Guest Blog – Sara Dos Santos

Graduation 2021 – No ceremony but still celebrating

January 2021 was supposed to be my graduation month. A day where I would walk across the stage and shake hands with the chancellor and receive my certificate. A day where the family gathered, we’d take pictures and mum would say, “I’m proud of you child”—a day of celebrations, food, drinks and a little laughter.


So, like 99.9% of all class of 2020 graduates, we’ve had to improvise and find new ways of celebrating our achievements. Whether that’s been digital dinners, same household parties or bubble extravaganzas, we’ve found ways of adapting and unofficially commemorate how far we’ve come.

In my previous blog, The Morning After the Night Before, I spoke about the aftermath of post-dissertation blues and the toll it took on my mental health. Today, I’m proud to say, I’m (semi) back on my feet, (after all, we are still navigating the creative and cultural sector while in a global pandemic). But, following a few therapy sessions, lots of rest, prayer, wine and beautiful friends who intentionally celebrated me and my achievements. It’s rewarding to look back and see how far I’ve come.

On this day, I stand before you with a Masters in Culture Policy, Relations and Diplomacy.

The last two years of part-time study, while freelancing and navigating global chaos, was made a little easier through the support of Dancer’s Career Development and Equity Charitable Trust.

I stumbled upon Dancer’s Career Development (DCD) several years ago, during a One Dance UK conference held at Trinity Laban.

I attended because a role model of mine, Ingrid MacKinnon – an artist and co-founder of Movespace, participated in one of their panel discussions.

I remember listening to the panellists talk about their transition stories and an overwhelming sense of relatable relief engulfed me. It was incredibly impactful to hear of how others overcame, how they dealt with insecurities and where they went to seek help.

Long story short, I got in touch with DCD, attended their EVOLVE workshop(s), had one-to-one sessions with Isabel Mortimer and went to a few other events, which eventually led me to apply for a retraining grant.

The financial support received by DCD offered me a moment to breathe and confidence in my new research area. Not only because someone else believed in me, but also because they were willing to invest in my future – this was paramount for me and propelled me forward with a spring in my step.

I crossed paths with the Equity Charitable Trust (ECT), through DCD. They additionally support “industry professionals with educational grants to retrain, re-qualify and obtain valuable new skillsets for those wanting to leave the profession or develop a second income stream.” They offer welfare grants, retraining grants and during the pandemic, COVID-19 support.

The financial support received by ECT during my second year of study was invaluable. Particularly as work was tentative, school deadlines approaching, and continuous academic research was of the essence. I’m extremely grateful for their support.

To all current students navigating the virtual learning world – you are not alone.

To all professionals looking to retrain and try something new – there’s lots of support out there – reach out, don’t go at it alone.

To everyone else – WE GOT THIS!

“Here’s to a future that demands us not to give up and offers us a chance to adapt, unlearn to relearn, step out of our comfort zone and build each other up!”

Sara Dos Santos

An Invitation To Be

DCD’s Executive Director – Jennifer Curry – invites dancers to approach January gently.

At the start of a new year, many of us look to set new resolutions. What will we do differently in 2021? These tend to focus on what didn’t happen or go well in the previous year.  

This year, I am focusing on intention. Intentions allow compassion, for ourselves and for others. Intentions are not fixed, but can flex depending on where we are at that time. Intentions allow us to focus on moment by moment, day by day. 

I am reminded of the quote by author Cheryl Strayed:

“You don’t have to move fast or far. You can go just an inch.

You can mark your progress breath by breath” 

Breath by breath.  

When we think about career development and future goals, we don’t have to have it all figured out straight away. We can pause, listen in and set small intentions that might help us move forward. Just an inch.  

One conversation, one connection, one opportunity to hear from a new voice, can be a gentle start.  

No pressure to ‘know’ or ‘do’ just an invitation to ‘be’.  

This is all we invite you to do through  DCD’s one to one conversations, personal and career coaching and EVOLVE and ACT3 workshops – all free of charge, online and open to all dancers in the UK. Click here for more:

Breath by breath.  

