Dancer Voices

After Retiring from Performing, I Went into Debt. Here's How I'm Digging Myself Out.

"We have to decide between taking any work that pays the bills or living on a shoestring budget to dedicate our whole focus towards our next dream job," writes Barry Kerollis about his transition out of performing. Photo by Eduardo Patino, Courtesy Kerollis

Having begun my dance career in my late teens, I successfully bypassed the student debt many Americans face when they take out loans for college. For seven seasons, I had a cushy job dancing in the corps at Pacific Northwest Ballet. During that time I put nearly $50,000 towards my 401(k), saved an additional $10,000 in my bank account and used a dancer-run grant program to fund my associate of arts degree with a business focus from a local community college. I was proud of my fiscal responsibility and felt that I could easily survive a financial shortfall. But I had no idea how much debt I would accrue as I transitioned from performing to teaching and choreographing.


After leaving PNB to stretch my artistry in a small contemporary company, an injury cost me my job and I ended up freelancing. During this four-year period of feast-or-famine work, I completely drained my $10,000 emergency fund. I spent the final year of my freelance career suffering severe bouts of anxiety. The financial pressure was so intense that I developed a lump in my throat, my asthma was constantly activated by stress and I was convinced my heart would stop. After suffering a panic attack at Lincoln Center before watching a show, I chose to start putting money on my credit card. I would rather be in debt than allow my stress levels to endanger my health.

Although Kerollis' teaching and choreographing work has picked up, he's still paying off the debt incurred during his career transition. Photo by Eduardo Patino, Courtesy Barry Kerollis

Around this time, I suffered a career-ending injury and began a slow, drawn-out 20 transition off the stage. The timing couldn't have been worse. Even though I had worked hard to protect my finances, freelancing had wiped that cushion clean.

I know other dancers who have faced this dilemma. It is common knowledge that most of us will become injured at some point in our careers. At the same time, most dancers' salaries leave little room to save for times like these. For the majority of us who do not take our final bows with a job already lined up, we have to decide between taking any work that pays the bills or living on a shoestring budget to dedicate our whole focus towards our next dream job.

My vision for the second stage of my career was clear: I wanted to teach and choreograph for renowned institutions, educate audiences and have time to travel when choreography commissions came my way. I began keeping a secret: I quietly supplemented the small income I received from teaching gigs with money from my 401(k) and credit card. In a candid moment with a friend, I felt demoralized when they scoffed at me, saying I should get a job waiting tables. After that, I rarely shared how I was funding my transition.

Now that I have established the second part of my career, it would be easy to only share the good parts: that I'm on faculty at Broadway Dance Center; that I was commissioned to choreograph for Elisabeth Beyer, this year's Youth America Grand Prix senior grand prix winner and USA International Ballet Competition junior gold winner; or that I have written articles for major dance publications like this one. Although I am making great strides in mending my finances, the reality is that I am paying off the $35,000 debt from my transition.

I still wonder if choosing non-dance work could have prevented me from taking on so much debt. When looking back on my decision to stubbornly focus on my career change, I remind myself that working an entry-level job in an outside field may have left me in the same amount of debt and could have significantly delayed my movement into full-time teaching and choreographing. I will never know which avenue would have been the fastest and incurred the least debt. But I have no regrets for walking the path that I have.

Broadway
The "Merde" bag. Courtesy Scenery

Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.

But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Sara Mearns in the gym. Photo by Kyle Froman.

New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.

"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "

She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox