Be willing to change your mind. I’m an overthinker, so every part of my platform was set up a specific way for a reason. However, it’s important to keep an open mind so you are able to recognize when you need to do something differently. The most successful businesses are the ones that are able to continuously reassess and adjust. For me, this has been especially true with marketing. Just because something worked at the beginning doesn’t mean it will work forever, so it’s important to periodically reevaluate and try new things.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing
Annelise Eastes, performing as Gamzatti Ballesque, is a burlesque ballet dancer based out of Las Vegas. She started her career in ballet before going on to perform professionally in a variety of dance styles such as modern, contemporary, jazz, hip hop, burlesque, and gogo. Annelise has worked with numerous companies and agencies in Las Vegas as a freelance dancer including Instrumental Bodies, Insomniac Entertainment, and the Beverly Project. She currently produces and dances in virtual collaborative projects that incorporate a variety of artistic mediums.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
When I was two years old, I saw a ballet dancer on TV and told my parents that’s what I wanted to do. Ever since then, I’ve spent most of my free time in a dance studio. I was an intense kid, so I took my training very seriously from the beginning. I decided when I was around twelve years old that I wanted dance to be my career, not just a hobby. I would go to school during the day, then typically trained for 4–5 hours at night as well as all day on Saturdays. I never took a summer off, and when I was a teenager I started attending summer intensives out of state. I trained in all kinds of dance styles, but ballet was my first love and primary focus. I was sixteen the first time I was cast alongside professional dancers in the Sacramento Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”. I’ll never forget standing in the wings watching dancers on stage whose autographed pointe shoes I had hanging on my wall.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My grandpa, Robert Milcik, once said “Life is a series of problems. How you handle them is what you are.” This quote inspires me to keep pushing past any obstacles, and there have been plenty throughout my dance career. It’s also a gentle reminder that problems are inevitable, so there’s no use in being upset when they arise. It’s better to expect that there will be some sort of obstacle so you aren’t surprised when it happens, then you can calmly work through it. This mindset has definitely helped me navigate the entertainment industry, which tends to be highly unpredictable.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Twyla Tharp’s book “The Creative Habit” had a significant impact on me as an artist. There are many ideas from her book that have stuck with me, but one in particular was when Tharp discussed how she became a choreographer because no one was creating the kind of work she wanted to dance. As a burlesque ballet dancer, I feel the same way. I got tired of going to auditions and feeling like I was never putting my best foot forward because the choreography didn’t showcase my strengths. That’s what inspired me to create my own niche and start performing my own choreography.
In this book, Tharp also quotes Billy Joel who insisted he wasn’t a virtuoso when it came to any singular aspect of his work, but because he could sing, play an instrument, write music, and perform, he was extraordinary in his industry. This is how I strive to make my mark as a dancer; I will not be remembered for having incredible ballet technique, but I can dance, choreograph, perform, collaborate, and run a business. I believe this is what makes me unique and this versatility is what will allow me to succeed in the dance industry.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
I started my career in the concert dance world performing with ballet and modern companies. When I was living in Denver, I ended up booking some gigs in nightlife somewhat by chance and found that I loved it. Suddenly, all those things that were “wrong with me” as a ballet dancer, I was being celebrated for. I decided to leave the company I was dancing with and start freelancing. I worked with several companies and agencies in Denver performing in a variety of dance styles. I also started dance modeling for fun, and I discovered that I really enjoyed collaborating with photographers.
