Taking Your Exit: Closing Your Performance Chapter

The inevitable fate of all dancers is that at some point, we all have to hang up the shoes. Whether that happens after a long career or when you’re just getting your feet wet, it’s a shock to the system. The transition can be hard, feeling like a loss; a loss of identity, physique, mental astuteness. It’s a total halt in your otherwise kinetic energy. You may even feel relief.

Whatever your personal experience will be or has been, your career will end. You devote so much time, money, and energy for so many years, and it’s career that ends whether on a natural course or an earlier exit due to injury, new aspirations,other health-related barriers, etc. The blessing and curse of life as a dancer is that the career is short-lived which means that…

A) Yes, you can’t dance professionally forever. BUT

B) Unlike many jobs, when a dancer retires, you still have a huge window of opportunity for a second career!

So what do you do when it’s time to transition away from your life as a professional dance?

Because it is such a huge transition, a lot of dancers don’t fully explore the opportunities to maintain their connections to the dance world. Heck, even just transitioning from what you thought your career would be to what it is now can be jarring.

Dancer: Jahmal Chase

Jahmal Chase, currently of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, has gone from training at the Ailey School, working with such names as George Faison, and performing with Dance Theatre of Harlem under Arthur Mitchell to a totally different experience as one of the newest “Trocks.”

He points out that his transition, though not one out of performing, can be as big a switch as retiring. He shared his personal take on the opportunity to shake things up:

“As human beings, we are continuously transitioning on a daily basis. But, as professional dancers, such transitions can change our entire course in one email or phone call. In my case, I have just transitioned from a traditional classical male ballet dancer to a comedic ballerina (en pointe).”

The journey from simply being allowed to take barre en pointe and learn female variations in the back in former dance companies to now becoming one of the ballerinas I have a long admired, has been a dream come true.

Of course, this is just the next chapter for Jahmal’s dancing, but sometimes even a change of pace within your dancing can be a way of prepping for the moment when it’s time to call it quits.

I urge you to remember that you can still have a full career within the dance world beyond the stereotypes of the profession and beyond your physical dancing. In fact, not only are there other opportunities, but acknowledging this may help make that transition easier and allow you to explore what’s next without going cold turkey.

There are many types of opportunities within, or in close proximity to, the dance world:

  • Teaching
  • Choreographing
  • Costuming
  • Arts admin
  • Going back to school
  • Sports medicine/physical therapy
  • Fitness and conditioning certifications
  • Stage direction or design
  • Photography/videography
  • Company manager

The list goes on.

All of these offer different chances to explore the skills we develop as dancers. They can suit your interests and needs coming out of a professional career dancing.

There are so many reasons for making the change. They can include everything from age and physical strain to financial stress, competition, or merely wanting to pursue other interests.

So what all is out there to explore when transitioning to a new chapter in your professional life? And how do you make that transition?

Andrew Fassbender, who is jumping on board here at the studio to help with video production and as first assistant, reiterated the reality of how fleeting your career can be. Having just retired from Tulsa Ballet, he was kind enough to offer some words of wisdom for those daunted by the end of their dancing careers.

Andrew Fassbender

One’s dance career is so short.  The days and weeks can feel long, but in retrospect you really see that it goes by in a flash.  The most important part to a seamless transition is planning.  Your career can end sooner than you think.

“I am blessed to have another passion outside of dance that I was pursuing in tandem with my career as a dancer.  I encourage others to experiment with things outside of the bubble that is the ballet world to see if they find any other things that they are passionate about.  Take a college course, go try acro yoga, pick up a guitar, take a vocal lesson, learn how to drive a race car, take a culinary course.

Stay very focused and intentional with your work as a dancer,  but also keep it on a back burner that your career will one day (all too soon) come to an end, and you don’t want to be left high and dry.  Take the steps you need to take while you’re a dancer to prepare yourself for what is to come once your final curtain has dropped.”

No matter where you are in your professional life, it can be a good reminder to accept that eventually you’ll be switching lanes or taking your exit from performing. Understanding and exploring what else peaks your interest and appreciating the reasons why you choose to do so will hopefully lighten the burden of letting that chapter come to a close.

Have you gone through the process of retiring or are considering your next step in your career? Let us know, and as always, drop us a line with any questions or comments you have!

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Robyn Jutsum

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