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Annelise Arevalo explains the challenges and benefits of creating a life around doing what you love.

First, tell me what you do.

I am a burlesque dancer. I received a B.A. in dance from the University of California Irvine. Currently, I am also one of the co-owners of Hell on Heels Burlesque Revue.

Does that pay all the bills?

Art rarely does. I do it because it is a passion of mine and makes me happy. Ideally it will pay the bills one day, but for now I find other work that interests me. These days I work at Halcyon Tea and Wine Steals.

How much of your time does Hell on Heels require?

We meet weekly to rehearse and discuss business. Throughout the week there is a lot of phone and email communication about future opportunities and updates. Costuming takes quite a bit of time because we make all of our costumes ourselves, which includes sewing, rhinestoning, etc. The choreography time varies since everyone is in charge of her own solos, and everyone works at her own pace. It takes commitment and love to put in all the work, but the pay off of getting to be on stage is worth every hour of work.

Management also has the job of scheduling events, networking, and planning auditions which can take hours of back and forth emails and calls. Then, we also teach burlesque classes once a month. The classes are two hours long, so careful lesson plans must be created to use the time wisely.

And how many hours a week do you spend at your other jobs?

I work 15-20 hours a week at the tea shop and 5-20 hours a week at Wine Steals.

Did you consciously design a work-life that would allow you time to dance? If so, how did that affect your job search?

Yes. I look for jobs where if they find out about the burlesque, they would be open and accepting of my artistic choices. I also need work that allows me to take random nights off for shows. I can’t accept jobs that expect set hours every week and are very strict about time off. That’s why I typically find myself working for local businesses.

What is your ideal work life? All-dance all the time?

If I could make a living off of dance alone I definitely would. Nothing makes me happier.

Does that dream help you through the less-than-fun aspects of your day jobs?

Sure, it keeps me moving forward. I truly enjoy my work for the most part but customer service can be challenging, especially when the customer is presenting an overwhelming negative energy. When I dance I don’t have to answer to anyone. The gratification is for myself alone and it is a wonderful space to be in.

What are some of the sacrifices you’ve had to make to create a life centered around dance?

Sometimes I have had to miss events for my friends and family. Often the pay goes right back into the next costume for the next show. But all of these sacrifices have been minor enough that I have been able to maintain a happy and fulfilled life surrounded by people I love and who support me.

And what are some of the benefits that make it worth these sacrifices?

To know I am a self-made woman is the best thing I get out of it. I create my own path, pursue my dreams, and never compromise myself or my art. I am constantly getting opportunities to share my art and to produce new artistic ideas, which makes me feel whole.

Do you ever find yourself questioning the decision not to pursue, say, a larger paycheck?

Of course I do. I have thought about it since I picked dance as my major in college. But I made that choice knowing it was unlikely to make me money. I stick it out for my happiness. I will always choose what I love to do and I will figure out some way to get by.

Do you have any advice for those stuck in jobs not in alignment with their dream-life?

Even if you have a job that you aren’t completely happy with, make a list of things that would bring you joy. If you can, look for future work that can combine your current work skills and your passion. If that doesn’t work out make your passion your hobby and it will give you relief from your daily work troubles. You can always reinvent yourself if the desire is there.

And what would you say to someone who’s gathering the courage to risk the security of a big paycheck in order to pursue their art or other passions?

I would advise them take baby steps to help make the transition smooth. Take a class in something you have wanted to try or revisit, look for community opportunities to participate in what you love, and find support in those with similar interests. Once you are ready, go for it!

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