Why I quit my job as a professional ballet dancer (part 2)

This is the continuation of a previous blog post. If you’d like to navigate your way there, click here.


Number 3: I wanted to learn how to build good habits, and I wanted to create.

Now, this may seem like a cop-out to say that I needed to quit ballet to learn how to build good habits. I know many ballet dancers who are intensely devoted to the work and focused on their craft. They do hours of extra exercise during the day, watch ballet videos during their downtime, come to class an hour early to stretch and prepare.

But I wasn’t ever like that. I was good at being efficient. I did the work that I needed to, and avoided doing anything extra on my personal time. I made sure to fulfill others’ expectations at work: I was professional, knew the choreography, and I stayed focused during class and rehearsal. And with that I not only got by, but I did relatively well. Yet there was a resistance in me to any work that went over and above my work in the studio.

I tried several times while I was dancing to start a daily routine that would help me in ways that ballet class did not. I tried to incorporate into my day exercises that built a different understanding of movement into my body: daily yoga practice, upper-body workouts, or specific exercises tailored to me by physical therapists or friends.

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I think this is some sort of Pilates. That I didn’t do.

And when there was a class that was provided by the company where a personal commitment from me was required, I stuck to it. When OBT offered a CrossFit training three days a week free of charge, I jumped on it. I liked the idea, and having to live up to my word meant that I had a much harder time justifying any absence.

But when it came to being diligent on my own, I was never dedicated enough to continue past a week’s worth of grind. Our schedule might get mixed up because we went on tour, or I might miss a day, but whatever the excuse, I never kept up what I had (halfway) committed to. This is partly because real change is a very slow process. I couldn’t see instant results, so I questioned whether I was actually making any progress, and easily became discouraged from these exercises.

Yet there were many times where I realized that if I could just pull myself together and dedicate certain blocks of time to another practice, I could benefit enormously. Cross-training can teach the body patterns that it wouldn’t otherwise have found when repeating the same movements it has performed for years on end. And not only could cross-training present new ways of moving, it could present new ways of thinking.

This is what finally brings me around to creating. In order to create, you have to remain committed to a certain project for an extended period of time, day after day, and you must be able to invest the best of yourself. It’s possible see kernels of this in my attempt here to build this blog, but I never felt like I really made this blog all that I would have liked to. There were so many ideas for articles I wanted to write which I never got around to writing. I’m not sure whether for the lack of free time in my life, or the lack of mental focus left when I’d get home. Probably both. And writing wasn’t the only creative pursuit I was interested in.

In any case, I knew I wanted to spend less time in this world as a consumer, and more as a creator. And to do this, I knew I would need to decide on projects and stick with them. But I never found a reliable way to do so from within the context of the all-consuming ballet world.

 

So, with all this in mind, the conclusions I came to were:

  1. If I wanted to create and to instantiate good habits in my life, I needed to take a more central role in shaping my day-to-day routine.
  2. To do that, I needed some breathing room.

 

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Speaking of breathing – near the end of my dance career there was one good habit that I was able to stick to: the practice of meditation. That’s right, the one exercise that I’ve mentioned so far that involves absolutely no physical movement at all.

I decided I would meditate each morning for 20 minutes. Morning was the only time I knew I would be able to remain undistracted and unable to make excuses.  I came to see this as an extremely important practice. The fruits of this practice became quite clear, and even though I failed at staying 100% diligent, sometimes missing a session, I was always able to jump back on the cushion.

The secularized version of meditation that I had found and the philosophies behind it brought along insights about the nature of personhood and of our sometimes misguided pursuit of happiness. And it helped lead me to a realization:

Number 4: I wanted to find a way to dedicate my life to helping others.

I was born into incredibly good fortune, with parents that loved and supported me, in a community of caring people. The comments I recently received on Facebook and on the blog have made that exceedingly clear. And I have ridden this wave of positive energy to where I am now, living in the south of France.

How lucky! My life has been stable, full of joy and goodwill, relatively peaceful.

But there is a lot in this world that’s not so rosy. Humans are complicated animals, and we seem to have made a mess of many things. I definitely don’t have the skills to fix everything, or even to make a big difference. But every drop in the bucket counts.

So the question I kept coming back to was: “How much am I giving back to this world?” I have no doubt that dancing can be an inspirational endeavor. But I wondered if the institutional dance world was the best place to direct my energies. Who was I connecting with? Was I bringing joy to others? Wisdom? Did I have other skills that might be more effective and important in helping others?

