by Rachel Malehorn
When I feel the fall’s first chilly breeze, I know that change is in the air. Nature’s cycle strips leaves from trees, puts scarves on necks, and ripens pumpkins in their patches. Fall also finds the dancers of Milwaukee Ballet back in our studio, home after a long summer lay-off to prepare for our first production, Don Quixote. The process of getting back into the rhythm of daily class and rehearsal has made me reflect on the nature of transition. Some people thrive on change while others balk. In the flow of life, change is inevitable. What interests me is how we as people, and we specifically as dancers, can take advantage of these transitions – to seize any opportunity to grow.
Student to Professional
Of the many transitions I went through moving from student to professional dancer, one of the most challenging and least anticipated was navigating my first summer lay-off. As a student, I had spent my summers attending summer intensive programs, which prepare a young dancer for a professional career. But once I had finally landed my dream job, and had just finished my first year with the Company, how should I spend the summer months?
My first lay-off was very confusing for me: on the one hand, I had freedom! I could do whatever I wanted – I was cut loose from the rigid discipline binding me during the season. But after only a few weeks of this wide-open schedule, I realized that I was basically addicted to routine, and felt disoriented, rudderless, and in need of some kind of structure. Also, 21 weeks is a long time to subsist without income, and without regular ballet classes, getting back in shape was extremely difficult. Ever since that first summer, I have dedicated myself to answering the question: what does a dancer do when she’s not dancing full time?
This can be a difficult question to answer for people who have spent the majority of their childhoods in single-minded dedication to their art form. When I made the transition from student to professional, it became apparent that only I could determine my life outside the studio. I began asking my colleagues what they did during the summer and received many different suggestions. Eventually, I was able to craft my summer into a time for college courses at a local university, summer dance projects like Terpsicorps in Asheville, North Carolina, traveling, yoga, camping, and adding to my photographic portfolio.
Recently, I asked three of my fellow dancers from Milwaukee Ballet what they did this summer, and got some great answers. [Read more…]