The end of a performing career doesn’t have to be a scary, depressing transition but can in fact be a positive phase in life and a time to discover new talents. A dancer’s performing career as we all know, eventually has an ending. This article is about how we can find positivity through uncertain times and continue to enrich our lives and embrace what is new. Dancers know that this time will come but it can still feel like a shock when it actually creeps up on us. A dancer’s career is physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting and the fear of the unknown or ‘what next’ can seem daunting and overwhelming.
Some dancers naturally want to stop performing, either because they have had enough or some may want to focus on having a family. For others, some are forced to stop because of illness, injury or the cruel reality of the ageing body. When this moment happens, what on earth do we do? Most dancers will have dedicated their whole life to the field of dance and will not of had much time for anything else. How do we cope mentally, still pay the bills and keep it all together when starting over again?
Dance as a career option entails a high level of discipline, determination, pure love of the art form and extensive, ongoing training. The discipline we learn to master is a transferable skill into any profession. There are many career options that dancers can transition into…personal trainers, teachers, pilates and yoga instrustors, choreographers, managers, entrepreneurs, leaders, health coaches, dance journalists, scenographers, company directors, producers, managers, physiotherapists, dance school principals and coaches… the list is lengthy and previous skills as a dancer will not be wasted but in fact the experience and wisdom gained over the years are invaluable. It may be a case of having to do some extra training to fill in some gaps or a slightly more substantial time of study to re-educate yourself.
A study entitled “Making Changes, Facilitating the Transiton of Dancers to Post-Performance careers” conducted in Australia, Switzerland and United States, researched dancers in over 11 counties and discovered that:
’Currently active dancers expect to continue their performing careers well into their forties. However, dancers whose active careers are over, now remember that although they thought they would continue until their late thirties, on average they actually stopped dancing professionally in their early to mid-thirties’.
This change is the beginning of what may seem uncertain and potentially unstable is in fact the start of a positive new challenge, a chance to discover what else you can do besides being a dancer and the many different ways you can still contribute to the dance industry.
What emotions can you expect to experience during this time of change?
Lets start with the negative ones first as they will be there in abundance…
1. Depression and Sadness – a time of change may feel like a bereavement or a loss of your identity and creativity. It can create feelings of vulnerability, loss of confidence and letting the old part of you go. Martha Graham famously said:
“A dancer dies twice – once when they stop dancing and this first death is the more painful” (Martha Graham).
2. Guilt – It may feel as if you are leaving everyone behind to start something new and you may feel as if you are being selfish for wanting this change. You may also feel guilty for not fully appreciating yourself and your skill until you are forced to stop or leave a situation and have time to reflect.
3. Fear and Anxiety – Change isn’t always easy and the unknown is often the most difficult and unnerving part to cope with. Doubting your ability and strength during this time may cause stress and anxiety. Manage your stress with meditations, yoga, exercise, writing or any other outlet that helps you to release. Rather than resisting the change, perhaps try going with the flow a little more and see what new opportunities are bought your way. If new opportunities arise, take them and try them out – who knows, you may love them…
How can I see this as a positive?
4. Acceptance – this is a difficult one to do but sometimes considering that actually something better may come out of this situation rather than thinking its the end of everything. How can you learn and develop from this situation, rather than be bogged down and depressed by it?
5. Relief – Your new career may bring you new opportunities you never thought imaginable and it may work out better for you but just in a different way to what you originally thought. I have discovered that life doesn’t really work out in the way you initially thought when you were younger and life often presents curve balls that seek to challenge our way of living. Find a way to seize control of the changing situation to help you plan a new phase of your career. (See below for tips).
6. Motivation and Determination – As dancers, we are great at this and it is generally in our nature. Embrace the excitement of something new, be awakeful to new opportunities and situations and be present rather than dwelling on the past or worry about the future.
Tips to coping with change:
Grab a notebook, pen and a quiet space. Write down your answers to the following questions. Your response only has to make sense to you….
1. What’s the worst that can happen in a time of change? Think things through carefully…
A) Imagine different outcomes in your changing situation and list them.
B) List the best and worst outcomes. Pros on one side of a bit of paper and cons on the other side.
C) Consider… what was the most recent, scary event that happened in your life and how did you cope? Note it down and the coping strategies that you used. Also note down reactions or habits that did not serve you and made the situation worse. How can you learn from this?
2. How much of this situation can you control?
A. Write a list of everything you can control. Next to each answer write down an action that you are going to do to make it happen and develop a plan that you can tick off, set goals and regain control.
B. Write a list of everything you cannot control. What is out of your hands and what strategies can you put in place for each one to alleviate anxiety?
3. Reframe the situation. What can you gain from this situation? Take a reflective approach and view the change as an opportunity, rather than as a setback.
A. List everything positive that you can gain from this change in circumstance. How will it benefit you and your future?
4. Gain some support – enlist a mentor, a coach, a great friend who can guide you to the next steps. Talking about your ideas, fears, worries and joys can help you to see a clearer picture and gain some perspective on the situation. Talk to Dancer’s Career Development, based in London who can help pair you up with career coaches, invite you to training and development days and help with bursaries for re-training. https://thedcd.org.uk
Finally, if you have any of your own tips for a positive transition from professional dancing into a new career path, please do comment below and let is all know how you did it. It is a strange and daunting time and the more that we can all be there for each other, the more exciting the endless possibilities will seem.
au.reachout.com – How to choose a career path.
payscale.com – by Leah Arnold-Ameets – The 5-Step Guide to Changing Careers Successfully.
roh.org.uk – by Rose Slavin – Life After Dance – why hanging up your dancing shoes needn’t be the end of a career.
theatlantic.com – by Maroosha Muzaffar – A Dancer Dies Twice: The Unique, Sad Challenge of Retiring from Ballet.