by Emily Kate Long
A career in dance is full of transitions of all kinds…the exhilarating first leap from student to professional, the lapse between seasons, and the final (or in some cases, not so final) move from dance to another career. Some of these emotional transitions happen smoothly and with grace, some are rocky and uncertain.
Hearing my older friends’ stories of professional life when I was still a student put stars in my eyes, but it also made me wonder if I would be tough enough to handle a professional career. Since landing a job, I’ve seen friends transition from the stage to take on other pursuits. I’ve also been lucky enough to see some of my students enter the field and give it everything they’ve got. All that inspires me to make the most of every moment I’m given to dance. In this first Finding Balance post of 2014, change is the focus: in life, in habits, in attitude. Happy New Year!
Let’s start with a big one: landing that first job. The amazing thing about an occupation that flies by so quickly is that there’s no reason not to get the most out of every single second of it. That’s an incredible opportunity, and a huge challenge. Every moment wasted is a moment that you—or someone else—could be getting closer to the job or role you want. Five short years into my career, I sometimes catch myself forgetting that competitive hunger. It’s one thing that helped get me from wanting a job to having one, and I never want that to change about my dancing. What has changed now that I’m out of the scramble of trainee-ships and endless auditions is the extent to which the responsibility to stay eager falls on the individual. The more experience and freedom I gain, the more I realize there is to explore inside myself as an artist, and in movement and performance in the broader sense, if I’m willing to go for it.
Another thing the past five years have taught me is how and when to back off, something that’s hard for most dancers to do. Work—especially work that feels like play—is easy to get lost in. Both in my professional dance life and here on 4dancers, I’ve had the privilege to do work I love. I’ve also had to make the tough choice to put on the brakes sometimes, whether it’s staying out of the studio and resting my body, or posting less frequently to give my ideas time to take shape. Bodies don’t last forever, but I hope not to wear mine out for a long time yet.
The expenditure of one’s body, emotions, and nerves, or simply the decision to change one’s focus in life, are all reasons dancers choose to retire. It seems such a personal and difficult choice, whether a dancer stops at age twenty-five or age forty-five. Some dancers retire from full-time work but still perform occasionally; some leave the field altogether; still others bring up the next generation of artists as directors, teachers, or coaches. Wendy Whelan is one great example of an older dancer continuing to explore performance in ways other than classical ballet.
This article on Career Transition for Dancers makes an interesting point about second careers: they may not—in fact, probably won’t—provide the same degree of fulfillment as dancing, and that’s ok. That’s why dance was the first choice.
“And here, in essence, was the pill that many retiring dancers find hardest to swallow, and that Career Transition is nearly alone in dispensing: the sober recognition that, at least momentarily, a dancer might need to stop expecting a new line of work to match the deep fulfillment of professional dance.”
This line captures the feeling that hits me big time whenever I’m on a break from rehearsals and performance. There is just nothing that gets me going like dancing does, so it’s hard to take a rest even though I know it’s good for me. I guess some things really don’t change over the course of a dancer’s career, even after retirement!
Assistant Editor Emily Kate Long began her dance education in South Bend, Indiana, with Kimmary Williams and Jacob Rice, and graduated in 2007 from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School’s Schenley Program. She has spent summers studying at Ballet Chicago, Pittsburgh Youth Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, Miami City Ballet, and Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive/Vail Valley Dance Intensive, where she served as Program Assistant. Ms Long attended Milwaukee Ballet School’s Summer Intensive on scholarship before being invited to join Milwaukee Ballet II in 2007.
Ms Long has been a member of Ballet Quad Cities since 2009. She has danced featured roles in Deanna Carter’s Ash to Glass and Dracula, participated in the company’s 2010 tour to New York City, and most recently performed principal roles in Courtney Lyon’s Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, and Cinderella. She is also on the faculty of Ballet Quad Cities School of Dance, where she teaches ballet, pointe, and repertoire classes.