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.

BUT COVID!

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

“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.

Life in Lockdown – A unique view from dancer Mariana Rodrigues

Mariana Rodrigues is a Coryphée with DCD Partner Company Northern Ballet and a DCD REACH Ambassador:

 

“To all the dancers out there, I feel you.

We miss our daily routine, the high of performing, standing next to your mates at the barre, the freedom of moving through space without hitting the furniture…but we are doing our part by staying home. Being aware of the impact of this pandemic in people’s lives, I understand the bigger picture and take the time to connect to the world through a different lens. I stay at home and feel grateful for all the people out there working day and night to keep us safe. I feel for others that are sick and for their families. It is hard not to worry or be overcome with sadness sometimes. But I am grateful for the human capacity to adapt, and smile as I look through my feed and see our art form still alive and expressing itself in the form of online content, taking creative forms it never had before.

My personal journey is a little different since a month prior to lockdown I was still off injured with a metatarsal fracture. So in some way I already had gone through the sadness of not dancing and performing, but also of not being able to walk everywhere I wanted, because of being on crutches. The thing is, it’s not easy, and some days are going to be hard.

But as I started opening up to the experience I learned some really important things:

Take the stressful and not so nice aspects of our jobs away, and an opportunity comes to be reminded of the beautiful things in it. Since I have started exercising and doing barre again, I appreciate it so much more. I have realised that the main reason I enjoy dancing is because it makes me feel connected to my body, my whole being and also something greater than myself. So when my brain starts judging how much stiffer my arabesque looks, I shift my focus to how good it is to feel my whole body moving again.

I am also appreciating the gift of time. Time to discover who I am outside of dance and time to connect with other interests and passions. Being a creative person I struggled initially when I forced things to happen and decisions to be made. I must use this time to do a course! I must know exactly what my next career will be! I saw a pattern in the thoughts inside my head and remembered something I had learned in a coaching session. I was caught up in all the “musts” and was leaving the “wants” behind. With that in mind, I shifted my focus and started researching courses and careers without pressure. Even if it hasn’t lead anywhere concrete so far, I am now seeking new things without the extra pressure of having to make decisions right away and learning to be OK with not being sure of what I want to do yet.

Having had coaching sessions has helped me immensely and I really recommend them if you are choosing to navigate this territory, and feel like you need a bit of support. Every time I have come out of a session I have felt so much more connected with my passions and with who I am. I have also left equipped with resources and a clear action plan to support my goals. I am still working on what we discussed in my previous session, but once I am done, I will definitely be booking myself another one.

Lastly, I wanted to finish by saying that, if you are like me, you might just be feeling like you are not helping and contributing enough. Teaching a class, calling friends of family, checking on your neighbours, posting creative content for people to watch at home…all of those things bring positivity into people’s lives and we shouldn’t underestimate their effect.

So let’s keep giving, let’s keep moving, let’s keep connecting with ourselves and others and let’s keep learning.

A big virtual hug to you all.”

To find out how DCD can help support you, including Personal and Career Coaching which we are offering for free to all UK professional dancers over April May and June, click here.

Creating Space in 2020

There are many positives to creating space.

Creating space in our lives can allow us to think freely and energise us for whatever is to come. It can empower us to notice new things or to come back to our intentions – settling into ourselves and noticing our own voice. Creating space for you gives you time to reflect on where you are on your journey and perhaps your next steps.

Generating this time for ourselves can be difficult. It may seem unimportant and automatically fall to the bottom of the list as you respond to the needs of others. But creating space for you can lead to powerful moments.

All of DCD’s programmes offer the opportunity to create space for you in some way.

Through our one to one conversations or Coaching sessions you are allowing yourself time for you.

EVOLVE workshops also offer the opportunity to invest in yourself and perhaps find out something new.

As we start the beginning of a new year and a new decade, DCD invites you to create some space for yourself and connect with us through one of our national programmes, so that you may move forward positively, whatever that looks like for you.

Discover something new about yourself and click here to sign up for EVOLVE Edinburgh – 22 March 2020

Explore the positive changes you may want to make in your life or career – click here to register for Coaching.

A conversation with DCD can help you find clarity about your next step – click here to register for a confidential one to one conversation.

EVOLVE your skills set

This Autumn DCD are excited to be introducing a brand new feature to our EVOLVE workshops, practical sessions on how to identify your strengths and transferable skills.

