Life constantly changes and adjusting to it can bring a handful of emotions. Many dancers spend much of their childhood evenings in dance classes. They grow up and sometimes study their craft at a university for another four years. Every individual has their own goals, but for some, being part of the performance world is the ultimate dream. After several years of hustling to auditions, performing, and traveling, it is not uncommon for a life altering path to come along. Getting engaged, married, or having children are examples of events that, with them, come new beginnings. Transitioning to a new lifestyle is not always easy and often requires patience and acceptance within one’s self.
Kristin Kavanagh, a New Jersey native and cruise ship performer, has just recently gone through a career pivot. She danced at sea for four eight-month contracts. It was towards the end of her time performing that she met her fiancé, who also works in the cruise ship industry. Kristin spent one more contract at sea in a non-dancing position before moving on to her next chapter. Currently, she is living in Arizona studying for her M.F.A. in Dance at the University of Arizona. Her fiancé proposed this year, during one of his visits to Arizona, at a Labor Day weekend brunch.
The timing of everything worked out perfectly for Kristin. She had already made the decision to stop traveling and pursue her Master’s degree, something she always wanted to do, prior to her engagement. She does, however, admit that ship life is addicting. She absolutely loves to travel, and waking up every day in a different country is the element of that lifestyle that she misses most. Kristin is very independent and accustomed to a long-distance relationship. While her days of dancing on ships have most likely come to an end, she is not opposed to performing in that industry again if the opportunity arose and it felt right.
It is completely okay to need and to take physical and emotional space, even if it’s from your passion.
Kristin is working on her candidacy project right now, and due to Covid-19, it must only be performed by a soloist and cannot be in an audience-filled theater. The performance will make use of a projector displaying various travel-inspired images. Kristin says that traveling has played such an important role in her life and has shaped her. She will always want to do it. It is common and often beneficial to the soul for an artist to express one’s emotions through his or her craft. It only made sense to use these feelings as inspiration for her choreography.
When Kristin completes her program, her focus will switch from performing to teaching dance. “It will be very different.” She will miss performing but says, “It feels like a natural rite of passage to go from doing what you love, to helping other people do what you did, and transfer that onto your students.”
Her advice to those entering new beginnings is to look at the situation as a transition instead of as losing something. “Working on ships you learn how to adapt really quickly. Ever-changing every day. You have to go with the flow. Working in that type of environment has fueled how I see and adjust to things on land.” You are transitioning, and hopefully, into a place that makes sense for you. It is all a matter of perspective and just a different way of using your craft.
Isabel Garcia recently got married in her home state of Maryland in August of 2020. She is settling down into her new lifestyle with her husband in Delaware, but reflects back on the past year leading up to the wedding.
In early 2014, after graduating from college in the spring of 2013, Isabel moved to New York City to pursue a dance career. Throughout her six years in The Big Apple, she landed several gigs for theaters around the country and through her work, earned her Equity card. Isabel began dating her now husband, previously a friend from college, during her time in NYC. After her engagement, she decided to stay in the city and audition for as long as possible, knowing that this chapter would come to a close as the wedding drew near. Isabel’s husband was supportive of her career, no matter where it may take her, but she did not envision a long-distance marriage. So as time ticked, she began to limit the auditions she attended to those more local to the Delaware area where the pair would begin their life together.
Isabel admits she put a heavy amount of pressure on herself to book a gig during that final year. (She did come close, but like for all of us, 2020 brought any plans to a screeching halt.) It felt like “crunch time” in a way, feeling an obligation to go to any audition she could, even if it meant working them around other approaching events like the bridal shower and bachelorette. The countless hours of wedding planning, along with thoughts like “What am I doing now?” and “What will I do after the wedding?”, had her mental energy torn in so many directions. It was after one audition experience in particular that she realized she was trying to do too much, and eventually went to less and less until ultimately stopping.
Isabel shares that there was a sense of guilt when faced with the call to slow down, with an inner dialogue that whispers, “I’m not doing something and I should be doing something.” For years, she measured her worth not in performing itself, but in the pursuit of training and the hustle. It took a lot of strength from within to choose not to go to an audition, and while there was power in that choice, it didn’t make it easy. Like many changes in life, it was bittersweet. On one hand, it was a relief to take a breath, but on the other, time to mourn that life was needed. She felt like she had to, and should, do all these things before leaving New York. A mentor of Isabel’s encouraged her to take the word “should” out of her vocabulary. It was a very simple piece of advice, but significant in helping her come to terms with this new journey. He challenged her to pick two things a day that were “wins”: fulfillment in basic day to day accomplishments or occurrences.
With further introspection, Isabel came to notice and accept that her tank was low due to the exhausting and inconsistent nature of the lifestyle she was living. It started to feel like something she had to do out of obligation, more than out of love for it. Though not the case for every performer, Isabel always saw performing as a journey rather than a destination, which allowed her to keep a certain perspective. She advises keeping the balance of your relationship with dance, your career, and your mental health in check as sometimes the three can become too intertwined in a negative way. It is completely okay to need and to take physical and emotional space, even if it’s from your passion. You can always go back to what it is that you love. After processing this transition and settling into her new life, Isabel intends to do just that. “No matter what happens, whether I am teaching, performing, or taking class, dance will always be a part of my life, and that gives me peace of mind.”
Trust that your timing has its purpose.
For Kristin, she always wanted to study for her Master’s degree one day. For Isabel, she began to yearn for consistency, stability, and a slower-paced lifestyle later in her performance career. When faced with these changes, both Kristin and Isabel already reached a place of acceptance organically via their own feelings and decisions. Trust that your timing has its purpose. If you or a friend are navigating a similar experience, talk to others in your circle who are also settling down or have already. Do what is best for you. It is normal for one’s interests and aspirations to change throughout life. Try not to worry about what other people may think about your career shift. We only hurt ourselves when we do this. It is also extremely important to accept this shift within yourself. Doing so will help you to see the right path for you more clearly, and without guilt or judgment. Our biggest enemy can sometimes be our past expectation and perception of ourselves -- of what we thought we would be doing or think we should be doing at certain points in our lives. It’s not always easy to move on to a new path, especially when it’s different from one you originally worked towards for so long. Follow your heart and, though cliché to say, everything will fall into place.