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Pivot Pointe
August 18, 2023

Career Transition With Teegan Kollmann

Physiotherapist with SPEAR Physiotherapy & Dance Teacher at Citymoves Dance Agency

Teegan graduated with a Master’s in Physiotherapy from The Robert Gordon University in 2022 after embarking on a career change from professional ballet. Since the age of 11 she trained full-time at Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto. Upon graduation she continued her training at the Royal Conservatoire of the Hague in The Netherlands, receiving a Bachelor of Dance in 2010. Teegan enjoyed a near decade-long career dancing on international stages as a member of the Bavarian State Ballet in Munich and later the South Bohemian Theatre in the Czech Republic. Through dancing she explored the incredible capacity of the human body but learned the frustration of being limited by pain and injury. Experiencing physiotherapy from a patient’s point of view, she now strives to help others attain their movement goals.

Teegan’s work as a ballet teacher alongside her physiotherapy has driven a deep interest in human biomechanics, and she loves guiding clients through quality movement to achieve the best outcomes. Her experience both on stage and in the clinic has reaffirmed her belief that healthy movement starts with a strong core. She completed her APPI Matwork Levels 1-3 and leads Intermediate Pilates classes in Westhill.

With a keen interest in neurological rehabilitation, Teegan underwent specialized training to lead Dance for Parkinson’s classes in Aberdeen. She wants everyone to share in the joys of movement and uncover their movement potential. As a firm believer that exercise should be fun, Teegan spends her free time hiking with her dog, dancing in the studio and volunteering as a ranger for the National Trust for Scotland.

We asked Teegan to reflect upon her career transition.

Photo by Frieder Reuter

Q: You've had an impressive international dance career having trained and danced in Canada, The Netherlands, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Did you always anticipate having such a diverse career?

Teegan Kollmann: I have to think back to the time when I was leaving Canada, having graduated from the National Ballet School. What were my expectations? I don't think I had any specific expectations. I was open to trying out any place in the world that would be the right company fit for me.

However, I did expect some degree of success. I think I expected to get somewhere. This was not an egotistic feeling but rather a result of our professional dance training.

At the end of the course, we were expected to be professional dancers. Most ballet systems weed out people slowly, so once you reach the end, you expect some degree of success. However, the definition of success was not clear to me at that stage. 

I left Canada with one packed suitcase, auditioning for two schools without knowing if I would make get accepted into either. I was lucky enough to get into two schools and had the choice to pick one. After the Netherlands, I traveled to Munich and successfully auditioned for the Bavarian State Ballet, which was my dream company.

Mavis Stains, the director of Canada’s National Ballet School, told me that the school in Munich would not suit me. I was quite strong-willed back then, and if I didn't agree with something, I'd make that quite clear. Therefore, it was probably best that I attended a school that allowed me to be true to myself.

While it was incredible to reach that degree of success so early on, it may have also been a reason why I didn't have a really long career. Maybe if I had gone to a company where I was a bigger fish in a smaller pond, I might have been more successful.

My goal was always to join a contemporary dance company like the South Bohemian Theatre in the Czech Republic. In some ways, I'm grateful that I got to experience both classical and contemporary dance.

We were taught to always expect something good. Similarly, when you're a professional working in high-level aesthetics, your expectations are high, and everyone else around you is successful too. So you don't see what you're doing as exceptional or necessarily good. I still look at people who did better, who got into different companies that I wanted to get into, or got promoted, or did things that I now look back on and think, "I only did that," which is such a sad thing from the outside because becoming a dancer was an impressive accomplishment. 

Photo Courtesy of Teegan Kollmann

Q: After dancing for so many years, what led you to retire and pursue a degree in physiotherapy? Was it an easy or difficult decision?

Teegan: As a professional dancer, I always knew that I wanted to have a second career and not just fall back on my only experience, which was dance. While many dancers gradually transition into teaching, I wanted a true second career that I was interested in and proud of. I didn't want to be bitter about it, so I started early, rather than figuring it out in my forties.

Making the decision to transition from dance was a big one, as I had been training since I was 11 and had always been surrounded by people who did the same. It was the norm, and I never really looked at it from the outside and thought, "Do I want to do this?" I just kept going, and people always ask how I became a dancer, and I just say, "I never stopped." It wasn't really a conscious decision because I was so young when I started. It would have been a conscious decision to stop rather than to be a dancer.

