Diana Mitchel recalls her transition from child dancer to adult in ‘Once a Dancer Always a Dancer’
Training to be a ballet dancer was a way of life for me that started at a fairly 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.
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”. Followed by; “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 time to study another skill that probably didn’t interest me when ballet was my first love?
Dancer was my 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!
To follow my dream, I left school at 16 without any other ‘skills’ and with the minimum of a formal education. I am not recommending or condemning this, I am simply describing how my life as a dancer/person evolved. On finishing my training, I joined a small company in New York, so those adults with their gloom and doom predictions were wrong!
I was not as committed
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. I noticed that my weaknesses never went away no matter how hard I worked to improve them. Becoming curious about the world outside of ballet, I wanted to go there and see what it’s like for me to be 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 trust myself to find another type of job. After all, there must 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. I was then given a job as Wardrobe Mistress in no time at all. Assorted jobs followed until I decided to ‘go back to school’. At the age of 45 I trained to be a psychotherapist and later on as a mediator.
I discovered that my dancing career and training meant that I could run rings around most people I worked with. My built–in commitment to whatever it was I was doing, my ability to give 100%. I took responsibility for any job. I was creative in how I approached work, and compared to the non-dancers, I never seemed to worry about hard work or being tired!
I would love to have a quiet word with dancers who through injury, 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 poise and confidence that all dancers have, 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!