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Retiring as a competitive and professional Irish dancer

Posted on October 25,2020 by Chloey Turner

If you have dedicated your life to competitive and/or professional dance, then what happens when your career ends? If you’re no longer a dancer, who are you?

Many dancers begin their career as toddlers and go on to compete for several years, putting in copious hours of vigorous training a week. In addition to school and social lives, entire weekends are often dominated by competitions. Some may then have the opportunity to tour the world as a professional.

Dancers often personally sacrifice so much in order to pursue their dreams. We leave our families for extended periods of time and miss out on cherished events and time with loved ones. Some of us leave school for a once in a lifetime opportunity to tour. Some of us give up relationships.

There is very little that can compare to the feeling of being on stage every night, receiving standing ovations, being in the best shape of your life (and being able to guiltlessly eat an insane amount of calories), traveling to some of the most beautiful places in the world and meeting great friends from all different backgrounds who become your family. It truly is the Good Life!

But what happens when that comes to an end? For most of us, this occurs more or less around the age of 30, or, perhaps you were forced to retire due to an injury at an earlier or later age. Maybe you were ‘let go’ from a professional show. Ultimately, we all will have to face the difficult questions: What do you want to do now? What is your plan?

People would often ask, “Wow, how do you perform that many shows a week for that many months at a time?” They marvelled at the dedication and time that HAD to go into our training. Dancing athletes tend to be considered strong both physically and mentally, as we no doubt are, but, we’re also human beings. This stereotype can make it even harder to admit when we need some support.

If this is a worry and you feel you’re struggling then it’s very important to seek support. It’s ok and more than understandable to feel a bit lost. It’s an extreme lifestyle change and you’re likely to feel as if you’re starting over again. It can be overwhelming and very tough to adapt to ”normal life.”

I’ve dealt with this myself and have seen it in so many others. It can be a time that can make us vulnerable and susceptible to anxiety and depression. It’s a loss, and can, therefore, be a time of grief.

Sadly, I have been the witness of many a dancer being ‘let go’ by a touring show, taking the professional dancer by surprise. In fact many people don’t get the option to leave on their terms. The majority of people in show businesses must face the fact that one day their employer(s) will move on, whether you’re ready to or not and this can leave you questioning yourself. “What did I do wrong? Was I not good enough? Is it my height? Weight? Look? Or is it all of those things?” Unfortunately, I’ve seen this many times.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a psychologist or therapist, but as a former professional athlete with the experience, knowledge and wisdom I acquired on my journey, I feel more than qualifies me to give some advice:

  • It’s important not to have your ego & sense of identity solely based on your role as a dancer. It is essential to have other interests and plans in place.

  • It’s natural to want to give back to dance after having lived and breathed it for so long. Determine how you may do so, whether it’s teaching, choreography, strength and conditioning, etc. There are many ways to remain involved in an art form that you love and cherish. Giving back to the next generation can be extremely rewarding!

  • Ask for advice. A sports psychologist, occupational therapist, your family and friends, they’re all people that could help!

More and more, athletes in all kinds of sports are talking about their struggles after retiring. Please know that these feelings are normal. Let us collectively abolish any stigma related to the end of our beautiful, professional dancing careers and support everyone as best we can.

If your dream is a career in professional dance, as mine once was, it can be the most incredible experience of your life.  Just be mindful that in this industry you’re on top one minute and the next you could find yourself without a contract. Drop all expectations, be present and thankful for the opportunities.

Ride the wave!

Chloey Turner ♥️