We are often told that networking is a useful tool in an artist's career, or in anyone's career even. But I had no idea just how powerful networking truly is.
End of the show at the 2nd Bay Area Deaf Dance Festival. August 2014
This blog is about a chain of events that happened within less than a year, that still today makes me wonder how such wonderful opportunities suddenly happen. The repercussions of this one example are still occurring three years later.
Facebook is excellent for networking - it is indeed the ultimate social networking tool.
In the summer of 2013, shortly after coming home from Festival Clin d'Oeil in Reims, France, I was still buzzing from taking my crew Def Motion to perform at such a prestigious festival. I was wondering in amazement how the group I formed two years earlier, would end up performing in front of seven thousand people at the 10th Anniversary of the largest Deaf Arts festival in the world. What I realised, is that networking (as well as hard work), got me there.
I almost missed the deadline for applying to Clin d'Oeil. I was talking to a friend one chilly day in January 2013, and he asked me if I was going to Reims the following summer. I didn't even know about this festival, and he was surprised.
"How could you not now? This is the biggest Deaf event in the world".
I felt slightly embarrassed, and it taught me the importance of doing my research, since I am starting down the path as an emerging artist.
Thankfully, my friend provided me with the website link for the festival, and I was able to submit my application just before the deadline. And then two weeks later the festival founder emailed me to formally invite me and my crew to the festival, and to ask for our passport details so he could book all our flights and accommodation.
"Networking is an investment in your business. It takes time and when done correctly can yield great results for years to come."
- Diane Helbig
So, after an incredible time in France, I was back home and began researching and making a list of Deaf festivals and events around the world. And then I sent out emails and Facebook messages to organisers of some of the festivals I found.
You can find a list of Deaf Arts festivals around the world here:
I used Facebook to make contact with Antoine Hunter - Deaf dancer, and founder of the Urban Jazz Company in San Francisco, USA. Within 6 months of making contact, I was already planning my trip to the 2nd Bay Area Deaf Dance Festival - the event that Antoine organises in San Francisco every year.
What was incredible about this though, was the fact that Antoine put me in contact with his old friend in London, a Kensington school headteacher named Jenny, who was extremely helpful in giving me her time to plan my trip. She knew sign language at a basic level, so was very Deaf-aware when I met her in London. Jenny then introduced me to her friend Fabio Santos MBE. And his support has been absolutely invaluable to me.
With Antoine Hunter in San Francisco. August 2014
After arranging to meet Fabio in London for the first time, I was informed that he usually charges £300 for a meeting. This made me nervous, but Jenny assured me not to worry, because Fabio was willing to meet free of charge for the first meeting.
Performing at Bay Area Deaf Dance Festival,
August 2014. (Photo courtesy of Ken Arcia)
The meeting went well, and not only was it productive, but Fabio had faith in me - he really wanted to help me make my trip to California. He decided that he would help write an application for a grant to cover my expenses of traveling to San Francisco. Because the grant is a large sum, it's unlikely I would be awarded it just to take part in a festival in America. So Fabio helped me create a collaboration project instead - this involved my collaborating with Antoine Hunter in San Francisco for 10 days, then performing at the festival, and then Antoine would join me in London two months later for more collaboration and a sharing of work there.
I was surprised by this unexpected support, and am very grateful for it. By this point Fabio had given many many hours of his time - writing the application, planning the project, and talking to me via email/Skype etc.
I asked him how would I pay him back for all this. Fabio simply told me not to worry about it.
By early June, there was two months to go before the festival in California, and I was about to find out if I'd won the grant - or if all Fabio's efforts had been for nothing.
All the artists dining together after the show
in San Francisco. August 2014
And then, one morning I received an official letter from Arts Council England, awarding me with the full grant. I could not believe it. Now I was definitely heading to San Francisco and performing there.
However, while I was in San Francisco - I woke up one morning and checked my emails. I received an email Tina Ellen Lee. She's a friend of Fabio, and he had just recommended me to her. She was looking for a Dance Facilitator to be part of her wonderful project called The Complete Freedom Of Truth. The programme is an international youth-led project, bringing together people from seven countries - UK, Bosnia, Serbia, Portugal, Georgia, Romania and Italy, collaborating together and creating art in places where art has been diminished due to war and economic destruction. Fabio is also part of this project - he has been working tirelessly with Tina in successfully applying for enormous grants to make this ambitious project happen.
I could not believe this was happening. How could I ever repay Fabio for all he had done for me? I'm indebted to him for all his generosity.
The first chapter of The Complete Freedom Of Truth was due to start in mid-August that year, but it starts midway through my trip to India, which I had already booked my flights for. I could not turn down such a fantastic offer - the fee was very generous, but the project itself - the people, the cause, the new friendships and new opportunities that lay ahead - is far more special than I could ever have anticipated. So I booked a new flight back to London two days before the start of TCFT.
I am glad I arrived home in time for TCFT, luckily without any jet lag and I managed to evade the dreaded Delhi Belly that most tourists tend to experience on their first trip to India. Accepting the offer to be part of TCFT is one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Since then, I have been involved in every phase of the project - from the pilot scheme in Poole, Dorset, in August 2014, then in Srebrenica, Bosnia, for the official start of TCFT in August 2015. In February 2016 I was back again in Dorset - and this time, I was able to match half the funding to make the event happen, from another Arts Council grant I'd been awarded for my project Like Mirabai (which itself was created during my collaboration in Bosnia with an Italian Bharatanatyam dancer called Giulia Marchetti).
Then I was part of TCFT in August 2016 in Bournemouth, and then in Belgrade, Serbia, in March 2017. And then most recently, in Sarteano, Italy, in April 2017.
"Accepting the offer to be part of The Complete Freedom Of Truth, is one of the best decisions I have ever made."
What really amazes me is how a simple act of searching for Deaf artists and festivals around the world, had led me to dropping a Facebook message to Antoine Hunter who then invited me to his festival and put me in touch with his friend Jenny in London, who then put me in contact with Fabio, who, incredibly, not only provided me with the financial support to make the trip to America (as part of a bigger collaboration project), but also recommended me to Tina who employed me as one of the original facilitators on TCFT.
To Fabio, thank you so much for your support, it's changed my life.
Fabio in Bosnia for TCFT. August 2015
For more information about The Complete Freedom Of Truth, visit their website here: