Dancing to a Different Beat

These individuals have bucked convention and found fulfilling jobs off the beaten path

Each February, BLACK ENTERPRISE scopes out unique careers to bring to you. In the past, the careers featured have been largely creative (cartoonist, puppeteer, animator), although a few have been downright scientific (meteorologist, bug repellent chemist). What they all had in common was that they were born of the pursuit of people’s passions, not just their need for a paycheck. And, yes, those profiled actually loved their work.

This year, we’ve found a few more folks who are forging offbeat careers that fulfill the needs posed by both passion and pocketbook. The twist this time around, however, is that none of them has an employer. They’re freelancers, self-contained nomads of the working world who are generally regarded by 9-to-5ers with a complex combination of envy and suspicion.

There’s plenty to envy. Successful freelancers enjoy the best of two worlds, meshing an entrepreneur’s independence with an employees freedom from bottom line accountability. The skepticism is probably a holdover from more traditional times. Those who still work a straight 40-60-hour week can’t help but cling to the notion that anyone with the luxury of coming and going at odd hours can’t possibly have a “real” job.

Well, think again. Not only are the following professionals disciplined and successful, they also have to hustle every day just to get their next job, no less build a career.

HEAD OVER HEELS
Falling face first through plate glass, being thrown from the back of a moving truck, diving off a building, being beaten and lynched. This is the stuff of people’s nightmares. But for April Weeden, a Los Angeles-based stunt woman, they’re résumé builders.

A trained dancer who majored in public relations at Chapman University, Weeden was working as a casting agent in 1994 when she hired William Washington to serve as stunt coordinator on a film. The movie went nowhere, but the Weeden-Washington relationship took off-both personally and professionally.

“I had absolutely no interest in stunt work,” Weeden recalls. “But he started showing me a few things. I think even he was surprised at what I could do. I enjoyed it, so he started training me, and I began to get work.” Now, Washington is her fiancé, and Weeden’s list of stunt

credits runs more than two single-spaced pages.

In the business a mere four years, Weeden doubled for actress Halle Berry in last summer’s Why Do Fools Fall in Love?, for Jennifer Lopez in Anaconda and for Vanessa L. Williams in Eraser (a role in which she broke two fingers one day, and still showed up for work the next).

More recently, she was cast as a nameless slave hanging from a tree in Beloved, and has worked in numerous television and video projects as well. “The longest I’ve gone between projects is a month,” Weeden notes, with pride. She has reason to brag. While Weeden does have a publicist, Tobin & Associates, she has no agent for stunt work, choosing instead to market herself.

“I’m constantly reading the trade [newspapers], to find out what’s going on, what’s coming up next and sending

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