I took some time off to decide if I still wanted to dance, which was the first of my 3 years of figuring out and contemplating about my future. Then, I returned to a year of dancing in the Czech Republic followed by a year of teaching English and ballet in Berlin.

It was a big decision because we didn't have to pick the first one; we were guided into it from a young age. Now the big decision of what we're going to do for the rest of our lives seems all-consuming. 

Many dancers aspire to follow a path similar to mine, but the financial commitment and prerequisites required to pursue a degree in physiotherapy can be challenging. I was lucky to have attended Canada's National Ballet School, which places a huge emphasis on academics and required full academics on top of full dance programs. I had a normal high school diploma and was ready to go off to university with that already.

To pursue a degree in physiotherapy, I had to study in the Netherlands or the UK and complete a four-year program. It was a big financial commitment, but I was lucky to have a bit of financial help from my family, for which I was grateful.

Q: As a certified physiotherapist is there a requirement for continued certification?

Teegan: Working in Scotland (and the UK) means there is a requirement for continued professional development (CPD) for legal registration. This involves completing a certain number of CPD hours per year, with a minimum of about 30 hours. Regular courses, lectures, group meetings, discussions, reading papers, writing reflections, and keeping a portfolio are expected. The Health and Care Professions Council, under which we must be registered, conducts random audits every two years to ensure compliance. 

Q: You are a physiotherapist with SPEAR Physiotherapy (congratulations!), but you also teach Dance with Parkinson's. I’d love to learn more. Can you share more?

Teegan: I found Citymoves Dance Agency, a dance agency through another dancer who was studying physiotherapy. The agency does a lot of community-based programs and projects, often with disadvantaged communities in the area, as well as dance classes for specific populations or those with health conditions.

Initially, I started teaching ballet classes for adults. However, I later discovered dance for Parkinson's, a community-based exercise program, which I found very interesting. I loved neuroscience when I was in university, so the program was right up my alley.

I started volunteering for Dance for Parkinson's in Aberdeen and eventually decided to become a certified teacher. I completed an online course and some in-person training to become certified. I have been a support teacher for over a year now, and we offer two classes: a typical dance for Parkinson's class based on the New York Mark Morris dance company, and a standing class for younger people diagnosed with Parkinson's and are still working.

The classes are aimed at all different abilities, and there are options for everyone. The classes are fun, uplifting, and a support group in a way. It's a lovely community of people who have been attending for years. We have tea and coffee at the end and chat for half an hour. It's like a little family of dancers.

Dance for Parkinson's is similar to other initiatives, such as Dance for Health. At Citymoves Dance Agency, we're trying to develop our dance for health offerings. Currently, we offer dance for Parkinson's, but we're trying to get funding for dance for stroke. This is something that I and another teacher, Amy Park, are hoping to spearhead in Scotland as it's currently not offered at all.

Photo by Frieder Reuter

Q: You aim to make dance more accessible for your rehabilitating clients. What are your goals and strategies to accomplish this?

Teegan: Coming from a professional ballet background, learning how to make dance accessible has been a learning process for me. It has been eye-opening and an amazing transition. When people hear "dance class," they often think of a technique class, but it is different. It took me some time to figure out what that looks like. However, the transition from ballet and other restrictive dance forms to a more inclusive and joyous style has been a pleasure for me.

I also teach ballet classes with the same philosophy. It is an open-level class, and people come for fun instead of becoming professional dancers. In my opinion, dance should be for the joy of dancing. It is not a limited niche system; it is about moving to music, having fun, and being free.

The biggest challenge is figuring out what people expect and how to make them feel safe. People are often intimidated by the idea of a dance class, but I encourage them to try it out. If they like to listen to music and move along to it, then dance might be suited for them. There are no must-haves for being able to dance. Any body can dance. I have seen people with special support needs come into mixed-ability level dance classes with a very limited range of movement, and it is incredible what we can do with them. Even small movements can mean a lot. It is a nice change of perspective.

Offering a range of classes that target specific disabilities is important, such as classes for Parkinson's, learning needs, and stroke survivors. It helps people feel safe within a group that is similar to them.

Q: As a physiotherapist specializing in musculoskeletal and neurorehabilitation, what does your day-to-day work look like?

