Careers to dance for!

At almost any stage in a dancer's life, there comes a time when they start to decide on a change in career, writes Karen van Ulzen. Performing, for whatever reason, may no longer be an option.

The decision can come as early as when they are still training. The student might decide that the bright lights of the stage are not for them, yet still love dance and want to stay involved.

Or a dancer might reach the decision once they have achieved their goal of performing, even in the midst of a fully satisfying career. They might have to retire through injury or they might find their career is not as fulfilling as they had expected. Or perhaps they have discovered other elements of life that now interest them more than dance.

And of course, there are the dancers who are already at retirement, and looking for a new career.

It is not that long ago that it was almost frowned upon for a serious dance student or professional dancer to do anything else but commit their every spare moment to their training. It was like a religious vocation. For a student, the training is so demanding and the job scene so competitive that not devoting every minute of one's day was almost considered a lack of genuine ambition. Similarly for a professional dancer – the need to stay on top of one's training and fitness and keep up with the demands of the performance were enough to deal without also engaging in other commitments. To a degree, that is true. But only to a degree. Attitudes have changed. It is now realised that such an all-consuming attitude left too many dancers bereft. Having narrowed their options from a very young age, dancers were left ill equipped to move into other fields and psychologically traumatised at having to give up the career that had defined their lives.

These days, the attitude to extra-curricular activities has almost reversed. Where once upon a time serious dance students gave up their academic studies at an early age, now most students can maintain their schooling while studying their dance. This is partly thanks to more flexible education system and partly to a widening awareness of the importance of education to our dancers' psychological and social wellbeing. At the professional level, many companies are happy for dancers to take up other studies and many have instituted some form of help for dancers to prepare for life after dance.

These changes have not just occurred with a view to second or alternative careers to dance. It is now recognised that having other interests and skills can actually contribute to successful dance careers. Dancers take pride in earning educational credentials -- in being smart, useful dancers with well-exercised brains who can, among other things, bring more intelligence and experience to their interpretations and even contribute to the creative process. Education exposes the dancer to other ways of thinking, making them better rounded and intellectually developed individuals and in turn a better artist.

From an employment perspective, the dance world has fractured and changed. Where once most dancers could expect a full-time contract with an ensemble company, now the dance scene includes many solo, independent dancers and small, self-made groups. Dancers move from job to job, generating their own opportunities or snapping up short-term contracts. Having additional skills can boost their income between jobs and thereby sustain a much longer and varied career than they might have if they had just relied on a long-term employment as a company dancer. An independent dancer's CV often comprises many money-earning skills such as Pilates instruction, yoga instruction and teaching, or perhaps other creative skills which have spun off from their dance practice. The skills they gain in producing themselves can be turned around to producing others, or working as rehearsal directors, repetiteurs or company managers. The Australian Ballet's David McAllister completed a Graduate Diploma in Arts and Entertainment Management while still dancing. And look where he is now.

Christopher Aubrey is another example. He went from being a company dancer with Sydney Dance Company to being its current rehearsal director. “I have always been aware that a career as a dancer is not forever so I began studying right from the very beginning,” he says. “I completed a Certificate IV in Fitness in my second year at ADT (Adelaide 2008), to give myself the ability to create work for myself in the event of an injury or needing some time away from full time dance. I then went on to do a short TEFL course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) as I have always loved learning languages and travelling so thought this would be a great skill to have. Now I have just recently begun more study (Graduate Certificate in Business).”

He says that he has always been “a workaholic” and therefore didn't find studying and working at the same time too much of a challenge. “I was able to complete my assignments and readings after hours. Essentially it is all about good time management and being able to find balance between work, study and leisure.” Now he finds the prospect of helping the company improve and expand a very exciting one.

Dance shares with sport the need to devote many hours a day in the pursuit of athletic perfection and therefore similar difficulties when facing a new career, But dancers are luckier than athletes in that their profession is also an artform and business, encompassing numerous components and, therefore, career options. There are all the elements of putting on the show – the design, the backstage set-up, the production, the marketing, theatre and arts management, the financing. And of course, like sport, there is the whole area of performance science – the training, teaching, associated physical fitness and therapies, performance psychology, nutrition and health. The more you look, the more you that realise that dance actually has many more exciting possibilities than many other traditional careers.

So whether on-stage or back stage, behind a desk or in a studio, there are lots of ways you can be involved in dance. You will not only satisfy your creative instincts but will broaden your mind and expand your skills and fulfil your potential as a human being.

We have compiled a number of inspiring examples of careers that keep you in touch with the field you love.

This article was first published in the October/November issue of Dance Australia and you can find the careers profiles inside, as well as a selection on this website.  If you missed this issue you can purchase a copy via the Dance Australia app






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