New York City dancers get creative to find funding

Sophie Sotsky, the artistic director and founder of the modern dance company, TYKE DANCE, is familiar with the trope of the “starving artist.”

“Everybody has a Kickstarter every week. It’s like, ‘Okay everyone, give your $15 to this person, then the next week it’s this person.’ And it’s the same dollar bill that’s just going around in a circle and nobody has any money,” she said.

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Sophie Sotsky, artistic director of TYKE DANCE. Photo by Paula Court, courtesy of Gibney Dance.

With her curly hair cropped asymmetrically short, a septum piercing, and an array of layered clothing—which she gestures to when explaining how she “sucks” at creating dance costumes—Sotsky fits the part of an unconventional choreographer.  

She says she’s still working on “codifying her movement vocabulary,” but since starting TYKE DANCE in 2011 Sotsky has been creating pieces that combine modern dance techniques and extreme athleticism. It’s a language that’s not always easy to understand.

“You know how when you see a Jackson Pollock painting, it’s actually just paint. The paint doesn’t represent something else, the subject matter and the materials are just the same: paint. That’s my dance. It’s about what’s physically happening,” she said.

The public’s inability to understand dance could be the reason it is one of the more underfunded art forms, and at a time when the cost of living in New York is at an extreme high, dance companies are constantly trying to find cheaper ways to continue making their art.

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Sotsky combines modern dance techniques and extreme athleticism. Photo courtesy of Lindsay Keys.

According to Sotsky, the days of large donors giving money to dance companies are over, so dancers have to rely on crowd funding sites like indiegogo.com or kickstarter.com, which are platforms for online fundraising. But crowd funding can only be successful if donations are made from donors outside of the community, otherwise it becomes a cycle of the same ten dollars being passed from dancer to dancer, ultimately making the dance community more isolated. 

“I worry that as an artist I have resigned myself to the fact that I will unquestioningly spend the rest of my life asking everyone I know for $10,” said Sotsky. “So I’m 26 and I’m not going to ask for that money until I know that this is the show of my career.”

Instead, Sotsky pays for all of her performances and projects out of pocket by working as a freelance electrical technician for nine different dance venues in Manhattan. She lives in an apartment building in Bushwick that has a rehearsal space she can use and she has a group of nine dancers willing to work with her for free.

Gregory Dolbashian, artistic director of the DASH Ensemble, a group of contemporary dancers based in Manhattan, thinks that people need to stop using the words “starving” and “artist” in the same sentence.

“You have to believe that the power is in your hands,” he said. “I think that there’s a lot of money in the city and there’s a million and one ways to get it.”

Dolbashian has been successful with Indiegogo campaigns in the past, but he says that the key is in the personal connections.

“I really try to actually be shaking hands and speaking with people as opposed to just typing on my computer,” he said, but he credited some of his success to the fact that he was born and raised in New York City, and therefore has lifetime relationships he can rely on.

Compared to other art forms such as music and film, funding for dance on crowdfunding sites is incredibly low. In 2014, around 4,000 music projects were funded on Kickstarter, but only 416 dance projects were funded.

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One producer who is working on creating more opportunities for emerging artists is Alexis Convento, the founder of The Current Sessions, a performing arts organization that provides a space for choreographers and dance companies to perform.

The Current Sessions charges choreographers a production fee ranging from $125 to $150 and then provides rehearsal space, light design, sound design, and two performances at the Wild Project Theater in the East Village.  

Convento enjoys being able to bring opportunities to emerging dancers; a group of people that she says are not ready to give up, despite the lack of funding. 

“There’s this energy from the younger crowd to just keep on working even though it costs money,” she said. “When I was first starting work I had a bunch of part time jobs. I was maybe working two restaurants at times, which I know a lot of choreographers are doing now in order to sustain their artistic career.”

Not only do some dancers and choreographers work multiple jobs, but they also turn to alternative methods to stay fit because dance training classes are often too expensive.

“People are taking donation based yoga classes or people are training with their friends or becoming gyrotonic certified, or pilates certified,” said Convento. “It’s been difficult, but there are definitely ways of people coming together.”

Sotsky, who has worked with Convento and The Current Sessions before, has seen this energy in the dance community as well. It’s what keeps her working hard to make her art. 

“I think that’s part of what makes the community so amazing to me,” she said. “Everybody here knows that we’re all going to be living in relative poverty for the foreseeable future and yet we choose it every day anyway. And I’m totally in love with that.”

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