About a year later I moved to Las Vegas to pursue more entertainment work. I continued performing with a variety of companies and agencies in various dance styles as well as doing artistic collaborations on the side, but I still felt like I hadn’t found where I truly fit. About five months after moving to Las Vegas, I was hired for Instrumental Bodies’ residency at the Foundation Room. The director, May-Har Li, believes strongly in celebrating individuality and diversity. She recognized that my ballet training set me apart from other Las Vegas dancers, so she created soloist roles featuring this skill-set and asked me to improvise on pointe throughout the venue. Her encouragement and belief in me gave me the push I needed to develop my own style and brand. Burlesque and ballet are the two primary genres in the work I create, but I also incorporate many of the other dance styles I’ve worked in over the past few years such as contemporary, modern, jazz, hip hop, and gogo.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
When the lockdown happened and performances were cancelled indefinitely, I realized that what I missed most about performing was the connection you get with the audience. That got me thinking, how could I create connection through my art in a new way? Patreon was my answer. Instead of performing live, I started posting burlesque ballet photos and videos. Because I had been doing collaborative projects on the side for years, I already had a network of people willing to contribute to my platform. I’ve also grown this network over the past year and worked with artists from a variety of disciplines in addition to photographers and videographers such as makeup artists, musicians, painters, writers, and designers. I also produced my first (virtual) show, which I am very proud of because I was able to provide paid work to my fellow Las Vegas dancers while live shows were still shut down.
Additionally, I created a blog on my online platform discussing dance, my work, and life as a Vegas dancer. Although I’ve never done much writing except as a student, I’ve realized that I love having an outlet to share my thoughts and experiences. I tend to be more intellectual in my approach to dance as opposed to purely emotional or physical, so I’ve enjoyed sharing this aspect of my artistry through writing and discussions.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
I had been thinking about starting an online platform even before the pandemic, but I knew if I was going to start something like that I wanted to really commit to it. I didn’t feel I had enough free time to devote to such a large project while I was still performing live. When the lockdown first started, I thought we would be back to performing in a few months. My plan, like most performers, was to wait it out. However, when I realized we wouldn’t be performing live anytime soon, I knew I needed to find an alternative. I believe in dance as an art form too strongly to give up on it, even temporarily. I also felt people needed an outlet of love and light during such a dark and stressful time, and I wanted to provide that through my art.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Great! Of course I have big goals for this platform, but in many ways when I think about what success means to me, I’ve already achieved it. When I imagine success, I think about what I would want people to say about my work and what kind of impact I would want it to have on them. I also think about what my day-to-day life would look like and how I would feel.
So far I have had my work described as thrilling, sexy, powerful, playful, and meaningful. My patrons often tell me that viewing my content is a welcomed reprieve from the stress of daily life and something they look forward to. They describe me as an inspiration and a source of light, which is absolutely what I strive to be.
I am also grateful to finally have a sense of community. When I started this platform, I thought a lot about what I wanted to give, but never considered how much I would receive in return. It means the world to have a group of patrons, followers, and collaborators that I feel so connected to and supported by.
On a personal level, I have been able to provide myself with my own opportunities to dance the way I want to instead of being reliant on someone else to hand it to me. I can dance and choreograph as much as I want and take breaks when I need to. I enjoy both the creative side of what I do as well as learning how to run a business. I truly look forward to working on my platform every day and I feel very lucky to have something like that in my life, especially now.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
May-Har Li from Instrumental Bodies was a crucial part of helping me find my artistic voice. She gave me the confidence and guidance I needed to believe in myself enough to put my work out into the world. She was always so supportive of my creative projects and wanted to help in any way that she could. We would sometimes stay at the nightclub until 4am discussing my acts, the industry, and art in general. She has a wealth of knowledge and had a wildly successful dance career herself, so I was determined to absorb as much information as I could from her.
I am also grateful that she provided me with opportunities to develop and perform my burlesque ballet work through her residency. Although I pride myself on being a natural performer, I grew even more as a performer and artist through this experience. Dancing in a theater on stage where you can’t see the audience versus dancing through a crowd where you’re face to face with guests are two very different roles. May-Har taught me a lot about how to command a room and connect more intimately with your audience.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
As a new business, I am always trying to think of creative ways to raise funds for new projects. One idea I decided to try was to auction off an autographed pair of pointe shoes. I wasn’t sure how it would go or if people would even bid, but I optimistically set the “Buy It Now” price on eBay for 100 dollars. I posted about it on social media and I got a response from a friend I used to dance with saying “But they’re just dirty old pointe shoes…” That was the exact response I was worried about, but I stood my ground. The auction was a week long and for the first 5 days, I only got a few bids. I figured as long as they sold, I would be happy. Then the last two days, I watched as the bids went higher and higher. I was excited when the bidding hit 100 dollars, but then it kept going! My shoes ended up selling for 202.50 dollars, and I was ecstatic, but that wasn’t the end of it. The second runner up emailed me that he was disappointed his bid of 200 dollars didn’t win. Luckily, I had another pair of pointe shoes that I was able to autograph and sell to him. I ended up making four times what I was originally hoping for from that auction. Moral of the story is you should never let judgement from others hold you back!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- You’ll never be “ready”, you just have to go for it. There were so many things I wasn’t sure about when I started my platform. Where would I get music? Do I have enough content prepared? Is my following large enough? Even my friends and family cautioned me that the pandemic might not be the best time to start a new venture and I may end up with no subscribers. However, I recognized that there will always be some reason why now is not the right time, so I went for it anyway. Some things I got right and others I had to learn along the way, but I never would have learned those things if I hadn’t gotten started.
