A Man at Work – Taking it to the Next Step

For today’s Conversation Sunday post, I’m honored to present a Q&A session with Nick Mullikin.  Nick danced with Houston Ballet and Ballet West before advocating on behalf of dancer’s health (as well as many other matters) as a union rep for AGMA, as well as, company manager of Ballet West.  As company manager of Ballet West he fought to reduce injury and stress placed on dancers by being part of a team that implemented a brand new Physical Therapy program specific to the needs of Ballet West and their financial constraints.  Nick is working towards his Bachelor Degree in Government at The University of Texas at Austin, and will be graduating this coming summer.  He was handpicked to be apart of the Archer Program in Washington DC and is currently working with Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter and Associates.
dancehealthier:  What is the difference in how you stay healthy now, as a non- dancer, compared to how you did when you were dancing?
Nick:  Since leaving the studio I have spent the last five years or so at a desk for the better part of the day. I have been fortunate enough to find work every step of the way but it has caused me to have to reevaluate my diet tremendously. I have had to recognize that I am not burning anywhere near the calories I was when dancing, and that I have to make a conscious effort to get exercise. I can honestly say it is much harder to go to the gym when it is for your personal health rather than when you need it to get your body ready for a specific rep. It used to be that I would not care about a quick fast food meal (I know sacrilegious to even imply a dancer would eat a cheeseburger, or 5 a week) but now those empty calories add up. It almost has become more imperative that I watch what I eat, because of a more sedentary lifestyle associated with working in an office, and studying for hours at my table.

dancehealthier:  Mentally how did you deal with going from the daily grind of “dancing days” to the daily grind of school work + working + new life?

Nick:  Each has their own specific challenges but strategies for dealing with both the ups and downs are essentially the same. There were plenty of days where I had a full day of rehearsal but it involved tedious, slow moving, and sometimes monotonous hours of what I liked to call “tough sledding;” those days you have to put in as a means to an end to get the product on stage. School and work have those moments as well. There have been plenty of books that I have had to read that just are painful, and days in every job that involved tedious tasks that just have to be completed. But on the other side there are the days that fly by; where you could not imagine having a better life and are so happy you are doing what you are doing at that moment, be it dancing, writing a perfect paper, learning something new at school and work, or generally just enjoying what you are doing. I guess what I am saying is that given the nature of dancing, if you can handle that you have already found your own personal strategies to cope with any daily grind. I handle the stress by knowing that I get to go home at the end of the day, no matter what. I am a big supporter of having some time to yourself each night, to compose your thoughts, and just sort through whatever may be bothering or conversely making you happy. It settles my mind, and gets me ready to face the next day.

dancehealthier:  What advice do you have for other dancers that will have to someday move on from “dancing days?”

Nick:  First, I don’t think you ever move on from your dancing days. At some point dance with all of its positives and negatives, sticks with you.

My advice:

First – Enjoy every moment you have in the studio and on stage with your colleagues. There is something special about the people you share these moments with, and for the most part when you get out in the “real world” that bond just doesn’t exist. With that said, stay in contact with everyone you work with, and treat EVERYONE with respect, even if they drive you insane. The world is a much smaller place then you think, and it shrinks each day with the development of online social networks. The biggest mistake I made was not following this very advice.

Second – Find something outside of the studio that drives you; public service at a non-profit, science, even developing your other strengths as an artist: anything to make yourself more rounded. It is critical to find out what you want to do in the future before it gets to be too late. For me that was going to the community college in Salt Lake and taking a few classes here and there to see what stuck. I know that is not for everyone, but at some point you will hang up the shoes and the sooner you are realistic about it, the better. It will make the transition that much more simple.

Third – Enjoy your downtime! Use it to do, and see whatever you can. “Real jobs” (I hate using those words because it implies dancing is not a real job) only gives you a very limited amount of vacation time to travel and see the world. Start adding in trips to see family in other cities, as well as the occasional three day weekend trips.

Fourth – Get all of the pictures, and footage of your dancing that you can. People who care about you want to see it, no matter how critical your view of it is. Also, people just think it is so cool that you did it for a living. It is a huge advantage when competing for a job, or in the workplace. I cannot tell you how many people have said, “Well you just have such a unique story, we had to meet you.” As dancers we probably don’t like that, but any advantage you can get you need to take. Sounds gross I know, but so does not having a job.

I am sure I could go on for days on what not to do.

dancehealthier:  Do you feel there needs to be greater dancer/health awareness programs for future generations?

Nick:  I do. I had nutritionists all the way through my training and career, yet nothing prepared me for my first serious injury. When I first dislocated my shoulder I spent six months in rehab. I had the idea that I could maintain the same diet, but because I had stopped spending all of my time in the studio I came back nearly 20-30 pounds overweight. I was completely oblivious to it. It was after I got “the talk” each dancer dreads that I had to do a serious re-evaluation of my caloric, protein, and fat intake. I turned to the internet to help me find the advice I needed to lose weight in a healthy way – eating more frequent and smaller meals to speed up my metabolism, and, it seems obvious now, burning more calories than I was taking in.

There also needs to be a mental health aspect to dance training. I have seen a lot of self-esteem issues that I believe stem from spending countless hours in front of a mirror and being constantly judged. Health is both body and mind, and I truly believe a mentally balanced dancer is going to be much more successful in not just dance but life in general.

**Thanks to all dancehealthier readers and subscribers for all of your support so far. If interested, you may subscribe to dancehealthier at the right hand side of the homepage.  You will only be e-mailed when new posts are published. Dancehealthier also has a facebook page.  To check it out, click HERE!  Feel free to make a comment or contact me via e-mail at dancehealthier@gmail.com.


3 thoughts on “A Man at Work – Taking it to the Next Step

  1. Awesome interview! Nick sends a message for all dancers to comprehend- to yet move on successfully as a dancer -and yes will always be a dancer…but yet so much more to achieve!

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