When COVID-19 Interrupts Your Career Comeback

October 12, 2020

Imagine ending a successful dancing career, only to return to it six years later. Now imagine that this comeback is interrupted by a crisis of international proportions. This has been Eric Tamm’s trajectory.

In 2014, after eight years in the corps de ballet of American Ballet Theatre, he walked away. Even though he was a valued member of the company who had several principal roles under his belt, he felt unsatisfied. “You get to a point,” he says, “where you look at the schedule and you see you have one or two new ballets in a year that you may or may not be looking forward to.”

He decided to try his hand at real estate, alongside his partner in life, David Najjar, who owns a real estate company in New Jersey. “Everyone was shocked,” says ABT assistant artistic director Clinton Luckett, who followed his career closely, “but it didn’t seem like a whim or an impulsive decision. He clearly knew what he wanted.”

Tamm left dance completely and took up tennis in his spare time. “The residential real estate business is like ballet in that, if you’re going to be successful, you really have to throw yourself in, full-time,” Tamm says.

Five years passed. But he found himself missin­g dance. “I would reminisce about my time in the company, and I started to think, You know what? I think I’d like to try to dance again.” He started taking class at Steps on Broadway, with Nancy Bielski, and working out to get his stamina back. Eventually, he got up the courage to inquire about auditioning for his old company.

In January of this year, at 33, he returned. Watching him rehearse Benvolio, which he was scheduled to debut during the spring season, it was as if he had never left. In early March, he got to dance a brand-new role in Alexei Ratmansky’s most recent creation, Of Love and Rage, in Costa Mesa, California.

“I really felt like I had come back,” he says. Soon, though, Tamm found himself in a totally changed reality, far from the ballet studio and his colleagues. Three months into his comeback, it was interrupted, and no one knows for how long.

Like everyone, Tamm’s had his ups and downs. At first he took ballet classes with the company via Zoom, but now he has cobbled together a regimen of mixed martial arts, cardio and yoga that keeps him more motivated. Dancers’ grit has helped him cope, he says: “Having the experience of being in a major company, in high-pressure situations, means that you teach yourself how to adapt to any circumstance.”

He has the benefit of knowing he is capable of getting back into dancing shape. He did it once, he can do it again. Even so, there is a sense of loss. “Every year in a dancer’s life matters. And, as an ‘aging’ dancer in my 30s, I only have so many years of performing left in my body.”