Once a Dancer, Always a Dancer
by Gina McFadden from Dancer-360
At studios and schools across the country, dancers are donning their false eyelashes, stepping into freshly opened packages of tights, and labeling alllllll of their costume pieces in preparation for end-of-year performances. And for some, this momentous occasion is even more momentous: For some this end-of-year performance will contain one final bow from performing. For Seniors, this may especially hit home right now.
You had your senior dance pictures taken, were celebrated by your studio for your years of hard work, and walked off stage with a bouquet of flowers and a face full of running eye makeup. That’s it. All done. You’ve reached the end of your run. Perhaps you are going off to college to dance or maybe you got a contract or an apprenticeship with a company. Perhaps you plan on taking open classes when you can. Or, perhaps…you just don’t know what’s going to happen with you and dance. Maybe yet, this article already finds you separated from dance - perhaps you’ve made that leap (no pun intended) years ago.
In any of these cases, this article seeks to explore ways in which you still show up in the world as a Dancer…even after that last bow on stage.
We think when we leave the studio and the stage that we are finished being “Dancers.” That we must somehow reconfigure our identities to comply with our new reality: we are moving on from dance studio life.
So how do we cope? How do we move away from dance with the grace we forged for years in the studio?
First off, let’s just admit this fact right up front: change is hard. And change that involves taking us away from our identity (hi, my name is Gina and I’m a Dancer) can be a particularly formidable. I’m not here to tell you ways in which to “suck it up” and “move on,” I’m here to humbly offer some tips that may help in your transition from Dancer to…Dancer.
Yes, I said it. You may no longer pick sequins out of your makeup bag or bobby pins out of your *everything that collects old bobby pins,* but that does not mean you have lost your Dancer status.
My husband is a decorated Marine. He got out of the service over twelve years ago, but – as the saying goes – “Once a Marine Always a Marine.” Long after he put away his dress blues for the final time, he identifies as a Marine. You see, once a Marine has earned the title, he remains a Marine for life.
It is with the utmost respect to our servicemembers that I draw this analogy. As Dancers we are not putting our lives in jeopardy for the security of a nation. That said, dance is a discipline where the dues we pay to become Dancers makes us identify with it for the rest of our lives.
I humbly lay before you:
4 ways leaving dance does not mean dance has left you
- Posture, flexibility and strength
Raise your hand if you kick your leg up into a penché when picking up something from off of the floor? As a Dancer you may also…
- sit a bit taller than the non-dancer next to you (it’s not their fault – you’ve spent the last eight years sculpting perfect posture).
- find it comical that your dad has trouble touching his knees, let alone his toes, meanwhile you: *folds in half with ease.*
- (politely) laugh at the idea that football practice is more challenging than a pointe
Dancer, you have posture, flexibility and strength that (may) fade a little with time, but will always keep you one special step out of the ordinary. This physical agility will serve you for the rest of your life.
Your dance training has sculpted your brain with some pretty swanky skills. You have learned combinations every class like a BOSS and handed them right back to your teachers and choreographers. As a Dancer you may also able to…
- do a triple time step in double time.
reverse a petite allegro combination.
- (squished in between hundreds of other dance convention-ers) learn brand new choreography and then perform it 15 minutes later like your career depended on it.
Dancer, you’ve developed quite the ability to memorize and perform choreography. I can think of hundreds of ways this will be helpful to you in your future.
Moving to music is your jam. You know what it is to have made audiences laugh, cry and burst into applause with our performances. With the corresponding music your heart swells, adrenaline pumps, body sways. You may also…
- say, “I danced to this!” when *insert almost any song* comes on.
- run out of the drugstore in December because they are playing Waltz of the Flowers and you had a flash back to when you rehearsed it for eight. weeks. straight.
- pull out your signature move – 16 fouettés – at weddings and dances for the rest of your life.
Dancer, you’ve connected on a cellular level with movement and music. Artistry is not removable; it will flavor your world forever.
You learned how to make your movement mirror the exact speed, angles and style of the dancers around us. Group efforts all: recitals, competitions, Nutcrackers, showcases. You may also…
- have jumped in a dance for a friend who was injured, learning the choreography in 20 minutes (!).
- taken 100 sponge rollers out of your bff’s hair before a performance.
- went on tour or competition somewhere, spending hours squished together on a bus or in a minivan.
Dancer, you know what team work is. You have breathed that air in deeply. You carry the ability to connect with a tribe and arrive at the goal together. This will serve you well for a lifetime.
I leave you a final thought inspired by a Dance Boss Episode I listened to. In the episode, Khadifa Wong (a dancer turned director and producer) had the following to say about her separation from dance: “And so it was like, Well, what do I do next? And…I think there's a gift in being able to retire from one job so young, because it allowed me to kind of start from scratch. And I started from scratch in filmmaking. …and [I] had all these little tangents in different places that you know, helped make up a rather kind of crazy journey, but one that I've ultimately loved riding on. So yeah, that's how I made today.”
That’s how she made today. By taking all of her experiences from her young life as an artist and repackaging and repurposing them into a fabulous new chapter of her story.
Dancer (you have earned this lifelong title), how are you going to make your today?
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Bio: Gina McFadden is a dance educator, choreographer, yoga instructor, health coach and author. Her book, Dancer, 360°: A Whole-health Guide to Uplift, Empower and Strengthen Every Dancer, will be coming out later this year. Gina danced professionally with The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago, Ballet Pacifica, State Street Ballet and The National Choreographers Initiative. She has been on the faculties of Boston Ballet School, Grand Rapids Ballet School, New Jersey Ballet School, Hope College and Grand Valley State University. Gina has degrees in business and legal studies. She is a certified yoga instructor as well as a Holistic Health Coach working with global clientele. She lives in Charleston, SC with her husband and two daughters where she is an avid home-cook and a highly marginal golfer.