What to Consider Before Relocating for Your Career

December 29, 2023

Dancers are frequent movers.

Relocating can be par for the course in any career, but in as unpredictable a field as dance, it is especially common. And while packing up is always a large undertaking, there are some specific realities unique to dancers, as well as considerations to keep in mind when moving—from professional and personal needs to finances, timing, and more.

Moving On

After over a decade dancing in Toronto, former National Ballet of Canada principal Skylar Campbell and his wife, Jaclyn Oakley, also an NBoC dancer, realized it was time for a change. “The natural progression for dancers [in NBoC] is that if you’ve been there for over five years, you get your permanent residency,” Campbell explains. “We tried, but because we were missing certain academic qualifications, we never got it. It was a sign: retire or move on.”

Without permanent residency, Campbell wouldn’t be able to work in dance education—a career he is interested in exploring in the future. The couple stuck it out through most of the COVID-19 pandemic, but in 2022 they moved to join Houston Ballet, Campbell as a principal and Oakley as a corps member. While there were logistical reasons for the move, Campbell found that a change in environment benefited his dancing. “I’m much more aware as an artist,” he says. “I think that’s due to the change of pace and opportunities to pursue other facets of our life here.”

a male dancer in arabesque on stage
Skylar Campbell in John Neumeier’s Nijinsky. Photo by Bruce Zinger, Courtesy Campbell.

Sometimes, artistic priorities are the motivator. Javares Selby, a former Dallas Black Dance Theatre dancer, made a snap-decision move when Visceral Dance Chicago offered him a contract. He landed from his flight and headed straight to the studios for the first day of the season. Despite the quick turnaround, Selby knew it was the right choice. “DBDT had a certain aesthetic which I did uphold,” he says. “But there was another side of me that wanted to release a little bit more. I’ve found that at Visceral already.”

Whether the decision is personal or professional, “I think we always know the answer deep down—to move or not,” says Selby. “Our minds can get in the way. But if your gut feeling is saying yes, do it, because that’s the push you need.”

a dark photo of a man wearing black and moving his arms
Javares Selby. Photo by MREID Photography, Courtesy Visceral Dance Chicago.

Staying Grounded: When Dance Is Home

“When people ask, ‘Where are you from?’‌ I say I have no idea!” Florrie Sésé Geller, 24, relays this with a laugh, but she is earnest. She’s relocated more than nine times since leaving home at age 10 to continue her training and launch her professional career. Most recently, she started her first season with Oakland Ballet Company in California.

“When dance feels like it’s your home, it doesn’t necessarily matter where you are,” says Geller, sharing the approach that has helped keep her grounded through multiple moves. Her relocations have been spurred by a variety of reasons, from last-minute job offers to the pandemic lockdown, and—perhaps most challenging—the abrupt bankruptcy and closure of American National Ballet, her first professional job, in 2017. “You can do all the research possible, but there’s so much that’s out of your control in this profession,” says Geller.

The reality of being a young professional, she continues, often requires frequent moves during the career-building process; it can be tough to put down roots. But while it’s practical to pack lightly, Geller suggests making room for some reminders of home. Bringing a treasured dish set or coffee maker can offer a sense of security amid the unfamiliar.

a dancer on stage sitting on the floor with one above her head. she had her hair down and is wearing a flowy white dress
Florrie Sésé Geller in Heather Maloy’s Cleopatra. Photo by Irwin Fayne, Courtesy Geller.

“Everything is a culture shock when you go somewhere new,” says New York City–based choreographer Grace Yi-Li Tong, who moved from her home in Seattle to attend New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2018. “I wanted to be in the middle of it all, where I could go for more opportunities,” she says, but the drastic change of pace from the Pacific Northwest took some getting used to. Focusing on the excitement of pursuing further training and launching her choreographic career helped Tong deal with the newness, as did connecting with family members in New York City.

Do Your Homework

With any relocation, planning ahead can minimize stress and financial strain, especially for dancers who are busy juggling multiple jobs or performance schedules. Planning sooner is always better, suggests Geller, as it’s easy to overestimate the amount of time realistically available to working artists. Geller finds that maintaining as close to a usual routine as possible helps her avoid being overwhelmed when the cardboard boxes appear.

When looking for a new place to live, consider the secondary job opportunities available, the volatility of a city’s housing market, and how accessible an area is—in many cities, more affordable housing is farther away from the hubs where studios and performance opportunities are located. Selby’s move was so quick that he wasn’t able to secure an apartment before moving, due in part to the city’s tight housing market. “I’d apply, but almost immediately the place would be snapped up!” he says. Fellow Visceral dancer Alessandra De Paolantonio offered Selby a place to stay in the interim (a not uncommon act of generosity among empathetic dancers).

Campbell, Geller, Selby, and Tong all agree: Finances trump all. “Money is definitely the hardest part,” says Campbell. “We lost a ton of money through taxes and the currency exchange. We also had to import our car. It was more than we expected.” On the plus side, less expensive property in Houston allowed him and Oakley to invest in a house—a life goal they hadn’t been able to accomplish in Toronto. If possible, Campbell recommends working with a financial advisor to stay as organized as possible through the move.

a dark photo with a woman wearing white center. she is looking to the right
Grace Yi-Li Tong. Photo by Alice Chacon, Courtesy Tong.

Money can also limit the opportunities dancers can feasibly pursue if a move is involved­. “Whenever I get an offer,” says Geller, “finances are always number one on my mind. I’ve had to turn down opportunities because they wouldn’t have worked financially.”

Selby suggests spending time scouting neighborhoods online, and Tong advises dancers to lean into their connections. “If you have family, friends, or friends of friends who have ever lived there, reach out,” she says. They may be able to advise on areas to live, unexpected costs, or opportunities to expand career goals.

Above all, the decision to move is highly individual. Campbell recommends listening to your internal voice: “You have to really look in the mirror and understand yourself. That’s when you’re going to know if the place is still right for you or not.”