Category: Law

From the Barre to the Bar

By Daniel May, CTFD dancer-client and Caroline H. Newhouse Scholarship recipient

To be a dancer is an all-consuming passion.   But it’s a short-lived career.  It makes you drag your tired butt out of bed in the morning, with every muscle aching, and trek down to the studio to start the day with a barre, stretches, floor work, rehearsal, and in many instances, a performance to end the day.  Dancers are conditioned to be disciplined, but a life in dance can make your pulse race like nothing else.

Daniel MayMy career as a dancer started my first year of high school.  It was “Once Upon a Mattress,” and I was in the chorus.  I loved it.  After a “long run” of two weekends, I started tap dance lessons.  It happened that my tap teacher was a ballerina with the Fort Wayne Indiana Ballet.  She came over to me after class one day and asked if I’d considered taking ballet lessons.

The next thing I knew, I was in class nearly every day.  I decided after two years of college that I was wasting my time.  So, I packed up and left the farm in Indiana and moved to New York in September of 1977.  The subway cost a couple of quarters and there was graffiti on every visible surface, but there were dance studios everywhere and dance classes at all hours. I remember taking classes with legends like Gelsey Kirkland, Helgi Thomason, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Natalia Makarova.  I also took class with Michael Bennett and Bob Fosse dancers.Dance is egalitarian—classes include stars and chorus dancers alike;  everyone is welcome as long as you keep up.  After all, we all knew we were just steps away from our big break.

My break came when I was cast in the tour of Bob Fosse’s Dancin’.  For years I performed and toured in musicals, dancing in New York and regional theaters, playing London’s West End, and even German television.  My last performance in a musical was in tights and high heels as a ‘Cagelle’ in La Cage Aux Folles.

By that time, I was over 30 and wondering, “where do I go from here?”  I had to make a decision:  move away from dance and see if I could work in some other part of the business, or transition into another career all together.

Dancers understand that there comes a time when the older generation has to move on, and I was lucky to have a life partner in Mark who also knew these decisions were right.  I decided to go back to school and complete my undergraduate degree.  And after that, I decided on law school—from the barre to the Bar.

Career Transition for Dancers is an important organization.  In its 27 years, it has assisted dancers who need to make the difficult and sometimes painful decision to end a career that’s like no other, and start another chapter.  The transition requires that a former dancer, still young, has to earn an undergraduate or graduate degree, or a vocational certificate, and in most cases, acquire an entirely new skill set.  I had to complete my Bachelor’s degree before continuing on to law school, and then the Bar exam.

Career Transition for Dancers provides help in navigating a dancer’s interests and skills other than dance.  They also provide grants for those returning to school; I received a grant that I included in my financial aid portfolio when I started law school.

As everyone who’s attended a ballet, or a Broadway show, or watched an episode of the new series “Smash” knows, dance is essential; it’s fundamental.  It’s a life for those who train and sweat to bring a beat and some beauty to the world.  And it’s a gift to those who watch and enjoy what it is that dancers do.  Bravo, Career Transition for Dancers.

Transitioning Then and Now

By Patricia Cody, CTFD dancer-client, Attorney, Former Gypsy

Chita Rivera & Patricia Cody
Chita Rivera & Patricia Cody at the 26th Anniversary Jubilee on October 31, 2011
It has been almost two decades since I first walked in the door of Career Transition For Dancers.  Career-wise, those two decades have seen me through three years at New York Law School, graduating first in my class, landing my first attorney job at Sullivan & Cromwell, paying back my law school loans, and years of law firm practice predominantly as an employment and labor litigator.  One year a go, a big transition in my legal career occurred  when I became General Counsel for TheraCare of New York, Inc., an education and health services provider company to special needs children in the tri-state area.
If anyone had told me during my years as a dancer and performer that this would be the career path I would eventually take, I would have been the first one to insist that they were mistaken.  From the age of four, my life essentially revolved around dance – dance classes, recitals, dreams of performing in musical comedy theater, and of course, on Broadway.
Patricia Cody
Patricia Cody sharing her transition story on stage at the 26th Anniversary Jubilee

So, one might ask what happened to change all this?  My answer would be two fold.  First, I achieved the performing goals I set for myself and had reached a time in my life when I was ready to chart a new career path.  Second, and most importantly, I learned about CTFD, enrolled in the free one-one career counseling program, and gained invaluable assistance from my excellent career counselor, Elizabeth Campbell.

Going through the CTFD program taught me that anything is possible, no matter how daunting a career transition may seem at first.  As long as you approach the process one step at a time, are passionate about your choices, and never ever lose your sense of humor ——- well, even a dancer can become a lawyer . . .  and a litigator–general counsel.

What’s passion got to do with it?

By Laura Halm , Chicago Dancer-Client, Law School Student

I have spent the last 25 years of my life focused on a very singular goal, that of becoming a professional dancer.  Unaware of what it would ultimately require of me, I started dancing as a very young child. Even then, I was certain that if I dedicated all of my energies toward this dream, I would attain it; and, in truth, my path has managed to closely follow that plan.

Laura Helm performing Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Lickety Split”

I attended numerous dance schools of recognition and have had many opportunities that most aspiring dancers can only imagine. I attended The Juilliard School and have been a member of the Hubbard Street Dance organization in Chicago organization for over seven years. Nonetheless, a dancer’s career is short-lived by its very nature. The stresses of dance on the human body are great and eventually, it simply stops working as healthfully and efficiently as it once did. I found myself at that point last year. Refusing to believe that I had nothing more to offer the world, I looked both inward and outward to discover the next stage of my personal evolution.

I started reading various periodicals including National Geographic, Audubon, and the Atlantic in order to recalibrate my concept of the world at large. In reading numerous articles outlining current events, I became furious, disgusted by environmental destruction borne of ignorance, misguidance, and greed. Believing that I am capable of so much more than what I have achieved thus far, it is paramount that I continue to do something that allows me to make a difference in the world. I have already found (and wielded) the strength within myself to move audiences; it is now time to use that power towards a different end. Too realistic to believe that people will simply want to behave better of their own volition, I want to direct and influence others so that they may become better stewards of the planet.

I came to the conclusion, through much thorough deliberation, that above anything else, I want to study environmental law. Law school will give me the detailed and focused education that will arm me to take on my challenge of becoming a participant in policy creation and regulation.

I have survived a career in professional dance and despite my lack of practical experience in law, believe that I can apply that which is currently required of me towards this new endeavor. As a dancer, I already possess many important skills in a field where tradition and precedent is established, individual strength is respected, ability to think and react quickly is necessary, and intelligently directed creativity as a means of development is admired. I am, above anything else, disciplined.

I am honored that in August of this year, I will be joining the Class of 2014 at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. If my past successes are any indication of the future, I am going to be just fine.