Dancing Into a New Profession During my years teaching in a communication sciences and disorders (CSD) program, I have heard quite a few of my students mention that they had started out as dancers. One of these students, Allison Lake, and I decided to dig a little more deeply and find out what attracts dancers ... Features
Features  |   February 01, 2006
Dancing Into a New Profession
Author Notes
  • Susan S Behrens, is an associate professor of communication sciences and disorders at Marymount Manhattan College. She is not a great dancer. Contact her at sbehrens@mmm.edu.
    Susan S Behrens, is an associate professor of communication sciences and disorders at Marymount Manhattan College. She is not a great dancer. Contact her at sbehrens@mmm.edu.×
Article Information
Speech, Voice & Prosodic Disorders / Professional Issues & Training / Features
Features   |   February 01, 2006
Dancing Into a New Profession
The ASHA Leader, February 2006, Vol. 11, 10-24. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR4.11032006.10
The ASHA Leader, February 2006, Vol. 11, 10-24. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR4.11032006.10

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During my years teaching in a communication sciences and disorders (CSD) program, I have heard quite a few of my students mention that they had started out as dancers. One of these students, Allison Lake, and I decided to dig a little more deeply and find out what attracts dancers to the field of speech and language. We asked individuals who made the change to write about their decision.
We invite you to read the four profiles below, written by people who made the switch. And look around your institution. You might be surrounded by dancers.
Allison Lake
After receiving her bachelor’s degree in performance arts in dance, Lake-whose performance name is Alee Reed-is a teaching artist and educational liaison for American Ballroom Theater’s “Dancing Classrooms” program and dance director of New York City’s Dulaine Dancenter. She is taking prerequisite courses in speech-language pathology in preparation for graduate study.
“I felt very much alone and very much an anomaly when I walked into my first required 100-level speech class, which was filled with people almost 20 years my junior. ‘What in the world have I done?’ I kept asking myself. ‘Shouldn’t I be at an audition right now?’
It had been 14 years since I had set foot in a college classroom. And since then, I had built a career as a musical theater dancer, touring nationally and internationally in productions such as 42nd Street, Mame, Gypsy, Big, and Jolson, as well as many other regional productions.
But with the onset of my 30s, changes in the economy and the tastes of the industry, and perhaps helped by the hand of fate, my career began to slow down. Fortunately, I had the wonderful resource of Career Transition for Dancers (CTFD). They listened compassionately as I spoke of the fulfillment I had experienced as a professional dancer, as well as the sadness and frustration I was feeling from no longer getting work. Then they gently helped guide me toward the future.
At CTFD, I took several career inventories to unlock the mystery of what might lie ahead for me. Was there a career that could match my joy as a professional dancer? I scored evenly among four different personality categories on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which yielded an overwhelming number of career suggestions, from innkeeper to electrician to probation officer to airline mechanic to cardiologist. Speech-language pathologist showed up on several of my lists, but the sheer number and variety of unrealistic suggestions sent me running right back to my auditions and my soul-crushing catering job.
A year or two later, I found myself thumbing through a book that listed the careers with the best outlooks for the new century. Speech-language pathology caught my eye. I remembered it from the Myers-Briggs list.
Then the universe started sending me “emissaries” to guide me. A friend of a friend was a speech-language pathologist, and I contacted her. She was generous with her advice and even let me observe her practice. I was struck by her joy working with and helping her young clients. This was definitely something I could see myself doing.
Back at the catering job, I happened to overhear an actor friend mention that his wife was an SLP. I dropped what I was doing and ran up to him, asking if he thought his wife might speak with me about the field. I was delighted to find out that not only would she meet with me, but that she, like me, had started out as a performer and then transitioned into the field! She was the perfect person for me to meet. She had blazed the trail I was starting on.
Back to the original question: Why do dancers gravitate toward speech-language pathology? It is the element of expression that appeals to me. As a teacher (dance, theater arts), I have found that seeing beginning students finally master basic, fundamental steps has often been more rewarding to me than their learning advanced steps that are “just for show.” Speech and language are fundamental to the human experience in much the same way as chasses and pivot turns are fundamental to the experience of a dancer. Without it, expression is locked and wonderful ideas cannot be released.”
Brandi Odell
After studying dance at Point Park College in Pittsburgh, she enrolled in Marymount Manhattan College and earned her bachelor’s degree in speech-language pathology and audiology, and then received her master’s in audiology from St John’s University. She currently works for the New York City Department of Education as an educational audiologist and works part-time in a private practice.
“From the age of six, I went to dance lessons on a regular basis. By the age of 10, I was enrolled in a local dance company. My life was school by day, dance by night. I loved it! When college application time came around, I knew nothing but dance. There was no question…I was going to be a dancer. There were, however, some realities not in my favor: I am quite short and I wasn’t blessed with the ability to sing and act. Regardless of these deficiencies, I enrolled in a theater arts college as a dance major.
During my first two years in college, a few things happened. My father had a stroke, which left him with aphasia, and my student loans were piling up. The transition to, and reality of, adulthood and responsibility also happened. I realized that dance, for me, was not a realistic profession. I didn’t like the lifestyle of the theater arts industry. I don’t think I had the drive. It’s a tough business and there are no guarantees.