I know that as ballet dancers our work can sometimes feel selfish and removed from the the people we are performing for. Acting as a faceless member in the corps can lead you to question your contribution even more. What are we doing, pretending to be peasants onstage? Are we saying anything relevant to the audience? Are we communicating something truly important? The ephemeral nature of dance inspires even more questions about our impact, which leads me to wonder, “Is it more rewarding to help others more tangibly?”

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These are all open questions, and I don’t have any clear answers to them. I’m not sure that I ever will.

But I will certainly try to find out. These questions are subjective, in any case, and it’s only me who can answer them.

After this year off I may decide to come back; it’s quite possible that I’m not done entirely with the institutional dance world (I’m certainly not done dancing). Maybe I’ll see returning to that world as the best way to go about helping others. But if I do return to the dance world, it will be a fully conscious choice, with a comprehensive understanding of what I’m getting myself into.

Whatever the future holds, I feel fortunate that I have the chance now to experience a different answer to what it means to live in today’s world. Not everyone can press pause and zoom out from their lives. But at the same time, many of us can. We just have to be willing to face our fears and commit.


Currently, I’m on the other side. I’ve started volunteering at a charity here in Nice that works with disadvantaged kids, and I’m already finding that work heartening and inspiring. It’s certainly nice to be face-to-face with the people you’re there to help, even if they’re not always aware of that fact. I’ve been “jobless” for about a month now, and I’m very happy to have made the decision. This is a way of life that I’ve never experienced.

Time really is precious, and it’s nice to have so much of it back.

In the coming weeks, this blog is going to change a bit. I have a few more posts that were in the pipeline that I’d like to push through, but afterwards I may take a different approach. I may adapt the blog to a more personal exploration of this year away from ballet, but I will remain committed to looking through a physical lens… this blog is called Corporal Culture, after all. I am, in any case, curious about how my body and physical habits will change.

If you have anything you might be interested in hearing about during this year, please tell me in the comments. I truly do look forward to your feedback!

28 thoughts on “Why I quit my job as a professional ballet dancer (part 2)

  1. Pingback: Why I quit my job as a professional ballet dancer – Corporal Culture

  2. Marsha Jobst

    I am finding your blog very insightful and would like to hear more about your meditation practice. I have been dabbling in meditation the past year and find it very helpful. And good for you to listen to your gut and see where it takes you. That takes immense courage.
    Love
    Aunt (Cousin) Marsha

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  3. marthaullmanwest@gmail. com

    There are a couple of role models in the ballet world for you to take a look at, Lucas: one is Jacques d’Amboise, with his National Dance Institute; the other is Arthur Mitchell, whose Dance Theater of Harlem started as a school in Harlem. There are others of course. Read Jacques’ book, if you haven’t already. In any case, your reasons for your gap year, if it’s that, are extremely interesting and I think can be generalized for others who are reinventing themselves in some way, a very American thing to do by the way. I wish you merde.

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    1. That’s very nice to hear, Martha. I will certainly read Jacques’ book, especially because as my mom reminded me, I have a personally signed copy of it at home! I think now I’m finally ready for it 🙂

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  4. David Threefoot

    Lucas, This is a really impressive post. I can see a great deal of maturity in your words and descriptions. Writing is a discipline in and of itself and you are on the way to mastery. I’ll look forward to each new post. May your life on the rosy side continue.

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      1. Anonymous

        Lucas I have great affection for you all these years from the time you would come over for the weekends and spend time with Aenne and Willy. I so hope your new life for now can direct you
        in a different type of talent perhaps working with outreach or writing (more) I love you
        mucho
        Aunt Judy Threefoot Schumann (whew quite a long name!)

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  5. Anonymous

    Lucas,
    Thank you for sharing so much. That in and of itself took tremendous courage and commitment. For me, to follow your growth from your first ballet class to your current life adventure, even in a peripheral way, is a gift. I look forward to reading whatever you share on your blog. Keep seeking, learning, growing with each new adventure and all the moments of quiet in between. XO

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  6. Lynn

    Great for you to explore & discover the best aspects of life. Happy to know that you want to be kind to yourself. This is a wonderful experience that helps step into helping others. Tangibly & intangibly we can be helpful to self & others. Glad that you are open to playing with discovering ‘how’. Bravo Lucas! As you put effort into being kind … all around … it is like Meditation In Action. So, one does not only experience meditation by sitting on a cushion! Yay. Best of journeys to you! 🌞🌝

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  7. Therese

    Lucas, I’m a friend of your parents. I have really enjoyed reading your’ blogs- you have a tremendous amount of insight! No matter what path(s) you choose next, I’m certain that you will make the most of it! Best wishes!

