Updated: Oct 15
Owner & Podiatrist, Hinterland Podiatry
A former professional dancer with the Bayerisches Staatsballett, Mia Cooper, was a late starter to the ballet circuit. The daughter of an Olympian gold medalist swimmer, Mia, was on a very different trajectory growing up until she discovered a passion for dance at the age of 14. Ditching the tennis racket for a pair of ballet shoes, Mia moved to Munich, Germany, where she trained at the prestigious Heinz Bosl Stiftung under the direction of the legendary former prima ballerina, Prof. Konstanze Vernon.
In making the professional rank, Mia decided to make a career transition after three years of dancing in the company to pursue a degree in podiatry. Since March this year, she is the owner and lead podiatrist at Hinterland Podiatry in the Gold Coast, Australia. Having had first-hand experience of misdiagnosis, Mia works to provide the opposite
e and the best possible care for her clients.
We asked Mia to reflect upon her career transition.
As a former student of the Heinz Bosl Stiftung (feeder school of the Bayerisches Staatsballett), you were one of the only students in your year to graduate into the feeding company, Bayerisches Staatsballet. Had it always been your dream to get into these prestigious institutions?
Mia Cooper: My dream growing up was to be a tennis player or a swimmer. My dad won a gold medal in the 1972 Olympics for swimming, and he was also my swim coach growing up. I played tennis and swam competitively till the age of 14, then decided to stop all my training to focus on high school. One of my school friends did ballet and somehow persuaded me to go along to her local ballet summer school. Within a couple of months, the ballet teachers had convinced me to dance fulltime and study high school via correspondence. I was accepted into the Heinz Bosl Stiftung in Munich two years later.
I guess the dream of becoming a professional dancer started feeling real over the two years of training with the Heinz Bosl Stiftung. I started dancing at age 14, which is quite late compared to most girls. Even though I worked hard and finally felt I had caught up by the age of 18, I always felt like I was a little behind the girls in my classes. My need to catch up on strength and technique was always lingering in my mind, so I didn’t want to dream too big only to disappoint myself. My confidence slowly built over the two years at Heinz Bosl, and I started becoming excited about the thought of being offered a contract with a company. I was lucky enough to get an offer at my first company audition with the Vienna State Ballet; however, I really didn’t want to leave Munich, and I was over the moon when I was offered a contract with Munich (Bayerisches Staatsballett) soon after.
At what point in your career did you start to feel the need to transition? Did the realization unfold gradually?
Mia: Yes, it was a gradual realisation and multifactorial. I was with the Bayerisches Staatsballett for five years, and I believe I started thinking about leaving in my third year. I would watch girls go up to the casting board and walk away distressed, and some even crying when they didn’t get a part they wanted. I had seen girls behave like that on the tennis court also, but it was odd for me to see people behave like that. I’m a pretty easy-going person, and I was surrounded by overly competitive people who lived and breathed ballet. In a way, it was inspiring to see people with so much passion and drive, but it overwhelmed me a lot of the time. I think I was yearning to get back to a bit of normality.
I enjoyed dancing a lot but also wanted to create something of my own. I knew I wanted to open my own business one day, one that could help a lot of people and where I had the control to choose my own work hours. I also just had this strong feeling that I had reached my expiry date - not just mentally - but physically. I had an achy bunion pain in my left foot, constant dull pain in my right hip, and my back was not feeling as supple as it did when I first joined the company.
Upon deciding to quit, what came next? Did you already have a plan B?
Mia: Nope. I returned home to the Gold Coast in October 2013 and started working for a few local dance schools. I actually enjoyed teaching ballet; however, I was eager to learn something new and also feared staying in one industry my whole life.
A few months after arriving back home, I decided to enrol at university. I knew I wanted to do something in healthcare but wasn’t sure what. I walked into a few information sessions on uni open day, and the lecturer in the podiatry room had an X-Ray projected onto the wall displaying a metatarsal stress fracture. It sparked my interest because I had a stress fracture in my second year at the Heinz Bosl Stiftung, which took a long time to heal; unfortunately, it was misdiagnosed as tendonitis several times. The day after uni open day, I applied for a Bachelor of Health Science, majoring in podiatry.
Looking back, how prepared were you for your career transition?
Mia: I wouldn’t say I was prepared. I don’t think many of us ever feel prepared for an extreme career shift, but I just threw myself into something fast, as I knew the anxiety of not knowing what to do would just keep building. I just knew I had to try something then redirect myself along the way if need be.
As the owner of Hinterland Podiatry, can you walk us through the process and timeline in bridging your education to pursue a degree and then a career in podiatry?
Mia: Yes. I bought Hinterland Podiatry in March this year, after working for the previous owner for two years. I am certainly loving having my own business. I employ two other podiatrists, and we all work hard to inspire one another.
I was lucky enough to have finished high school before joining the Heinz Bosl Stiftung, so that made me eligible to apply for a degree at uni. I believe the uni I went to offers a free bridging course to those who had not finished high school or who had been out of school for too long to qualify.
And how long did it take from the time you quit ballet to the point where you started your first employment as a certified podiatrist?
Mia: Four and a half years. I quit my job with the Bayerisches Staatsballett in July 2013 and started my four-year podiatry degree in January 2014.
What advice do you have for dancers thinking about career transition or about to go on the journey?
Mia: Don’t put too much pressure on pursuing a specific field early on in the transition. I would encourage people to think broadly first and allow everything to fall into place along the way. For example, I knew I wanted to help people and thought I was probably more suited to something in healthcare. No matter which area of health I enrolled in, I believe I would have eventually crossed over into podiatry. By simply taking action, we learn quite quickly if something is right for us or not. We encounter industry professionals, mentors, and even peers along the way who will likely inspire us and ultimately help steer us onto a specific path. Just try to relax, enjoy the ride and let your intuition guide the way.
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