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  • Jessi Franks

There's Nothing Like New York City

There’s something about New York City. The moment I think about it, see it in a TV show or in a film, or dream about it, I am suddenly ALIVE. More alive than I’ve ever been. That city fills me with desire, creativity, hope, sadness, overwhelm, struggle, calm, joy, and deep determination. I feel unstoppable as if I’m living fully - making tough choices, making bold mistakes, taking great leaps. Living!


Understandably, all of these feeling may be grand nostalgia. I lived in New York City from 19-25 years old. I went to college there. I danced there! I worked to pay my rent there. I learned a lot about what it means to grow up. I was far enough from home that I felt free and independent, but I was also close enough to home that I could call my parents crying, desperately needing their help when massive cockroaches found their way inside my Harlem apartment. I was supported there but also free.


I met some of my very best, life long friends in New York. I studied with mentors. I danced in companies. I taught at studios. I went out late at night. I cried on the fire escape. I sang at the top of my lungs. I LIVED fully! My heart will always have open arms for New York City. (Although my first independent experience in NYC at 16 years old was not sunshine and roses…a story for another time).


All of that nostalgia unsurfaced yesterday as I began watching a show called Little Voice. In NYC, I discovered Sara Bareilles. She is absolutely one of my favorite artists and creators of all time. She and Jessie Nelson created this show, so of course, I was bound to love it. The show is set in NYC. The music, written by Sara, is perfectly expressive, heartfelt, and honest. The actors are wonderful. The story brought me back to all of the feels I had living in NYC. I suddenly felt everything SO DEEPLY. I felt alive again…just from watching this beautiful show.


A little backstory…in 2019, I decided I’d move back to NYC in 2020. I had been gently craving that city and that aliveness burning inside of me over the previous two years. I didn’t get a huge gig in 2019 that I was certain I finally earned and proven myself to be valuable enough to book on my own merit, not lucky, circumstance, proximity, or connectedness. I said no to many “regular” jobs that year, so I could give space for the universe to understand that I was READY for this massive job. I intentionally didn’t take “safety” gigs, so the universe didn’t get confused about what I truly wanted. I would leave the space open for this job, so I could say YES!


Welp…the job did NOT come my way. As a dancer, you don’t get a NO if you don’t get hired. You simply never hear from the job. There was months of waiting, anticipating, uncertainty. Then some dancers were announced for this job, and I utterly panicked. I scrambled, finally understanding that I didn’t get this gig, to try to get teaching work. I had a tough time keeping my head high for the next few months thinking I was irresponsible to leave myself so wide open. I put too much expectation on that job changing my life, and I didn’t forgive myself for a long, long time.


Eventually, I got a job assisting a mentor of mine in Italy for a month in the summer of 2019 at a dance workshop she created. I had the time of my life, and fell in love with dance, specifically contemporary dance, all over again. While I was there, I contemplated and debated if this was all for a reason. Contemporary companies create truly artistic work that is deeply fulfilling. My heart was so fully, but was I too old to pursue that road after diving into the commercial world for the last 10 years?


When I got back to the states, I landed in NYC and had to travel back to my parents in PA. After a long flight, taking the subway back to Penn Station, and hopping on New Jersey transit, I began imagining what my life would be like if I lived in NYC in that moment. Almost 10 years after moving to LA. What if I moved back to NYC? I’d have a ton of experience that could be extremely useful to jobs in the city, both commercial and company based. I could rebuild some ballet technique to support the contemporary work I craved so deeply, and what better place to do that than in a city that fills me with love, life, and purpose.


Two months later, I left LA with the intention of spending the holidays with my family and moving back to New York in the new year. Then, in December, I booked a job teaching in Australia for a few weeks at the end of January-mid February, so I pushed my NYC move to March. But the wild fires took over Australia, and my trip was postponed to the end of February, then mid March, then possibly May as a precaution as the wild fires worsened in Australia in January and February. I was in New York in early March helping to prep for a show I was performing in on March 14th. I decided I’d try to ask everyone I met to see if they knew of an apartment for rent on show day, so I could just get my ass there ASAP regardless of Australia…but the world shut down March 12th. Broadway, and the show I was in, went dark. My journey to live in New York, to dance with a new sense of purpose and determination never unfolded.


After a terrifying year for the world, my vision began to shift again. I had submitted for a few jobs in NYC during that year, and none of them fulfilled me or deeply excited me. The jobs that were filling me with life were back in LA. I didn’t anticipate that LA would call to my heart again. In Februay 2021, I moved back to LA. My nostalgic vision of a life in New York in my 30s didn’t come to pass, but moving back to LA felt so right, and I had to pivot. I am deeply grateful to be back here.


I DO continue to give gratitude for the future opportunities to work in New York City again. There is no greater feeling than to be employed and taken care of on a job in New York City! My heart and soul perk up when I hear stories of NYC and clearly when I watch shows set in the city. I know I will go back for work again and again, and I am deeply grateful for those opportunities to come! To share the city, to share the work with people I love in a city that makes me feel like my FULLEST me!


Thank you, universe, for reminding me of my dreams and creating such a path for me! Diving into this show, Little Voice, has reminded me that I AM alive. I choose to live NOW, and New York City will welcome me again with open arms at the right moment for the right job with the right people! I welcome it all! I AM alive and grateful for this path and this journey of life!


***Shout out to Sara Bareilles for creating some incredible work through her life and helping to shape and guide my journey!




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