Our Stories - Tim Cross

Tim Cross danced with the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet for 15 years. In 2009, DCD support Tim to make the transition into a career as a dance and theatre photographer. This case study is taken from Tim's talk which took place at an international dancer career transition conference which took place in Prague on Monday 10th November 2014.

Tim has kindly taken photographs of our Company Visits and EVOLVE Leeds Workshop, as well as being a host on the EMERGE Shadowing Programme. Visit Tim's website.

"I danced with SWRB and BRB for 15 years and had a relatively successful and very enjoyable career. I was promoted through the ranks reaching the position of Senior Soloist, performed a wide variety of interesting roles and toured extensively throughout the UK and abroad - life was good.

Like most dancers, as I approached my thirties my career began to naturally plateau as my body started to wear out. And as my repertoire became more repetitive and character-based I became increasingly aware of the need to start preparing for life after dance.

I knew of DCD and had attended their talks and meetings, read their literature and was aware that they offered non-judgemental advice and assistance to dancers. But I decided that I didn't require their help just yet, and would not approach them until I had fully-formulated plan with which to put before them. My refusal to admit (probably to myself) that I was having difficulty in planning my future compounded an already stressful time in any dancer's life.

Most of the dancers that I knew had succeeded in their careers through hard work, single minded determination and varying amounts of luck. By achieving a career in a dance company we had all excelled in a particularly narrow field of excellence - so to have to press reset and try to replicate that in another field of work seemed somewhat daunting.

Throughout my dancing career I had considered myself to be confident, relatively bright and most importantly happy. The enormity of a change in career reversed all of those positive and necessary traits - and I discovered how fragile my confidence was. It was a shock to realise that the confidence that I had once possessed was not so much an innate self-confidence but one based on the stability, security and achievements of my position within a dance company.

Like many of my colleagues I had begun training from an early age and had known little else. Everything about dance and subsequently company life had become so familiar, so constant and stable that the withdrawal from that bubble was quite a culture shock.

As I stalled and denied the precarious position that I found myself in the elephant in the room remained. Within arms reach of me was DCD, an organisation seemingly tailored for people almost exactly like myself - dancers who were wrestling with anxiety, pride and denial of their impending retirement from the safe and secure environment of a dance company.

I had many pastimes and hobbies outside of the dance world - I enjoyed scuba-diving, motorcycles, computers, travel and photography, and had even spent considerable time with a professional dance photographer who had kindly discussed his work and career in photography. But back in the late 90's photography was still very much film-based and the notion of achieving success in it seemed so far out of reach to me that I shelved the idea of ever becoming a dance photographer.

Most dancers have an idea of when retirement may become necessary and I had assumed the age of 35 would be an appropriate cut-off point, and sure enough as I approached that age it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. As the months rolled by my ability to think and function rationally became more and more adversely affected. My sense of panic and failure at not being able to choose a career was heightened by those around me who seemed to be charging ahead with exciting plans of their new careers, whilst I deflected questions of my next move with typical humour and brevity.

And so in 2003 at the age of 35 I announced that I was retiring and left abruptly - to nothing. No job, no plans, and with little sense of what I was doing. I decided that what I needed was time out and embarked on a year of thrill-seeking - flying, sky-diving, sports bikes, scuba-diving, climbing - anything in fact that released endorphins and gave me a sense of feeling alive.

But after a year of literally risking life and limb I was financially broke, low and confused. Somehow through a long application process I landed a position with the West Midlands Police in their Scenes of Crime Department and for a year I photographed crime scenes, dusted for prints, swabbed for DNA, taped for fibres and retrieved various unwholesome objects. Far from being the fast paced, high velocity action that is usually portrayed in dramas - it was on the contrary methodical, repetitive, high-risk and somewhat disheartening to witness the chaotic and disturbing reality of criminality in large urban environments - so after a year I resigned.

A stint as a salesman selling business signage confirmed my suspicions that I wasn't going to win Salesman of the Year anytime soon - so after only 4 weeks I resigned from that also!

I studied Sports Massage, took a massage therapy course and set myself up as a freelance massage therapist treating amateur sportsmen and women. It paid very well, I was finally my own boss and it grew quickly to be successful. As my client base grew so did my clients - literally. I had started with dancers and other 'regular-sized' people but before long was treating rugby players, female body builders, weight-lifters and the occasional masochist. But unfortunately the physical toll on my body, especially my hands meant that this was not going to be a good choice for a long term career.

I was living hand to mouth, jumping from one job to another just to earn enough money to pay my mortgage and bills but felt as though I was treading water.

I then began working with the elderly and disabled/disadvantaged young adults, providing exercise and entertainment within care homes and care facilities. I found this position to be hugely personally rewarding, enjoyable and reasonably paid but rather linear and with little chance of progression.

And then in 2008 I seriously damaged my ankle, snapping an achilles tendon which halted everything and I was forced to lay up in plaster for over two months. As I recuperated and reflected on the last few years of chaos, financial difficulty and menial jobs I thought back to my passion for photography.

I looked into digital photography and was astounded at the advanced that had been made whilst I had been singing with old ladies, massaging weight-lifters and cold-calling businesses.

I tentatively approached DCD assuming that I had left it too late, who recommended that I come in immediately for a meeting and discuss my thoughts and plans with them. With their encouragement, the photographers that they put me in touch with and other ex-dancers that I was able to speak to, I found myself surrounded by people who understood where I had been, where I was and most importantly what I could be. They encouraged me to pursue my long-held desire to become a photographer.

And so within six months of that initial meeting with DCD I was set-up and ready to start as a Professional Dance Photographer. This time it felt different - it felt as though I was in charge of events and not the other way round. I had the backing of DCD - an organisation whose sole purpose was to support and assist me.

I do accept that had I requested their help earlier whilst still dancing I probably would have had a smoother career transition, but I wouldn't change a thing. I look back and am amazed that even though I made some very poor decisions and took the 'long way round' DCD were still able able to steer me back to something that I love. And it proved to me the importance of an organisation such as DCD to provide a safety net for dancers that might slip away from dance without having an opportunity to fulfil their true potential.

There is no doubt in my mind that without DCD's input, their encouragement, knowledge, network of ex-dancers and financial help, that I would have been able to achieve what I have, and for that I will be forever grateful."

You can support a dancer like Tim to navigate career transition through the boundless appeal.

To find out more about how we can help you, please contact Ellen Chambers, Grants and Careers Officer on ellen@thedcd.org.uk or 020 7831 1449.

You can support a dancer like Tim to navigate career transition through the boundless appeal