Training as a ballet dancer was a way of life for me that started at a young age. Going to my ballet classes was all-consuming. My family, friends and my parents’ friends all knew that my dream was to become a professional ballet dancer.
However, whenever I told an adult what I wanted to do when I grew up the response was often, ‘Very few of you become professional dancers’. Then came the advice, ‘Make sure that you get a good education by going to university or learn another skill to fall back on’ This always puzzled me. How was I going to find the time to study or learn this other skill that probably didn’t interest me when ballet was what I loved doing more than anything else?
Dancing as an identity
Most of all, being a dancer was my identity, this was who I was. I listened to ballet music, I collected photos of my favourite dancers and of course went to the ballet whenever I could. This was in the 50’s and early 60’s long before YouTube!
I left school at 16 to follow my dream without any other ‘skills’ and with the minimum of a formal education. However, I am not recommending or condemning this, I am simply describing how my life as a dancer/person evolved. Having finished my training I joined a small company in New York, so those adults with their gloom and doom predictions were wrong!
At the age of 23 I noticed that I wasn’t as committed or ambitious any more. I was also getting tired of fighting with my body. We all have strengths and weaknesses and I noticed that my weaknesses never went away no matter how hard I worked to improve them. I was also becoming curious about the world outside of the ballet, I want to go out there and see what it’s like to be me in different situations.
I asked myself, what on earth would you do when you stop? The answer was, I don’t know! The only way to find out was to stop dancing and to trust myself to find something that I could do as a job. After all, there’s got be one job out there that I was capable of doing!
A world outside of ballet
My first job was as a dresser in a theatre in London’s West End and then given the job as Wardrobe Mistress in no time at all. Many different jobs followed on from that one until I decided to ‘go back to school’. At the age of 45 I trained as a psychotherapist and later as a mediator.
I discovered that my dance training and career as a dancer meant that I could run rings around most of the people I worked with. My built-in commitment to whatever it was I was doing, my ability to give 100%. I took responsibility for my work. I was creative in the way I approached each job. Compared to all those non dancers, I never seemed to worry about hard work or being tired!
How I would love to have a quiet word with every dancer who, through injury, stress or other factors was forced to stop dancing. I would say that the years of training and dancing has actually given them the best education ever. My father, who was a university professor, once said that a dancer’s education is better than a university education.
The moral of this tale is to first and foremost trust yourself. Then remind yourself that you already have some very sophisticated skills that are part of who you are. These skills, combined with the poise and confidence that all dancers have, will make it possible for you to apply yourself to almost anything.
No one can take your unique life skills way from you. Once a dancer, always a dancer!