I’m somewhere around the second half of my dancing career, from an age point of view. Although my mum and dad weren’t completely delighted at my choosing the stage rather than a nice secure office desk when I started out, they’ve seen me do well enough in the business over the past 10 years, thanks to cruises, West End runs and other long-term contracts, to become a little bit more positive about the whole thing. The occasional free tickets I’ve been able to get them when I’ve been in a top show haven’t done any harm either.
Unfortunately they recently saw a documentary about ex-ballet dancers who struggle to make a living once they retire, which seems to have kick-started their anxieties again. To be honest they do have a point: all I know is dancing and even I have to accept that it won’t be my job forever. Ideally they would like to me to “quit while I’m ahead” and start retraining sooner rather than later for that “proper job” when I hang my shoes up. Personally, I’d much prefer to keep doing the job I love. Am I being naive or is there a happy medium?
JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE Many of the ex-dancers I have spoken to have told me that, serious unexpected injury aside, the ‘end’ of a dancing career doesn’t necessarily come on one specific day, but instead can be a gradual process that happens over months or even years, depending on the style of dance you specialise in, as well as on the personality and circumstances of each individual performer.
There certainly doesn’t seem to be a general ‘best before date’ that applies to all. With this being the case, it makes perfect sense – and is very commendable – that you are keen to do some advance planning for when the professional dancing finally does come to an end, but it would also be a shame to let anxiety about that time become so all-consuming that it prevents you developing your career as much and as far as you can while you still have dancing years left.
My experience, based on contact with many ex-dancers who excel in a wide variety of roles in and outside the entertainment industry, is that – loath as I am to contradict your parents – there are few branches of performance that offer quite as many transferable skills that can be put to great use in any subsequent career. To start with the obvious, first impressions always count, and a dancer by his or her very nature tends to take good care of health, fitness and appearance, as well as posture. This will get you off to a very good start in the jobs market. The ability to work as part of a team and to learn quickly are two more qualities that will get you just as far in the wider world as they will in your dance career. As an example, not only is there much collective wisdom and years of experience to be tapped into within organisations such as One Dance UK or Equity (which has a very active dance committee) on the future of your dancing career and beyond, but many of the shining lights of these organisations were once dancers like you.
Start by selecting some non-dancing but arts-based jobs that appeal from our own recruitment section: read through the job descriptions and see which skills you have already learned as a dancer apply. Find some example CVs (lots are available online) and personalise them. When you apply for real, any training gaps you spot can usually be covered by learning on the job (you’re good at that, remember?). Since you have a few years in hand, try part-time training, which will allow you to prepare properly for your future but still enjoy your dancing in the present.