Category: human service

The Balancing Act

By Phillip Spaeth, CTFD dancer-client and Newhouse grant recipient

Ever since Phillip SpaethI was a little kid, I wanted to perform. At holiday functions, I would rally my cousins in the basement and throw together fully realized theatrical productions for the entire family. Each night, I’d stare up at the glow-in-the-dark stars stuck on my ceiling and dream of my future-life in Manhattan; as a Broadway star, the next Patrick Swayze, or Bob Fosse.

Straight from school, I ran to dance class or rehearsals at the local theater where I met other kids who accepted me and shared my passion. Performing was all I thought about and all I wanted to do. At fourteen, I landed my first big, professional opportunity to perform. I waved goodbye to my family and went on tour for a year. I did eight shows per week, bussed from city to city, and was tutored during the day. I got to follow my dreams, earn a living, and receive an education.

As I neared high school graduation, I was torn between pursuing my career or pursuing my education. I had always claimed to be the guy who didn’t believe in “back-up” plans; but since I was a good student, something told me to apply to college. Sure enough, I was accepted into an honors program at the first school to which I applied, and I started to get excited.

One week after high school graduation, I packed a bag and moved to Manhattan for the summer to hit some auditions. A month and a half later, I was cast in my first Broadway show, and I decided to put school on hold. The college allowed me to defer enrollment for a year and encouraged me to seize the opportunity. However, that year flew by, as I continued chasing my dreams and riding the wave. A decade later, I’m still riding the same wave and feel lucky to have been consistently working. However, I have to admit that each time I was sidelined by an injury, I would think back to that “back-up” plan I thought I’d never need.

So, last year I decided it was time to retrace my steps a bit and finally go to college. I’ve just completed my second semester at Hunter College, while continuing to perform on Broadway in Matilda; maintaining a schedule much like the one I had as a teenager.

I am now an adult, with a mortgage and a big life, and while I still love performing, I have new dreams and so many things I want to learn and explore. My plan is to pursue an education in mental health that will allow me to be of service to artists and creative people. I am very interested in the ways in which Buddhism and mindfulness can be integrated into contemporary perspectives of therapy.

This scholarship from Career Transition For Dancers is of great help to me as balancing life, a performing career, and school can be difficult. As tough as it sometimes is, I am determined to continue this one-man pas de trios— for as long as my body will allow. I am grateful that CTFD exists to support dancers who find themselves at this often-confusing fork in the road. As Alan Watts once said, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”


Permission to be Lost

Photo by Alethia Williams
Photo by Alethia Williams

By Julie A. Blume, CTFD Dancer-Client and Caroline H. Newhouse Grant Recipient

I heard about Career Transitions for Dancers nine years ago while I was dancing with David Parsons and his lively troupe. I was immediately impressed by the concept of CTFD—a nonprofit dedicated solely to providing support and resources to dancers, a population who often feel a lack of those two fundamental needs. Though I had an idea about the richness of the services offered by CTFD, I only recently learned of their necessity. A few years ago, I began living the idea of career transitioning. I was working at the Metropolitan Opera and enjoying my daily dance classes and evening performances, but in every non-performance moment I was seeking: what’s next? Though I would not admit it at the time, I was thoroughly lost. I received immeasurable support from Lauren Gordon in CTFD’s New York office and explored options beyond (and way beyond) the scope of my dance training.

I left New York for Boston in 2012 aiming to work toward a graduate degree in Public Policy. I knew I wanted to make a difference, and policy seemed the correct route to do so on the grandest possible scale. But I soon discovered that lobbying was draining to me and did not make best use of my talents – this even when doing so in support of causes I care deeply about, like securing funding for the arts or finding healthcare for those in need. After one semester in the policy program, I decided to cut my losses and I returned to my dancing and seeking. I had always loved yoga and during this time the practice brought me much needed solace. I amped up my practice and eventually transitioned from yoga student to yoga teacher. I started as a substitute at various Boston studios and soon acquired my own classes and even private clients. Thanks to this work, I became fascinated with various energetic healing modalities and discovered that I long to heal people, not populations. Thus, my studies of yoga and my desire to help others in their process of healing and self-understanding shuttled me toward a career in acupuncture and herbal medicine.

Currently, I am one year into a four-year Masters degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. During my first year of classes, it became apparent just how much my dance training serves me in this discipline. I have a powerful memory, strong spatial awareness, and a heightened sense of my physical body. Furthermore, dance training has been teaching me how to cultivate Qi all of my life. I realize now that all those years I thought I was training specifically for a career as a performer, I was also priming myself to excel in a multitude of avenues.