Guest Blog: Part time student, full time dancer

Isabella Gasparini is a Soloist with The Royal Ballet, a role she combines with studying for a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing at The Open University. Here, she shares a unique insight into her journey as a part time student and full time dancer. 


What will I do when my dancing career is over? It would be natural for anyone who knows me to think that I would follow my mother’s footsteps, taking over her ballet school. A destiny plotted by inheritance, but it is not quite so simple. I always imagined that when I retired, I would go on to do something entirely different. Perhaps when I was younger, I saw it as an escape from the responsibilities of directing a school, but I think that what I’ve always really wanted was to find out what life would have been like had I not found ballet, if I had pursued other interests.

When we were twelve years old, me and my cousin Luiza collaborated on a few editions of our own newspaper ‘O que rolou por aí’, an account on the latest happenings in Atibaia: Christmas preparations, family gossip, June party and Carnival. We did all the detective work, typed our notes in my dad’s computer, printed out page after page of the ‘breaking news!’ and sold the leaflet for one real to any family member or friend in the vicinity. We fantasised on becoming writers or journalists, and we were quite good at it!

Carnival in Atibaia – (from left to right) Mayra, Luiza, me and Leo. Partners in crime.

A lot of dancers feel at a loss when they try to imagine a future outside dance. I feel very fortunate to have an interest in developing other aspects of my being, a desire to open up my horizons! Having spent my childhood in Brazil, attending a normal school and growing up in a nurturing home, I kept myself in contact with the ‘real world’. There are kids who join boarding school at eleven years old, where ballet becomes their identity. It is quite hard to picture yourself doing anything else when dance is all you have ever known, all you have focused on your entire life.

I would have never jeopardised my dancing career to pursue a curiosity for literature and writing, but I knew it was always something I could turn to. It got me thinking… what could I actually achieve with loving books? Would I even have the skills, imagination, the knowledge to become a writer? How to find out? I later discovered that there was, in fact, a way I could dip my toe in the water without letting go of my dancing dreams. I also discovered that it was o.k. for us to feel afraid and anxious about life beyond dance, and that we in fact had a strong support system to guide us through that transition.

My love for ballet always spoke louder than anything else.

Right at the start of my first week with Northern Ballet, I was introduced to the DCD: Dancers’ Career Development. I was puzzled at first as to what that even meant. Career development? Transitioning?! Sitting crossed legged in the studio, with pen and paper in hand, I took note of what this was about: an organization that would help dancers, not just me but all company members in the room, to retrain and transition into alternative professions after retiring from performance, by offering guidance and financial support. At the time, my life as a dancer had only just begun! Thinking about starting something new was out of the picture, but a little seed had been planted.

The DCD is the only organization of their kind in the United Kingdom. I never knew how grateful I’d feel one day to have this amazing resource. When this crazy urge to study became too loud to ignore, I knew exactly who to turn to. By the time I felt ready to commit to it, the years had gone by and I became eligible for their partner company retraining grant. To apply for it, you must have been a professional dancer for at least eight years, five of those being with either Northern Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Scottish Ballet, Rambert, or The Royal Ballet. There is also the opportunity for independent dancers to qualify for a retraining grant; details can be found on the DCD website.

Besides, one must show a genuine interest in whatever you have chosen to pursue as a possible long-term career path, and propose a realistic retraining plan (research, select a course, explain why you think it is suitable for you). After sending all the papers, with proposals and a personal statement and sitting face-to face with one of their team, my application for support was accepted! This was the encouragement I needed to follow through with my study plans.

Sonatina, The Royal Ballet, 2017. © ROH

Applying for university wasn’t an idea that came to me on the spur of the moment. It took me years to gather courage, to understand that there was no harm in trying. I hardly remembered what it was like to be a student, to write in academic English, but I never let go of my interest in learning. Even when joining the National Ballet School, I took academic lessons very seriously. But the good grades have always been reflective of my determination and hard work, I believe, and not so much of a high intellect. Now at university level, I prayed that hard work would suffice.

