Dance Advice

Finding a work-life balance

Choreographer Lauren Adams. Photo by Mike Esperanza.
Choreographer Lauren Adams. Photo by Mike Esperanza.

Dancers seem to be universally committed, dedicated and hard-working. An upcoming technically challenging role can keep them up at night, or they may stay late in the studio working on a combination or doing some extra strengthening exercises. And maybe a group goes out for dinner after rehearsal but end up “talking shop” the whole time. 

When dancing is your job (and love), it’s hard not to take it home with you. And that extra energy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But should dancers aim to achieve more of a balance between their studio life and their outside life? Will a stronger work-life balance, in turn, make their dancing more fulfiling? 

Dance Informa turned to some of our favourite dance artists to see if and how they go about finding a healthy work-life balance. 

Do you think it’s important for dancers to have a work-life balance?

Michelle Dorrance. Photo by Ian Douglas.

Michelle Dorrance. Photo by Ian Douglas.

Michelle Dorrance, tap dancer, teacher, choreographer and artistic director of Dorrance Dance

“Absolutely. Even if all we want to do is dance, practise, obsess over details, our art/work becomes shallow and less impactful if there is nothing informing it and charging it from the real world. A life goal of mine and one of the essential elements of what defines me as an artist is that I will always remain a student; I aspire to never stop learning. This applies to my pursuits of tap dance, dance in general, music in general, but it also applies to the way I learn about and understand the world and the experiences and perspectives of others.”

Lauren Fadeley, principal soloist, Miami City Ballet

“As dancers, it can be hard to achieve a healthy work-life balance, as what we do is all consuming (mentally, physically and time). Spending so much of our days in the studio with the same people, it can slip into our outside life, like going over choreography at home or ‘talking shop’ with friends on weekends. With time off, we can’t fully neglect that we are dancers, as we need to still take care of our body. That being said, I do think it is really important to have a life outside of ballet or you risk burning out, injury, depression and truly enjoying living! Yes, we define ourselves as dancers, but we are humans first.”

Dusty Button, Red Bull Athlete, principal ballerina, model and industrialist

Dusty Button. Photo by Mitchell Button.

Dusty Button. Photo by Mitchell Button.

“Having a well balanced life is absolutely pivotal to a dancer’s future, but their ability to see this is dependent on their willingness to open their eyes…moreso, their mind. We don’t find many things in life that we are only given one chance to experience, aside from life itself, so if our work-life balance is 90 percent work/10 percent life, are we really ‘living’? I choreograph my life as if it were a ballet, act by act to be musically memorable but most importantly with a finale that has no room for regret, and reducing myself to be just a ‘dancer’ would fill it with regret. I invite all generations of dancers to master their craft and to fill their life with passions and people who support those passions, to fully harness their potential.”

Desmond Richardson, co-founder/co-artistic director, Complexions Contemporary Ballet

“I feel it’s very important for artists to have a healthy work-life balance. In my opinion, it helps you investigate your art even further and makes your art more relatable to those you’re sharing it with.”

Lauren Adams, choreographer

“I think it’s important, inspiring and meaningful to carve out time to spend alone, with family and with friends. If you are lucky enough to have people in your life who love and value you outside of your talents, those are people worthy of your time and energy, and they are the ones who will be there for you when you need an extra dose of love or boost in confidence. While it’s necessary to build a positive reputation in your field, it’s even more important to nurture and maintain loving and supportive relationships throughout your life.”

Natasha Kusen, soloist, The Australian Ballet 

Natasha Kusen. Photo by Daniel Boud.

Natasha Kusen. Photo by Daniel Boud.

“I believe it is extremely important for elite dancers to find their own work-life balance that enhances their wellbeing and happiness. Having another focus or different creative outlet can help shift pressures from being a professional dancer and assist in keeping things in perspective on those hard, stressful days. Engaging in different life experiences outside the studio pushes you to be a more curious and stimulated individual that can only enhance your performances on stage.”

Ian Casady, principal, Houston Ballet

“Yes, I think it’s important to try and strike some sort of work-life balance as a dancer. For me, when things are out of balance, it creates excess stress. Life and work can be stressful enough even when they’re in balance, just because we’re always busy. I also think balance helps you maintain a healthy perspective.”

Maria Sascha Khan, international guest artist, London

“I think it is very important for dancers to have a work-life balance. Life imitates art, so the richer your life, the better your art. You need to seek outside experiences, meet people from all walks of life and backgrounds, seek inspiration from and use every opportunity to immerse yourself in extraordinary experiences.”

How do you strive to achieve a work-life balance between studio life and outside life? 

Fadeley

Lauren Fadeley in George Balanchine's 'Walpuchisnacht'. Photo by Miami Herald.

Lauren Fadeley in George Balanchine’s ‘Walpuchisnacht’. Photo by Miami Herald.

