Circus Act: The Art of Job Juggling

MFA rightEntering the workforce in Houston in 2011 was a daunting task, but I was gung-ho and determined to make a living that made use of my major. I had friends who had graduated and had ended up working in retail or waitressing. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with these professions, but they were not what I had in mind for a dream job after earning my MFA. I wanted to be a vital artist and educator in the Houston community. My first goal in getting involved in the Houston dance scene was to get into class, so my first “job” was actually an unpaid internship that provided me with free dance classes. Secondly, I wanted to perform, so, through auditioning and networking, I found myself dancing with two small modern dance companies my first year out. Thirdly, I wanted to teach dance at the college level, so I applied at all the colleges and universities in the surrounding area, and was hired as an adjunct instructor to teach a single class at San Jacinto College.

So can we just take a moment to talk about the adjunct hustle for a little bit?

Being an adjunct instructor truly sucks for several reasons. First of all, there is a limit to how many classes you are allowed to teach per semester at any given college. In 201Reahearsal 2 - credit Lynn Lane1, I was only allowed to teach three classes, or nine credit hours per semester, not that I was offered that many. Now, it’s even less than that for most adjuncts. Three classes equals nine hours a week at about $38 per hour. This comes out to about $1,300 a month before taxes, which might cover rent and electricity. For those of us needing to be truly independent, this just doesn’t cut it, and additional jobs are necessary. Secondly, health insurance is not included in the whole adjunct deal. Unfortunately, I turned 26 very shortly after I graduated from college, so the new health insurance legislation didn’t help me at all. So, there’s another expense to add to the list. Thirdly, job security is nonexistent. In order for college classes to “make” and actually occur, there have to be enough students signed up for the courses prior to the first day of classes. The magic number seems to be ten; if ten students are not signed up for the course by the first class day, the class will likely be cancelled, and guess what? That means you don’t have a job. Add to all this that your entire paycheck practically goes to gas for you to commute to all your different jobs, and we find that it’s a ridiculous way to make a living. I am wondering why we are allowing this nonsense to continue.

Back to my story

By 2013, I felt pretty grounded in the sense that I had acquired enough jobs to financially support myself without fully sacrificing a career in dance. Most of my conversations upon meeting new people went something like this:

Random crawfish boil guy: “So, what do you do?”

Me: “I’m an artist… I’m a dancer and a dance educator in Houston.”

Random crawfish boil guy: “That’s cool, so you do like ballet and stuff?”

Me: “Yeah, well, when I perform, most of it is Modern dance, but I do teach ballet to several different age groups. I also teach tap, jazz, modern, creative movement… And I teach different body conditioning classes at a few places.”

Random crawfish boil guy: “Wow, so you dance too?”

Me: “Yes, I’m a performer with a couple of dance companies and occasionally do projects with some independent artists in the Houston area.”

Random crawfish boil guy: “Cool, so what ages do you teach?”

Me: “Well… all ages. At one studio I teach a parent and me class to students under two years, and I teach creative movement and pre-ballet to three to five year olds. At another studio I teach ballet, jazz, and tap to students ranging from second grade to ninth grade. I also teach college courses in modern dance and dance appreciation at San Jacinto College, North and South campuses. And I teach conditioning classes to all different ages at another studio.”

Random crawfish boil guy: “Wow… so you have like six jobs.”

Me: “yeah…”

Random crawfish boil guy: “Do you think you ever might, like, open up your own studio?”

Me: “No…” 

And, that’s pretty much it. It wasn’t until after my job juggling was well under way that I read an article in the New York Times written by Hannah Seligson that put my unique position into perspective. The article was titled Job Jugglers, on the Tightrope and it highlighted a new trend in employment in which graduates who have not yet landed that full time job, and whose income is not enough to meet their expenses, must juggle several different positions just to make ends meets. It told of one graduate who was a blog writer and a baby sitter five nights a week for six different families. She was living without insurance, and occasionally, when she didn’t have enough babysitting gigs lined up, was not able to make rent. Another story told of a recent graduate who was an actress, a dance instructor, a babysitter, a spinning instructor, and an administrative assistant for various employers. This story hit home.

I felt like I was reading about myself, and even though this was not at all where I thought I would be two to three years out of grad school, I felt a sense of pride. I hadn’t given up on my dream of a career in dance. I was performing, and teaching, and taking classes, and so I took a moment to let it sink in that I was no failure. I also recognized that I was not alone in the circus act; there were plenty others out there in all kinds of professions who were not living the normal nine to five. I felt a sense of belonging. I was part of a generation that was told as children they could be and do anything they wanted to, and then, ten years later, when the economy told them that they couldn’t, they were doing it anyway. I had found a sense of identity.

Then I read something that changed my perspective. That same young lady who occasionally struggled to pay her rent said, “I don’t want to be 30 and working a bunch of small jobs just so I can pay my bills.” And I was like, “yeah, me neither.” But that’s the thing… none of us would be living like this if there was really another option, right? So the question was raised, how long is too long to allow the circus act to go on? Eventually, the performers have to pack their bags and move on.

photo by Lynn Lane
photo by Lynn Lane

Jamie Zahradnik is from Wharton, Texas.  She attained her BFA in Dance from SHSU graduating Summa Cum Laude in May 2008, and her MFA in Dance in 2011.  She is also a certified Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analyst.  Jamie has performed with Rednerrus Feil Dance Company, and Psophonia Dance Company, and has most recently performed for local independent artists Laura Gutierrez, Brittany Theford-Deveau, and Rebekah Chappell. Jamie currently serves as a dance professor and the dance program coordinator for San Jacinto College. She loves sharing herself with others through performing, teaching, and creating.

Do you have a grad school story you’d like to share? Have questions or advice that you gleaned from higher ed? Was it all that you dreamed of?  Or maybe not?  Contact us, we’d love to hear from you.

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