Facing the retirement demon. (Readers' Forum).
"Well, Stephen. I guess it's about that time. You know it's got to happen sometime. Actually, I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner. What I'm trying to say is: As of next season, you're not a dancer anymore, at least not in my company."
Was it as simple as that? Could a career be over with just a few words? I could recall years back when I began dancing, thinking about that terrible subject. For me, getting old was something to be kept hidden--something I had learned from my mother. I was instructed to never, ever divulge my mother's age, almost upon penalty of death. And later, when I was myself older, my mother didn't want me to make my own age public for fear it would cast her in too old a light. But for a dancer, getting old means that inescapable fate--having to stop dancing, and this at a time when most people are just getting truly settled in their professions. Life shouldn't stop at around 40, but for dancers this is a fact of life. The majority of dancers, in an attempt to obscure the reality, push this theme to some faraway corner of the brain. With each successive injury, keeping this beast at bay becomes ever more difficult.
I recall reading about animals in the wild that hide sickness or injury in order to survive: A limping gazelle shines like a McDonald's sign to a lion. Dancers can really be like animals, afraid of showing an injury or a decreasing ability. It's a survival instinct. How many ways have been invented to cover up weakness: bulky clothes to hide increasing bulges, reserved and elegant poise as a substitute for lack of energy and attack, levity as a distraction from the bitter reality.
Throughout a career, you encounter many older dancers and watch senior colleagues retire. But you're different. The reality is barely recognized, let alone accepted--and then comes the first injury that isn't better the following day....
So, there I was, confronting oblivion. A dancer's life is to a great extent sheltered, especially if one has been associated with one of the large companies. Being in the Stuttgart Ballet required little contact with the outside world. You did class and rehearsals. Kantine food was passable, and after work, there was just enough energy to make it home and go to bed. Ninety percent of our waking hours were spent in the theater, among ourselves. It wasn't even necessary to learn how to speak German as almost everyone in the theater spoke English. On tour, this dependency was even more intensified; we used to joke in the airports, pretending we were sheep, bleating as we waited for someone to tell us where to go. Now, I was to be cut off from the herd. Life as I had known it was a thing of the past. Is there a future after dance?
See Special Section on page 46 -- Editor
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|Date:||Nov 1, 2001|
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