I enrolled at the Open University knowing that I would have to sacrifice a lot of free time. Whenever I take on a new challenge, it is everything or nothing, but this time I gave myself permission to try it out, see how I could accommodate a distance learning course having a full time job (and one that is quite demanding).

The Open University has an online platform called OpenLearn where you can explore a wide range of topics and subjects, study free courses, and get acquainted with student life. This is where I’d start looking. After trying out some free courses through FutureLearn, I found out about the Open University distance learning scheme.

I was looking for a general idea of all arts subjects, something of a foundation, without realising that no matter what specification I chose, whether it was literature or writing or classical studies, I would have started out with the same module: The arts past and present (now called Discovering the arts and humanities). It would introduce me to a wide range of subjects, from music to religion, literature, philosophy. I chose this module and one other (Voices, texts, and material culture) to receive a Certificate of Higher Education in the Arts and Humanities. It was a two-year course (long-distance) which could be counted towards a higher degree.

Reading through each course prospectus will give you an idea of what to expect, as each module will be presented with its key features. Besides learning a range of subjects related to the arts, I wanted to refine my ability to argument and analyze, to sharpen up my writing skills, and communicate with clarity and confidence. Upon receiving my certificate in July 2019, I phoned up the university and transferred my credits to a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing. I chose to use the momentum to continue on, committing to another four years of distance learning.

Managing Dance and Study

The Open University has a pretty straight forward system to help you with time management. Every module is broken down into study weeks. When you start a course, you’ll have a Student Homepage, where you find access to a study planner – a detailed week-by-week schedule – with the number of minutes or hours required for each task.

I try to do most of my studying during work hours, incorporating it into my ballet schedule. Whenever I get a long break, I take my backpack and go out to a cafe or down the Opera House stairs to my favourite corner of the canteen, and start working on my essays. It could be a three-hour gap in between rehearsals, or the hours leading up to a performance, these are productive hours.

Dancers hate waiting around to go onstage for the very last act of a ballet, but I’ve made the most of hanging around in the theatre. I fill it up with university readings, essay planning and editing. I choose what to work on very carefully to make sure it won’t pull my focus away from the performance, but I find that it actually helps me get rid of any worries or anxiety.

If I had to spend all weekend absorbed in my books, I’d feel very guilty. Sundays are sacred, for resting and recovering. I try to stick to working over short periods during the week, which means that these days I hardly spend any idle time in the changing room or reading a nice book for pleasure. My trips to coffee shops became working hours. It is the price I have to pay.

If I’m very busy with shows and rehearsals, I skim read over some chapters just to get a general overview of the material and focus on the marked assignments. Being selective has helped me stay on track and not fall behind on the study planner, especially last year when studying Literature at stage 2, where I had a lot more reading and analysis to do.

My study desk in Neals Yard.

Distance Learning with the OU

On your Student homepage, you find a weekly planner with a very thorough outline and due dates of assignments, online or face-to-face tutorials, and student forums. The university uses a combination of online and printed materials, and a mixture of reading, videos and audios, all accessed via the internet.

I’ve submitted all assignments online. Naturally, you might be assessed differently depending on the course. I’ve had five or six tutor-marked assignments each year, and an exam at the end of my second year. I’ve never been so nervous. It took place in this massive hall, Harry Potter style, a big clock counting the time, where hundreds of students sat at their desks and wrote frantically for what felt like ten hours. I must confess it wasn’t my greatest performance, but I passed.

The most exciting part of my first year as a student was attending face-to-face tutorials, but these are sadly becoming a less significant part of OU studying, for obvious reasons. Just seating in a classroom and conversing with different people, of all ages and backgrounds, was a whole new experience, one that proved to me it is never too late to go back to school, to learn something new.

