dayz. My son gets to spend time with grandma, and I can get some work done. It’s win-win. After that it’s back to New York, where I tend to teach private lessons or set up my own workshops through Labor Day. So if I want down time, I have to make it.

Motherhood, it’s like being shot out of a cannon. But I’m still an artist. A freelance artist. I’m working on a show with another tap dancer, Kazunori Kumagai, for 2020. In the absence of institutional support, I had to make a two-year plan so I could pay myself maternity leave. Thank god I love to improvise, because motherhood is the biggest improvisation I’ve ever done.

There’s a level of relief in not dancing as much. I needed a break from that relentless drive. I still want to perform for a bit longer, but I also want to try other things I couldn’t do before. I do have a new sense of freedom to do that.

After the festival, I [went] on a road trip to the Southwest with my partner. We [wanted] to visit some national parks and be in nature. At the beginning of vacation, I don’t want to move at all. No dancing. Probably toward the end of the holiday I’ll start doing my own barre so that when I come back it’s not a complete shock. Before we left New York we had some fittings with Twyla [Tharp], who is making a ballet for us this fall. She said, “Enjoy your holiday, but make sure you come back in shape!”

Mr. Royal will have his New York debut in Apollo on Oct. 17 during American Ballet Theater’s fall season at the David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center.

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