To the Adult Dancer Who is Leaving Performing…

Saturday, April 8, 2017

It’s been two years since I’ve been on stage. I have taken breaks in the past, but I knew at that point, the performing side of my dancing was really over. Although I have been teaching and watching dance for the past two years, I haven’t been in an audience watching a ballet during that time. I finally went to one this past weekend, and it brought on many thoughts.

Yes, I still grieve not performing. As a performer, I knew exactly where to park, and what entrance to the theater to use. It was fine for me to go all over backstage or wherever I wanted. I didn’t have to worry about being cold because I had a bag full of warm ups and was jumping around all over the place to keep warm. But as an audience member? It’s, “Oh, maybe I can’t park here.” “Will call? Where is that?” “How do I find my seat because I don’t know where this number is.” “Oh yeah, it’s really cold in the audience! And I didn’t bring a jacket.”

Then there’s the going back stage to see friends and getting barked at by a well-meaning employee who is trying to protect the backstage from being flooded by the audience, and to keep the dancers’ spaces safe. But for me, those spaces still feel like my spaces. They are still familiar. It doesn’t feel like it’s been years. Not being recognized felt like the moment in The Last Unicorn when the unicorn is mistaken for a horse. Except that in this case, they were right – I was just another person.

It’s strange. And sad. The dancers are riding their post-show high, huge smiles on their faces. They are so excited. And it gave me a post-show high right along with them. It was good to see people and get hugs…to feel a part of it again, even though I’m not. Because I didn’t go home dripping with sweat and every muscle hurting, but I did go home with the radio blasting and singing along with it, because it still felt good.

I realized how much I missed it. Which is why it can be easier to stay away. I see it in former professional ballet dancers. Some stay with teaching or directing, but some go in a completely different direction. At least for some number of years, until it doesn’t hurt so much, and they can go back to it on different terms. I feel like there is so little discussion about how much it hurts to not be a dancer anymore.

Going back was therapeutic. In the few days after, as I had time to reflect, a lot of things came to my mind. Things that I had missed with my family to be in those shows. The freedom I have in my life without being tied to it.

As much I love performing, there is a downside. There’s always that question of how it’s going to go. There’s always so much criticism leading up to it. It’s mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausting, especially as an adult and a non-professional. When you are dancing in a company, you get to point where you are dancing so much, you feel on top of your game all the time. It comes with the 8 hours of dancing all day, every day. Your worst day is still a pretty darn good day in the grand scheme of things. But, there’s also an insane amount of pressure to go along with it. Pressure I didn’t have the maturity to handle when I was in it.

As an adult, I had the maturity, but I wasn’t dancing enough to feel as on top of it as I wanted to. I was still dancing a lot, but not enough for the expectations I had of myself. There was a different kind of pressure for my performances, because at any time, I didn’t trust my body to do what I needed it to do. The performance high usually wasn’t high, because I didn’t feel as good as I wanted or needed it to feel.

If you are a fan of Dance Academy, you may remember one of the last episodes where Saskia is talking about retiring. She has been let go from the company after it comes under new leadership, but Tara tells her that plenty of other companies would be glad to have her. Saskia, who is still coming back from an injury, replies, “I’m just sick of starting each morning with coffee and a pain killer.” I think this embodies what happens to a lot of us. We get tired of the fight.

All this to say, that yes, there is a life after performing. A beautiful life. A life where you can stand in the back of a classroom and dance, and feel like you are on stage. Where you can have your evenings and weekends to shop, or garden, or clean your house. Where you can wake up and not be in pain. Or you can be in pain, but from Pilates or Crossfit, or whatever else you decide to conquer.

I wish ballet could be more balanced, and could be something we could do without it being so demanding on both bodies and time.

Don’t stay away from the ballet. Go. Let the dancers inspire you – fill you with spirit. Breathe right along with them, and you will feel like you are dancing too.


Unknown said...

Thank you for such a lovely and heartfelt post. I stopped dancing decades ago (that's the only hint I'm giving of my age). I was never lucky enough to reach the professional stage but I danced in local theaters and received scholarships from well respected institutions. My fate was sealed early because I started dance so late in life but it became everything I ate, drank and slept. You're correct in that when you choose a ballet life or a life committed to one thing like ballet, that requires you to be consumed it you miss a lot.
In my case I missed all the big high school and college moments, proms, homecomings, big football games, etc. But I would not go back and change a single moment.
I finally had some life moments that forced me to stop and then I went thru a phase of always trying to stay connected to it by taking classes, teaching or anything that just would feed me the way ballet did. Then in one fateful class I blew out my ACL so badly the doctors had nothing to connect or do and reconstruction with so I now have someone else ACL.
Since that time I try to attend performances any chance I get just to feel the music, watch the beauty and get lost in it for a bit.
Working out became a chore as where dancing never felt like working out. I've tried everything and then one night I was watching Giselle and after it was over I searched for adult ballet on YouTube. And there you both were giving a basic barre. Mind you it's been a minute since my last class.
But I tried it and tried it again and say the least you both give me hope that I can just do this in the privacy of my home and once again it doesn't feel like working out.
So please keep doing what you're both doing and never go without what feeds your soul. It's just a basic barre but it's 25 or 36 minutes that have not felt that good in very long time, so thank you. And please don't stop because you are improving someone's life, health and outlook without knowing it! BRAVA!

Ballerinas By Night said...


I don't fully have words to express how much this comment means. Just, thank you. Thank you beyond measure for expressing this. It makes everything we do worth while!


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