When I was studying at Juilliard, I would commute from Paterson NJ. A round trip bus ticket back then was approximately seven dollars. I would wake at around 6AM and ask my mother for ten dollars. I’d purchase a round trip ticket from the driver, that left me with three dollars. Then I’d purchase two subway tokens, about fifty cents each, that left me with two dollars…and that is how much I had to eat with.
At the Juilliard cafe I could get a plain cinnamon raisin bagel for fifty cents after my first Ballet class. Then a couple more classes and several rehearsals later, on my way home, I could order a slice and a coke from the pizza shop at Port Authority while I waited for my bus.
Back in my day you could be a bit more creative with two dollars in terms of food options. However, the one thing I could not do is not eat. Lucky for me, I did not have any addictions that caused me to have to make a choice between eating and something else like smoking (which I did on occasion for social acceptance but was rewarded with intense nausea…it was my curse). Wait…I lied; I did have an addiction – video games. It was serious, especially if all you had was two dollars. Playing one video game can be the difference between a slice of pizza and a snickers bar.
One thing is for sure…dancers have to eat!
Each dancer’s path is influenced by different circumstances. Take me for example, having two dollars a day to eat was clearly not ideal. I suffered from black-outs due to lack of nutrition and I was extremely thin which made me weak which narrowed my options for roles I could play due to the inability to lift anyone. To remedy my situation, I could have tried to seek stable employment however, making such a decision would have restricted me from doing the very thing that I went to Juilliard to
Later in the year I was chosen to dance in the touring company and was paid for it which was nice. Another thing that I was able to do was perform in pickup companies created by past Juilliard graduates that were trying to make it on their own – this also brought in some cash. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a lot…I couldn’t get my own apartment that’s for sure or even share an apartment with someone. The one thing it did do was enabled me to eat a bit
better and to pay for my own transportation for a while to take the burden off my mother.
When I went to Rutgers several years later after I retired to get my Master’s degree, I realized that living on campus or even near campus was the ideal situation for a dancer studying at a university or any student for that matter.
Living with parents in your early adult years is a bummer…no privacy and your probably hounded constantly about finding a job or something…that’s what parents do. On the other hand, the food question and where to live is taken care of. That’s a huge expense that is completely off the table. You could focus on being the best student you could be. You may even have enough time to get a part-time job.
When I started out at Rutgers, I lived on Busch Campus. My first job was working for the IT Department taking calls from students that were having trouble with their internet connection. Then I worked for Graduate Family Residence Life for five years as a Graduate Apartment Assistant helping families and children of various cultural backgrounds come together as a community.
Transportation at Rutgers was AWESOME. I rarely had to use my car because I took the shuttle everywhere. It was a free service and there were several routes to choose from.
There were also lots of food options at the College Ave, Livingston and Busch Campus Centers all within distance of the shuttle. If you were lucky enough to afford a meal plan, you were set.
The other cool thing about being a student at Rutgers compared to Juilliard was the access to quiet places to study or just chill. At Rutgers, I was fortunate enough to live in an apartment with my family on Busch Campus. For me going home to my apartment was nice, not always private but nice. On the other hand, working for ResLife I knew what it was like for students living in a dorm situation. Many were four or five persons to a room; everyone had a different concept of what it meant to keep a clean space and there was very little privacy. To remedy this, a person could go to any of the nearby campus libraries or student centers and find a quiet space to do homework or just chill.
All in all, with what I know now, living on or near campus is the most ideal for any student. In my case, I think if I had the option to attend Rutgers and had chosen that option, I would not have had the opportunity of dancing with some of the best dancers and best companies in the world.
As dancers we have to face many hard choices that are not too different from games of chance. You’re not going to know where your path is going to go but just know that just about any outcome derived from the choices you make can be nudged to go in a different direction.