By Jenelle Figgins
Special to Russian Pointe
One of the most frightening things as a professional dancer, or any professional, is making a transition from one company to another. I am currently in the midst of my own transition, after leaving my artistic home of three years, Dance Theatre of Harlem, to move across country to join Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. This is one of the biggest changes that I’ve made for myself, and I know that major change isn’t always easy. But, anyone in a new job or studio gets the chance to actualize their dreams and create space in their lives for new perspectives and endeavors. Just recognizing this has given me peace of mind.
Anyone considering leaving a company (or studio) must listen to and be patient with himself or herself. When I was first considering my move, I often asked myself, “Is it the time to be still or time to take action?” At that moment in time it was crucial to listen to myself, to watch the alignment of things around me, and to recall all the reasons that led me to this move in the first place. When the time is right you’ll know. Everything will fall into place so that such a change to occur, but commitment to oneself is essential.
I often find that dancers have a tendency to put the needs of others before their own, which can make changing professional relationships difficult. As I grow in this profession, I’m realizing that while being gracious I also need to be assertive about the way I want to live my life – as a dancer as well as a person. Being assertive about what you want for yourself may not always suit what others envision for you, but committing to yourself will likely lead others to take you more seriously. Adapting to lifestyle changes, looking for new challenges, wanting to dance different rep – these are all valid reasons to reevaluate what you need to find happiness and success in your career and life. Being open and honest with yourself, and with your employers or instructors, will make any transition much smoother.
But making change for yourself is no walk in the park. Making an artistic move can mean completely uprooting your life. For my job change this year, I moved from New York to Aspen, and I have friends who started new jobs in France, Berlin, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia. Any new job or environment will be littered with large and small adjustments – such as learning new movement styles, making new friends and remaining confident in your choice. I can attest that there are definite hills and valleys (as with any stage or transition in your career and life) but the best advice I’ve ever gotten was to honor my choices. I honor my choices by being open, utilizing perspectives widened by my previous experiences, and remaining truly present in my new environment. I often fall short of happiness when I’ve got one foot in the past and the other too far into the future. So when facing all the trials of transition, be where you are and enjoy the ride that comes from this new adventure, without expecting perfection from yourself.
What you definitely can expect is a new set of achy muscles from dancing different styles of repertoire, finally finding the post office 30 minutes after it closes or standing in someone’s accustomed spot at barre (remember that everyone has probably been “the new guy” at one point or another). You’ll miss your family and friends and scroll through social media wondering if you’re missing out. You might doubt your decision and feel like you’ll never adjust to your new life. But transitions are opportunities for greatness, giving you a chance to boldly accept the challenge of cultivating the life you want for yourself.
Jenelle Figgins, a 2014 Princess Grace Award winner, grew up in Washington, DC, where she trained at the Jones-Haywood School of Ballet, Dance Institute of Washington and Duke Ellington School of the Performing Arts, and on full scholarship at Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Kennedy Summer Intensive. She received a degree in dance from SUNY Purchase and performed with Mettin Movement Collective, Collage Dance Collective and Les Grands Ballet Canadiens de Montréal, before joining Dance Theatre of Harlem in 2012. She joined Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in 2015.