Transitioning into Leadership

Amazing things happen when you bring dancers together into a room and let them talk. The realisation that they are not alone spreads across their faces, an openness and shared understanding occurs and hope and inspiration fills the room.

Our panel discussion on Transitioning into Leadership at the One Dance UK Conference in Leeds last month was no different.

The diverse range of DCD supported speakers, from Kenneth Tindall (Resident Choreographer and Director of Digital at Northern Ballet), Sharon Watson (Artistic Director, Phoenix Dance Theatre) to Emma Clayton (independent artist and lecturer), Sandrine Monin (independent choreographer) and Beverley Spencer (BA in Journalism student) demonstrated that leadership comes in many forms and is a hugely personal journey.

One thing that really struck me as the room filled with questions and inspiring advice and ideas, was the need for support between leaders. Something special happened when they were able to speak about the challenges they face with others in the same position, who could relate to their experience and offer support. Although it wasn’t the initial focus of the session, it felt like a strong outcome that those involved had been able to be honest and authentic about their leadership stories.

This, I feel, is a vital lesson for anyone looking to transition into leadership: you will never have all the answers, and you should not have to pretend that you do. No one can pour from an empty cup. Be honest and ask for the support you need.


Inspired by Sue Hoyle and her fabulous article on the risk of burnout for arts leaders: click here to read it.

Olympic athlete announces her retirement – so what comes next?

Today athlete Samantha Murray, the London 2012 silver medallist, announced her retirement from modern pentathlon, at the age of 29.

Murray told BBC Sport “it’s been really hard and taken me over a year to make my mind up”.

For both professional athletes and dance artists, the transition to a new career is paved with physical, emotional and financial challenges. It is a shared experience almost unique to elite performers.

Throughout her training and early career, Murray was encouraged to pursue a degree, studying French and politics whilst also working as a waitress.

We actively encourage performers to broaden their horizons during their career. To be curious and explore their other passions, beyond dance.

This is why DCD are excited to be launching ‘Beyond Dance’ a new scheme of world-class mentoring opportunities for dancers, connecting the world of dance and business. The first of its kind in our sector, this scheme is delivered in partnership with Moving Ahead, experts in mentoring for elite athletes.

We’re also proud to support the LEAP initiative (Leading Edge After Performance) – an innovative and collaborative partnership exploring career and life transition issues amongst dancers and athletes.

Murray told BBC Sport that it will “take some time” to find her “next passion” after retirement.

Dancers don’t need to wait until that final performance to begin exploring what could come next. Start now and know that DCD are here to help you evolve into a career beyond performing, whenever the time comes.


See the story on BBC.

What really happens at a DCD EVOLVE workshop?

Attending DCD’s EVOLVE workshop can be a really powerful experience, wherever you are in your dance career.

“You’re not alone in this transition – that is what EVOLVE is all about.” EVOLVE Participant

Meeting dancers from different backgrounds and at different stages, together you’ll hear the Transition Tales from one or two dancers who’ve moved on from their performance careers.  At times emotional, at others humorous, these tales paint very different pictures about the range of routes and approaches dancers take, and their diverse personal experiences of handling the transition.  You’ll get the chance to ask our guests questions too, to deepen your understanding and get fresh perspectives.

Just some of the themes we’ve identified in talks like this in the past have been:  joy; self determination; asking the question ‘Who Am I?’; fear; purpose; instincts; and connections.

And that’s just to start the session.

Most dancers are used to focusing on what they haven’t yet perfected, or what they need to do differently, rather than taking time and space to appraise themselves in a more positive light, and understanding both their strengths and transferable skills.

“It was a great moment to reflect.” EVOLVE Participant

With the expert facilitation of one our DCD coaches, in a confidential and safe space, we take a look back at your careers, personal lives and strengths – identifying some of your proudest moments and what those have taught you.  Our experience tells us that this can be a really powerful (and challenging) exercise for dancers, and can help form the foundations of future CVs and even self confidence.

