By Phillip Spaeth, CTFD dancer-client and Newhouse grant recipient
Ever since I 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.”