Chapter 19, Claire Lonchampt: A Future I Want

Dancer with the Malandain Ballet Biarritz

My thoughts on professional retraining started very early, about 5 years ago. I always knew that career transition was unavoidable and on the horizon. As I stopped my studies at 18 to fully dedicate myself to my dancing career, I always felt mixed not being able to finish my school education.

Photo by Olivier Houaix

Things changed when I encountered my first significant injury, which forced me to stop dancing for a year. It was the impetus that triggered my career transition. I realized that my body was not invincible, and the discovery of my vulnerability created a setback in my dancing career and an urgent need to prepare for my future (in case I could no longer dance). The problem was that I had no idea what I wanted to do next. I knew the careers that I didn't like: being a teacher or choreographer. But this conviction was even more anxiety-provoking because it didn't give me a clear answer on what I wanted to do—facing a blank page with the feeling that I didn't know how to do anything but dance paralyzed me. It plunged me into anxiety-provoking thoughts from which I couldn't get a clear perspective.

After trying to find a way by reading personal development books, I decided to seek a career coach. The work with her was very efficient and productive. She helped me to realize how having had a high-level career for 16 years had given me many qualities that would be valuable skills in the job market. And together, considering my profile, we decided that the best option was a degree in communications. I chose distance learning courses to be able to pursue my career in a field that met my desires (there were limited options). I love photography, aesthetics, and beauty. I like to talk about my passion and convince people of the benefits of dance and art in everyday life. And I would like to find a job that will allow me to take advantage of my dance background.

In a way, communication was a great option. So for 2 years, I took on my free time, alongside my career (between rehearsals, after my working day, during waiting hours in airports) to pursue my studies and obtain my diploma. I hope to still dance for another 1-2 years if my body allows it. I am also about to start a new course: a certificate made by Science Po Paris. It is training adapted for high-level athletes, which would allow me to be eligible to apply for a Master's degree from the university, one of the most renowned in France.

Photos by Jean-Paul Dunand

Although I still don’t have a clear idea of what I want to do after retirement, I am happy to be able to put in place initiatives that will allow me, I hope, to find a job that will fulfill me as much as dance. Retraining is a taboo and painful subject for many dancers. Whether it is premature due to an injury or expected at the end of a career, it remains a dreaded moment because it confronts the dancer with a moment of great uncertainty and insecurity.

Career transition is life-changing, and, in some way, it is a death for a dancer. I’m convinced that many professional dancers retrain out of spite in jobs that do not fulfill them simply because they didn't have the support. I am confident that society deprives itself of atypical profiles (like dancers) who have many sought-after qualities: team spirit, resilience, competitiveness, discipline, and endurance, also known as soft skills.

To be at the age where I have to face these issues, I regret that the retraining of dancers remains a subject not taken seriously enough. For those dancers who do not wish to teach, I find the path to a second life lacks support and information. I still have no idea of what I want to do after, but I feel invested with a mission: working for this artform and dance, which have brought me so much and which I would like to serve in one way or another.

In the meantime, I am trying to set milestones to ensure a future that lives up to my ambitions. I want a career that I have chosen for myself. I feel very grateful to my management, who supports and accompanies me in these steps by allowing me to miss certain shows to pass my exams. I know it is rare to have a supportive company that helps its dancers in career transition. And that's another topic of discussion. In my opinion, the dance administration plays a huge role and has the responsibility of supporting dancers in their career transition planning. The industry still has many things to improve in this area.


Connect with Claire Lonchampt via

Instagram: @clairelonchampt