A common term, a transferable skill is an ability or skill you have developed in one part of your career or life, that could be used in another part, whether that’s skills developed from parenting experience for example, or working as a performance artist.

A professional dance career results in hugely valuable skills, that can at times be taken for granted by dance artists.

Skills such as resilience, self-discipline, self-motivation and commitment are critical to success in any field of work, whether you are moving on from a performance career to work for an employer or to run your own business.

Most careers will need the attributes of hard work, willingness to learn and take feedback, an artistic eye or creativity, the art of collaboration etc.

These are skills dancers inherently possess. Where you might feel there are gaps in your skills set for a particular future career path, there are a myriad of ways you could potentially develop these while you’re still dancing – from volunteering on a team, to offering to coordinate a project to develop the skill of collaborating or project managing, for example.

So what are YOUR transferable skills? At DCD’s EVOLVE workshop, we will take you through exercises to help you identify these for yourself, practically enabling you to highlight these skills on a CV or in job interviews in the future.

Register now! thedcd.org.uk/evolve

10 years on: Learnings from my career journey

Last Autumn, I had the honour of giving the alumna speech at the University of Lincoln graduation ceremony.

I never thought I would have the privilege of addressing those accomplished graduates sitting before me, as I sat myself 10 years ago, when I graduated with my BA (Hons) in Drama.

In fact, there are many things I couldn’t have imagined!

I never could have imagined the excitement of moving to London and learning arts administration at Freshwater Theatre Company; then later, working in arts and mental health at Squeaky Gate; and now supporting professional dancers move into their post-performance careers at DCD. I never thought I would become a trustee of Moving Assembly Project; or that I would become a certified personal and career development coach and start my own business supporting people from all walks of life to achieve their potential.

And here is what all those experiences have taught me:

The scope of what you can do with your skills is exceptionally broad.

When I left university, I didn’t have a solid plan or goal in place, other than a determination to move to London and establish a career in the arts. And yet I have done things that I never thought I could and have worked in roles that I never even knew existed.

An Arts degree and working in the arts equips us with unique skills including imagination, creative thinking and courage. Not everyone possesses this, so make the most of it.

I have learned the importance of taking the time to get to know yourself really well – what motivates you and excites you as an individual. I have worked one-to-one with around 700 people, and no two of them are the same. They all have entirely unique stories to tell. I believe in the value of not comparing myself to anyone else, being true to myself.

And finally, to always follow my heart. To seek and take opportunities to grow. To be brave and embrace the challenges. To remember to celebrate my successes. And most of all, to do what makes me happy.

When I was at school, my father told me: you are at work a long time, so do something that you love. I have always and continue to make my career decisions based on this advice, and I’d encourage you to do the same.

You can watch my speech by clicking here.

The Truth About Change

Actress turned writer and entrepreneur Felicia Ricci gave a TED Talk (watch it here), speaking about being ‘racked with doubt’ when making the decision to move away from her professional and lifelong dream of acting.

When dancers come to talk to DCD about what direction their lives will take after a professional performance career, they so often express the same anxiety and doubts – they can be unsure of the next step, whether it will be a success, whether it is the right move.

I myself am currently going through a significant life change – a major lifestyle choice I decided to make that affects my career, my family, my home. It fills me with excitement as well as doubt.

Whatever the major shifts we make in our lives, nothing ever really prepares us for the unexpected challenges that go along with those changes, despite the best laid plans.

That’s part of the thrill and also part of what can hold us back from taking that first step in making the change we want to make in our lives.

What if after making this change, I change my mind? What will everyone think? Will I have failed?

These are natural thoughts, and it is important to give them space and acknowledge them.

So that first idea of career change wasn’t THE one after all – that’s OK (it often isn’t). You changed your mind, after really putting your all into it – that’s fine.

We try new things. We succeed. We fail. We grow.

More often than not it will not be easy and there will be many surprises (both good and less so) along the way, as I have personally found. What is important is to be open to new experiences, to try new things, to give yourself the time you need to adapt to the changes in your life and career.

Change is scary, but try to take that first step. If it seems daunting, DCD’s coaching support for dancers can help you find a way to put your ideas into action.

DCD is here at any stage and any time to help support professional dancers through that journey.

 

Find out more about coaching here or email dancers@thedcd.org.uk to register for our forthcoming EVOLVE workshops – a full day workshop for professional dancers exploring life after a dance career.