Books I read for my literature module

My first tutor was very passionate about teaching and meeting her face-to-face was quite amazing. She made the classes very fun and informative. Last year’s tutor was a musician and arts critique. Coincidentally, she would always do trips to the theatre. We met over a glass of wine at the Royal Opera House. It was with the greatest relief that I entered stage 2 of university knowing that my tutor was someone I could approach easily, who knew and understood what it means to be a ballerina and lead a crazy life.

Neopolitan with James Hay, Swan Lake. © ROH

Reaping the benefits

My first two years at university made me appreciate all art forms and their interdisciplinary qualities. I saw how valuable they all are in our understanding of humanity. I made day trips to art galleries and museums around London as research projects for my essays, something I would never have set time aside for. I learned about different cultures and artefacts, watched a whole BBC programme/documentary called Civilisations, went on literary talks and discovered The Literature Festival, attended a Christmas concert as preparation for my essay on Handel’s Messiah, and even wrote a short story.

Moving on to stage 2 was a step up from the fun museum trips, but it was a gradual and continuous progress. Studying literature has given me great insight into the world of books, the one I have appreciated since childhood, and made me aware of the different techniques that writers utilise to make their story so magical. I became a fan of Thomas Hardy and Edith Wharton, and one of my favourite works was writing about Arundhaty Roy’s The God of Small Things. I hope these blogs have kept my writing skills sharp and imagination going throughout this lockdown period, as I’m about to start a Creative Writing module this October.

My personal life has been enriched by my studies, and so has my professional life. It has made me appreciate dance even more, all that it has taught me, and the many years of dancing that lay ahead. I was thinking about my future when I decided to apply for university, but what I really needed was to get out of my comfort zone, to get my mind exposed to new concepts, new ideas.

Ideas rarely come from nothing. We stimulate our brains to come up with ideas when we learn new things or when we rehearse the things we are learning. They come not from sitting around and waiting for inspiration to descend, but from working: trying things out, reading, learning and doing.

The School of Life – Philippa Perry

Dancers are very skilful human beings, something we always hear from the DCD team. We are determined, persistent, hardworking, disciplined, responsible, creative, we have countless transferable skills to be used in any other profession. All we need is not be afraid to discover ourselves and our potential.


It is never too late to learn, never too late to set new goals and ambitions.


Q&A with Interim Support and Programmes Officer, Lucy Glover

We are delighted to Welcome Lucy Glover to DCD as Interim Support and Programmes Officer.

Tell us about yourself and your background in dance? Where did you train? What drew you to the profession?

I started dancing at the age of six, at the Madelaine Kelly School of Dancing where I took Ballet, Tap and Modern ISTD/RAD dance classes. I also convinced my teacher to offer GCSE and A level Dance so that I could take it. This is how I was introduced to Contemporary dance which is where I really found myself, my passion and my home. I became a member of SHIFT youth dance company at The Place. I was then lucky enough to be accepted on to the BA Dance Theatre course at Trinity Laban. I remember telling myself if I hadn’t been able to do a vocational dance degree I would have gone into conservation work, so this really did change the course of my life..

Where have you worked prior to joining DCD? What did you learn and enjoy in your recent roles?

Once I graduated I had an opportunity to work at Dance UK (now One Dance UK) It was here in the role of Administrator that I learned about myself that I enjoyed so much more supporting artists and the dance ecology than being in the competitive audition room. I was never going to be the best dancer, but I could be the best person to help others achieve their goals.

I have had a really varied career working for all genres of dance and some non-dance companies including IdeasTap, Big Dance 2014, Boy Blue, Second Hand Dance. I built a portfolio career working across events and project management sometimes freelance and sometimes not. I am incredibly humbled to have worked for two of my all-time favourite dance companies – Michael Clark Company and Studio Wayne McGregor.

What are you looking forward to in your new role at DCD?

And now I’m super excited to be working with the DCD team! What I’ll most be looking forward to in this role is using my skills in a totally different way. Working in a support driven environment again. It’s a special experience to be a part of dancers journey and at such a unique time in our lives it really feels like important work.

