Quitting Your Shitty Job is a new column that speaks to people who turned their back on their totally average and uninspiring jobs to pursue something they actually wanted.
This week, we spoke to Toronto-based street dancer and studio owner, Andrew “Pyro” Chung. His previous jobs include working an auto parts assembly line, laying bricks and collecting carts at Costco. After straddling his shitty jobs, while devoting himself to dance whenever he could, he finally made the leap.
VICE: What did you do in your previous jobs?
Andrew “Pyro” Chung: I worked the overnight shift in a factory, on the assembly line, standing in front of a machine that created the plastic inside of a car door, where the handle is. The rare time that it made a mistake, I would take clippers and clip off the extra pieces of plastic. It was the most tedious, non-meaningful job in the world. From 11 p.m. until 7 a.m., I would smell melting plastic the entire time. Everyone hated their job so I made zero friends there. I was paid $14 CAD an hour.
After working the factory job, after working in a scrap metal yard, after laying bricks for a bit, I also worked at Costco. They put me in this huge parking lot, wearing this orange vest, and I just tried not to get hit by cars. The people who pay for Costco memberships feel like they can do whatever they want. People refused to return these carts, they just leave them beside their car and drive away. So I’d go around collecting them for 8-hour shifts in the sun, snow, or icy slush.
I started out at $11 an hour, which was decent for me at the time. But I was like, what is my life right now?!
This seems pretty obvious, but why did it suck?
These are jobs that machines or basically anyone can do. And no one cares or shows appreciation.
What did you switch to instead?
The money from these terrible jobs went to pay my rent, phone and bills and I saved the rest for plane tickets because I was a competing street dancer at the time. My goal was to go to competitions in Vancouver, L.A., San Diego, San Francisco—major cities with a big dance community. I’d watch these big competitions on social media and I wanted to compete there.
When people compete—it’s called battling in street dance—and you win one of these competitions, then the community gives you respect for winning, you know? Good [established] street dancers would be flown out for free and get paid accommodation, or paid to judge the event. I’m like, ‘I can do that, but nobody knows that I exist right now.’
I had a list in a book, of just under 50 competitions and cities in North America that I wanted to go to. Within 3 years of doing that, I ended up checking everything off my list. That helped me establish myself in the industry and helped me market my name.
Was there a lightbulb moment?
I thought that going to all those competitions was an impossible goal to achieve. So when I scrolled through my book and saw that everything was checked off, I was really proud of myself. But I also felt lost, because I had reached the only goal I set for myself but I didn’t know what to do next. It was mixed emotions because I still wasn’t ‘successful.’
I was 27 at the time, but things started happening; people started flying me to workshops here and there. Not as regularly as they do right now, but the momentum started to pick up.
What do you love most about your job?
I’m 32 and as I get older, I’m pushing away from competing now. Competing was fun, and it dragged me in, but my original passion was always to share and teach. I made a [dance instruction] company called Footnotes Elite and that’s been running for the past five years.
Seeing students that have been with us from day one, and seeing that they have their own students and they’re winning competitions and reaching their goals, being cast in movies, and all these things.
Aside from the fact that it makes me feel old, those moments that make me feel happy about what I’ve been doing.
Why is your stage name “Pyro”?
It doesn’t have anything to do with my actual dancing. My older sister used to call me “Pyro” because I kept playing with fire when I was a kid. When I started dancing, my sister introduced me to her dance friends as “Pyro” and it kind of just stuck. Twenty years later, I’m still Pyro.
What are the downsides to your current job?
The job is very physical and there’s always injuries and when that happens, my income takes a big hit because I can’t perform the way I need to. If I’m really injured, I can’t get to my job, then I just don’t make any money. I dislocated both my shoulders a few times, ruptured my calf muscle, sprained my Achilles, and I have lower back problems. Injuries are a normal thing. I walk with a slight limp sometimes because of my ruptured calf that’s still healing.
There’s no insurance policy for what I’m doing right now. The company that I’m trying to produce right now employs people who are usually doing it as a side job. As I’m building my company, I want to implement sick days and vacation days—give them the things that people in salary jobs have.
I’m working as a choreographer on a television show, I put on performances for corporate events—I’m still working within the industry and I need to be in good shape and good health to be making my income. But there has to be a way where dancers can be insured, and I know we’re all like entrepreneurs, freelancers, but there has to be some type of protection.
Rate your life out of 10 before, and now.
Before, it was a 3. And right now I would say it’s a solid 8 because there’s always room to grow, you know?
How do you feel when you talk to people with shit jobs?
Sometimes I run into people that I went to high school with—people who saw me in the hallways just like rolling around on the floor trying to figure out how to do these moves by myself. A lot of people would make fun of me and ask what I was doing. Dancing wasn’t looked at like something you could make a career out of and while everyone else was focusing on school, I was trying to get better at dancing.
They tell me they wish they could be doing something like I’m doing, or traveling as much as I can. Through them watching me on social media, they follow along.
I think everyone has a different path that they choose to go in life. If you choose to go a more secure route I wouldn’t blame anybody for doing that. Through the struggles, disappointments, and lack of money that I had to go through, I can totally understand why people would go for the secure, bi-weekly paycheque.
When I was working these shitty jobs, dancing in my spare time and trying to establish myself, and following my passion, instead of being told I should try to become a doctor or a lawyer, like my parents would always say, or get a job that’s more secure, it would have been nice for someone to say ‘hang in there, you’re going to make it sooner or later.’
What advice would you give other people who hate their jobs?
Look within yourself and see what type of person you are. Go explore, give yourself a chance to go out there and fail. I believe that failing is the more efficient way to actually grow and learn about yourself.
Don’t let the failures discourage you. With social media, it’s really easy to feel like you’re not living up to par. Everyone is putting up these pictures to make themselves look better. Seeing that all around is pretty tough.
Reflect and experience an adventure in all the things that you want to do. My advice is to try things out and be honest with yourself. It’s not an easy road. It’s going to feel like you’re alone sometimes and you really need to believe in yourself and be your own team mate and support system.
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