Ex-Linklaters trainee swaps the office for a dance studio
Our anonymous dancer swapped sitting at a desk at Linklaters for a dance studio and is now a freelance contemporary and tango dancer. She made the decision to change careers while still a trainee, much to the horror of her friends and family. However, she has never looked back as she felt compelled to follow her dream while she was still young enough to do it, rather than remain in a lucrative but less fulfilling job. We asked her how and why she made the change.
mtl: Hi, tell us about your legal background.
AD: I studied law at King’s College, London and at the Sorbonne, which was very hard work, though I did enjoy it and found it interesting. The fact that I danced on the side made it harder, though as a student it was possible to juggle both. At the end of my law degree I applied for training contracts as the path seemed to be so well mapped out. I was offered a place at Linklaters, was really pleased to accept it and went from there. I enjoyed the LPC more than my degree as it was more practical.
I found Linklaters really fun to start with and enjoyed the social side and meeting lots of new people. The work was initially fine, although it was a very quiet time to be there, and there didn’t seem much to do. This probably gave me too much thinking time... Like other people I’m sure, I also found it very constraining to be sitting with my body crumpled in a chair all day – I wanted to be moving and dancing.
I didn’t go into law flippantly and I had worked hard to get where I was. However I had been subject to lots of parental pressure to do something lucrative, while also knowing at the same time that dancing was something that I wanted to tap into more.
Law, King’s College London and the Sorbonne, Paris
LPC, Store Street, London
UK Bachelor in Performing Arts (Dance), Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Leeds
UK Postgraduate Diploma in Performance- Edge 05, London Contemporary Dance School
Freelance dancer and tango teacher
mtl: So what prompted your decision to leave Linklaters?
AD: I did an audition for the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds and surprised myself by being offered a place. I was allowed to start in the second year of a three year course. I didn’t know what to do and it was a very difficult time in my life while I tried to decide between my career as a City solicitor and as a dancer. I went through lots of soul-searching while I tried to figure out what I was “meant” to do with my life and eventually decided that I had to go for it.
I guess the deciding factor was that if I didn’t do it then, I would probably never have done it and certainly couldn’t go back to it. On the other hand, I could go back to law later in life if I wanted to. I ended up leaving my training contract after only seven months. Linklaters was very supportive, particularly because they had taken on too many trainees in my intake and were probably delighted to be losing one along the way.
mtl: How did you find the transition from City worker to dance student?
AD: It was a very tough transition. I turned up in Leeds knowing nobody and being, at 25, older that most of the other students. It was hard to be skint again but I managed. The training was very strenuous, physical and athletic and I learnt the tools that I needed as a dancer. I lost a lot of weight and changed my body shape.
I had expected to find it spiritually uplifting to be finally doing what I wanted to do all day long. After all, it had been a childhood dream to be a dancer and I had done it for many years already as a hobby. However it was only on a post-graduate course at the London Contemporary Dance School that I really started to feel rewarded and fulfilled, both artistically and emotionally. I was one of nine students there working with five choreographers and we went on tour in the UK and around Europe. It was really great to gain performance experience and to contribute creatively to what I was doing.
My days are now understandably varied depending on what is going on. If I am not working on a project, then I go to a professional class in the morning for two hours and then have a tango rehearsal in the afternoon. I don’t always manage to practice every day, but contemporary dance is not like ballet where you have to train every day and you can take days off if you need to. However I love what I do, so I love going to classes and they help me feel part of a community, as working freelance can be quite isolating otherwise. I choose to work freelance rather than working full-time for one particular company so that I can work with different people whose work I like. I have previously danced in an opera at the Royal Opera House and have another project coming up there soon, which will be great.
Obviously the money and job security that I have now are not very good. However, I have been very lucky so far, and have not had a period without work yet. Jobs seem to come up at the right time… I spend my time teaching and performing tango, working on contemporary projects and going on tour. I am waiting for the funding for my next tour to come through. However arts funding has been slashed recently by a third due to the London Olympics and is now much harder to get.
mtl: What advice or tips do you have for lawyers who are considering doing something radically different?
AD: It will be really difficult but go for it. Hopefully you may have an idea that doesn’t involve living off very little money! I find it very hard not having much income but I still wouldn’t swap my life. If have a bad day then at least I look forward to dancing – which is such a good thing – I never got up and looked forward to doing law. I guess you should weigh up the pros and cons of what your career change will involve and make your own mind up.
I found the hardest part was actually making the decision to leave, particularly because dancing is so different to law. I suffered so much trying to decide, and I am sure that other people also find it a harrowing process! Everyone seemed to think that I was completely mad, even though inside I felt strongly that I wanted to change my path. Once you decide though, other people accept it and when they see that you are succeeding, they first find it amusing and then they feel proud of what you have achieved. I would say that once you have actually made the decision, everything else will fit around that. I certainly haven’t looked back since deciding. In the end it was actually very simple to walk into a partner’s office, see HR and leave shortly afterwards.
mtl: Do you have any thoughts about returning to law in the future?
AD: I don’t know if it would even be possible! I have tried to get some temping work on occasion, but once they know my story, I never get anywhere. Even though I am academically strong and chose to leave law for valid reasons to follow another path, I am still seen in a negative light, which is a shame. Obviously they doubt my commitment, but you would think that it shouldn’t be an issue for a temp role…
Although dancing is not something I can do forever, there are opportunities to get into theatrical work or to teach dance. I sometimes think of going back to a more lucrative career and my mother’s standard advice to me is to go back to law! However I am flexible about what I will do in the future…
If you are interested in tango lessons or you would like to book a tango show for a function, then click here.
The photos are courtesy of Nuno Santos.
If you know any other ex-lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.
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