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Dance Careers  – My Perspective

Karen Palmer // 25th April 2024

Following on from my last blog, I have been thinking a lot about my career and the different opportunities that have been available to me.

Some I have taken up and others I haven’t, but I can say that when I was a young and probably naïve dancer, I didn’t have much of a network in the industry which I think led to less opportunities. Looking back, as a student we weren’t advised on how to work as a freelancer, how to network and/or expand our skillset. The focus was on being a dancer or a teacher and that was about as far as it went. I am not criticising my training or the college I went to, that is just how it seemed to be way back then.

The route to my career was a fairly standard one; after school dance lessons, vocational college, worked as a freelance dancer, taught……. (see my previous blog for full details 😉). However, there are many different paths within the dance industry that can be taken, even if they aren’t the ones we planned. It can be disheartening for a performer not to walk straight into their dream job and this can lead to, in a worst case scenario, giving up on this dream because they think they have failed. This can in some cases be attributed to the pressure that is instilled during training, that ‘performing’ is the only measurement of success following training, but a dancer should be open to other possibilities as it could lead in to an unexpected and exciting journey. I think it is, in part, the responsibility of the teachers to make students aware of the importance of networking, of talking to people and making connections. Encouraging students to understand that building up a portfolio career, trying new things that maybe out of our comfort zone, can be a positive thing.

I have learnt later on in my career how important reaching out to people within the industry can be. How stepping out of your comfort zone and making new connections can lead to exciting and new possibilities. In fact, I wish I had done it sooner. I have realised that many industry professionals are passionate about sharing their expertise and talking about how they have achieved their goals and offer advice. These connections can lead to learning new skills, working with different people and opening up new opportunities that you didn’t know you needed! Listening to a podcast recently on ResDance by Dr Gemma Harman with Anna Watkins highlighted an interesting point that centred around the benefit of working in different roles, in particular those that involve leadership. They discussed how this can give you empathy for your colleagues who are in those positions as you understand what it is like to be a leader and the demands this position comes with. You gain a different perspective both when you are being a leader and when you are not.

These experiences you gain as you transverse through your career should be encouraged. The knowledge and expertise of established and dare I say older artists need to be celebrated. I am a firm believer in career longevity and that it is possible to continue dancing after you’ve had children or if you are going through the menopause for example, there just needs to be more dance specific professionals to help! Dancers of all ages are important to the industry and bring with them different skill sets that can be shared so we can all develop and grow as an individual.

Advances in modern technology and social media have not only made it easier to share these different skills but have also progressed the ability to make connections. There are more networks available that are easily accessible through the world of Facebook and Instagram etc where performers can connect with other like-minded performers. Companies are recognising the need for freelancers in particular to be supported, and from this, networks are being formed, opening up new conversations and adding resources that can make a difference to both the emerging dancer and those that are more established.

This leads nicely into my final thoughts that if a dancer has decided to leave the performing side of things, that is fine, but what comes next as a dancer can be a big challenge as dance is often a big part of their identity. For those that have been open to new challenges, found networks, connected with different people, this transitional period may be easier to navigate as it can pave the way for you to move into a different role within the dance world…..of which there are many!

Insight into my dancing journey

Karen Palmer // 31st July 2023

As I enter into my new venture with Performing Arts Development, with all the challenges that brings, I thought it would be good to delve into my journey and the reason why I am following this current path.

I followed the same route as many have in the dancing world. Ballet, modern, tap, at a local dance school then headed off to dance college. I was lucky enough to go to what was considered a good dance school with forward thinking teachers, but still had injuries during my teenage years, like most of my friends. These injuries followed me to college where they got worse and with the time being what it was back then, when anyone was injured, they had to sit on a cold, hard floor and watch classes. Looking back, this was by no means a reflection of my teachers, more a reflection of the lack of knowledge and understanding all those years ago.

Fast forward a bit to my dancing years touring Italy and the beautiful country that it is and enjoying Germany for 3 months. I was happy to go along with an early warm-up only to get cold again, or even no warm-up when touring as there simply wasn’t the time or space. Given my background and injury history, this unsurprisingly left me with more back problems. So off I go to a physio who was well respected and a chiropractor who was recommended, but neither dance specialists, and after several sessions and a lot of money later I was informed that if I continue to dance, I might end up in a wheelchair when I am older!! Well, I was in my early 20’s at this stage and that was a scary thing to be told and as I didn’t know any better so trusted their opinion, that was the end of my performing career. How did I feel? Gutted, and in all honesty, I struggled to go and watch dance performances for a long time. Like, my teachers, I placed no blame with the professionals, they were doing their job to the best of their knowledge with little understanding supplementary training. So, I accepted it and moved onto teaching the next generation.

My teaching career began and I loved passing on my passion for dance to others, however, strength and conditioning was not on the radar. Having also worked in a gym I endeavoured to do some exercises with some students which was challenging due to limited class time, but I realised the value in working with the students in this way. This curiosity stayed with me as I juggled family life and diverted my career to a BA in dance Education, where I taught dance in primary and secondary education as well as managing community and charity dance events. Fast forward again and we come to the joy that was COVID and all my work/projects came to a halt. However, some things are meant to be as an opportunity came up to study Dance Science at Trinity Laban, a course that I had seen, desperately wanted to do, but did not think I would be able to do for a few years. Not a chance I wanted to pass up as it was everything I wanted to learn about. The programme did not disappoint, with all now falling into place. Not only did I gain invaluable skills that I was passionate about, it made me reflect upon my training and the impact dance science could have had on my dancing career. Far from being upset that my dancing was short lived, the MSc encouraged me to go on and learn more, so did a level 4 strength and conditioning and menopause and training course.

I am now passionate about disseminating what I have learnt to dancers at every stage of their career, starting where I did at the grass roots level and Performing Arts Development was established . Giving more knowledge to teachers, to pass onto their students, and dancers to be able to help elongate their own careers and navigate it safely for longevity. Encouraging performers and educators to ask questions, to want to challenge and work with traditions and make new ways of working to improve dance environments across the sector.