21 June 2006

why i have a profound respect for journalists.

An American Dancer

Although she spent a rainy night sleeping outside her front door and has no steady income aside from tips earned as a tour guide, Sarah Oppenheim says she has no regrets about moving to Berlin to start her career as a modern dancer.

"It's cheaper to live here than New York, and companies here are more supportive of young dancers," Oppenheim says. "It's hard to get hired in New York without experience, but no one will give you that experience."

Oppenheim, 23, graduated from SUNY Purchase in May 2005 and spent the following summer backpacking in Europe with a friend, stopping in Vienna for ImPulsTanz, Europe's largest dance festival.

"Instead of spending my junior year abroad, I told my parents I wanted to move to Europe to start my career after graduation instead," Oppenheim explains. "My older siblings are all artists as well, so my family is very supportive."

After spending several months traveling, she fell in love with Berlin, settled down in September 2005, and hasn't looked back since. Although she misses her family and friends back home, she believes her experience in Berlin has been worthwhile.

Speaking about her recent performance in Side of Splendour, a piece choreographed by Clint Lutes, a fellow ex-pat dancer originally from Virginia, Oppenheim says she loves the diversity present in the Berlin dance scene.

"In this 7 person cast, we have two Americans, two Israelis, two Germans, and an Australian." Such diversity means more contacts for future work than she would otherwise find in New York.

"In New York," she explains, "primarily dancers attend each other's shows, which means they essentially pay each other, but in Berlin at least half the audience has nothing to do with the dance community. They just appreciate new art." Katerina Witt, the German ice skater, was among those supporting Side of Splendour on opening night.

Held at Dock-11 Studios in Prenzlauerberg, Side of Splendour sold out its four day run, resulting in a much-needed paycheck for Oppenheim.

"The studios here are really supportive of new choreographers. They don't charge to use their space, so a show just has to pay a lighting designer and the rest of the ticket sales go to the performers."

When not dancing, Oppenheim earns money by working as a tour guide for New Berlin Tours. While the job allows her to set her own schedule, taking dance classes in the morning, giving tours in the afternoon, and rehearsing until late at night, working only for tips results in an irregular cash flow.

"I'm going to splurge and buy a new dress with my paycheck from the show!" she says. After living frugally for months, she looks forward to a more relaxed lifestyle. Her time in Berlin always uncertain, Oppenheim searches Craigslist for monthly room rentals in Prenzlauerberg, near much of Berlin's dance scene.

With her visa extension recently approved for another year, she can now plan further into the future. In addition to settling into a permanent apartment and having friends and family visit during the summer, she also says, "I hope to be choreographing my own show by the end of the year."

Photojournalism = very hard profession.

While I may alternatively laugh and yell at errors in the Independent Florida Alligator, I have new respect for what those people are doing. Sorry to every reporter I've ever silently (or not-so-silently) cursed! Forgive my amateurish foray into your field, and rest assured I'll leave the reporting to the experts from now on. Pictures to follow as soon as I outsmart blogger. You may have won the battle, but I will win the war.

The website with everyone's work from the Berlin trip won't be up until the fall, which is why I'm posting my story here for your amusement in the meantime. Aside from my newfound respect for the journalism industry, this experience also made me realize how badly I miss dancing, and left me even more excited about taking West African dance in the fall.

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