Dance Career Change

How I changed my career from Dancer to Somatic Experiencing Trauma Therapist

I sense that we evolve over time and become interested in different things, so I feel it is natural and healthy to have new careers and new experiences in our lives. Otherwise we can get stuck and unhappy. Changing a career is not an easy process, but it has been a great journey for me.

The negatives effects of stress on our lives

In 1967 psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe surveyed more than 5,000 people to discover if stress was a contributing factor to illness. For the purpose of their research, they created a scale, known as The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, that included 43 life-changing events. Each life event has a correspondent level of stress rate, that goes from 100 (death of a spouse) to 11 (minor violation of law).

The following events are those ones related to our professional lives:

– Fired at work is classified in position number 8 and has a level of stress correspondent to 47;

– Retirement; position number 10 and level of stress  45;

– Business readjustment; position number 15 and level of stress 39;

– Change in financial position; number 16 and level of stress correspondent 38;

– Change to a different line of work; position number 18 and level of stress 36;

– Change in responsibilities at work; position number 22 and level of stress  29;

– Trouble with boss position; number 30 and level of stress 22;

– Change in work hours or conditions; position number 31 and  level of stress 20.

After summing up the scores, it is possible to discover our level of stress and based on that, take actions to reduce stressful agents in our life and reestablish balance, if possible.

The unsustainability of life in lockdown

What this scale does not include, is something that we, as human beings, have never experienced before than now—a pandemic. In 2020 COVID19 has become a new stressful life event for all of us on a global scale. It has also contributed to an increase of stressful life events in our lives, going from the death of love ones, health issues, relationship problems due to the unsustainability of life in lockdown and last but not least financial and job losses.

Whether COVID19 has brought stress or trauma to our lives that is determined by our circumstances. What has happened to us during the pandemic? Did we lose a loved one? Did we lose our job, or did we suffer financial losses? How long did we have to spend in isolation, and how did we cope with that?

Stress or trauma?

Stress can be defined as” anything that life brings our way that has the potential to upset our balance” or more specifically” any physical, mental, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension. Stresses can be external (from the environment, psychological, or social situations) or internal (illness, or from a medical procedure)”. Stress can also initiate our fight or flight response.

Trauma instead is” is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel the full range of emotions and experiences“.

Somatic Experiencing as a cure for post-traumatic stress disorder

Somatic experiencing, a pioneering body-based approach created by American psychotherapist Dr Peter A. Levine, aims to safely release traumatic shock ‘frozen’ in the body at times of overwhelm. This therapy allows a natural transformation of both PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and the wounds of emotional and early childhood trauma”.

Dr Levine developed the approach after observing prey animal behaviour, whose lives are routinely threatened in the wild. He noticed that the preys recover by physically releasing the energy they accumulate during stressful events, something that is often overridden by the human nervous system with feelings of shame, pervasive thoughts, judgements and fears.

Being a somatic experience trauma therapist at the time of Covid19

For The Career Changers Interviews we have met Mark Kelly, a Somatic Experiencing Trauma Therapist, that helps people heal their traumas. As a child, Mark wanted to be a businessman like his dad, but he became a dancer instead. At the age of 19, after training at the Dance School of Scotland and the Royal Ballet Upper School, signed his first professional dance job with the Scottish Ballet as a Junior Artist. Nine years later, Mark left the company to join Rambert, one of the most famous contemporary dance company based in London. After touring the world, in 2015 he left Rambert. It’s then, that he started teaching ballet to adults, and training to become a Somatic Experiencing Trauma Therapist. Here Mark is talking to us about his professional life and his career change journey from Dancer to Therapist.

Education and languages

What is your educational background?

I trained at the Dance School of Scotland for four years before joining the Royal Ballet Upper School. After seven years of intense training, I received my first professional dance job with the Scottish Ballet as a Junior Artist.

How many languages do you speak?

English and Scottish slang lol.

Childhood dreams and becoming a dancer

Which job did you want to do when you were a child?

I wanted to be a businessman like my dad, but I went in another direction. Also, I was obsessed with Bruce Lee maybe I wanted to be a Kung Fu Master

How did you become a dancer?

I was talent scouted at the age of 12 years old and offered a place at the Dance School of Scotland. This opportunity was spontaneous; I didn’t know that this starting point would lead me to a long career as a dancer. As I progressed in my training, I realised I had a natural talent and that if I focused, I could be really good. As the training path of a dancer is long and intense, it wasn’t until I was 19 that I received my first professional job and realised that this was the start of my career.

Do you remember your first audition?

My first audition was for Scottish Ballet during an Easter break from Royal Ballet School. I remember that on the first day they said they liked me, but they had no contracts available. On the second day, they said that they had found a way around that, and they were happy to offer me a job.

What was the biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge was the realisation that I was technically very good but not yet an artist with ease, flow and presence. I was not naturally an outgoing person and struggled with shyness, so I had to learn to get comfortable performing.

Life as a dancer at the Scottish Ballet

How and when did you start your career as a dancer?

I started with the Scottish Ballet in 2001 as a Junior Artist and spent nine years with the company.

How was that experience?

The years spent at Scottish Ballet were very special as I returned home from London. I loved that I could start my career while still being close to my family. After one year, a new director took over the company which heralded the time for exciting changes. The company went into a period of research and development to cultivate a new style. During these early years, I grew and learned and made lasting friendships.

Being in a company is like a family; there are ups and downs, disagreements and times of great joy. In my time with Scottish Ballet, I danced at the Edinburgh International Dance Festival three years in a row. It was then that Scottish Ballet got a name for being a cutting-edge company. Each season we toured throughout Scotland and abroad to China and Austria; we also did several seasons at Sadlers Wells Theatre and South Bank Centre Queen Elizabeth Halls.

