DIYdancer Transition: Post-Performing Job Search By Stephanie Wolf
For years, I’ve known I wanted to pursue something along the lines of journalism and digital media as a post-performing career. But my ambitious second-career objectives presented a problem—my ideal job was completely outside of the industry I had spent the past 12 years chasing as a professional ballet dancer. So, when my performing career ended this past May and I had to conduct my first non-dance job search, I experienced what I can best describe as culture shock.
This topic was recently touched on by blogger Sarah Jukes, whose article “6 Reasons Why Ballet Dancers Make Great Employees” spread across social media outlets like wildfire. Her piece highlighted many of the topics I bring up, but I wanted her to dive in deeper. I wanted to hear more than a virtual plea to employers. I wanted to hear how this information worked in practice.
So, I am sharing my experiences from the past two months, retelling the tale of how a dance career helped me stand out from other candidates and land a job.
Prologue: once a dancer always a dancer
At first, I gave little weight to my dance background—I even tried to hide it, fearful potential employers would not take me seriously. It made for a rocky start. But, when I finally realized being a former ballet dancer could work in my favor, my luck began to change.
Act I: non-performance resume & cover letter
- This is the first introduction to a potential employer, which is why it’s important to have a readable resume that represents you well. The format differs, but leading with the many invaluable attributes acquired from a dance career makes for a strong, unique non-performance resume.
- Pack the career summary with the constructive traits most dancers possess, including drive, discipline, persistence, the ability to work under pressure and against deadlines, creativity, perfectionism, and focus—the list goes on. Spend some time with this section, as it is a ‘snapshot,’ so to speak, of who you are as a professional.
- Fill the “Professional Experience” section with any non-dance credentials. However, don’t downplay your years of dance experience and include it in a separate section, perhaps titled “Dance Experience.”
- According to my sister, who owns her own recruiting business, the dance experience highlights skills and knowledge that can translate to other professions. Pursuing a Bachelor’s degree while dancing full time shows commitment. Working with a dance company for an extended period of time demonstrates loyalty. Additionally, for many dancers, responsibilities extend beyond the rehearsal studio, including fundraising efforts, community outreach, education initiatives, interpersonal communications, and administrative assistance.
- I don’t recommend embellishing these responsibilities beyond the extent of reality. But, using the advise of my former director at Wonderbound, Garrett Ammon, do not discount the non-dance skills acquired during a performing career.
- The debate is on surrounding the importance of a cover letter. I’ve talked to some recruiters who say they don’t spend much time reading it. To counter that, I’ve also met with employers who have commented extensively on cover letters. Based on this, I think it’s wise to put time and effort into crafting a clear, concise cover letter. However, over investing in it is probably not the best way to spend your time.
- Keep it pithy and professional, but not too dry. A dance background inventively woven into a cover letter can transform a standard job application into an interesting story—and who doesn’t like reading a good story?
Act II: interviewing
Admittedly, the interview stage terrified me. I was inundated with personal fears and questions:
- How do I stand out?
- How do I stay poised and confident under pressure?
- How do I play up my strengths and turn my weaknesses into positives?
- How do I get my personality across when I only have a short amount of time to make an impression?
Then it struck me. . .
The interview process is exactly like an audition minus the leotard and pink tights—an omission I don’t mind. I always prepared for auditions by researching the company to get a better understanding of its mission and vision, being conscientious in selecting what I wore to appear professional and organized, and letting my personality drive my performance.
I applied these same tactics to my interviews.
Interviewers were fascinated by my ballet career. They wanted to hear more about it, and I discovered I could easily pull examples from my performing career to exemplify how I would handle high stress situations. One employer even confessed to Googling me because he had “never met a real ballerina before.” (Note: Don’t correct any potential employers who use the term “ballerina.” They don’t understand that it is a title and not a profession. Plus, they enjoy saying it.)
The interview is just another performance. As you move along in the interview process, keep looking for ways to enhance and tweak your performance. And remember it is a two-way street; you are selling yourself to that company, but the company also needs to appeal to you. A ballet dancer may not be the best fit for a classical modern dance company, so I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to understand the company you are interviewing for.
Epilogue: a new journey begins
I am in no regards an expert on this subject, but I have learned that the post-performing job search has many similarities to the performing job search. To other transitioning dancers out there, I offer the same advice I received from an individual I met within the broadcast journalism field:
Embrace your creative, dancer side. Use this deeply engrained part of you to navigate the next professional chapter.
After a little under two months of actively seeking non-dance employment, I received an offer. I accepted a social media coordinator position with a large corporation in South Denver. It will be an enormous adjustment. But, as a dancer, I am used to change and always hungry for a challenge.
Now, I begin my journey as former ballet dancer turned social media guru and writer-of-many-trades.
To be continued…
Stephanie Wolf: This Atlanta, GA native has performed as a professional ballet dancer with the Minnesota Ballet, James Sewell Ballet, Ballet Montana, Ballets with a Twist, the Metropolitan Opera, and Ballet Nouveau Colorado/Wonderbound. Her writing has been published in Dance Informa, Wetpaint, Midchix, New York Family, Emerging Students, 303 Magazine, and she was a copywriter with Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Dd allows her to bring together all of her artistic interests.