For those who haven’t yet experienced the power of coaching, during the workshop there’s an opportunity to work individually on an area of your life that you’d like to move forward.  You can keep it 100% confidential, and yet still benefit from our coach’s powerful questions to get you thinking in new ways.

We share some tools and models that help you to understand a bit more about the emotions, reactions and mindsets that can occur during transition – and really importantly, we’ll show you how normal those are.   This is a real eye opening moment for many dancers during this session. Understanding ourselves better can really help navigate the change that’s coming or has even arrived.

You’ll make connections with other dancers and discover the mutual support available to you from them.

And you’ll leave having made a commitment to yourself about one step you can take to move forward.

“Incredible day surrounded by inspiring people, a great experience I will hold on to.” EVOLVE Participant

Some dancers attend EVOLVE more than once in their career or post performance career – life is always changing and evolving and it’s so useful to take time out to reflect, reset and then move forward again. So you’re welcome to come along whether you’re in your first professional job, nearing transition or even several years into a new career.

“All dancers at some stage must transition. It’s tough but DCD offers amazing support and EVOLVE is a fantastic day to realise your capabilities as a dancer and beyond!”  Iain Mackay, DCD supported dancer and former Birmingham Royal Ballet Principal dancer


Click here to register for our next EVOLVE workshop today!


Photo credit: DCD Supported Dancer Rebecca Le Brun @TalbotLeePhotography 

Akram Khan Reflects on Transition

“My transition from a performance career into a non-performance career is a continuous transition, perhaps for another few years until I completely stop performing on stage.”

Akram Khan is preparing to present Xenos at the Edinburgh Festival.

As Xenos marks Akram’s final performances as a dancer in a full-length piece, he recently spoke to DCD reflecting on this final performance, his own transition from a performance career and his thoughts on dancer transition and retraining.

Akram spoke honestly of his awareness of time impacting the body and the importance for dancers to “remain dancers, even when we retire from the stage”. “If I was pushed to give advice”, he told us, “I would say ‘don’t stop moving’.”

So often, dancers dealing with the transition from a professional performance career can feel pressure to go in a certain direction, to find the perfect next career. Akram reflected on this – “it’s very important for dancers to be aware of the choice they make in what they do after a stage career, and I feel it has to be very organic. It’s making the most organic and right choice for you rather than the logical choice, which is sometimes pushed upon you from the way the world works.”

At DCD, we often encourage dancers to think about what else excites you, outside of dance? What gives you joy and energy? Broadening your horizons, pursuing a hobby outside of the studio, can help to deal with the challenges of career transition. “It’s very useful to have something over that timeline, that deadline, where you know that that’s the next journey that you want to step into – that is somehow helping me” Akram explained. “I’m interested in anthropology, in working with film. I’m looking into other areas, which in the past I didn’t because all that I cared about was my body. As I step away from the body I’m becoming more outward looking.


Hear more of Akram Khan’s reflections in this beautiful film, created by DCD supported dancer and now professional film maker Robert Gravenor:



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Photo credit: Jean-Louis Fernandez for Akram Khan Company

Transition – a journey all workers share

I started working for DCD in March 2018. I had spent the previous 7 years, all my working life in fact, working for the Church of England. I was a verger, a rather unique role in the Church which acts as a sort of stage manager. Much like dance this sort of job is often called vocational – it’s something you are called to do. I would go to work in a 17th century grade 1 listed building, put on my black wool cassock and spend my days whizzing around lofty churches.

Before coming to London and starting work as a verger I did an internship with Communitas, the learning arm of Community Union, a successor to the Steel Workers Trade Union. Communitas was established to retrain the huge numbers of people made redundant from the various steel works across Rotherham, Sheffield and Scunthorpe in the early 1990s. Steel workers faced challenges unique to their circumstances – many of them had walked into jobs from leaving school with no qualifications, all of their neighbours worked in the same factory and their whole social lives revolved around the steel industry in one way or another.

