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Age and Performance: too young or too old??

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In several different areas on the board, there have been topics in which the age of a dancer has come up. Most often it seems to me that people comment about the inappropriateness of seeing someone too young perform a piece that was made for an "older" more seasoned ballerina....and I would assume that this can hold true for a young male ballet dancer, as well.

Then there is the question as to when it's time for someone to bow out of major roles, let alone stop performing altogether. Is it usually due to injury? Strength? Cultural preferences in regard to appearance? Isn't retirement from the big name companies different from retiring from dancing completely? And isn't the age factor going to be somewhat dependent upon the sex of the dancer?

I happened to be browsing through a bookstore today and read some of Arlene Croce's comments on ballet dancer's retiring in her book (the title escapes me right now) - you know the one that is a collection of her critiques from her days with The New Yorker? According to Ms. Croce, ballet dancers used to perform until they were in the fifties. So what's the explanation here? Granted some may choose to retire "to be with their families" and this may actually be true quite often...

Thoughts, opinions, firsthand experiences - anyone?

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BW, I think that this varies so widely that there is no "norm" in terms of retirement, for males or females. In large companies with a lot of full length ballets many of them stay on doing character roles, such as Kings and Queens, or roles like Carabosse, Giselle's mother, etc. A few do last into their 40's doing classical roles, but usually around those years things start to change physically and the technique is just not the same, no matter how hard one works at it. It happens at different times to different dancers, of course, but it DOES happen to everyone. A couple of unique dancers who went much longer than most were Alonso and Fonteyn, but they were exceptions. And even with them, the technique in the later years was not the same. But, they were such great artists that everyone still wanted to see them.

Many dancers stop much earlier because they want to do other things, such as teach, choreograph, direct a company, or even stop altogether and do something else or start a family. Injuries are part of it, and they take their toll over the years, making it harder to continue as one ages.

I retired from professional performing just before I turned 31 and began my full time teaching career, by choice. I had been trained to teach earlier, and had always done some teaching whenever possible through the performing years. But I did continue to do some performing for the next decade, on a once in while basis :) Two dancers I trained who spent their careers with Houston Ballet, both becoming principals, retired last summer at 30 and 31. They both want to start a family, but they had also had a lot of injuries and I think that was a major part of it. One is teaching, the other doing some choreography, very successfully so far. The latter is also expecting her first child in September. :)

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Thank you, Victoria. I appreciate hearing your own story, as well as those of the others you mentioned.

I suppose I was wondering if today's version of ballet had added to the early retirement of various dancers - and I didn't realize that there were so few from the past who stayed on past their mid thirties.

It is wonderful that you had the training beforehand and that you were able to follow through and turn it into a second career that you obviously love. That's a silver lining, if ever I heard of one! :)

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