Art Works Blog

Spotlight on Career Transition for Dancers

The Hybrid Movement Company performs Spirito dell’aquila (Eagle spirit) at the 2012 gala for Career Transition for Dancers. Photo by Richard Termine.

"[Dance] itself develops, through the years of training, the skills and qualities in dancers that make them exceptional in any post-performance endeavor they pursue." --- Elizabeth LaCause, CTFD

Like gymnasts, a dancer's career is short and retirement comes early, often by age 30. Along with the compressed time frame, the long-term, single-mindedness required to become a dancer can complicate efforts to become something and someone else later. Fortunately, there is Career Transition for Dancers. CTFD offers personal and career counseling, workshops, seminars, and financial assistance to dancers of all styles---from classical to hip hop to modern---to help them forge new professional paths whether that means school, vocational training, or entrepreneurial ventures.

CTFD received an NEA grant awarded of $10,000 this past November to support its National Outreach Project, which takes career counseling services on a national tour with scheduled events to begin the conversation for many dancers about their post-performance careers. Executive Director Alexander Dubé, Elizabeth LaCause, director of development & communications as well as a former dancer; and Lauren Gordon, a career counselor with CTFD, chatted with the NEA about helping dancers find new ways to work.

NEA: What is the mission of Career Transition For Dancers, and what are some of the signature activities that support that mission?

ALEXANDER DUBÉ: Career Transition For Dancers is a nonprofit organization that enables dancers to define their career possibilities and develop the skills necessary to excel in a variety of disciplines.

NEA: What are your most popular programs/services?

DUBÉ: Our scholarships and grants for education, entrepreneurial endeavors, and certification programs as well as the vital career counseling provided by our professional career counselors.

ELIZABETH LACAUSE: Additionally, our Local and National Outreach Programs are crucial in getting the word out about our services throughout the country. We have branches in Chicago and Los Angeles so dancers in the Midwest and on the West Coast can benefit from our work.

NEA: What are dancers’ particular strengths in navigating such an important change as career transition?

DUBÉ: Dancers bring their transferrable skills to CTFD to be further explored with our professional career counselors. Their strengths are: attention to detail, [they are] quick learners, the ability to work collectively within a group or independently, problem-solving skills, dedication, and the ability to retain information---these are just a few.

LAUREN GORDON: Other skills include perseverance, vitality, energy, engaging physical presence, curiosity, and passion

LACAUSE: I also think, as a former dancer myself, that curiosity and an openness to new things helps a great deal with navigating such a transition.

NEA: Given the nature of the profession---it’s a young person's profession, physically challenging, often with lots of travel and touring involved---what are some of the key issues that each dancer needs to confront as they reimagine themselves as someone other than a dancer?

GORDON: Sometimes it’s remembering that they are a person who has social, family, emotional, economic, spiritual, and other needs, values, and interests. Sometimes it’s revisiting childhood dreams and hobbies or interests. As with any career or life transition it’s important to go through the steps of assessing, exploring, setting goals… and regrouping. The earlier a dancer allows themselves to think about the present and the future, the more likely they can discover something else they can be passionate about to add to their dancer identity.

DUBÉ: Since 2001, CTFD has expanded its mission to also reach out to apprentices, students, and pre-professionals to heighten their awareness of the inevitability of transition in an attempt to avoid crisis later in their careers. Some interesting published facts are: $13.16 is a dancer’s median hourly wage; 36 is the average number of work weeks in a union company; 29.5 is the average retirement age of a dancer; most dancers rely on unemployment compensation during their off season; and an average dancer’s salary in the USA ranges from $21,000-$55,000.

GORDON: Sooner or later, through change in priorities, loss of work/opportunity or income, injury, or the offer of new non-dance possibilities, one’s career as a dancer shifts or winds down---planned or unplanned.

NEA: What do you find is the first thing that dancers need as they begin to think about life after dance?

GORDON: Definitely emotional support, knowing oneself, what helps handling what might be ahead, including much ambiguity. It’s okay to be feeling, and feeling messy and confused, sad, excited, stuck, positive, whatever the feelings are, and that they will be repeating themselves for a while. If there’s a crisis or survival needs are presenting, the career work may need to wait. It’s important to at least glimpse through isolation that others have gone through this and made it out the other side! Thankfully, with so many ways to connect, our dancers who are not in major dance communities can still find each other, and certainly through CTFD.

NEA: The grant that the NEA recently awarded to CTFD was to support your National Outreach Project. Can you tell me more about that?

DUBÉ: We take our professional career counselors “on the road” with our programs and services to cities that have a very high dancer population in a series of two to three days of workshops, seminars, and individual career-counseling sessions. The dancers usually follow up with additional counseling sessions in one of our three offices or via our 1-800 CareerLine.

NEA: How many of the dancers that you work with are planning their next career while they are still performing?

LACAUSE: As we reach out more and more to pre-professional students through university settings and dance studios, and become more visible to working dancers, planning transitions while still dancing is becoming much more common than years ago when dancers thought of nothing but dancing.

NEA: What are some of the alternative careers that dancers tend to pursue?

DUBÉ: We have our tag line---From Accounting to Zoology, and everything in between.

GORDON: Arts and business management, health and wellness, teaching in the arts and all academic arenas, technical (website building,) graphic design, green careers. There are also entrepreneurial endeavors within the arts: dance studios, production companies, jewelry-making; and outside: selling products, real estate, travel and tourism. Dancers often pursue for-profit as well as nonprofit work, and cultural/global exchange and change.

NEA: How many go back to school?

DUBÉ: In 2011, 181 dancer-clients were awarded educational scholarships to return to school. And even more received grants for certification programs, such as to teach Pilates, the Gyrotonic Expansion System, or yoga.

NEA: At the NEA, we say “Art works” meaning the art work itself, that art works to transform individuals and communities, and that artists are also workers. What does “art works” mean to CTFD?

GORDON: I like what the NEA says. Also, the artist is always creative in one’s core identity, and that art is essential to one and the world.

LACAUSE: I agree with Lauren---the art itself develops, through the years of training, the skills and qualities in dancers that make them exceptional in any post-performance endeavor they pursue.

NEA: Is there anything else that I haven't asked that you would like to share?

DUBÉ: In FY2011 only CTFD awarded more than $488,000 in grants and scholarships for education, entrepreneurial endeavors and certification programs and provided more than 8,660 hours of professional career counseling equivalent to a dollar value of $952,600.

GORDON: When we go on the road to meet with our dancers all over the country, the dance community is strengthened, becomes more connected. We have to remember that transitions are very fluid; a dancer can be both performing and looking to the future of a non-dance life. They often have one foot in each world. Many of our dancers return over and over again to performing until they are entirely “off stage.” It’s not a linear process or experience.

LACAUSE: People often ask me why a dancer’s transition is different from anyone else’s transition. What makes dancers unique is that most dancers begin training at a very young age, and dance becomes such a large part of their lives---it becomes as necessary as air and food---it’s a way of life. A professional dance career is very insular, and it’s difficult to even imagine doing anything else. To transition out of that is very emotional and that’s why our counseling services are so critical.

Visit the NEA News Room to read more about our recent rounds of Art Works grants and Challenge America Fast-Track grants.

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