Goodbyes with Grace
There comes a time in every dancer’s career where they think about moving on to another company or just away from the company they’re currently in. Or to a desert island where they lie on the beach all day and bartend at night… But there are a few things to keep in mind while you are contemplating the shift:
Why do I want to quit? Is it because I’m unhappy with the company, the dancers, or dancing?
What does my contract look like? If not, do I have a verbal agreement or understanding?
And most importantly, what relationships do I want to foster after my departure?
If I only ever gave one piece of advice to my friends it would be, “Don’t burn your bridges”. Then right after that, I’d say, “Take care of yourself”. The two go hand-in-hand and there’s almost always a way to take care of yourself without burning bridges. Believe me, I’ve learned this all by trial and error through many regional modern dance companies (sorry, no union experience, but “read your contract” will apply doubly, and you could probably safely toss in “talk to your representative” in there too), and hopefully my experience will spare you some of the error!
First, why do you want to move on?
Is it the choreography? Then yes, it’s time to move on. Every company has a mission and a vision that they’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and money into. Try writing an artistic statement of your own, forming a company around it, fighting for funding, and then see if you feel differently about their particular vision. If you find that you are not jiving with the company’s direction, that’s probably not something that is going to change until you’re in a new company.
In this case, you should be able to have a conversation with your director about your interests and they may be able to suggest avenues to investigate. Just be careful how you use your words. Make sure you steer the focus onto your interests and away from their choreography. After all, there’s an audience for everyone, and someday you may be facing a young dancer who “isn’t interested” in what you’re creating.
That being said, you did make a commitment to the company and they are putting oodles of time, effort and money into you, so look at your remaining commitments as a time to grow and expand your range of appreciation.
Is it the way you are being cast? That could be your own problem. My first inclination is to suggest sticking it out for a couple of seasons to see if you can’t improve your standing over time. If this is an ongoing problem over many seasons, it’s time to have a conversation with your director about your future in the company. They may not see you in a leading role…ever.
Is it the dancers? Are they just awful to be around? Are any of them planning on moving on? You might outlast them. On the other hand, the dancers ARE the company. Weigh your options carefully, you might consider getting advice from your director, or another person removed from the company dancers. They can help you figure out your options as well as gauge the current company climate against the whole history of the company.
Is it you? Some dancers just need a break. You might be there. Are you finding that you have the same problems no matter what company you are in? Are you consistently unhappy whether you’re dancing for your company or guesting? In rehearsal or in class? You might need to turn your attention to just training, just making work or your own, going back to school, or shifting your focus entirely, even if it is just for a couple of months.
You’ve decided to leave. So, what do you need to do?
Check in with yourself. Have you identified why really want to leave? What does that tell you about your future options? Write down those goals and what people you’ll need to reach out to to accomplish them.
Check your contract. Read it 10 times. Then have a friend read it and tell you what you’re missing. Figure out the minimum and maximum you need to do to fulfill your contract and have it at the ready for your next conversation.
Check in with your Director. Or the level of administration that is directly above your position. Talking with them first, before rumors get around will let them know that they are your first priority and leave the conversation open-ended. Then schedule a follow-up check-in. This is important. You need to let them know that you haven’t made any final decisions before you’ve gotten their opinion and had time to process it. They’re putting their resources into you now (no matter your personal feelings towards them), so the least you can do is show deference.
Assess your options. Get a second opinion from other professionals who can be discreet. Their experience and inside knowledge of the dance community can be invaluable. Every dance company and history is unique. Use that history to help you make a graceful exit.
Talk to your allies. These are the people who you will actively keep in contact with. You may want to dance with them, for them, or work with them in another capacity in the future, but that won’t happen without a little work on your part. We dancers are busy. It’s amazing how much we rely on rehearsal time to be the glue for relationships.
But, don’t talk to them about “that rotten so-and-so.” Here’s where the bad blood may come in. I have committed the sin of talking too much many a time. Don’t you do the same. Focus on the good, and remember, less is best. Tell your family and your trusted bestie about “that rotten so-and-so,” but don’t tell your coworkers.
After you’re gone, thank everyone for their time regardless of your personal feelings. I know, you had a terrible time and feel like a jilted lover. Well, pull up your superhero Underoos, and make sure that people know that you know that you appreciated the resources that were expended for you. The dance world isn’t the corporate world, it’s a family, and every show is Christmas. Don’t make Aunt Mary regret the time she spent knitting that horrid sweater for you. Just send her a freaking thank-you card. It’s just how we do things.
Contributor Katie C. Sopoci Drake, MFA, GL-CMA, is a Washington D.C. based professional dancer, choreographer and teacher specializing in Laban-based contemporary dance. Holding an MFA in Dance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a Graduate Certification in Laban Movement Analysis from Columbia College – Chicago, and a BA in Theatre/Dance with a minor in Vocal Performance from Luther College, Sopoci Drake continues to take classes in as many techniques and practices as she can handle to inform her work and life as a curious mover.
Katie has been on faculty at The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Nova Southeastern University, Miami Dade College-Wolfson, Miami Dade College-Kendall, Carthage College, and Lawrence University. She currently guest teaches and gives masterclasses around the D.C. area and wherever her travels take her.
As a performer, Sopoci is described as a “sinuous, animal presence of great power; watching her dance is a visceral experience.” (Third Coast Digest). Company credits include Mordine and Company Dance Theater of Chicago, Momentum Dance Company of Miami, Wild Space Dance Company of Milwaukee, and Rosy Simas Danse of Minneapolis. Katie has also made appearances an an independent artist with many companies including Brazz Dance, Your Mother Dances, The Florentine Opera, and The Minnesota Opera.
Katie’s choreography, described as “a beautiful marriage between choreography, music and poetry” (On Milwaukee), arises from her fascination with the idiosyncrasies of daily life, and the flights of fancy that arise from ordinary inspirations. Her work has been performed by numerous companies, colleges and studios across the country and her latest collaboration, Telephone Dance Project, will take her to states up and down the East Coast while investigating long-distance creation and connecting far-flung dance communities.