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  8. I really enjoyed your post and appreciate your honest reflection about how you are thoughtfully choosing your path. I fell in love with ballet from a very early age — Swan Lake , Nureyev , Music , Costumes — all wrapped into one inspiring art form. I never took any one of those passions to an exclusive practice above all else but know that my multiple passions sometimes had to wait on back burners for their time to re-emerge. In my personal experience — untempered by yoga or meditation, somewhat tempered by disciplined laps in a pool (or any body of water I can find) — this process usually involves much anguish and occasional crises. If one lives life with passion, I’m guessing this may be part of the dance?

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    1. You might just be right, Abbie. The important thing, I think, is to bring along wisdom to accompany those inevitable painful moments and crises. I know that this year won’t run 100% smoothly and certainly there will be growing pains, but I’m ready to encounter them with an open mind and patience 🙂

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  9. Hello Lucas,

    This is Anastasia Gambill, you may remember me from OBT. I think it is very important to take this kind of time to allow change to move through you, to open to it, and to discover what it has to teach you, and what you can discover about yourself when you put yourself in new contexts. I have been through many transitions in my life, and have been very blessed to have had them all pan out, more or less. When you are in the midst of your life’s work, or the work like has brought you to at this particular point, be it a relationship (and we are in relationship to all things, not just people) or a job, or a living situation, and that work becomes a chore, not just sometimes, but daily, and we find ourselves lacking the energy and interest in our direction with it, that we know we need to have to drive it forward, it is time to make a change. I love yoga and Pilates, and I have had 8 good years as an instructor, and made a film about the movement therapy work I developed. I was really helping people in doing this. But there was something about the nature of the work, and my life situation, and life phase, where I often felt trapped by it, mostly trapped in a cycle that was not replenishing energetically to me. So I embraced change, looked for an opportunity, and within a month, moved from the city, took a full time job, left my family (not permanently, just went ahead to set things up for us all), and started life in Southern Oregon. It has been a VERY healthy, rewarding change. Change is how we grow. And we always take everything that we have learned, and that we are with us, into that change. It is such a joy for me now to be a yoga student, and to be learning a new job, and rediscover the joy of the Symphony in a new context, AND learn that I love grant writing, when it is for great programs. I also started a blog, documenting this sudden and wild full systems change. Who knew I would be doing this a year ago, and that I would love it so much. You never do, until you let yourself dive into the unknown. I commend you for trusting your intuition and I look forward to hearing about your new adventures. Bravo!

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  10. Anonymous

    You don’t know me, but I have followed your career since you were the “lead mouse” in the Nutcracker. I understand your struggle and I know you will find your way because you now have not taken the safe, easy path. You will find what brings you fulfillment and peace. Dance, in whatever form will, of course, always be a part of your good life.

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  11. Wonderful post! I, too, am taking a year off from dance, & I enjoy hearing about your journey & agree with many of your thoughts. The purity & integrity of the dance world is such a comfort, but it is so refreshing to have the time & flexibility to better understand yourself & try/explore new things.
    All the best to you!!
    Feel free to check out my blog at thejoyofdanceblog.wordpress.com
    🙂

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  12. I just wanted to let you know that you are already helping people… you are touching others through your writing, which can reach far and wide (I’m in Australia). I’m 61 and was a professional dancer – can relate to everything your blog is saying. Your very eloquent writing and heartfelt account of your journey is helping many like you, I’m sure. Ballet has been the love of my life and yet, there came a time when performing wasn’t enough (although I would like to point out that you bring much joy to many who see and remember your performances as a highlight of their lives). And here I am, having taught ballet for many years, trying again to muster the courage to pursue yet another reinvention of myself. I bet this is a common condition. You are an inspiration.

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  13. Joy

    Check out vipassana – 10 day meditation retreat for free (Donation only at the end what you feel it was worth). It will change your life ❤

    Like

  14. Pingback: The Next Step--Why I'm quitting my job as a professional ballet dancer | Carrot Cake Kitchen

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