Thank you to Rachel Cossar for explaining how she made the transition from a ballerina to Choreography for Business
From the beginning
Growing up I was never one of those girls who dreamed of being a ballerina. In fact, while I was training as a rhythmic gymnast on the Canadian National Team, and simultaneously trying to keep up my ballet chops, there were times when I wanted nothing to do with either.
Fast forward a few years and my and my first transition from a student into a career as a professional ballet dancer was in full swing with the Boston Ballet – one of America’s premier dance companies. My success and distinction as a dancer was driven in large part by my unique background as a rhythmic gymnast. I am glad I kept up both of my endeavours, and that my parents had the foresight to push me forwards when I wasn’t so sure.
I danced with the Boston Ballet for 10 years, moving from their Trainee Program through to a Senior Corps de Ballet member. I enjoyed an illustrious career, dancing iconic corps, soloist and principal roles. Just under two years ago, I retired. It seems after 25 years of extremely demanding physical exertion, my body was fed up.
Transition from ballet
My decision to leave Boston Ballet and with it, my days of full-time dancing,
was perhaps one of the hardest decisions I’ve yet had to make. But my decision and the transition was the right one. Now two years out of ‘retirement’, I am gradually unveiling more and more of my broader narrative.
One of the most fascinating things about being a professional ballet dancer, is that you become quickly consumed by it. You wake up and immediately tune into how your body is feeling, you eat breakfast, fuel for the hours of dancing ahead and finally, after your 9-10 hour-day of rehearsing, you rest with your feet up, various body parts in ice and prepare for the next day. I don’t want to make it seem like dancers don’t have any fun, they do. But during intense rehearsal and performance seasons; this actually is your life, you love it and you live for it. As a matter of fact, while I was in the height of my career, I couldn’t imagine that I had ever wanted anything other than this paradise of unique, full-bodied fulfillment.
Freedom from ballet?
In the first few months after my transition, I travelled, revelling in my newfound freedom and the absence of physical pain. Like the break-up of a long and intimate relationship – it’s the honeymoon phase. It wasn’t until a few months later, returning from my travels and settling back in Boston, in the city that knew me so well as ‘Rachel the Dancer’, that I started to recognize the vacuum left behind by the exit of my singular focus.
It takes a while to transition from this feeling of loss, of having worked so hard to achieve something few even come close to. Gradually however, and in the wake of many existential crises, if you are open to opportunity and exploration, you will start to see a thread of something even more incredible. Now that I am well-placed on my next track, I have found increasingly that it is more so a continuation of the tracks laid down behind me, and less of a change in the absolute.
This leads me to really question whether the common analogy of ‘your dancing years are your best years’. Really? I won’t deny there is nothing like having your full body engaged in the moment, enjoying an entire audiences’ rapt attention as you seamlessly move through your choreography. But there are even greater things that dancers and artists can do once they retire from the performance-oriented part of their careers.
Birth of a new business
Over the past year, I have founded a business, called Choreography For Business. Starting in the restaurant industry by teaching the front of house staff about physicality, presence and posture, I have since discovered this phenomenal need in society at large. Non-verbal communication is a developing buzzword that is rapidly gaining in attention. As intellectual beings, we are used to stimulating our minds and from a young age, this is our task.
But what about our vessels of expression? As a dancer, our instrument is the most important thing. Yet in everyday life, it is often an afterthought. This needs to be changed, no job is non-physical. Thus far, I have worked with fundraisers, sales teams, consultants and administrative staff to unlock their true human potential.
Ballet skills translate to other careers
The upside is massive, the competitive edge undeniable. Dancers are uniquely positioned to translate their skills in non-verbal performance to the rest of the world. After all, why should all of what makes the ballet world magical only be accessible to audience members in a theatre?
In pursuing my work beyond my career, I have slowly started to embody the possible notion that my career as a dancer was a training mechanism for something even bigger. Maybe, my intuition as a young girl was right – after all, in the grand scheme of things, my decade long career will be a bright blip on the canvas of my entire life.