BY STEPHANIE SALTS
Across the street from where I used to work was the business headquarters of Johnson & Johnson. The building had a big beautiful lawn with leafy trees and flowers. I would watch the maintenance workers out the window as I did barre. Every day, they would mow the lawn, blow leaves or trim trees. There were so many business suits and coffee breaks. Day after day, I began to grow more and more envious of the outside world, and I think my growing desire to become a lawnmower was telling of two major truths in my life:
One. It was time for change. I can’t live inside a Gingerbread House.
Two. I realized I have some things to say and no one else can say them for me.
We all know art is the expressive language of the person creating it. I felt like I hadn’t said anything for years. I was tired of speaking for other people and, frankly, I was feeling resentful about it.
It’s completely unfair to expect someone else to speak my own creative language. That’s like saying to someone from the South, “Stop talking like that.”
I’ll admit I have this romantic notion that there is a prince out there who will swoop in and take me away to my dream job where I love the choreography, my opinion matters, my time is valued, my body is considered and cared for, the pay is high, the shows are many, etc. Maybe there is a place out there like that. Maybe I’ll find it someday. But even then I wouldn’t be able to rely on that job to say everything I need to say. Plus, I don’t have time to waste.
I have been freelancing in NYC since June 2015. It’s been wonderful. The freedom to say yes to things I really believe in has been liberating. I have also been able to investigate new expressions of my language. So when people ask me,
What do you do?
Well, I don’t really know how to answer that question. It’s kind of like a trick question people say to ask, “How do you make money?” or “How do you get by?” There are a lot of things I do. Not all of them make money consistently.
I dance with trusted friends and am a member of the Steps Repertory Ensemble.
I write for my friend’s photography blog and interview the homeless.
I help my friends in production work for their photoshoots and events.
I spend hours drawing and creating with the kids I babysit.
I make cartoons and spaghetti hats.
I like to make things; I’ve found that creation attracts opportunity. I was asked to hang my cartoons in a café in Brooklyn where they have local art shifting each month. I didn’t know I would be able to hang my stick figure drawings in a café where hundreds of people would see them. I just was having fun illustrating my thoughts.
Something similar happened when I decided to start something new with my friend Malinda LaVelle, artistic director of Project Thrust, who is now based out of Durango, Colorado.
I wanted to create a solo show on myself. I hadn’t really taken a stab at that yet. It seemed scary from the outside. A solo show all comes down to me. But I knew it was time to start creating, so Malinda and I set out to conceptualize. A week after our first FaceTime call, I got an email inviting me to show up to eight minutes of my own work in a program for the Steps Ensemble. Malinda and I got busy fleshing out our thoughts. I had a couple of FaceTime rehearsals with her in the dance studio. There was absolutely no hesitance as I walked into the room. It was all business. It was all research and it was really, really important. Walking out of the studio that night, I looked at the other classes and rehearsals going on in the studios around me and I felt like I had just discovered a magic portal. My search for where to express myself was over. I found it, thank God. Dance felt important again.
Of course, there are obstacles and financial complications, but I am not worried about those things. Finances (or lack of) cannot halt creation; they can only alter it.
The showing for Steps Ensemble was one of the most rewarding performance experiences I’ve ever had. People saw me and, with that, I’m now ready to continue my work on “Gingerbread House” – my solo show.
Gingerbread House: A place that looks, smells and tastes nice, but is not a sustainable place to live.
If anyone reading this feels like you are stuck in a Gingerbread House, my encouragement to you is that you as a person have a glorious story to share. Let your interests and the things you “do” guide you. And if you have any smart friends, FOR PETE’S SAKE TALK TO THEM. Invite them in and I am sure you too will find yourself knee-deep in research and important work to show.
I would also like to say a special thanks to the people who invited me in on their creative process and taught me to speak their creative language. I am sure my work carries your voice in one form or another, and I wouldn’t be able to do the work I do without you. You are precious.
Stephanie Salts is a freelance artist based out of Brooklyn, New York. She has danced professionally on the East and West Coasts and is currently a member of the Steps Repertory Ensemble. She looks to inform her crafts by trying new things and researching. Lots and lots of research.