Photo by Lois Greenfield
Photo by Lois Greenfield

My route from dance to acupuncture was circuitous and at times trying. For so long I had been able to describe myself in four concise words: “I am a dancer.” At this people would nod in seeming understanding and admiration, and I felt both settled and proud of my projection. We live in a culture that likes clear titles and articulated goals. Transitioning from “I am a dancer” to “I was a dancer and don’t yet know what I presently am” left me emotionally vulnerable and aimless for the first time in my life. It took some time before I found a sense of pride in declaring ‘I am’ again. By embracing yoga, I followed the path that brought me the most peace. Thankfully, this proved an effective route, leading me to acupuncture—a career that excites me, challenges me, and leaves me once again feeling strongly with purpose.

To transition on from a career as a dancer is – much like they say of aging – not for the fainthearted. For me, the most difficult thing was figuring out how to find comfort in the chaos. I struggled against the confusion I felt, and pushed myself toward Public Policy because, more than anything, I longed for a sense of direction. If I were to do it over again, I would grant myself permission to be lost. I would allow myself the space and time to simply float and to not care what others think of my indirection. If any of you reading this page feel confused about where to go or what to do next, my best advice is to take a moment to fully appreciate where you are and all you have achieved through the majesty of your career thus far. From there, follow your bliss: whatever feels right and authentic in the present moment. Whether you transition with big strides or small shuffles, honor your journey with unswerving patience. Grant yourself permission to dream (and dream big), and your path will undoubtedly appear.

Issues of Race and Access, Dancing Around the Elephant in the Room

2006 CTFD Gala

I am young by many comparisons in the arts field (I’ve only done this for a bit over 15 years).  Yet, it surprises me that access still remains an issue for artists of color and therefore access to support services is also a challenge.  I have heard many institutions talk about the hiring practices of producers, directors, choreographers.  But the truth is, the field is full of dancers (or other artists) of color.

If I were to judge the dance world demographics by our roster of dancer-clients, I would think the dance world is filled with 90% women, 72. 88% Caucasian, 11.14% Black/African-American, 8.27% Latino/Hispanic, 4.6% Asian and 2.53% unidentified; thank goodness we know this is not the case!  With companies like Dance Theater of Harlem, Forces of Nature, Annapurna Indian Dance Company, Ballet Hispanico, Giwayen Mata, Sachiyo Ito and Company spanning or Complexions Contemporary Ballet performing great works; it is apparent the dance world is rich with dancers of every favor and stripe.

AJahi Nicole Adams

Being a former dancer of color and now a development professional, I realize it is not really an issue of casting (although that is true in some cases) it is an issue of cultural competency, authentic outreach and marketing.  The challenge now becomes knowledge and involvement.  This is not just a test or question for our organization but one for our union friends, artists’ service providers and other organizations in multicultural settings.  The advantage some institutions have is the resources to focus – be it time or human resources – on cultivating programs that truly address every member of their community.

To address this concern here at Career Transition For Dancers we consider ethnicity, technical training, trends and accessibility during our decision-making when creating programs. We are also reaching out to you, our members, to get involved.  Write a blog post that speaks of your experience and to the dance community you are most intimate with.  Volunteer as an ambassador in your city or town. Challenge us to create programs that address your needs (you can complete our annual program survey here) .  Volunteer to host a Career Conversation, host a party in support of CTFD, or visit one of our offices.  If you are interested in participating in any of the ideas above contact me here. Your involvement will not only address issues of diversity and accessibility but will help us create the programs dancers really need today.

Will all these things get us over the proverbial goal line? I am not sure.  But I know we will be very close.

Just my thoughts.  Let me know your thoughts, ideas and/or suggestions here or tweet with me with #Diversity @CTFD_AJNicole.

-AJahi Nicole Adams

The challenge of getting paid a decent amount

By Anthony Rue II, CTFD dancer-client

Dancing to me was about having fun.  Before I called any jobs, I started dancing with a couple of friends and we formed a group called AmountBoyz. Back then dance was not at the heights it is now.  We danced on the streets for money, joined talent shows, and performed at local block parties in the summer.  Once I started to work in the professional world of dance, I noticed a couple things that I wanted to change.  Dancers were not getting paid on time.

The challenge of getting paid a decent amount was also presented to me a number of times.  This is when I started to think outside the box.  Before agents and managers
were a big part of the NYC dance scene, you had to handle your own rates for jobs.

The companies or managers that hired dancers did not care about our rates.  You had to be a pest to get paid, so having an agent or manager helped a lot once they were set up in NYC.  Being a performer, we look at the business side of things.  With a different eye, different ideas filled my head.  I knew what dancers and performers wanted, needed, and loved to do, so I started to work on my own projects.

For example when I’m looking for a venue I’m not only thinking how many people can fit inside, I’m also thinking about the sound system at max volume.  Does the stage have a sprung wood floor?  It’s left to the performer to make the best of it.  When doing business I look to please the artist and the audience.  It excites me that I’ve been able to learn so much through my experiences of dancing with different artists on tours and that I can help the next generation coming in the door.  I can show them how to make choices for both business and artistic  development.  Dancers need to give both equal amounts of energy to have success.