“I make a career solely from my work as an artist. That’s highly unusual. Most artists are subsidising their artistic practice by working in other fields; that is far more common,» Hamilton says.
While some dancers stay in front of the curtain throughout their career, others such as Hamilton eventually add choreography to their resume. Funding for both is extremely competitive, particularly in Australia.
«People are in the art form on the whole for the love of the form,» says Hamilton.
His own experience means Hamilton is in the prestigious position of getting commissions to choreograph work for other companies.
«It doesn’t happen to everyone. It involves a lot of work building a body of work and an independent profile to get in the door so people will even have a look at you,” he says.
While Hamilton wasn’t strategic about his dance career in his early days, and knew building a career as a paid professional would be hard, he says there may have been a hidden upside to his naivety.
“Maybe it worked in my favour that I just worked on the craft of the practice more than the career,” he says.
He advises others in the field to take all the opportunities that they can.
«Don’t be too picky [at the start]. People often want to be part of a particular group or art form, but you learn a lot from art forms that aren’t exactly to your liking,» he says.
It’s an approach Melanie Lane agrees with. The dancer and choreographer has spent most of her adult life in Europe working in places such as Belgium, Holland and Scandinavia.
«I would say that this transient kind of lifestyle is common amongst freelance performance artists in Europe,” Lane says.
“I believe that especially in the early years of a career it’s important to take on all sorts of work: there’s no room to be snobby about what you can learn. Every experience can contribute to an artistic history. In my early years I did everything from performing in musicals and operas to teaching for professional dance companies around Europe,” she says.
Although Lane is now trying to spend most of her time in Melbourne, she says travel will always be a big part of her profession and she spent most of 2018 working abroad.
She never tires of the magic the work itself conjures up.
“The stage [has always] felt like a kind of sacred space where I could dream up alternative universes,” she says.
Not all dancers and choreographers choose traditional education, although universities offer options like a Bachelor of Dance and Master of Dance, which may often focus on choreography. Fine Arts degrees also often have dance specialisations.
Former dancers and choreographers may move into a variety of fields including arts management, curating, producing, movement coaching, directing, teaching, design and dramaturgy. “Choreographers are excellent at communicating well and leading. It’s not just teaching dance steps, these are human beings,” Hamilton says.
Stay curious. “I’ve learned huge amounts from going to see performances, taking part in workshops, going on residencies and training with a range of different artists,” says Lane.
Dance Massive 2019 runs across Melbourne from 12-24 March. dancemassive.com.au