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A Ballerina's perspective on Retirement...


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What a fascinating, quite sad article. Thanks for posting. I think it must be so difficult for people in any profession which centres around your physical performance or your appearance, to suddenly find yourself out of a job at about 40. Although you know it will happen, most of these professions are so all consuming and comparatively poorly paid that you probably don't have the time to pursue other options or build up any savings.

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I have just read this article, and in some ways it makes me feel that there should be a compulsory retirement age for all dancers from the main companies.   If everyone knows that there is a clearly defined cut off point, I think it would take away some of the pain of being forced to leave because of recurring injuries, or simply not looking right any more. 

 

Also, perhaps this would make all dancers focus on what they will do afterwards.  And the companies themselves should be providing help, information, courses perhaps, for all dancers that have reached a certain age.

 

I expect howls of anguish from people telling me that some of the greatest dancers produced their best work in their 40s!

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I know, Anjuli, I know!  I expected it to be a contentious statement.

 

My namesake is one of those rare individuals who did carry on, and was wonderful, but that was only because Nureyev insisted on dancing with her.  However, if she had said no, then he would have gone on and forged a partnership with someone else which might have been wonderful in a different way.  We shall never know. 

 

And let's face it, how many dancers have the talent and charisma of Fonteyn at any age?   

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A lot of the issues the article dealt with could be helped by paying dancers, or anyone in an industry with a short work life, better. If you a soloist for a company you will probably be earning around £30,000 a year (I guess), and if you are in a city like London, Paris or New York, you are not going to be able to save much on a salary like that. Even principals won't be earning loads, so when they come to retire they haven't in many cases been able to build up any investments or reserves. Same with sportspeople, who in most cases usually earn enough to cover living expenses and not much else.

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I do get impression Ballet can be a tough profession. Great dancers talk of being quietly being removed. After you retire as a dancer if there is no work with any ballet company then you have to get a new career. It seems to me only the greatest or top dancers will continue to work in companies as Directors, Maître de ballet etc?

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I have just read this article, and in some ways it makes me feel that there should be a compulsory retirement age for all dancers from the main companies.   If everyone knows that there is a clearly defined cut off point, I think it would take away some of the pain of being forced to leave because of recurring injuries, or simply not looking right any more. 

 

I think that some state companies such as POB and the Bolshoi do have a set age for retirement and it is usually after 40.

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And Miyako Yoshida, Leanne Benjamin and Lesley Collier were all dancing beyond the POB's official retirement age: I certainly wouldn't have wanted any of them to be forced to retire because of some arbitrarily-imposed retirement age.

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Again, I agree that some of my favourite dancers seemed to get better with age.

 

I suppose the thing to do would be to ask dancers how they coped after retirement, irrespective of the age they stopped dancing.  I suspect that unless they had something else to go on to, most will have suffered a bit of an emotional let down.  I think Bussell said in an interview that she struggled a little bit afterwards, didn't she?

 

And I have a couple of friends who drifted for years after they finished.  They said they felt lost, and could not find anything else to occupy their time, and both ended up taking antidepressants. 

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A lot of the issues the article dealt with could be helped by paying dancers, or anyone in an industry with a short work life, better. If you a soloist for a company you will probably be earning around £30,000 a year (I guess), and if you are in a city like London, Paris or New York, you are not going to be able to save much on a salary like that. Even principals won't be earning loads, so when they come to retire they haven't in many cases been able to build up any investments or reserves. Same with sportspeople, who in most cases usually earn enough to cover living expenses and not much else.

 

I have a feeling that you figures are a little out of date, chris chris! But your point is well-made.

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As one who is retired...may I say....

 

Luckily my retirement was due to age not an accident or injury.

 

Also, since I danced independantly (never wanted a long contract)  - so there was no instance of  being told "it's over."

 

I was also fortunate that I did not dance - or teach - dependant upon it for income.

 

It was obviously on the horizon and coming - so it was no surprise.

 

I did maintain connection through coaching and writing: feature articles, reviews, etc.

 

Even so, the rupture is difficult.  One loses the structure which existed for so many years - no morning ballet class.  

 

Gradually one loses the social contact as well as the daily contact with the people who share this lifelong - and unique experience of dancing.  No other physical activity truly takes its place.  The sense of accomplishment and challenge is no longer there.  The image reflected in the mirror gradually changes, too.  To this day, if someone says to me "were you a dancer?  You look like - or walk like - or stand like - a dancer - my day lights up.

 

Dance is also a chemical addiction; the body is used to pumping out that adrenalin, and all the other chemicals involved with intense physical activity.  The possibility of sudden euphoria is gone.

 

When I watch ballet - sometimes I am torn between an inward smile and inward tears.  I don't know if people in other fields of endeavor have the same difficulties upon retirement.  A doctor who retires can still consult.  A teacher can still coach or mentor.  But one is either an active performing dancer or one is not.  This particular activity - can't be  - well, like one can't be partially pregnant.

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