How was your typical day?

The days for a dancer are intense and often repetitive though supported by humour and playfulness of my colleagues. I enjoyed the start of the day ballet class, listening to live music while connecting to my body and being surrounded by all these fantastic artists.

Why did you leave the Scottish Ballet?

Perhaps I got somewhat complacent as I was in my home town. I wonder if it would have been different if I danced in another country? I left Scottish Ballet simply because I felt I had learned all I could and that it was a natural time to move on. My moving to Rambert was spontaneous and fast, and a great next step in my career.

Do you have any curious/interesting anecdotes to tell?

A memorable, funny moment for me was while performing a part of my costume falling off and going into the wings to fix it and gliding on as if nothing had happened.

Also, the role I enjoyed most was Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet a powerful character and a highlight of my journey.

Moving to London and dancing at Rambert Dance Company

After leaving the Scotland Ballet, you joined Rambert, one of the most famous contemporary dance company. How did you get this new opportunity?

I sent my CV to Rambert and got a nice reply from the director. He was impressed by my experience, and he invited me to attend a class. I took that opportunity, and I was offered the job straight away after the class. I was very excited. It was at a pivotal moment in my career where I was hungry for new challenges.

Did you tour abroad?

Throughout my career, I have toured to China and always found these tours to be exciting experiences. There was a great amount of joy in travelling with the company and discovering new countries. I was fascinated with China, especially the sight of early morning Thai Chi in parks; it was so soothing to watch all this ancient wisdom. We were treated well and always made welcome and stayed in lovely hotels; this was a welcome change from the hotels and B&B’s in the UK.

What life and transferable skills have you learned from your profession as a dancer?

My life as a dancer has taught me discipline, determination and the ability to work under pressure. I have also developed a high degree of sensitivity to my body, so I know how to take care of myself.

From dancer to therapist

When and how did you start to think about becoming a dance teacher?

When I left Rambert in 2015, I continued to dance for a while then gradually made the transition into teaching and training as a Somatic Experiencing Trauma Therapist. I really enjoyed learning to teach ballet; it was such a joy to share all that I had learned and inspire people to get in touch with their bodies and express themselves. I see classical ballet as the form which people can play with and adapt it to their uniqueness. Alongside teaching, I was training as a Somatic Experiencing Trauma Therapist and those skills I was cultivating brought my teaching to a new level.

How did you decide to change your career from dancer to therapist?

The decision to transition to new experiences and more specifically from dancer to therapist, came from listening to myself and realising when the right moment to try new things presented.

Going from being a dancer to therapist to heal and transform people lives

You are a qualified Somatic Coach, and you have been training to become a Somatic Experiencing Trauma Therapist. Why did you choose this field, and how did you train?

My desire to transition from dancer to therapist came from my own experiencing of healing and transforming and realising how I wanted to share what I had learned. I decided to train as a Somatic Experiencing Trauma Therapist as I found this modality helped me to get underneath the words into the body; in a way, I found this natural because I had spent all my life working with the body. This training is three-year training, and I will graduate in October 2020, I am also a Somatic Coach too. I did my training for that in the US.

What are the highlights and lowlights of your job?

I really enjoy my job as a teacher and therapist as I am interested in people and have a curious outlook on life. One downside to teaching ballet is that my body is not as “happy” as it was a while ago. I get stiff and achy, and perhaps this is a natural process of ageing.

What is your typical day?

My typical day is starting with breakfast and some meditation/somatic practices. I like to start the day slow and without rush. Then I might go for a coffee to meet a friend. My teaching is generally in the evening, and my therapy practice is during the day on Tuesday and Friday. To be honest, I like simplicity, and I don’t work a massive number of hours; I would rather have a good balance of work and play.

Plans for the future

Where do you see yourself in the future?

In the future, I would like to have an inspiring therapy practice with people from all walks of life. I would like to teach somatic’s and enjoy co-facilitating workshops. I envisage teaching ballet much less but still connected to the dance world. Perhaps I may be living in a small city with my partner and with some children enjoying the simple pleasures of life. My practice would also include craniosacral therapy as one of the tools I offer.

What did you learn after your career change from dancer to therapist?

I sense that we evolve over time and become interested in different things, so I feel it is natural and healthy to have new careers and new experiences in our lives. Otherwise we can get stuck and unhappy. Changing a career is not an easy process, but it has been a great journey for me.

The impact of Covid19

Has your career been impacted in any way by the Coronavirus?

I have been affected like many others though I feel, over time, my practice will be a much-needed resource. Also, with the time we have had to reflect, it may guide us into another direction. I was already moving more away from dance and building my practice, so I realised that I am heading in the right direction.

Any final learnings about your career change from dancer to therapist to share with The Career Changers readers?

As we think about changing direction in our lives, it can help to have mentorship/coaching to support the direction we are going. Having a fellow traveller has been vital for me. I have a mentor and therapist to support me along the way. Having daily contemplation and movement practices can build resilience for the times of struggle. Follow your curiosity and listen to your life energy; feeling excited and passionate gives us an indication that we are travelling in the right direction. And don’t forget! Have fun along the way as you discover!

Feeling inspired by “How I changed my career from Dancer to Somatic Experiencing Trauma Therapist”? Read more dance career change stories. You can also listen to Mark Kelly podcast episode here where is talking about is career change from dancer to therapist and more about its daily practice.

You can also discover more about Mark Kelly work as Somatic Experiencing Trauma Therapist.

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