- Use batching. When I first got started, it was overwhelming for me to try to flip back and forth between the business side and the artistic side of my platform. What I do now is split the month between these two areas. The first part of the month I work on creative tasks like photoshoots, video shoots, choreographing, writing, etc. Then later in the month I focus primarily on business related tasks such as marketing, structuring my page, editing, reaching out to new collaborators, and bookkeeping. This has made it so much easier for me to get my brain into the appropriate mindset and find balance.
- Be willing to change your mind. I’m an overthinker, so every part of my platform was set up a specific way for a reason. However, it’s important to keep an open mind so you are able to recognize when you need to do something differently. The most successful businesses are the ones that are able to continuously reassess and adjust. For me, this has been especially true with marketing. Just because something worked at the beginning doesn’t mean it will work forever, so it’s important to periodically reevaluate and try new things.
- Assume that you will run into obstacles. This is an inevitable part of running a business, so you don’t want to be flustered when it happens. One way to prepare for issues that arise is to make sure you always have a plan B. It requires a little more preparation in advance, but it will significantly reduce your stress. For example, I strive to have about a month’s worth of content ready to go so if one of my collaborators has a technical issue or misses a deadline, I have another piece of content I can post instead. It’s much easier to stay ahead with content than it is to scramble to put something together at the last minute.
- It’s OK to share your struggles. Social media makes it tempting to only share the highlights of our lives, but I’ve found that by sharing the obstacles I’ve faced, people become more invested in my journey. Being relatable is far more important than appearing perfect. Growing up in the ballet world, I’ve always struggled with feeling like I didn’t fit in. I was too tall, too curvy, too outspoken, too unorthodox, the list goes on and on. Feeling like a misfit is something many people can relate to, and once I started sharing that side of my story, my followers felt more connected to me and more inclined to support my goals.
5 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me Video: https://youtu.be/5i3SvbjIpMk
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
I feel it’s important to keep in mind that these are not normal times, so it is unreasonable to expect yourself to function like they are. Dancers are taught to “listen to their body”, and I have been using those same tactics regarding my mental health. Rather than suppress my emotions, I try to listen to them and decide what I need. In the US, we are surrounded by cultural pressure to hustle every day and push yourself to the point of breaking. However, sometimes taking a break is the most productive thing you can do. As much as I believe in hard work, we need to remind ourselves that we’re experiencing a global trauma. Pushing yourself too hard and getting burnt out will only decrease your overall productivity, which is not only true now but also post-pandemic. Be kind to yourself and accept the ebbs and flows.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would want to inspire a movement using art to help people perceive the world with more clarity and live their lives more deeply. I believe many of the problems in today’s world can be traced back to a disconnect from our values. As an artist, my goals are to provide an escape from daily life and to reconnect people to their values. At first, it may sound like these two goals would contradict, but I believe they can support one another. In the words of Joseph Romano, “You cannot heal in the same environment that made you sick.” We have to step outside of our reality in order to reflect and reassess our lives; art creates the opportunity to do just that.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Twyla Tharp! I would love to pick her brain about being an industry innovator and carving her own path. It would be interesting to hear what advice she would have for an artist today with similar goals.
How can our readers follow you online?
I share the majority of my work on Patreon, but I am also on most social media platforms. All of my links can be found on my website at https://www.anneliseeastes.com/links