The Triumph of Will Over Ego

Story by Michael Deane, Dancer-Client

I took my first dance class in college as a lark.  At that time I had never seen a dance performance or even a Broadway show, but from the beginning I loved the physicality of it and the music (and the girls) and soon I was spending all my time in the studio, either taking or watching class.  By the time I graduated, I was determined to give dance a try. I ended up dancing for 15 years.

I got a scholarship at the Joffrey School and made my professional debut on Broadway with the Paul Taylor Company and Rudolph Nureyev in 1974.  Over the next several years I danced in the companies of May O’Donnell, Pauline Koner, Theater Dance Collection, Utah Repertory Dance Theater and the Asolo (FL) Opera, danced the original choreography of Agnes De Mille (Oklahoma), Hanya Holmes (My Fair Lady) and Peter Martins (Carousel) and worked with William Hammerstein and James Hammerstein among others.

By the time I was 35, I knew it was time to think about the second half of my life.  I received money from what was then called the Dancers in Transition program and took courses at NYU in Construction Management, started working at a cabinet shop, and then enrolled in Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Today, 25 years later, I am the Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at Turner Construction Company.

During my time of transition I often struggled with feelings of failure, loss and confusion.  But over time, I used the discipline, creativity, ability to focus and persevere against long odds that I learned as a dancer and applied it to learning a new skill set. I have now spent more time in the construction business than I spent dancing but I don’t believe I could be where I am today without the training and experience I got from dance.

Today I still try to take class most Saturdays with my wife and sometimes my 3 daughters. I think of it as “the triumph of will over ego” – which might be a good way of thinking about career transition – the odds are great, the work is hard, it’s sometimes embarrassing and confusing and you don’t know if you will succeed.  But change is inevitable and the rewards are worth it.  And if you can make it as a dancer you can do anything you set your mind to.  Remember – “Just keep smiling and keep moving.”

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