“Living in Miami has helped with my work-life balance, as a walk on the beach can do wonders for transporting you back to being a ‘real’ person. It also has put me closer to my family, so it has been wonderful to see them more often after moving away 17 years ago. I’ve made great friends here as well, and although they are mostly in the company, we enjoy each other’s companionship outside of work by having dinners, viewing parties or celebrating birthdays. On days off, I enjoy doing yoga, as it is good for my mind and body but doesn’t involve all the demands that being a professional dancer does. Also, I am fortunate to have a husband who was a dancer, so he is understanding of my ballet side but can keep me in check when it gets out of balance.”

Adams

“I don’t know that I will ever truly achieve a work-life balance. And to be honest, I’m okay with that. A big part of my work is leaning into my curiosity and exploring my imagination. Often times, when I make a conscious effort to unplug from work, a song will find me, an image will hit me or a conversation will make me think, and I’ll be inspired to create. Living and observing life makes me want to be an artist. I’m constantly gathering images, sounds and information.”

Maria Sascha Khan. Photo by Aga Dobrowolska.

Maria Sascha Khan. Photo by Aga Dobrowolska.

Khan

“As incredible as theatre life is, I have a personal life separate of the theatre as well. I find joy in immersing myself in artistic collaborations and outside projects. Consequently, this has given me an opportunity to work with extraordinary artists and build a circle of friends from all walks of life. All three of my siblings and I are classical ballet dancers, so in this way, we definitely have a lot of crossover between work and family life. Whether I’m in a down period or in the midst of a busy schedule, I try to find at least a moment in the day to recharge. Being born in Montana, I have an in-born affinity for nature, which always rejuvenates me. I’ll be flying to perform in Singapore soon, then Russia, projects in the USA, and a boyfriend in Australia, so finding that balance is definitely key. Instead of thinking of ‘life’ as something that is taking you away from your work, I like to think of it as a vital component to becoming the best dancer and individual I can be!”

Button

“I love my life and would not trade it for another’s, but it’s my life, rather than my work, that is most satisfying. My work without the life that it orbits would be dissatisfying as much; like anything else, ‘good’ things become ‘great’ when you have someone to share them with. I am fortunate to be married to my best friend, who also happens to be my stylist, photographer, graphic designer, manager and partner in our Bravado Dancewear collections to launch November 24, so work never feels like ‘work’ when we are side by side through it all. Young dancers sometimes seem to work hard and remain hungry while appreciating the opportunities presented to them on their journey up until they sign a contract and join their first company. It then seems to be a pattern to allow class to become a warm-up rather than an education and dancing to become a job rather than a passion. It often appears that, at this point, doing ‘too many shows’ is upsetting, yet, ironically, doing ‘not enough shows’ is equally as frustrating, while all the times in between don’t materialise to be the ‘dream’ that we all wished upon as children. Having observed this over the years, the one characteristic that seems to harness most of this energy is the lack of substance outside of work. Leaving a job and knowing that I am coming home to my husband and our dogs allows me to truly appreciate my time home, as well as my time away from it. As humans, we need sleep, but as dancers, we need the support of those close to us so that the love we developed for dance never tarnishes. I strive to build a life that I don’t ever need to vacation from, a life where work-life balance isn’t necessary because work and life work together as one well oiled machine.”

Desmond Richardson. Photo by Karsten Staiger.

Desmond Richardson. Photo by Karsten Staiger.

Richardson

“I try to achieve a work-life balance by being 100 percent present in my studio/dance life and equally 100 percent in my outside life.”

Kusen 

“It is always a constant challenge. My life as a soloist with The Australian Ballet is continuously full on with all the touring and 200 performances I do per year. Even finding time to spend with your family and friends can be quite difficult. I find that my career seems to always take first priority when it comes to social planning; however, I need to consciously plan downtime, otherwise it can be a very unhealthy lifestyle. Keeping my body healthy is a major priority as a ballet dancer, so I try to always get out of the workplace studios and complete my cardio, strengthening and Pilates regime at an external gym or by taking it outdoors. Keeping my mind active is also important to me, and in the past, I have dabbled in studying and have completed a Certificate 4 in Business Administration, but I quickly realised it was way too dry and discovered that the time dedicated to it was more of a chore and only stressed me out more. Since then, I have decided to put off studying until I knew what I was genuinely keen on. Meanwhile, I have found a second creative outlet in creating my own style blog, studiotostreet.com.au, where I combine my two passions of dance and fashion together. Between dancing, blogging, resting and spending time doing things that I love with the people I love is how I keep my work-life balance in check.”

Casady

Houston Ballet Principal Dancers Ian Casady and Jessica Collado in 'Sons De L'âme'. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.

Houston Ballet Principal Dancers Ian Casady and Jessica Collado in ‘Sons De L’âme’. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.

“I just try to stay organised. I think it’s the best way to avoid being stressed out all the time. Also, I think hobbies are good. But not too many. When they get in the way, they can become another source of stress.”

Dorrance

“This is one of my biggest challenges right now, not due to dancing, specifically, but due to the work behind creating, scheduling, touring and running a company! I was much better at achieving that balance as a soloist and am still far from where I’d like to be now! Please check back in with me in six months!”

By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.

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