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How Does One Cope With Such An Early Retirement Age?

By November 11, 2019Backstage

By TurnedOutPointeOfView on Monday, November 11, 2019

Thank you for the Question Lina F.

At the Royal Danish Ballet, a dancer, regardless of rank has to retire when he or she turns 40 years old. Once you turn 40, you are allowed to finish that season which goes until June.

I think many of us don’t even think about our retirement if we are happy and inspired at work. Every year though, at the end of the season party, there are always speeches to those who have decided to either leave the company or to those that are retiring from the company. Those speeches always brings that looming question to the front of your mind.

To be completely honest, I don’t know. I don’t know how to cope with such an early retirement age. My brain can’t even comprehend the idea of not dancing and performing… ever. Let alone stopping in ten years, for me. (I turned 30 this past October)

Ulrik Birkkjær and I after a performance of Theme & Variations.

Some days you really feel the pressure. For instance, when a cast list goes up and maybe you didn’t get the role you hoped for… one of your first thoughts may be, will this ballet come back in time for me to have another shot at it!? Will I ever get to dance that role in my career?

These are very real questions. And all I can really say is that you have to put your faith in that everything happens for a reason. The management does have plans that you aren’t aware of. Trust the timing of your life. I do realize that that is much easier said than done.

At the same time, I would encourage any dancer to not just sit back and leave everything to the unknown. Reach out and try to get a few gigs or get involved in another project that interests you. Then, perhaps you can choose what pas de deux you dance and the stress of never getting to dance something can be calmed. It’s always worth a try!

The dancers that I have seen retire are at first usually grateful for a rest. It’s a hard career, on your body, on your mind, and on your soul. To step away from that pressure to be pretty much, “perfect” is welcomed.

I’ve seen a lot of wonderful ballerina’s become mothers at age 38, 39, and 40 years old. Maybe for society that is considered late but for a ballerina it’s the perfect timing. It’s so wonderful to see. Motherhood is a common route taken after retirement or just before retirement.

Gudrun Bojesen back from her retirement pictured as Karen Blixen.

Many dancers teach ballet either as a full time job or just until they figure out what exactly they want to do next. I would say most stay in the world of ballet. Some have gone on to become Pilates teachers, ballet teachers, gym/workout teachers, or ballet masters… Sometimes, the theater will offer a dancer to come back for a production or two as a character dancer. For example, right now in the wonderful ballet Blixen, by Gregory Dean, several retired, beloved dancers are back on stage performing with us. It’s so nice to have them and they are absolutely excelling!

Mads Blangstrup, a retired dancer, back in the current production of Blixen.

There are also those that step completely out of the business. Starting up coffee shops, renting out apartments, film director… The sky is the limit. It’s just tricky to figure out which path to take when all you’ve ever pretty much known is ballet.

Usually the dancers that decide to go back to school stop earlier then their retirement age. Although, of course, one could go back to school at the age of 40. No problem whatsoever. One is still quite young. But, it is common to see dancers around the age of 23-25, who have been a professional for a few years, to decide that they’d like to give school a go. Again around age 30 you might see another wave of dancers deciding to leave the company and go to school.

We don’t really talk that much about retirement. It isn’t until your dad or someone close to you asks “what is next?” Even now, for me, ten years away from retirement, I have no idea. I’ve had a few ideas running through the back of my brain but none of them are concrete. I would love to become an author. I’ve thought about becoming a grade-school teacher. I’m very interested in the film and Broadway world… maybe something there. ??? Time will tell.

The theater does have a fund where a dancer can send in an application describing what they want to try and see if it could be their next career. I don’t know that much about it because I’ve never sent anything in. I do know that you receive a certain amount of money to try something out either on the side of working as a dancer or you can request for some time off to discover more.

During a rehearsal of Etudes.

I think, for a dancers mind, the retirement has to be actually super close to start accepting the idea to start thinking about leaving our magical world. We all love it so much. Then, maybe, one would start to reach out to the previous generations that have already retired and have those conversations. It’s a thought that we push aside for years. Whether we should or not.

In many ways it feels like after 12 years of being a professional I’m only just starting to really figure a few things out. I don’t know if at 40 years old if I’ll feel like I actually did figure anything out or if I’ll feel like I never quite did figure anything out. That is why every picture is so meaningful. Every performance is such a victory! Every moment on stage with your partner, with the entire company is so touching. It’s all memories you never want to forget. You can’t take this career for granted. You never know when your last day will actually be. Injury or just life in general could always take it.

I guess I’ll be better equipt to answer this question in a few years time, when I’m closer to 40. In the meantime, retirement is kept in the way way way back of my mind.

With fellow Principal dancer, Jonathan Chmelensky after a Gala Performance.

Xoxo
-Hol