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.
My 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.