When I was a kid, I was passionate about almost everything – dancing, design, art. As we get older and have to pick a career path, however, we tend to drop many of our interests as we try to focus on one thing.
We learn (or buy into) the idea that to get anywhere in our careers, we have to choose one job.
Yes, focus is critical, but the freelance economy and the future of work are making it possible for us to integrate our varied interests and find more creative ways to make a living. Having more than one job is typical.
For example, this week I interviewed Ariane Michaud who is a social media strategist and a dancer. Ariane also works in arts management. She’s building a thriving freelance career – one that allows for growth, challenge, and exploration.
In this interview, Ariane and I discuss how she blends her interests to maximize her opportunities all while leading with a mission to keep her focused.
Give us some background. Where are you from, and where did you start out?
I was born in Montreal, QC, and grew up in Ottawa, ON. Ottawa was a great place to grow up (I think it’s voted the third best city in the world to raise your kids!): quiet, cultured, and incredibly cold.
I was the kind of kid who was always dancing, putting on performances and starting businesses in my basement. My love of performance led my parents to enroll me in ballet classes, and although I didn’t stick to it at first, by the age of 12, dancing was my life. After 8 years in a rigorous European school system, I transferred to the local performing arts high school, and was dancing, rehearsing, competing and teaching about 40-45 hours a week.
The inevitable next step was to continue dancing, so I auditioned for a few performing arts colleges, attended The Boston Conservatory and received my BFA in Contemporary Dance.
So how did you get into social media strategy and arts management?
The not-so-glamorous side of the dance world is that we are always short on money: dancers are frequently underpaid, companies like Cedar Lake lose their donors overnight, government funds like the National Endowment for the Arts are always at stake of being cut, and big funders like The Mellon Foundation always go to the same big, well known, artists/companies.
There are so many meaningful, innovative projects happening in the dance world right now, and so I decided I wanted to be on the other side, behind the scenes, and see what it was like to work in Arts Management.
One of the things many of these companies needed was support with their social media and online presence, and so I taught myself how to promote and fundraise for companies right from my computer.
Shortly thereafter, a non-dance company approached me about working with them as a social media strategist—this was new and exciting territory!
Given your background in the arts and social media, what is your mission, the work you want to do?
My mission is to make positive change in the world, whether that is through my knowledge of dance, the human anatomy, and choreography, or my increasing interest in technology.
As a social media strategist, I want to use advertising and marketing for good. I make sure to work for companies that have a specific mission that I believe in, and a message that I too would want to communicate as an artist or as a human.
What led you there? Can you recall any experiences you had that pushed you to your mission?
I realized very early on in college that a career as solely a professional dancer would not fulfill this mission, and so I sought out opportunities, organizations and people that could help me get there in my own way.
I started using dance in many different ways to help me better understand where my body, belonged.
I traveled to Central America to teach and perform in underserved communities. I also taught movement classes in retirement homes, and I began to work with teachers and mentors who believed in arts integration in the school system.
Work in arts administration, producing and consulting followed naturally.
What challenges did you face along the way, and how did you overcome these challenges?
As someone who trained as a pre-professional dancer, I sometimes feel that I’m on the wrong career path.
Many of my classmates are out in the world auditioning and performing, and although I still work in the dance field, for a long time it felt like I wasn’t doing enough.
There were so many people expecting me to make different choices, and I listened to them for a very long time.
After college, I chose not to make dance performance a priority because I knew that dancing everyday wasn’t making me happy anymore. In the end, making that choice on my own was the hardest and also the best thing that has happened to me.
Another challenge I’m facing currently, and I’m positive I’m not the only 20-30 year old facing this issue, is how on earth do I explain what I do?
I work for so many different people, and am working on projects in many different areas. When someone asks me what I do for a living, I say something like “that’s a complicated question,” and then I try to explain to them the 10 projects I’m currently working on, ranging anywhere from assisting a conference for research on choreographic interfaces, to helping a meditation bus in SF fund money for their project.
Oh yeah, and I teach dance, and choreograph, and travel to Central America sometimes for work, and sleep sometimes too.
Finding only a few words to describe the poly-valence of my career is complicated, and I hope one day to turn what I just said into something truly eloquent.
What advice do you have for 20 to 30-somethings who want to make an impact through their work but are currently feeling stuck?
Get together with people that inspire you and push you intellectually. A lot of my friends are older and more experienced than I am, which helps me envision what I want my future to look like, and what kind of person I want to be.
Also, get out of your apartment and do something new! Go to a hot yoga class, visit a museum, walk down the street. The minute you stop feeding your brain new information, you lose the want to create change, in yourself, in others, or in the world.