Photo by Camilla Greenwell

“Dance gave me an endurance that is unique”

We are delighted to welcome Simone Muller Lotz to the role of Interim Dancer Support and Programmes Officer at DCD, a role dedicated to supporting independent dancers in beginning and navigating career transition.

As a former professional dancer, Simone brings a huge wealth of experience, knowledge and empathy to her work at DCD.

Simone shares how DCD brings so many elements of her personal and professional life together.

Tell us about your early years as a dancer

I was born in South Africa and left home at 14 to train in the UK. I began at Elmhurst Ballet School, and went to the Royal Ballet Upper School at 16. I then joined Ballet Central and on graduating joined Northern Ballet.
I had a serious ankle injury and returned to South Africa to have an operation, which fortunately allowed me to continue.
I joined Cape Town City Ballet and was with the company for 5 years and performed in a wide repertoire. I then moved into contemporary dance and worked with the Cape Dance Company, before returning to the UK in 2012. In London I worked with Shobana Jeyasingh and Hubert Essakow.
Simone performing in 2013 with Mbulelo Ndabeni
Could you share a few insights from your own career transition?
In my dance training I had 2 very serious injuries and both had meant being off dancing for a year. As it happened I didn’t get injured much in the rest of my career, but those early experiences of the very real possibility of not being able to continue always stayed with me.
When I was off after my ankle operation, I decided to do a Psychology degree and also trained as a Pilates instructor. When my ankle healed I got a contract with Cape Town City Ballet but continued my degree via distance learning. It took about 8 years as I couldn’t do the full amount of courses each semester with working full time, but I eventually got a postgraduate Honours degree. I also taught Pilates in the evenings after rehearsals so managed to keep a foot in the Pilates world.
I think I am at my most happiest when I am doing many different things. I thrived when I was growing not only in the studio, but also outside it, and that has definitely helped in the numerous transitions I have taken. I think that in leaving home so young to train, I learned how to push through discomfort, and keep working until I could do what I needed to. In many ways I find this true in all the other things I’ve done outside the studio too. 
When I had my first child I was very ready to make a new life. I had found the instability of being an independent dancer tough, and craved some stability and consistency in my professional life. I was entirely immersed in motherhood and quite quickly made the transition into focusing on pre and post natal Pilates. I took further training before I had my daughter and since then have specialised in postnatal rehabilitation, which has been incredibly rewarding. I knew I didn’t want to dance any more after having children, but in still working with my body, it allowed me to stay grounded in something I have known for most of my life.
When I first thought about transition, I had an idea that I would need to forget about doing anything physical, and that felt incredibly daunting. Although I had studied and taught, my real place of familiarity was in a studio and on a stage. Entirely removing myself from everything I had known filled me with fear.
Saying that, as time has gone by I now quite enjoy doing things where I can draw on my mind rather than my physicality. I can see that in following what my heart was telling me about where I was in terms of pushing that boundary of comfort and challenge was really important. Things that felt too far a stretch when I started my transition now feel quite comfortable, which has clearly shown me what a process it is. In uncovering my path, I’ve needed to be patient with myself. Dance gave me an endurance that is very unique, and in time I’ve been able to push for more and more new possibilities.
You are managing a portfolio career of teaching, combined with your role at DCD and parenthood, how do you find this?
Throw in a pandemic with kids at home, add a yoga teacher training and then you can truly experience a juggling act!
There are times when it has been really tricky to divide myself into so many roles, but it has also been incredible to feel challenged. Being a mum has changed my professional life dramatically, but I would say for the better.
I think dance gives you a very useful skill of keeping at it, and getting the job done. 
What do you enjoy about your role at DCD?
I love how resilient dancers are, and I love seeing eyes light up in conversations about new possibilities. I am also really enjoying how many aspects of my life; my dance career both as a company and independent dancer, my psychology degree and teaching experience have somehow come together in this role in quite a seamless way.
I am now able to help dancers in a formal capacity and it feels incredibly special to be able to do that. 

The role of Dancer Support and Programmes Officer for the independent sector is kindly supported by The Linbury Trust.