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Career Transition With Caroline Bird

Digital Communication Manager, Beiersdorf

A native of New York, Caroline has always been driven by challenges and fast-paced learning. After moving to Germany to pursue a professional career with the Staatsballett Berlin at 26 she transitioned from a creative but highly disciplined ballet world to the digital communications world. Her primary expertise is creative digital channel and communication strategy. Currently, she is responsible for the 53 corporate websites, diverse social media channels, and the digitalization communication strategy for the world’s leading skincare corporation Beiersdorf.

We asked Caroline to reflect upon her career transition.

Photo by Joachim Manuel Riede

At what age did you realize you wanted to pursue ballet as a profession?

Caroline Bird: I never commit to doing something unless my whole heart is in it. I began dancing when I was 5 after starting with figure skating at 2 years old and then moving on to gymnastics. My first ballet teacher discovered me at a Gymboree birthday party and told my mom that I had to get into ballet. I immediately fell in love. That year I began performing, I was 5 at the time, and as per anything I put my mind to, I gave ballet my everything because when I dance, it feels like flying and shining at the same time. But this has always been my mentality—all or nothing and there always has to be passion and drive behind anything I do. I have always been a dreamer who has seen so clearly what I wanted and fought to make it happen no matter the obstacles. And quite frankly, you have to be for this cut-through, intense, and all-consuming profession.

It wasn’t a particular day or moment that I decided I wanted to be serious about it—as soon as I put the dream in my head, it wasn’t a question. And the lengths my parents went to support me (the youngest and only girl with 3 older brothers), it was clear I wanted to go the distance. If I had to pick a poignant step in my journey, it would be deciding to move together with my mom to New York City in order for me to attend Professional Children's School so that I could continue my private school education and schedule it around my training schedule. And this was no small sacrifice—my mom found a new job in the city and my youngest brother and father stayed at our home in New Jersey, all so I could train with my teacher at the time and maintain a high education all whilst prioritizing my ballet training.

After two European audition tours from America, you landed a contract with the Staatsballett Berlin, where you then danced for six years. In becoming a professional ballet dancer, was it all that you imagined?

Photo by Stefan Milev

Caroline: The more I look back at it, the more facets I see. On the one hand, the euphoric of being on stage knowing you are transporting thousands of people every night to another world, another time, another place is pure magic. A huge reason why I always dreamed of working in Europe is the mentality and appreciation for the arts. People—not just big city citizens are raised cultured and have an ornate appreciation for arts and artists. No matter who I spoke to, I was always treated as 'of another world,' something truly special; being a ballet dancer wasn’t just my profession, but it was who I was and everything I did. The best memories I have are traveling on tour with the company to Taiwan, having beautiful costumes built on my body, and the prestigious collaborations (with Vogue, adidas, and Berghain). But what I didn’t imagine is the impact of change in leadership, being put in a box and that being patient and working hard doesn’t always pay off. Looking back now, it baffles me the lack of organization of such a historic institution and the countless lost opportunities and talent due to poor leadership and systemic issues.

When the company welcomed new leadership, things changed dramatically for you in your would-be seventh year with Staatsballett Berlin. What were the challenges you faced?

Caroline: My ballet career was anything but the fairytale it may sound like at first glance. I am grateful that to some extent, I fulfilled my dream of becoming a professional ballerina (check) with a world-renown ballet company (check) in Europe (check). However, much of the time was spent hoping I would be seen differently than the box the company put me in - which was for the majority of the time - a seasoned understudy, who if someone dropped out last minute, I would get my moment. Of course, I had my moments to shine (in my own way), and for those moments, it was all worth it. But so much of my chances hung on the slim fate if someone else went out.

Photo by Paulio Sóvári

I was hired by Vladimir Malakhov, who had a particular eye for artistry and appreciation for Americans, and as I was never a technician, this was to my advantage. When Vladimir retired, and Nacho Duato became the new artistic director, there was a shift in the company. There were the classical dancers, his own coven of dancers that he liked for his works, and then the dancers that fit in both. After a year of his leadership the following October, I was handed a letter of termination. This was a defining moment, which I decided to channel my anger and disappointment into empowerment for the rest of the season. I spent my breaks between rehearsals (of the same repertoire I had been doing for 6 years) working on variations for video auditions and preparing for yet another audition tour. After one month of auditions in America and multiple company classes around Europe, I didn’t land a contract.

With time running out on my working visa, I had to ask for an extension of my visa as I continued to search for work. To this plea, I was met with a, 'No job, then apply at Starbucks, or leave the country.' Luckily after begging for an extension, I was granted 3 more months. At that time, I moved to Hamburg to live with my boyfriend at the time where I could occasionally train with Hamburg Ballet. I then had the opportunity to start guesting with Magdeburg Ballet and also did some commercial work to broaden my network. The upside of freelancing was that I was my own boss and didn’t have to deal with company politics, and each contract was limited per production, so nothing ever became routine.