Being a dancer, and for that matter, a dance teacher in New York City can be brutal. We all come to this industry for different reasons, and we all stay in this industry for different reasons. But for many of us (regardless of where we are working) there comes a time when we come to a cross-roads, and we ask ourselves: “Is it time to hang up my pointe shoes?”. One of my much younger colleagues has been asking this question a lot lately. He has found himself not getting jobs that he thought he should have gotten (both as a dancer and as a teacher). He has found himself loosing some jobs. He has seen younger dancers with less experience having skyrocketing careers. He has seen his students surpass him. And worst of all, he feels unappreciated. All of which he has found frustrating, disheartening and troubling. He is considering “hanging up his pointe shoes”.
For all of you at this point in your career, I would like to offer some perspective on this topic. This perspective comes someone old enough to be the father of this “dancer at the cross-roads”. I went through exactly the same thing, the same feelings, asking the same questions, more than two decades ago. I was 34 and my career wasn’t going the way I wanted it to, or thought it could, or thought it should. Friends were getting jobs in Paul Taylor’s company; Friends were getting Broadway Shows; I was getting down on dance, down on my friends, down on myself. I quit. I quit completely. I gained 60 pounds (as many of you know I’m only 5’5″), I threw myself into a non-dance career, I met my “other half” and I thought I was happy. When I was in my late 40’s a friend who was visiting New York insisted I take a class with her. So I bought a pair of sweat pants and put on a big T shirt and I went with her to Steps to take class; my first class in about 10 years. It was magical. Of course I was fat, horribly out of shape, and could hardly do anything…but I loved every minute of it. The energy, the excitement, the artistry, even the smell of the room…it was all magic! And at the end of the class I stood in the corner and sobbed; because I let all those years go by; because never again would I dance like I did when I was young; because I could never get those years back, and because I thought I had ruined my life. But I started taking class again; just two or three classes a week. And then, when I was in my 50’s, I started teaching ballet to children and adult beginners at two little neighborhood studios. And gradually I built a teaching career. I am very grateful to the schools that hire me; to the programs that embrace what I have to offer (Like The Joffrey Ballet School, Broadway Dance Center, CAP21, NY Film Academy). But there are also schools, good schools, big and famous schools that wouldn’t hire me; and that is just fine. So now I teach where I teach…and every day there is yet another struggle; as I loose classes to low attendance, or to schools closing (both have happened to me in the last year). But other jobs – better jobs – do seem to pop up. And they may not be at the BEST schools, or the MOST FAMOUS schools. But I get to teach people to dance. So in addition to the famous and prestigious schools at which I teach, and the amazing competition schools and fantastic conventions that invite me, I teach in neighborhood studios-which I adore. And is teaching adult beginners on Church Avenue in Brooklyn any less valid than teaching professionals at Steps? Is teaching children in Greenpoint any less valuable than teaching the exciting new sensation at BDC? I love teaching and I am always GRATEFUL: for every moment in the studio is a gift. I get to make a difference in these people’s lives. And whether they thank me, or seem to appreciate it, or even come back- I know the impact that I have made by seeing the looks on their faces and the results of their work.
So for those who are facing this decision: I implore you to consider very carefully what you are about to do and the decision you are about to make. Years go by fast. REALLY FAST. And you can’t get them back. I know from personal experience because I have been there. And the pain of wondering what might have been if you hadn’t quit is much worse than what you are going through now. Again, I know because I have been there. Trying not to compare yourself to others is hard (I know how hard that is, again, because I have been there). And if you decide to quit, I completely understand because, sadly, I have been there. To quote Mikhail Baryshnikov “I never try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself”.
I did “hang up my pointe shoes” in my 30’s. And they hung on that hook, quietly waiting. Until one day, quite by accident, I found myself wearing them again, and they danced me into the next thrilling, exciting, surprising chapter of my life.