By Susie Boyland, contributor
After all the years of training you put in, becoming a professional dancer didn’t work out, and now you have no idea what to do. Living in a cardboard box doesn’t sound like an attractive option…nor does living with your parents for 10 more years…Perhaps injury ended your career prematurely, you just couldn’t find a job, or you realized that as much as you love ballet, you really can’t stand repeating the same 10 seconds of a ballet over and over throughout hours of rehearsal every day. However, if you had your sights set on becoming a ballet dancer, coming to the realizing that your dream career isn’t going to work out can be devastating. So what now? There are many career paths that will allow you to remain in the dance world and use your dance experience without being a dancer in a professional company.
Dancers are disciplined, intelligent, driven, and know how to make a commitment. Plus, being able to smile and look happy while dancing in pointe shoes with toes covered in blisters has its benefits in the outside world: your boss will never know how much you really hate writing those TPS reports (though after you’ve smiled through your fair share of grunt work, be sure to fight for that promotion you deserve!). You also know how to work on a team: after all the hours of going into excruciating detail during corps work in Swan Lake while your teacher screams at you, working on a team project is a piece of cake! And speaking of cake, you now can also have that extra slice without worrying so much about how you’d look in that hideous unitard you might otherwise be wearing in your next performance.
Nevertheless, ballet is a big part of your life and you’re not ready to let it go completely. Good news is you don’t have to! Most of these alternate career options will require a degree (or two…or three) or perhaps some specialized training, but fear not; the time and dedication you put into your ballet training is proof that you have what it takes to succeed in just about any career. Here are five (and a bonus list) of the multitudes of other career options you might consider:
1. Physical Therapist
Let’s be real – all dancers end up in physical therapy at some point or another. Having a physical therapist who does not know a plié from a tendu is about as fun as trying to explain to your non-dancer friends that no, you really cannot miss rehearsal “just this one time” to go to the beach. Dancers will flock to a physical therapist with a dance background as they are hard to come by. Helping other dancers to recover from their injuries could be very satisfying, and the training you will receive in physical therapy school will also help you to deal with your own injuries whenever they arise. Plus, you will ace your anatomy classes, even if you’ve never taken one before. How many other types of people can tell you where the psoas is before hearing about it in an anatomy class? From my experience, not a whole lot.
For those who aren’t opposed to completing many more years of schooling, perhaps a career as an orthopedic surgeon is an option. Every dancer’s worst fear when it comes to surgery is that he or she won’t be able to dance again. Naturally this field is highly specialized and probably isn’t for most, but former dancers who do become surgeons could become highly regarded in this field.
2. Pilates Teacher
Now that we’re done discussing the scary stuff (surgery = yikes!), let’s get back to something we’re more familiar with. Love it or hate it, cross training is essential for injury prevention. Ballet dancers already have an acute sense of awareness when it comes to their bodies, and a pilates teacher who already has this awareness will be able to better meet the needs of his or her students. Chances are you’ve already taken 203942038 pilates classes or thereabouts in your lifetime, so getting your certification shouldn’t be too frightening of a prospect. Yoga is another option too.
While you may now be allowed to have that extra piece of cake, most professional dancers have to be much more wary of what they eat. As you no doubt know, in order to keep your body healthy and functioning at peak physical condition, nutrition is key. For those who already like to eat as healthily as they can, this may seem like an attractive career option. For those who wanted to hide in the back during nutrition class at summer programs, perhaps this idea sounds about as fun as repeating a long adage in the center. In that case, let’s just move on to the next idea…
4. Lighting, Costume, or Set Designer
Jobs that help dancers lead injury-free and healthy lives are great and all, but what you really may be looking for is a way to still be involved in the performance aspect of ballet. Lighting, costumes, and sets are what help to bring a ballet to life. Creating a magical stage environment would simply not be possible without the work of these creative individuals. You already know what does and doesn’t look good on the stage, so you’d be a natural at this!
5. Choreographer or Dance Teacher
These are the most obvious choices for a dancer who has to leave the stage but is not ready to leave the studio. As dancers we have a vast amount of experience with choreographers and teachers, and likely know what we do and don’t like from each. Many dancers choose one or both of these options after retiring from performing, but there’s no reason why these jobs should be reserved only for retired professional dancers. These jobs may not be able to provide full-time work though, so perhaps these options could be a part-time supplement to another full-time job.
Lastly, a bonus list (which by no means includes the rest of your options):
- Dance Photographer
- Dance Journalist/Reviewer
- Massage Therapist
- Dancewear or shoe designer
- Business management or marketing work for your favorite company
If none of these sound good to you, then another option is to choose a career which is unrelated to the dance world but will provide you with the financial means and free time to enjoy as much dance as you want! In my case, I got an engineering degree (undergrad only) and was able to get a job at a large aerospace corporation in a city with ample dance opportunities. Engineering sounds terrifying, but I’ll let you in on a secret: Ballet is WAY more difficult! My engineering job allows me to have the financial stability and time to take as many classes as I want (whenever injuries don’t prevent me from doing so) and attend professional ballet performances on a regular basis. I know several other pre-professionally trained dancers who did the same thing and are also happy with their decision. Not everyone is math and science oriented, but if you are then perhaps engineering could be a good option for you too. Most engineers are left-brained and logical, but as a dancer you also have an artistic and creative element which can make you stand out. Plus, who knows – maybe you could be the one to come up with a new and revolutionary long-lasting pointe shoe! (One that doesn’t look like a Gaynor…#justsayin)
Each person is different and has his or her own skills and interests, but there is still a bright future for everyone whose dancing dreams didn’t come true in the way they’d hoped. It will take time and effort, but when you think about all the hard work you’ve put in while training as a ballet dancer, it’s tough to think of something that could be more difficult than what you’ve already accomplished. The end of your professional dancing days, even if they never begun, is not really an end, but rather the start of a new dream.