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Ballet Talk for Dancers

I Quit Ballet and Miss it...Might Want to Go Back


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Hi everyone,

This is my first time posting on Ballet Talk for Dancers, but I felt it was necessary after endless Google searches that have led to nothing. Hopefully I'm on the right forum!

I am 19 years old and an advanced level ballet dancer. I started my training when I was 8 and have gone to prestigious SI's and year round programs, including last year when I was a trainee with a mid-sized company. It's worth noting that this trainee program was more affiliated with the school than with the company--some girls got opportunities to perform with the company, but I was not one of them. I've always had quite a high potential and good prospects for a career in ballet, but I've been held back by a chronic ankle injury and a surgery on my toe.

Anyways, last year as a trainee, I wasn't finding the same joy that I always had with ballet, and I decided to change paths. This decision was months in the making, but once COVID hit, it gave me even more time to get a feel for what life would be like without ballet. I was extremely burnt out at this point and it was refreshing to stop. I was fairly confident that this was the right decision, not only due to my constant physical pain, but also due to the overall negative environment at the company I was at. I decided I couldn't see myself doing this is a profession through my early adult life.

I'm a gifted student in my academics and have begun community college this year. I missed school (which was put on the back burner as a trainee) and it's been nice to start it again. I've just sent off my transfer applications to move onto a 4-year school, but all of a sudden... I miss ballet. A lot. And possibly regret moving off the professional path.

I am continuing to dance in my free time (a few times a week), as I intended to do when I left the pre-professional world, and I still see that same potential in myself to become a professional. I have a lot of passions in my life--another reason I had for stopping...I didn't like that ballet was all-consuming--but I've come to realize more and more that there's nothing I'm more passionate about than ballet.

In a way, I feel like I have some unfinished business... I didn't get a lot of performance opportunities in my pre-professional training due to injuries and other circumstances. I want to be able to perform Snow and Flowers in the Nutcracker with a company. I know I was so close to getting these opportunities before I stopped. I want to get these kinds of opportunities before it's too late. When I decided to change course, it was my intention to continue to seek out performance opportunities (which I know I will have more of at a 4-year school in a ballet club), but I'm finding that these are very difficult to find. I'm not sure where I can continue to dance that is not a professional company but also not an amateur group...it seems that there's not really an in between.

So, I'm wondering if I should consider taking the leap during or after my college years to try getting back into the professional world again. I'm also aware that it's easy to look back and only remember the good parts of a situation, so maybe I truly did make the right decision. But for now... I'm pretty lost and confused again.

Any advice would be appreciated--sorry this got a bit long! Thank you so much in advance!

Edited by WAM
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Hi WAM, and welcome to BT4D.

Sorry to hear you're feeling a bit flat.  If only life came with a set of instructions right? :)

It's not unusual to have remorse, second guess ones decisions or mourn the loss of something that sounds like it was a huge part of your life.  No-one is going to be able to give you the answer to this question, because it's your road that you are walking.  There is no "right" answer.

I do agree, there's not much in between amateur and professional in one sense - amateur is unpaid and professional is paid, that's really all the difference is!  My only suggestion would be that if you decide you do want to peruse a professional career, there are a whole bunch of medium/small, independent companies and organizations that may be looking for dancers for all sorts of reasons.  Sometimes contracts, sometimes for specific seasons or pieces, you could look at if you can work freelance or find project based work etc.  You will need to weigh up your school vs ballet with things like which is more important to you, and can you keep in shape or training while doing school if that's what you want.  Again, there are no right answers.  There are also no guarantees.  No guarantee if you go back to ballet you will get a job, but also no guarantees that 4 years of College will get you a job you like either....

I believe the dancers who really want to dance find their own work - and if not, they make their own work for themselves.  My teacher once said that the morning you get up and don't want to do your plies, you can stop dancing.  If you still have the desire to do your plies every morning then see if you can find somewhere to do them.  If that's in a company great.  If that's in your lounge room - also great.

Take your time, talk with people who know you and that you trust.  It's ok to seek advice and talk through options but you will need to make the final call yourself so you are sure you are happy with it.

Best of luck!

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Miss Persistent, as always, has fabulous advice that says exactly what I want to say.  😄.

I will add to her great advice above that you are allowed to change your mind!  Several times, in fact.  No one has the answers to what is "right" for you, so you are doing the exact right thing by questioning and asking and finding where the balance is that feels good and right to you. I hate to break this thought to you and the other fabulous young people frustrated and worried and searching, but this IS what "adulting" feels like.  Yup, you're doing it.  Feeling your way along with no idea of where you're going.  That's it.  Welcome.  😄  We adults have no real idea what WE'RE doing, either, despite appearances to the contrary.

Also, rest assured that after college is NOT too late to start a professional career.  I happen to have personal knowledge of a dancer who danced in college while studying nutrition, and then after graduation, decided she missed dancing, and was tired of the constant grind of tough academics and the pressure of an intern position in her chosen field of study.  Instead of following that prescribed course, she "went sideways," and auditioned for a small professional dance company and was hired.  Just last week.  

So... as difficult as this all feels, try to think about it as if you are doing the EXACT right thing for you,... because you ARE.. and continue to be curious about what you should explore.  There is nothing wrong and much right with being curious about what you want, who you are and what the next phase of your life should entail.  You will use that skill set of asking questions and checking answers against your emotions often in your life.  You've already had the courage to change from the "expected" course, once.  Celebrate that ability!!!  Many people are so worried about what else they might do except dancing.  You've already faced that head on.  Good for you.  Now, go face the next decision.  You got this!

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Where do you live? I know regional companies in California that pay their dancers per performance, and you would get to dance a lot. Sometimes that is more gratifying and would be the best of both worlds. Many dancers are able to make a situation like that work. I was able to go to nursing school, get my license and still rehearse and perform with a smaller company. It can be done. That way, you would stay in shape, still be challenged and then you can make a decision. Everything with Covid is a real mess right now. A lot of uncertainty.

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It's going to take a few years for performance schedules and ballet hiring to get sorted out.  My advice would be to pursue college while staying in shape and looking for performance opportunities down the line when companies are truly back in business.  I would find a 4 year college with great academics, a ballet club, and access to high quality open classes (ideally affiliated with a ballet company or influential teacher who can help you network).  I was in your shoes many years ago and left a trainee situation at 18 to attend college.  While in college, I took open classes at the studios of a major ballet company, and that company would recommend me for Nutcracker SPF guesting opportunities they were offered but could not spare company members for.  If I had had more time, they would have considered taking me into larger productions on a contract basis, and there were also supernumerary opportunities with visiting ballet companies.  Meanwhile, I wish I had also joined the ballet club at school, because there were opportunities not just to perform, but also for students to access funding to bring in choreographers or repetiteurs to set ballets, as well as practice choreography, and develop leadership capabilities relevant to the arts and beyond.  I believe it is possible to stay in good enough shape, find unexpected opportunities and build an interesting ballet resume in college, and you get the college degree giving you broader options at the same time.  Good luck!

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