While home for one year, I saw what my father was experiencing with his speech difficulties, and I became very interested in his treatment. I saw how much it helped him and my family, and I realized what a rewarding profession speech-language pathology could be. The next fall, I enrolled as a speech-language pathology and audiology major. By my last semester, I had student-taught in the New York City school system, volunteered at a nursing home and at a children’s camp for children with pervasive developmental disorder, and worked as a hearing screener at a local hospital.
During my undergraduate coursework I took an audiology class, which opened up another avenue for me. Audiology seemed a perfect fit for my personality. Just like dance and speech-language pathology it requires creativity and patience, but with more of a framework. The best part about being an audiologist is actually seeing the results of your work right before your eyes. To see people’s faces light up the first time you give them a hearing aid or assistive listening device is so rewarding.
I currently work as an educational audiologist, having obtained a master’s degree. My decision to switch from dance to speech and later to audiology was very personal. However, I think there are obvious connections between the fields. An SLP or audiologist, like a dancer, must be a hard worker, and be creative and dedicated. In speech-language pathology or audiology, however, unlike in dance, I could use my creativity to really make a difference in a person’s life. Another difference is that jobs are more stable for SLPs or audiologists.
As people grow and mature, different things become important to them. In my case, these factors include financial security, job stability and security, the ability to help people, and my overall happiness.”
Laura Reardon
She earned a bachelor’s degree in speech-language pathology and audiology from Marymount Manhattan College and a master’s in speech-language pathology from Columbia University. Reardon works as an SLP on Long Island.
“I was a dancer from the time I was 3 years of age. I loved to dance and lived for my classes and recitals. Up until my junior year of high school I thought I was going to be a professional dancer. I considered it my passion and the only thing I could see myself doing in the future. However, reality quickly set in, and it came in two forms. One was my parents. They are incredibly supportive, but they are realists. They would not have paid for me to attend college to dance. They wanted me to have a career, a profession, and a steady income. The other reality was my knees. I suffered a knee injury that to this day causes me pain.
At the time, my mother worked as a secretary at United Cerebral Palsy in Queens, New York. She set up a day for me to observe and talk with SLPs at her workplace. That day opened my eyes to what would become my new passion. I was so intrigued with speech-language pathology just from that one day that I decided to study it. I’m so thankful that I did.
When I graduated from Teachers College, Columbia University, in 2002 with my master’s degree, I was side-by-side with numerous former dancers. The fields of dance and speech-language pathology both draw people who are artistic, outgoing, caring, creative, and who love to work with people. Dancing is a definite form of expression, and as an SLP, expression is usually our main goal with our clients. When one dances and functions as a clinician, one is very much in touch with oneself and the body. Instead of knowing the muscles needed to warm up before a ballet class, as an SLP I might be warming up laryngeal muscles or doing auditory training exercises.
I believe the connection goes even deeper. A dancer loves to perform and make others happy by doing so. Dancers connect with people via their dance. As a former dancer, I could never have taken a job where I was not connecting with people. I would not feel fulfilled if, at the end of the day, I had not made some impact on someone’s life. And I believe I do as an SLP.”
Rachel Astern
After earning her bachelor’s in fine arts degree in dance, Astern worked as a founding member of Adele Myers and Dancers, and begins graduate study in speech-language pathology at Hunter College this fall.
“After earning my BFA in dance, as well as a few dance injuries, I moved to New York City armed with fresh ambition and no second thoughts. I had a good education, a lifetime of discipline, and the idea that nothing could stop me. Not only did I immerse myself in the New York dance community, but I opened my own personal training business, managed other dancers’ careers, waited tables, catered, performed secretarial duties, and supported myself with countless other side jobs.
Finally, I began dancing for a wonderful modern dance company complete with touring and teaching. I was also presenting my own body of work in the city. Even so, my life was fraught with financial stress. It seemed that every dancer I knew, successful and otherwise, was supporting herself mainly with other less meaningful jobs, ones flexible in schedule but limited in benefits and advancement. College dance injuries, such as disc problems and tendonitis, were rearing their ugly heads. I saw a dim future of living with tight finances coupled with serious pain that would undoubtedly increase with age.
Vigorously, I researched schools and realized that there was a whole world out there full of disciplines I never before considered. My interest in some of them surprised me, and sparked the notion that my priorities were no longer what they used to be.
I interviewed my friends and their friends, checked out different university programs, and read Internet articles about hot, new jobs. The more I narrowed down my search, the more speech-language pathology stayed in the running. I discovered that it might be possible to use my creative impulses in another way: to work with people and their bodies, use my strengths as a teacher, learn something new, and provide myself with a less stressful lifestyle that would be equally challenging and rewarding.
Soon, I realized that many valuable tools that make a phenomenal dancer make a phenomenal SLP. Both employ patience and creativity to teach another person to master a physical skill or regain a lost skill. Both recognize the vital potential for human movement, communication, and expression. Both rely on an advanced understanding of the human body and the ability to problem-solve and create new game plans. Both are a science as well as an art. I hope one day to use my knowledge of one to augment my work in the other.”
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February 2006
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