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Returning to dance after a break

By Rain Francis.

As a passionate young dance student, it can be hard to conceive of a life without dance. You’ve been told endlessly how difficult it is to get a job, and you’re prepared to face many setbacks on your journey, but your faith in dance itself is unshakable. You imagine yourself dancing every day for the rest of your days in some form or fashion. Then, inevitably, life happens.

There are many reasons why you could find yourself not dancing. Unfortunately for the majority of us, the main reason is that there are simply not enough jobs. You only have to go to one open audition to be reminded just how many talented dancers are competing for how very few paid positions. Or maybe you’ve been employed, and now you’re injured – a potentially even more frustrating reality. Perhaps you’ve realised the dancing life just isn’t for you, that you need a break and a chance to experience something ‘normal.’

So, while not dancing you do what most non-working dancers do – you wait tables, usher at a theater, teach dance classes where you can. Maybe you go back to studying, arming yourself with complementary skills like Pilates instruction, or something entirely new, such as academia. Or perhaps you go off-piste and become a builder, or a butcher (more on that soon).

For many, letting dance go and getting a steady job is a welcome change. Suddenly you have regular hours that keep you in touch with the rest of society, you know where your next paycheck is coming from, and you’ve discovered the concept of a paid sick day. Basically, you’re starting to understand what the rest of the world sees in having a ‘real’ job. And perhaps you’ll never ever want to go back to your dancing life.

But what if you do? If you change your mind, will it all be too late? Believe it or not, it probably won’t be. Here’s the proof: two dancers who made it back from the dark side.

Rain and Lucky Dance Theatre

Erynne Mulholland (on table) performing in ‘Whatever You Do, Don’t Panic!’ by Rain & Lucky Dance Theatre.

Erynne’s Story

Upon graduating from the New Zealand School of Dance, Australian born Erynne Mulholland danced with Footnote, then with Raewyn Hill and Malia Johnston. She also performed as a full-time percussionist with STRIKE. Then, needing a change, she moved to Auckland to become a butcher. As you do.

She continued her new trade in Melbourne, Australia before becoming a receptionist in an insurance firm. “I really enjoyed the change in routine, but did miss dancing when I heard pieces of music that I loved,” Erynne says. “My husband is a composer, so often I would be dancing up and down the hallway while he was working.”

Erynne realized how much she missed dancing when she began dancing part-time with Rain & Lucky Dance Theatre. “It was like I had just jumped out of a plane, or something equally as exhilarating,” Erynne says. “I knew it was really beneficial for me mentally and physically to incorporate dance into my life again.” Then, when speaking with Raewyn Hill, now Director of Dancenorth, Erynne was amazed to be offered a position in the company. “I knew if I passed up the opportunity, I would kick myself!”

She began a program of running for cardio, skipping for lower leg strength, Bikram yoga for flexibility, lunges for thigh strength and ballet classes for overall strength, coordination and movement pathways. Gradually, she got herself back into condition to make the transition back into company life.

Erynne is now well into her first year with Dancenorth and loving it. Her plan was just to return to dancing full-time for a year and give it “everything she has left,” but now she thinks she’ll hang around a little longer.

Cory Goei of James Sewell Ballet

Cory Goei of James Sewell Ballet. Photo courtesy of Cory Goei.

Cory’s Story

Cory Goei had a successful career with Grand Rapids Ballet, Dayton Ballet and Ballet Met before the unthinkable happened. While performing, he broke his leg. Yep, onstage.

Cory had done construction work on the side whilst dancing. So, post-surgery, unable to work as a dancer, building was “the logical choice.” The change of direction was a welcome break; he found he really needed that time away from the studio, and at first he didn’t miss dance at all.

Soon enough, Cory found himself taking on some teaching work. Eventually, with so many offers coming in, he made the leap from a secure job to the world of freelance teaching. “That was my transition back into the dance world,” he says, “a leap of faith.”

After four years not dancing, Cory took another leap straight into an audition for James Sewell Ballet. He was shocked to subsequently be offered a job. “I literally fell off my chair. I couldn’t believe it. I actually asked him if he had called the right person.

“When I stopped dancing, I really stopped dancing. I hadn’t even taken class in years.” Working as a builder had kept Cory fit, and strengthened him in other ways. “Flexibility, however was right out the window.”

Cory returned to dance at the age of 29. He is currently dancing with James Sewell Ballet in Minneapolis and teaches at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in the summer. He says, “I have no idea where I will be in five years. All I know is I love dance and everything it comes with.”

You Can Do It!

If you are planning a return to dance, the most important thing is to take it slowly and set good foundations. No matter your age, you will need a structured and gradual return to form, focusing on gently increasing your flexibility, strength and fitness. You may be inspired to get back into it, but being too gung-ho at the beginning can lead to injury and set you back.

If you’ve managed to stay fairly active, you might not find the physical side of returning to dance too tough. Still, take it easy in your first few weeks or months. If ballet or jazz class is your thing, keep your legs low for starters, don’t work to your maximum turnout, and gradually work your way up to jumps. Move at a pace that suits you – you might even prefer to go to a beginners ballet class for a while, so you can really focus on your technique but won’t be tempted to take on too much too quickly.

If you haven’t been particularly active, start with simple things like brisk walking, swimming or gentle yoga classes. Pilates is always useful for core strength, flexibility and overall conditioning. Consider a session with a physio or osteopath to check out your general state before getting started, or you might like to book a session with an exercise physiologist to work out a structured program.

Be kind to your body. Treat yourself to massages (even self-administered ones) and pay attention to any niggles before they get out of hand. Invest in a foam roller and get yourself a tennis ball to take care of any tight muscles post-training. Warming up and cooling down correctly are imperative – remember never to stretch when you’re cold. Make sure you’re fueling your body well, getting enough sleep and are adequately hydrated.

Prepare yourself mentally for the fact that you body may have changed, especially if you are a little older or if you’ve had a particularly long break. But don’t see this is as a limitation; embrace it as a positive change in a new direction, an opportunity to learn a new way of moving.

Remember that the time you have spent not dancing is time that you have been learning and growing in other ways. Having a life outside of dance is a healthy thing, as Erynne says: “I would stress to all dancers to take time off if you feel like a change.” In many ways, you will actually be able to bring more to your dancing than you could before.

If your goal is to work as a dancer again, start making contact with as many people as you can in the industry. Go to classes, performances and workshops, join professional networks on Facebook and, once you’re feeling fit, ask to take class at your favorite companies. The dance industry has never been more alive than it is right now; if returning to dance is what you want to do, do it!

“Your body never forgets,” says Erynne. And Cory agrees: “Once you are a dancer, you are always a dancer.” Whether your aim is to go professional or just to be able to take daily class, if you go in with the right mindset and the right preparation, the dance world will welcome you back with open arms. And let’s be honest: you never really left it. 

Photo (top): © Andriy Bezuglov | Dreamstime.com

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