Dancers' Career Development Helps Dancers Take The Next Step
The Killers' 2008 question "Are we human, or are we dancer?" rings true for professional dancers, as this is a path that transcends just being a career.
To make it as a professional dancer, you have to dedicate years of your life and lots of money to achieve the peak level of skill and fitness required to be a professional. Not to mention the networking, auditioning, and frequent rejections.
Though many train their entire life for the love of the art form, statistics revealed by Dancers' Career Development (DCD) show that most dancers devote at least 10 years to pre-professional training, but their careers last only 14 years on average.
DCD communications officer Hanna Madalska-Gayer says: "The typical age of a dancer retiring is 34. Your career is so short-lived for the amount of time you spend getting there."
But to then have to change career can be a challenging and a scary time for a performer.
DCD was founded over 40 years ago and is the only UK charity supporting dance professionals across the UK when they come to retire from their performance career and want to transition into a new one.
"I think there was a recognition within the industry in the 1970s that dancers need support when they retire from performance," explains Hanna.
"Originally, when DCD was established, it was a very different organisation than it is today. It was set up with the support of major companies in the dance industry, essentially providing funding support for dancers.
"Today, that need has changed quite a lot amongst dancers. DCD is much more focused on mentoring, coaching, upskilling and connecting dancers, as well as providing financial support."
Since opening, DCD has supported over 2,500 dancers across the UK, and over the past five years, the demand has trebled, seeing them supporting almost 1,000 dancers in the last year - granting, in total, around £290,000 to retraining and development.
Lee Bamford was a professional dancer appearing in musicals such as Cabaret as well as working internationally with dance companies in Europe. He has now retrained, with the help of DCD, to work as a company manager with Transitions Dance Company at Trinity Laban.
"I think it was that big magical age of 30 where you start to reassess everything," he recalls. "It was a combination of things, as I was living abroad and wanted to come back to the UK.
"At that age, many dancers want to have similar things to their peers: you want to save for a mortgage, be around family, be in one place, and you also want a weekend!
"I've always been fairly pragmatic. I wanted to transition into arts management, and it took me probably three years to decide what it actually was that I wanted. And then, once I decided on what it was, it took about two years to get the job that I wanted.
"I will always be an advocate of DCD's work. It's the scariest time to start thinking about that transition, and when you do make that big move, it's just so nice to know you have the support behind you. Really, without the producing course [that DCD funded], it would have been a lot harder for me to get the role here at Trinity Laban."
Dance has many career pathways, from ballet companies to musical theatre or traveling the world on cruise ships, and like many jobs, it has its ups and downs.
In 2015, a survey conducted of 400 dancers by the website dancerspro (now Mandy.com) showed that around 50% of dancers' jobs pay less than the minimum wage and that 70% of dancers had performed in "unsuitable work environments" in the past year.
Typically, dancers start training from as young as three with evening classes and, if you continue through to your teenage years, around the age of 16-18 you have to audition for theatre colleges or universities.
Upon graduation, there are the challenges of securing an agent or getting seen for an audition, and once in the audition room, height, weight, age, and even hair colour can be the difference between booking that job or not - but yet, for so many it is worth it.
"If you look at the life and training of a dancer, there are so many transferable skills that are employable," explains Lee. "Dancers train intensively and are asked to initiate and develop ideas, be creative and constantly adapt.
"It's a career that often sees someone working closely with many different people (often of different nationalities) with a language that is sometimes derived from instinct as much as verbal communication.
"They are a breed of people used to contradiction. They're required to be simultaneously entrepreneurial, inquisitive and used to regimented training, and open to the possibilities of the new. They're confident to both present themselves in a live arena and also make themselves vulnerable.
"It would be hard for an employer to find a career with such variety and adaptability, where communication and attention to detail are key.
The DCD supports dancers from all genres and recognises that no two dancers' journeys are the same. Their aim is to help support and develop all dancers, so that they're able to develop the remaining part of their career, within or outside the dance profession, by building on their distinctive strengths and transferable skills.
Find out more about the DCD's work here, and get an inside peek by watching the video below!