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Life after dance: Why hanging up dancing shoes needn't be the end of a career

Two former dancers share how Dancers' Career Development helped them into new vocations beyond the stage.

By Rose Slavin (Former Assistant Content Producer)

28 October 2016 at 12.28pm | 6 Comments

It's an unfortunate fact that a dancer’s career is finite. Physically exhausting and emotionally demanding, dancers are driven by determination, passion and hard work – knowing that unfortunately it won't last forever.

‘It's not a profession in which you can do in your own terms, you have to follow a schedule, six days a week’, says former Royal Ballet dancer Celisa Diuana. 'When you're a dancer, there's not much space for anything else.'

Diuana devoted her early years to winning a place at The Royal Ballet. From the age of six, she attended weekly classes in her native Brazil, spent thousands of hours perfecting her technique and coped with the pressure of auditions in pursuit of her dream. By the age of 17 she was accepted as Apprentice of The Royal Ballet and moved to London, and joined the Company-proper the following year.

Nine years into her career, Diuana decided she no longer could continue performing:

‘I felt drained. I couldn’t give my 100% and I really wanted to’, she admits. ‘But my whole life was defined by my dancing – if you’re not a dancer, then what are you?’

It’s a scary time, with many dancers unsure about who to turn to:

‘You don’t really want to talk about it to the Company because you need to take this decision under your own terms.'

Diuana was only 26 at the time, and relatively young to stop dancing, but approached artist support organization Dancers' Career Development about taking up a a course in Pilates instruction. DCD – which is now a partner of The Royal Ballet – coached her through the process of leaving full-time employment and provided her with financial support to complete her qualification.

Lee Bamford, a former dancer, also leant on the Dancers' Career Development when he decided he was ready for a career change:

‘I was in Germany at the time, so I had some coaching sessions on Skype with the DCD’, he remembers. ‘They made me see that the skills I had as a dancer were really transferable. As a dancer you constantly have to be learning new things and meeting new people, picking up movements and translating them into your own body. Being approachable, open and organized – can take you through to flourish elsewhere.’

Bamford had an incredibly diverse time during his 11 years of dancing, which included stints in London’s West End in Cabaret, choreographed by Javier De Frutos, as well performing in productions by The Royal Opera including Cyranowhere he performed alongside Plácido Domingo.

Since hanging up his dance shoes, he now works for the Hofesh Shechter Company as an Administration and HR Manager, a role he was well schooled-for, having worked at The Place during career breaks:

‘For me there was always the fact that I never saw myself of only a dancer’, he reveals. ‘I always thought there were other things I could do.

‘Especially when you are a freelancer and your contract ends. You think "Is it time? What am I going to do?". But I found that those lulls led to my most creative moments.’

Bamford advises fellow dancers to harness the same approach when approaching finding a new career after performing. With so many roles surrounding the art form, from the daily running of a company to working as a administrative support, there are a great many possibilities.

‘Don’t think of it as giving up', says Bamford. 'Think of it as starting something new – it’s actually quite exciting.’

Find out more about Dancers' Career Development, which works closely with The Royal Ballet.

This article has 6 comments

  1. DaveM responded on 30 October 2016 at 3:43pm Reply

    just curious as to the relevance of the Song of the Earth photo at the top of the article... Otherwise, an interesting read

    • Rose Slavin (Former Assistant Content Producer) responded on 31 October 2016 at 2:05pm

      Hi Dave,
      I suppose I thought the image illustrated assistance, which is what the Dancers' Career Development offers dancers. And it's rather a lovely shot too!
      Thanks for reading.
      Best wishes,

    • Ysabelle responded on 10 November 2016 at 11:56am

      Hello Rose and Dave, as a former dancer who has been through that transition, I see the Song of the Earth picture as the struggle between life and death. Make no mistake, stopping dancing is a type of bereavement for most dancers. Just wanted to share my feelings with you both.
      Best wishes Ysabelle

  2. I seriously love that first picture

  3. Love the first picture.. it's so symbolic. She's caught with a shady man,( wearing black/has mask on) and the man who's transparent wearing a similar color to hers tries to pull her to him but she's holding on to the mystery or the shady man. Can't imagine how the whole piece goes. Looking forward to travelling from Morocco to attend some of the royal ballet!

  4. Roger Hyslop responded on 15 March 2017 at 2:29am Reply

    Here's an idea for you. It's a fully choreographed, scripted show in which the former dancer tells their story from how they first got the ballet bug, through the early years of study and practice, to finally becoming a professional dancer with an international company.
    This would be illustrated all the way through with movements, the fist tentative steps, then the first live performances, both described and a few steps performed.
    After an interval (for the performer to get their breath back!), the second half would be either extracts from famous classical ballet solos or perhaps even with a partner, with full lighting and an orchestral soundtrack.
    I think there would be a market for such a show, certainly in schools and colleges as well as other institutions, and perhaps also in provincial theatres to audiences who are either ballet enthusiasts like me
    But also to sceptics who would be amazed and impressed at the physical demands that this wonderful art form entails.
    Just an idea for you.

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