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Troupe Entrepreneurship! Ambitious Choreographers Storm L.A.’s Dance Scene, Together

January 26, 2009

Entrepreneurship is a tough lonely road with a big old pot of gold at the end of it.

Ally, flying solo?

Ally, flying solo?

Is that so? What if I don’t want to tough it out, or be lonely, and what if I want rewards all the time? Yes, I’m spoiled and demanding, but maybe it is possible to have your cake and eat it too.

Ally Voye and her friends Julia Ferguson, Sarri Sanchez, Eva Wilder and Maya Zellman decided that a group of entrepreneurs working together was better than one leader and a bunch of followers, so together they started IN/EX Dance Project.

In a metropolis like Los Angeles, there’s so much of everything and everyone – vegan southern Nepalese cuisine? You got it. Troupes of multi-talented Russian gymnast/Cirque-du-soleil/actors-turned models? They’re around somewhere. With so much diversity and vibrance, it’s hard to be confident enough to strike out on your own and perform for such an impressive and discerning audience.

For Ally, who loved the highly creative choreographic work she did in college, getting herself – and her friends – out there was the only way to experience the ownership over her work that she had so enjoyed while at UCLA.

It’s hard to be a successful choreographer in L.A. It’s less hard to be a dancer, using your body as a tool to perform someone else’ creation. Ally never stopped dancing after graduation, but she knew that she wanted to return to the business of creating her own pieces and showing them to the city. IN/EX have developed a unique and sell-able angle because, unlike most choreographers in L.A., they create their pieces as a synergistic group, rather than as individuals.

Nope, the group's got her back.

The group's got her back.

With not too much money and not too much time, it took some serious enterprising to get their first big show out the door and, as an extra kudos, a lovely little mention in the L.A. Times.

What I learned from Ally:

1. Entrepreneurs can come in twos, threes, fours, or, in this case, fives. During our conversation, Ally continually mentioned the benefits of having four creative brains working together. Their group dynamic added to the overall creativity of their work, and also gave them a unique angle over other choreographers in their area. Choreographers don’t typically work in bunches like IN/EX, so these women smartly leveraged their special, synergistic brand of dance art to distinguish themselves from the competition.

2. Prove you want it with a little sacrifice. If you can prove it to yourself by sacrificing your time and some of your own dough, you’ll have a much easier time proving it to the people you’re going to hit up for money later on. Practice space is critical for choreographers – without it, it would be like a photographer trying to do shots without lighting. Ally and crew did not get their dance practice space for free. They procured the space thanks to Ally’s connections at a school where she works as a dance and art teacher, but there’s still no such thing as a free lunch. All members had to pony up medium-sized sums from their savings or earnings. No one is an i-banker in this crowd, so the rent DID represent a significant sacrifice. However, when they started fundraising to pay for their performance space later on, it was an easier sell because the girls had proven their ownership and commitment to the project.

3. Start small. Really small, like getting a group of friends together to dance. What you produce, if your goal is to produce anything at all, doesn’t have to be perfect the first time around. In fact, it’s better if it’s not so that you can get used to the idea of practice. Dancers know this well – if you’re out of shape, or out of practice, you won’t impress anyone with your shapes and moves, and you’ll definitely not end up as anyone’s star choreographer. It’s ok – no, fantastic – to start small, and restart after you fumble, and restart again after that. The key is not the success that might come, but rather the starting. I love this Paul Buchheit (FriendFeed co-founder and Gmail pioneer) blog post on the idea of starting lots of things – even if all of them flop.

4. Don’t rest on your laurels. When I asked Ally what was next, she had an answer right away. Working towards another show. These women are not planning to ride the wave of Successful Production No. 1 till the dawn of the next decade. Their first show’s success only made them want more, sooner, and bigger.

When I’m stagnating with my own modest exercise routine, or with writing another Ask the Entrepreneurs post because I’m afraid it won’t be as good as the previous, I think of Ally. The image of her and her friends practicing until 10 pm on weeknights when they’ve got jobs and boyfriends awaiting simultaneously intimidates and inspires me. It (almost) never hurts to have a little feu aux fesses!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Dean permalink
    February 1, 2009 3:39 am

    What an inspiring article. I attended a few of IN/EX performances and am very impressed with their talent. They will go far. Dance is one of the toughest professions, but these four dancers let their passion and smart business sense, guide their success.

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