Teegan: It's super varied, which is my favorite thing. I feel really grateful and super lucky, honestly. The clinic has been so accommodating to my physio goals and passions.

When I applied to work there, they had two sides to their work: sports rehab and musculoskeletal (MSK) and neurological rehab. They asked me what I was interested in and I said both. Normally people pick a specialty, but I like variation. I don't like routine, so I'd get bored very fast doing the same thing day in, day out. They've been so accommodating of my interest in keeping the dance and supporting that and promoting it to their clients as well as a great way to get moving and to stay healthy.

It's fantastic to have both sides and also be able to have one side benefit the other for my clients, my learning, my understanding, and what I can offer. They really play off each other.

Q: Did you ever imagine that your second career would be as rewarding as your dance career?

Teegan: I believe that I am happier now. It's quite amusing, isn't it? A friend once shared with me his experience of studying psychology after dancing with the Dutch National Ballet, and how seeing direct results for his efforts was so rewarding. As a dancer, it can be frustrating when you put in so much effort but feel like you're not getting the results you deserve.

Perhaps it's because someone else is a favorite or they have surpassed you in some way. You never know why, but it's frustrating because it feels like you have no control over your direction. But here, the results are tangible. I put in this work, and this is the outcome. It's a fantastic feeling.

At this point in my career, I find myself satisfied with what I have accomplished. I have worked hard and built a mix of things that I genuinely enjoy doing. I feel proud of it all. More proud, even, than when I used to tell people I was a ballet dancer, and the response was always, "Wow!" It's an incredible accomplishment, but it didn't bring much pride.

Perhaps it was an identity issue, and the dancer identity didn't fit me. It just didn't feel like how I pictured myself. If someone had asked me at 21 whether I would pick ballet, I probably would have said no. But this is where my life led me, and I'm grateful for it. It has given me a springboard to my next career and everything else in life after that. Although, I don't believe it was my sole career calling.

Being a dancer is an all-consuming identity, and it takes up so much of your time that you don't get to do a lot of other things. I see people who played sports or did this and that in school, but I had no time for that, so I'm not great at team sports or other activities. It's just something I never had the opportunity to do.

Photo by Charles Tandy

Q: What advice do you have for dancers who are considering a career transition or are about to embark on that journey?

Teegan: It wasn't as difficult for me as it would be for others. So it's difficult for me to put myself in someone else's shoes and tell them not to be scared about it. For me, I was excited about the second part and I always knew I wanted it. I was actually anticipating it maybe a bit too soon. I was always wondering what was going to happen next, which made me a bit restless. I always knew it had to happen, so I almost couldn't enjoy the moment as much as I wanted to. This might be totally different from others who are holding off as long as possible and want to keep dancing until their body says no. I don't know how that feels.

So it's hard to give advice from that point of view, but I think we all have so much more to offer. I believe every dancer is intelligent, hardworking, motivated, creative, and super passionate. I think that if you find something else you're interested in, you can go far in it just based on passion alone. We've all moved borders and left families and done crazy things for our job. I think we would be willing to do that again if we found something we love just as much. So I think it's just a matter of not being worried because no matter what you find next, it'll probably bring you as much joy if you give it as much attention as you did dance.

I also think that I wish I hadn't thought about it for three years because I was too worried about picking the right thing. Now my advice to people is just to try something. Just start, because the journey is ongoing. I don't know where I see myself 10 years from now. I don't know what the next journey and path is going to look like, but until you start it, you won't figure it out. So, I wish I had just bitten the bullet and tried something even sooner rather than overthinking it. Because I don't think I would have known until I started. It wasn't until I started studying that I began to figure out what I liked. At first, I realized I loved neuroscience, theory, and science. I could listen to lectures all day. I really loved that and considered going into research one day because of it. I would have never known that. It's not that I would have never thought of myself as that person, but it's not until you take that next journey and start that next thing that you can even begin to discover it.

I think just starting something will open up a hundred new doors, and it's so exciting to see where each one will take you. You'll really find what you like and don't like, and you'll never see that when you're just in the dance world. Yes, it sounds easier in hindsight because you kind of know now where it's going to take you. But you have to have a bit of faith. It's a leap of faith, but only by starting something else can you really think, "Okay, I thought I'd like this. I don't like this. Never mind." You can think all day about what you might like, but until you try it, you honestly won't know.

Top image: Photo by Frieder Reuter

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