“No matter how a dancer feels about their retirement and what they felt they did or did not accomplish, it is important to know you do not have to retire from dance altogether.” – John Welker
John Welker just completed a 22-year career with Atlanta Ballet, finishing with performances of John McFall’s Nutcracker in December 2016. Retirement can be a challenging time for a dancer and Welker offers thoughts and advice for those who are going through the process, considering it, or just want a window into this period of a dancer’s life…
How did you come to realize it was the right time to retire? What advice would you give to dancers who are trying to determine if this is the right decision for them?
For me personally, I could feel the time to retire from dancing was coming for several years – so it wasn’t some singular “ah ha” moment, it was a gradual process. While my body was holding up without injury and I felt great physically, I also knew my interests were increasingly outside the dancing studio. So, when it came to a point when I could feel a sense of ease when thinking about a life without the daily stresses of dancing, I knew it was time to retire.
Everyone is different, so there is no common template or universal path to retirement, but I do believe in trusting one’s own intuition as to what is best for your career and life. Overall, I would say trust your heart first, then act with your mind.
What’s next for you? How long have you been planning your second career? How soon do you think dancers should begin planning their second career?
I’ve been working at a dance degree at Kennesaw State University since 2009, so I’m looking forward to completing my undergraduate education in May 2017. I also will be applying for graduate school in Business and hope to begin working towards an MBA as soon as September 2017.
No time is too early to begin thinking about a second career, especially for professional dancers. Although dancers shouldn’t add more stress to themselves when they are dancing (there’s enough hardship to go around), it’s best to start at least exploring second career options incrementally when you have the luxury of time ahead of you.
What aspects of retirement have been harder or easier than you initially expected?
It is the ease of a structured daily schedule that you become so accustomed to when dancing. To not have that can be both liberating and terrifying. Also, we as dancers take for granted the community of creative people that we are always surrounding ourselves with on a daily basis. To not have that anymore to such a degree is also hard.
What have these past few months have been like as you concluded your dance career?
I have just started my post-dancing life, as you could call it, so I shall see as I progress. But I do know that I want to take it with a sense of adventure, in that to be uncomfortable is not a bad thing and to put yourself in situations which you might feel out of your element can be a very good thing. Also, I also want to be sure I stay physically active in some capacity, I know that will be very important to my sanity and health.
What advice would you give to dancers going through the process of retirement?
Retiring from a life’s passion is such a personal decision. No one is the same, nor are the circumstances surrounding one’s retirement from dancing which can dictate or determine why one decides to move on. But no matter how a dancer feels about their retirement and what they felt they did or did not accomplish, it is important to know you do not have to retire from dance altogether.
It’s important to note moving on from a professional dance career is a process and not just a momentary happening that signifies a complete break. Also, I feel dancers should cherish and value their accomplishments and memories, for these are the things that are yours to keep and cannot be taken away.
I believe it is very important for dancers to find what they are passionate about as they navigate a second career choice. What are the things that give back to you and make you feel like you’ve accomplished something? There are so many ways, other than dancing, to further enjoy and support dance that can give you a sense of fulfillment.
Don’t size up or confuse your personal path with someone else’s. And, most of all, enjoy whatever you set out to do!