With over two decades of experience in artistic and business disciplines, Jennifer Quent’s professional ballet career began at the age of 17 when she joined American Ballet Theatre.
Jennifer has served as Chief of Staff for Guggenheim Partners’ Quantitative Investment Services group, a machine learning-based, quantitative investment manager, before joining Marcum’s Family Office division where she currently manages and provides a distinguished level of attention to the daily fiscal and lifestyle needs of HNW clients within a Multi-Family Office setting.
We asked Jennifer to reflect upon her career transition.
Jennifer Quent: When I first joined American Ballet Theatre, it felt surreal. Looking back on that moment, I don’t think I fully grasped what I had achieved. Rather quickly, rehearsing at 890 Broadway, performing on the Met stage at Lincoln Center, and touring throughout the world became my routine. I became not only colleagues but also friends with numerous dancers I had only read about in magazines. A mere few years earlier, I was cutting these dancers’ images from publications and pasting them on my wall. Now they were beside me in the locker room, preparing for rehearsal.
Rather quickly, the glamor began to fade for me. While appreciative of an enormous reward for years of dedication to a craft, I began to grow weary of the very life I had thought I wanted. I had achieved my twelve-year-old aspirations and was left wondering what else might be out there to discover in the world. To perform at the highest level, you do have to keep your ballet blinders on. You eat, sleep, and dream ballet. You are constantly perfecting the same steps you began mastering at the age of five or six. I began to consistently catch my mind wandering while in rehearsals, desperately wanting to hold conversations on just about anything but ballet. I vividly recall one evening at the close of a performance during our Metropolitan Opera season. The curtain rose, and the audience cheered, but I was completely devoid of exhilaration. I knew, at that moment, it was time to seriously consider retiring. Not many individuals contemplate retiring at the age of 21. Then again, not many individuals have a full-time job and a New York City apartment before their peers have even graduated high school.
Jennifer: I didn’t foreshadow an early retirement when I first began dancing professionally. My body and soul knew nothing else. I had immersed myself within a craft that pushed me to physical and mental extremes, demanding nothing short of mastery and perfection, yet I still craved it. I suppose my personal maturation process began to kick in a couple of years after I joined ABT. Just as any adolescent would, I began to long for that which I hadn’t experienced. In my mind, there was much left to be discovered. I didn’t leave for injury or a traumatic experience, I simply left because I was intellectually weary and terribly curious to begin studying anything business-related.
Suddenly finding yourself injured, or not capable to meet the physical demands of the sport due to aging, having nothing but your dancing to fall back on should not be the dancer’s standard story.
Jennifer: Throughout my childhood, my idea of fun was sitting in my room, creating new business ideas and implementing the corresponding marketing. The sticker company I created in third grade didn’t prove to be extremely fruitful with my fellow classmates, but my desire for business never diminished. By middle school, I had every intention of pursuing a professional ballet career, which I had the fortune of achieving. Fast-forwarding to my final season with ABT, my desire to pursue a career in business remained strong. I just didn’t know in which direction my studies should take me. I had a strong inclination to become involved with fashion. The merchandising aspect of fashion appealed to me more strongly than design. A short few weeks after I took my last bow on stage while on tour in California with ABT, I found myself walking the campus of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York, excited to begin my next phase of life.
Jennifer: Halfway through my studies at FIT, I switched my major from Fashion Merchandising to Home Product Development, which encompasses products found within your home: furniture to tabletop and everything in between. I was learning about entire worlds I didn’t realize existed from the top professionals within those industries. I took a selling course my sophomore year where I learned business principles I have carried with me throughout my career. However, by my junior year, I didn’t see myself working as a buyer in a showroom. Upon graduation, my life took a dramatic turn. Just as I was preparing to enter the workforce, I ended up having two children and chose to stay at home full time for the next six years.
Jennifer: Throughout my studies at FIT, I worked part-time as an executive assistant for a real estate developer. Then, after early motherhood and my decision to rekindle a new career, I took on the role of executive personal assistant to the CEO of a European e-learning company, managing their US administrative needs. I next spent a number of years at Guggenheim Partners as Chief of Staff for the Quantitative Investment Strategies (QIS) group, a machine-learning-based quant group, before progressing to my current role as manager within the Family Office division at Marcum LLP.
Throughout my professional experience, I have heavily relied on the intense amount of discipline ingrained in me as a dancer, as well as my ability to quickly adapt to new situations and improvise through inexperience with grace. Watch any former performer, whether a professional athlete or actor, within the business world, and you will understand the advantages they have over their peers. People are attracted to their carriage and confidence in speech.
Education is important, but work experience is even more so. While attending university, one of my professors always reminded us that all doors remain open to you as a student, but as soon as you are no longer a student, they tend to close.
Jennifer: I was blessed throughout my professional off-stage career with numerous mentors and individuals who saw my potential. I relied heavily on their guidance when beginning my journeys into unchartered waters. I have never been afraid of asking questions, as that is how you learn and grow. My motto has always been to fake it until you become it. It’s just another role that requires a bit of rehearsal before you feel the energy-charged air hit you when the curtain rises.
Jennifer: Ah—hindsight is 20/20, right? Of course, there are numerous things I would have done differently knowing what I know now, but I can’t go backward. I am grateful for both the positives and negatives, as they have formed the individual I am today. All I can do is offer advice to my children and anyone else who cares to listen. (Of course, my children don’t listen, but they get my advice anyway.) It would be wonderful if there were a career counselor for dancers, which is the role you seem to be playing, Kay, through Pivot Pointe. I would have welcomed some career transition advice when I decided I wanted to end my ballet career.
Suddenly finding yourself injured, or not capable to meet the physical demands of the sport due to aging, having nothing but your dancing to fall back on should not be the dancer’s standard story. I hope the education on career transition becomes prominent with the younger generations of dancers. Strong relationships with top universities should continue to be promoted, offering dancers the chance to slowly earn a degree as they carry out their ballet careers. Should a dancer decide to remain in the world of ballet as a teacher, coach, or choreographer, fostering the next generation of dancers, which is vital to the discipline, having another degree or area of interest to augment their livelihood only makes them a more well-rounded individual.
Jennifer: My best advice to dancers, whether or not they are thinking of making a career transition now or in the near future, is to begin educating themselves on fields outside of dance. Earning a degree, or at the very least, starting a degree while dancing, is important for their future. Making connections with ballet benefactors in their various fields of business while still dancing can certainly be used to your benefit. Education is important, but work experience is even more so. While attending university, one of my professors always reminded us that all doors remain open to you as a student, but as soon as you are no longer a student, they tend to close. Use your time dancing as that “in” to explore and go through those open doors. Dancing is one of the most difficult sports because you must fool the audience into thinking it all comes with immense ease. No grunting is allowed, and all of your movements must flow with grace. I would like to see that accomplished once on the football field. A ballet dancer does have an expiration date. With some careful planning, when that expiration date arrives, you will have all the tools to enter your next career phase. Just as the saying goes about making it anywhere if you made it in New York City, the same applies to professional ballet. You already did the nearly impossible—just go do it again!
Top image by Rosalie O’Connor