Welcome to the first installment in our series on alternative dance gigs! This month, we’re talking about tourism and the various ways you, as a dancer, are perfect for the job.
Tourist attraction: The Ride
Large cities that bring in a significant portion of their GDP through tourism are always looking for new ways to entertain their tourists. In New York, for example, there’s a tour bus company that hires street performers to perform for their buses. That company is called The Ride.
I work as a ballerina for The Ride, and perform anywhere between 12 to 40 pas de deux a week. My partner and I dance outside, in the center of Columbus Circle (a public space on the inside of a traffic circle) just off the southwest corner of Central Park. We do a manège-style pas as the bus drives around the traffic circle. The left wall of the tour bus is made of floor to ceiling windows, and the passengers’ seats (49 in total) are raked and face outward, to get the best view of the city streets and the “spontaneous” performances that happen to occur. Other acts are sprinkled around the city; I work with some extremely talented actors, singers, musicians, rappers, tappers, breakdancers and other ballet dancers.
It’s admittedly a strange job. But it runs more like a show than you might expect. We have a “stage” manager at the office to track the buses and ensure that each performer gets to their location on time. We have a costume department. (They’re fantastic; my tutu lights up!) Our tech department ensures that we can hear our music and sets up cues throughout the show. Sure, our run time depends mostly on traffic, but I perform for up to 500 people a day. That’s the same as a Broadway theater.
It’s also provided me with perks that few jobs I’ve found inside the dance industry can match. I set my own hours, and if I need to leave for an extended period of time, I can always come back. In fact, many of the dancers I work with book contracts for national or international tours, leaving for anywhere between a few weeks to a couple of years. And they’re welcomed back to work when they return. If we’re counting decent pay as a perk, the tourism industry has a far more consistent stream of customers than the arts tend to, and can provide compensation that matches that stability.
Of course, there are aspects to it that are very different from dancing on stage. First and foremostly, the floor isn’t sprung. Dancing on concrete definitely takes its toll if you aren’t vigilant about warm-up, stretching after your shift and generally taking care of your body. When repeating the same choreography 12 times in a night, it’s vital your placement is correct. I’ve learned to adjust how I move to compensate for the floor, and am careful about employing my technique to protect my joints and muscles. I’ve also found a fantastic stretch class that I attend religiously.
Our buses run year-round, which means all seasons, all weather. Never did I think I’d find myself performing an actual Snow Pas, but here we are. There’s a double-breasted white coat and matching faux fur hat that the costume department gives us in the winter, which have the uncanny ability to make anyone who puts them on look like a Russian Czarina. This coat, too, lights up. An extra pair of dry socks goes a long way, and those hand warmer packets are worth more than gold to me. All in all, it requires a fair amount of discipline to do safely, and a borderline vengeance against the cold to do at all. But the shops around that area have learned to recognize the glow of the Columbus Circle Ballerina, and I’ve received a complimentary hot chocolate on more than one occasion.
There are inconveniences to working outside, of course. But for every skateboarder whom I dodge, there’s a little girl also wearing a tutu who wants to show me her moves. I’ve had local residents stop me on the street to say that seeing this pas de deux from their apartment window is the highlight of their evenings, and some opinionated strangers lecture me on how I’ll never be an artist if keep doing this job. I view it as community outreach for dance. I’ve had countless conversations with parents about ballet schools and dance programs. Maybe I inspire someone to walk seven blocks north and catch a ballet at Lincoln Center, someone who wouldn’t have otherwise thought to?
What stands out about The Ride most to me is the team behind it. In a show set on the New York City streets, where almost anything can go wrong, it’s cool to see cast and crew make any situation work. No matter what, the show must go on.
CEO/CCO of The Ride, Richard Humphrey, says, “The dancers hired by The Ride have years of training and the rigorous discipline that comes with it! They understand commitment and focus and the importance of every performance. That professionalism is welcomed and counted upon by our growing audiences.”
That professionalism is valuable in any job, inside the dance industry or out of it. We show up and we get it done, and that’s an attractive quality to any employer. I hope that when employers in outside fields see professional dance training or work experience on a prospective employee’s resume, they know they have a hard worker on their hands, with creative problem-solving skills and a solid sense of team. We’ve got grace, we’ve got grit, and we really need the supplemental income.
Thinking of visiting New York? Come see The Ride! Check out the show schedule here.
By Holly LaRoche of Dance Informa.