Aaron Canfield's break led him to his dream company: Momix. Photo by Eddy Fernandez, courtesy Momix.
Aaron Canfield knew something was wrong halfway through his second season as a trainee with Richmond Ballet. “I began to not care for dance at all. I wouldn’t give it my all in class, which was strange because dance had always been my life,” he remembers. The demands of dancing full-time and working early mornings and weekends to make ends meet had taken their toll. Though he didn’t blame RB for his situation, Canfield knew he was in a rut and realized he had to take a break from the company. He dropped everything, moved back to his hometown of Roanoke, Virginia, and spent the next six months working as a cook for Applebee’s. “Cooking is another major passion, so the job was an escape for me,” he says.
As distressing as it can be, it’s not uncommon for dancers to go through lulls during the times of self-searching that an artistic career requires. Sometimes the best thing you can do is recognize burnout and take time off from dance to restore both your body and mind. “A healthy mind should be a priority in this field,” says artistic director and choreographer Sidra Bell. “One may find that taking time off will bring them back to dance with more intentionality and purpose.” With patience, mindfulness and reflection, taking a break could help you to return to your career stronger.
How to Have a Hard Talk
Once you’ve chosen to take time off, reach out to your director. Bell tries to keep an open dialogue with her dancers about their work in the company. However, like most companies, she also has more formal checkpoints throughout the season. If your company has annual or biannual meetings with artistic staff, that can be the best time to start a conversation about a break. If that’s not possible, request a meeting at the artistic staff’s convenience. For Bell, “a creative relationship is about mutual ideas and desires. It’s important to keep good relationships.” To that end, it is always best to approach the conversation with respect. While you can’t expect most directors to hold a spot for you or agree in advance to hiring you again later, taking a gracious tone can help you maintain a professional reputation.
Spend the Time Wisely
The benefits of taking a break depend on how well you use it. Even if you’re skipping out on ballet class, Dr. Kate Hays, sport psychologist and director of The Performing Edge in Toronto, recommends taking good care of your body. Do Pilates or yoga and cardio training, get sleep and proper nutrition and don’t smoke or do substances.
It’s an opportune time to expand your horizons. “If you’ve been a dancer your entire life and it has been your whole identity, begin exploring who else you are,” says Hays. For Canfield, working in a kitchen was both a respite from the studio and a window into how one of his passions could become a future career.
According to Hays, this is also a perfect time to connect with people outside of dance. Expanding your social circle can help you broaden and reevaluate your perspective. You may remember why you loved to dance in the first place and renew your commitment.
Through a colleague, Canfield took a summer job at The Nutmeg Ballet as a guest artist and RA. Once back in the studio, he thoroughly enjoyed taking class and learning choreography. A contact there put him in touch with his dream company, Momix, and after taking a company class, associate director Cynthia Quinn offered him a job. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me. I am now traveling all over the world, doing one job that I love,” says Canfield, whose break led him to a company that suited his style more. “Since the opportunity came that day, I have never given up.”
Quiz: Are You Burnt Out?
According to Dr. Kate Hays, director of the Performing Edge in Toronto, signs of burnout are not too different from those of overtraining. Symptoms include chronic exhaustion, increased irritability, decreased effectiveness, depression, and/or changes in eating or sleeping patterns. She recommends asking yourself the following questions to decide if your symptoms point to a normal cycle of pushing yourself or post-show letdown, or if they are an indicator of a more extreme situation:
- Is this feeling of burnout lasting longer than usual?
- Does the burnout seem unrelated to an injury or an extreme period of work?
- Am I in my late 20s or 30s? And if so, am I wondering if I should continue in this profession?
- Is this feeling of discouragement different than other challenging times in my career?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, take time to reflect. “Suppose you had a best friend in the same situation: What would you advise her to do?” asks Hays. Consulting a close friend or psychologist can also be helpful when considering a break. - CT
Back in July, the Bolshoi Ballet grabbed international headlines after canceling the scheduled premiere of a new full-length ballet just three days before opening night. The ballet was Nureyev, and, as it was centered on the life of an openly gay male dancer who defected from the Soviet Union, it was widely speculated that the decision was an act of censorship.
Further theories of political motivations arose as Kirill Serebrennikov, the project's already-controversial director, was being questioned in connection with an embezzlement investigation. But according to the Bolshoi, the ballet was pulled due to it simply not being ready, and was not canceled but postponed; a tentative premiere was set for May 2018.
But it looks like Russian audiences will be getting to see the new ballet far sooner than they might have hoped.
The dancers file into an audition room. They are given a number and asked to wait for registration to finish before the audition starts. At the end of the room, behind a table and a computer (and probably a number of mobile devices), there I sit, doing audio tests and updating the audition schedule as the room fills up with candidates. The dancers, more nervous than they need to be, see me, typing, perhaps teasing my colleagues, almost certainly with a coffee cup at my side.
By itself, a competition trophy won't really prepare you for professional life. Sometimes it is not even a plus. "Some directors are afraid that a kid who wins a lot of medals will come to their company with too many expectations," says Youth America Grand Prix artistic director Larissa Saveliev. "Directors want to mold young dancers to fit their company."
More valuable than taking home a title from a competition is the exposure you can get and the connections you can make while you're there. But how can you take advantage of the opportunity?
New York Live Arts opens its 2017-18 season with A Love Supreme, a revised work by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and collaborator Salva Sanchis. Known as a choreographer of pure form, pattern and musicality, De Keersmaeker can bring a visceral power to the stage without the use of narrative. She has taken this 2005 work to John Coltrane's famous jazz score of the same title and recast it for four young men of her company Rosas, giving it an infusion of new energy.
Photo by Anne Van Aerschot
Before too long, dancers and choreographers will get to create on the luxurious 170-acre property in rural Connecticut that is currently home to legendary visual artist Jasper Johns.
If you think that sounds far more glamorous than your average choreographic retreat, you're right. Though there are some seriously generous opportunities out there, this one seems particularly lavish.
Every dancer has learned—probably the hard way—that healthy feet are the foundation of a productive and happy day in the studio. As dancers, our most important asset has to carry the weight (literally) of everything we do. So it's not surprising that most professional dancers have foot care down to an art.
Three dancers shared their foot-care products they can't live without.
Dancers trying their hand at designing is nothing new. But they do tend to stick with studio or performance-wear (think Miami City Ballet's Ella Titus and her line of knit warm-ups or former NYCB dancer Janie Taylor and her ballet costumes). But several dancers at American Ballet Theatre—corps members Jamie Kopit, Erica Lall, Katie Boren, Katie Williams, Lauren Post, Zhong-Jing Fang and soloist Cassandra Trenary—are about to launch a fashion line that's built around designs that can be worn outside of the studio. Titled Company Cooperative, the luxe line of women's wear is handmade in New York City's garment district and designed by the dancers themselves.
Royal Ballet dancers Yasmine Naghdi and Beatriz Stix-Brunell recently got together for a different kind of performance: no decadent costumes, sets, stage makeup or lighting. Instead, the principal and first soloist danced choreography by principal character artist Kristen McNally in a stark studio.
The movement is crystal clear, and at the beginning, Naghdi and Stix-Brunell duck and weave around each other with near vacant stares. Do they even know they have a partner? And how should they interact? The situation raises a much larger question: How often do we see a female duet in ballet?