However as workers much of their needs were the same as dancers; they drew their identity from their work, it was the only thing that they knew, many had been forced into early retirement through injury and fundamentally when they were made redundant they were left feeling confused and disorientated.

It wasn’t until starting work at DCD that I reflected on both these experiences, my own ongoing transition and those of steel workers in South Yorkshire. The change for me personally was both practical, like not being on my feet all day or no longer having a ‘uniform’ and less tangible, like leaving behind a piece of who I was.

Each person’s individual transition is different but much of the above will be relatable to dancers reaching the end of their performing lives. It can be unsettling and scary at times but DCD is here every step of the way to help dancers undertake one of the biggest changes in their life. All workers, especially those who have dedicated their lives to a vocation, struggle with adjustment and go through a transition at one time or another. However hard changing careers might seem, the thing that I took away from the above is that transition is achievable, rewarding and a shared experience. The one unique thing about dancers is they have DCD at their disposal.

Four Key Questions to Consider in Your Career Transition

I meet many dancers who are at various places across the spectrum below with regard to their career transition:

All are great positions to be – from having no idea – where a myriad of possibilities are open for you to explore, to having some idea – meaning you can start testing out and exploring in more depth, to having so many ideas you don’t know which to choose – meaning you have a luxury of choice and can apply the next level of criteria (whether they be earning potential, speed of training or sheer fulfilment factor.)

I’d encourage every dancer, no matter where you are on this spectrum, to consider four key questions:

1.      What are you most passionate about in life?

2.      What are you particularly good at, or skilled in, beyond dance? Could be teaching, talking to people, understanding the science behind movement, or composing amazing camera shots, could be cooking nutritional foods.

3.      What does the world need, or need more of? From more abstract answers such as ‘compassion and patience’ or ‘fighters for justice’, or more job specific such as ‘great primary teachers’ you will have a view – and there are sites you can check to see which jobs/functions are massively in growth.

4.      What you can be paid for – now?

It can help to draw 4 overlapping circles to help you explore this, to get to the Japanese ‘sweet spot’of ikigai, which roughly translates as ‘reason for being,’ where all four areas intersect.

In a perfect world, we’d all find the sweet spot in the middle, and going through this process can help you to identify a number of different options for your future.

For more information, or help exploring your next steps, book an appointment with a DCD coach by emailing or find out more here.

The Next Generation of Dancers

Four years into running DCD’s Schools and Conservatoires Programme, it’s still fascinating to see the new issues and questions that young dancers bring up in the sessions.

Research shows that the earlier dancers give thought to their life and career post performance, the more successful and positive the transition, and the more fulfilling their lives might be – this is why we run workshops for dance students in their final years of training in schools and conservatoires across the UK.

We recently made our first ever first to The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, delivering sessions to students in each of the three years of study on the BA in Modern Ballet course which is delivered in partnership with DCD Partner Company, Scottish Ballet.

As well as building knowledge of the incredible range of transferable skills that dancers have, and the students’ individual personal qualities, the workshops also give the opportunity to hear about life as a professional dancer and beyond from some of DCD’s supported dancers, in this case Mikah Smillie, Eve Mutso and Araminta Wraith.

One particularly fascinating discussion came around the level of importance of social media presence and profile in getting work as a dancer. Long gone are the days when dancers barely engaged with technology. The internet is now firmly a part of society and indeed the dance studio. It’s a new challenge that’s being faced by the next generation of dancers who have grown up having an online presence, and all the pros and cons that come with that.

The conclusion of the discussion seemed to be that, although social media presence can be useful to increase a dancer’s profile and that of their company, it’s unlikely that they would get work simply through that – and so there’s no substitute for a great audition! Nor for the human contact and personal networks that are naturally built through a career. One piece of advice that almost always comes up from professional dancers to students is: “always be nice, because people want to work with nice people.” Advice that rings trues both during and after a performance career.

Some things never change.



Photo credit: Royal Conservatoire of Scotland