Career Transition With Kay Tien

Founder, Pivot Pointe

Career transition is inevitable for dancers- the question isn't what if but when? While some are fortunate enough to have long fruitful careers, others aren't so lucky with injuries, deselection, and chronological age. We kick off this series with our founder Kay Tien who faced auditions, injuries, and career transition wrapped into one and right around the time she was offered her first professional contract. She transitioned out of dance and into business 2-weeks later.

Since her departure from dance, she's expanded her international portfolio to work in art and design, luxury fashion, consumer electronics, architectural development, and the performing arts, developing and leading marketing strategies and projects for clients such as Monster Products, Thom Browne, Hines, and Youth America Grand Prix. She has also represented brands at the MTV European Music Awards, Paris Fashion Week, and Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Las Vegas to name a few.

We asked Kay to reflect upon her career transition.

Photo by Armando Rafael

Two weeks is an incredibly short time to make a career transition. What led you to make such a sudden decision?

Kay Tien: I definitely don't recommend my path to any dancer, it was really tough, to say the least. But I was injured and unhappy at the time, and quite honestly not willing to gamble my health away especially for a career in which I only wanted to dance a few years. I was realistic with my expectations and capabilities and I think being raised in a family of non-dancers certainly helped. I understood the importance of having a life and identity outside and after ballet.

Walk us through the steps that helped you land your first job.

Kay: Alongside my ballet life, I also had friends outside of the Academy which made it easier to network. It was through that group that I was able to connect with a creative director at a design agency. At the time I was contemplating whether to continue with ballet and I had expressed that I didn't want to go back home to NZ. I still remember the advice I got from that creative director, "if you want to stay, stay." It's crazy how simple a concept that was yet so difficult at the same time. So after about a couple of weeks post that conversation, I built the guts to whip up a (shockingly terrible) resume to send to him. I really had nothing to lose at that point so it was "all in" for me. Thankfully, it worked out and I sold the idea of me as a potential employee. I landed a 2-week internship opportunity which evolved into a 6-month traineeship and then later, a full-time position.

Did you feel like you made the right decision leaving ballet so early and abruptly?

Kay: I had so many things working against me that I had to make a decision and stick with it. I remember my then professor, the late Prof. Konstanze Vernon question me when I turned down her offer to join the Junior Company in Munich. To be frank, I was injured and I didn't want my Achilles to snap. It wasn't a right or wrong decision, I knew I had to make one and either one would have its own set of consequences.

Can you elaborate more on your career transition journey in the early days especially working at the agency?

Kay: It was an adjustment for sure! Everyone at the agency was a designer of some sort, so I was definitely the odd one out but knowing that made me work harder to which I became a sponge for everything design. Back then I was in charge of curating and maintaining a digital art platform- I think also having a sister who majored in fine arts helped and the rest was just faking it until I eventually got the hang of it. As dancers we often underestimate ourselves but when it's game time it's really fight or flight- your transferable skills do kick in and I believe that's more valuable than what a degree could ever do (in the context of that first job).

What was so shocking about your resume? What do you think made you get hired?

Kay: The shocking part I think was that my resume was rather sporadic, it didn't really make sense. I definitely held more part-time/work experience than most dancers but I had a ballet degree which I guess was pretty redundant for the design field. I think the fact that I had the courage to pitch myself (knowing I had a lot working against me) was enough to convince the creative director to hire me. I was asking for a job that didn't exist at the agency so perhaps it was grit?

Did you feel that design was your calling?

Kay: For sure not, actually, I already knew on my first day that I didn't want to become a designer but I was curious and grateful to have landed the gig. I was so intrigued by the world outside of ballet that I worked hard irrespective of whether I liked it or not.

Did you have an idea of what you wanted to do after ballet?

Kay: No. But I did know I wanted to work in a creative field I just wasn't quite sure in what capacity. It took me a few years to figure things out like about 5 years before I got a tingling of what I enjoyed doing. It's never going to be like the love I had for ballet but I accepted that and knew that career transition would be different. It was certainly uncomfortable at first but I knew I was incredibly lucky to gain work experience as I was essentially being expedited without having to go through university to obtain a degree, etc.

What advice do you have for dancers who are thinking about career transition or about to start on the journey?

Kay: I would say that it's a process just like that of becoming a dancer. You can forever plan a career transition but sometimes just doing it and dipping your feet in the water will help you more in steering you in the right or wrong direction. And if it's not what you had anticipated I think that's normal, especially to make mistakes. Thankfully I made plenty! It helped me find out what I liked and didn't like and that's an incredibly invaluable learning process. Perfectionism holds no place in career transition (or life really), there's no right way of doing it and it will be different for every individual, if you approach it as an endless journey as opposed to a destination, you'll eventually get the hang of it and appreciate all the ups and downs.