Reflections: All a Charade?

Kay Tien, founder of Pivot Pointe

Helping dancers figure out other facets of their identity has never been a priority for companies... We shouldn’t mix the word ‘tradition’ with the term ‘status-quo’–an industry excuse not to look after dancers.

There are big black clouds that surround the words “career transition.” Hairs on the skin rise and goosebumps ripple throughout the body at the mention–well, at least that’s what the ballet industry has conditioned you to believe.

Somehow placing your desires, needs, wants, and future first is seen as a negative in the eyes of the ballet world. If you don’t breathe, eat, sleep, and dream ballet, frankly, you don’t deserve to be in it. That tough-love is a religious belief that pre-professionals to professionals all adopt.

I created Pivot Pointe to give voice to dancers and flip the power-play of leadership holding the cards: deciding when and if you can dance, how long you stay in the company, and ultimately, your self-worth. I believe that dancers should sit in the driver’s seat and dictate their own life–resulting in Dancer Index (more about that later).

I have been in frequent contact with ballet companies and their leadership, such as artistic directors, company managers, and human resources, you name it. While there are a few innovative companies out there who truly advocate for their dancers' rights, a mass majority of companies put on a facade claiming that they do. Let’s face it, taking a shortcut is the easiest route, right? And it makes sense in the eyes of marketing, public relations, and development.

When a company markets itself as forward-thinking and all-embracing of dancers and their needs, it attracts new talent and gives the company a competitive edge. And in the lines of public relations, if a company promotes helping its dancers, then people on the outside will continue to view the company positively. It leads to more ticket sales and development initiatives that pull in more funding and money to fuel more lavish productions, putting more power (and money) into the pockets of leadership.

I don't know whether to be fascinated or disappointed that the mechanism continues to work in full force today. Sadly, I know this first-hand, having worked in the corporate world and then for the largest ballet competition in the world, which had working nepotistic relationships with the top ballet schools and companies.

I think it's fair that dancers who dedicate their lives to the art form, literally years-long commitment, have access to support or guidance to develop in other areas. Compared to other industries and companies, the ballet industry does not offer employees any sort of severance package (except for pensions in some regions). Why should a dancer who has committed years of loyalty to a company end up tossed out because they no longer fit the ideals of one director?

Helping dancers figure out other facets of their identity has never been a priority for companies. Partly because it supposedly distracts them from their careers. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. We shouldn’t mix the word ‘tradition’ with the term ‘status-quo’–an industry excuse not to look after dancers.

A recent study by Professor Andrew Oswald, Dr. Eugenio Proto, and Dr. Daniel Sgroi from the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick indicated that companies that invest more in employee support and satisfaction had that return in tenfolds. So making employees happier really does pay off! And while the research was conducted on corporate organizations, the proof exists. The study shows that happier subjects are more productive; ballet companies should take note and strive to make their workplaces emotionally healthy–valuing the dancer as an individual and not just a replaceable number.

For those of you reading this, this is my love letter to you. Please don’t feel guilty about pursuing other interests, passions, and talents you might have. Don’t feel guilty about putting yourself first. Don’t wait until the very last minute to realize that you could have explored your potential while still dancing. Utilize every opportunity to explore what you can achieve alongside your ballet career because you have much to offer your community.

Here's my proposal: Put yourself first because your company won’t. Sadly, profit and power continue to proceed dancers in the ballet world, so the sooner you can digest that, the sooner you can do something about it.

If you want to change your narrative and develop more autonomy, the good news is that you don’t have to wait anymore. Remember, the ball is ALWAYS in your court.

Want more agency in your life? Then follow the link: