Broken: An Intimate Portrait of Dancer Transition

Posted on: 2016/12/16

Transition out of a performance career can be a difficult topic to examine due to each dancer’s highly individualized and deeply personal process. Nonetheless, Broken compellingly tackles transition by anchoring its story in the life of Simone Orlando, a dancer with The National Ballet of Canada, Desrosiers Dance Theatre, and Ballet BC where her elegant and powerful performances gave her 12 celebrated years as a Principal dancer.

Director Lynne Spencer displays a high level of attunement and understanding as she chronicles Orlando’s struggle with injury – educating her viewers about the many institutional factors, cultural norms within the dance community, as well as personal attributes that can positively or negatively impact a dancer’s experience of transition. Orlando speaks with honesty and openness about her final years with Ballet BC, and she possesses an articulate clarity about the sources of pressure within her environment that shaped her decisions and actions at the end of her performance career.

The fact that Spencer lets her viewers in on the celebratory highs of Orlando’s career as well as its difficult end, makes it easy for viewers to appreciate how difficult it is to let go of one’s place in the dance world. Listening to Orlando speak about the joys of collaborating with choreographers in the studio, and the privilege of dancing roles tailor-made for her as a dancer, viewers come to understand the exceptional investment that dancers make in the careers, and dance’s overwhelming prominence amongst the things that constitute their identity.

Broken assembles an excellent group of experts who speak to both the process of career transition for dancers as well as their unique experience of injury and pain. Sally Maitlis, a Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Leadership at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, speaks astutely about the intersection of the personal and institutional factors affecting transition. In addressing the overwhelming pressure to suppress pain and continue dancing even at the expense of long-term wellbeing, Maitlis identifies “an opportunity window, where if the spotlight goes on them for a little while, they better take advantage of it”. Orlando’s testimony candidly addresses a fear of being replaced, and of “feeling shut out” while sidelined with her injury that can erode a dancer’s sense of agency within their decision to transition.

Maitlis confirms what we have seen time and time again at the Dancer Transition Resource Centre, that those who most smoothly transition to post-performance careers are the dancers “who think of themselves quite broadly” and nurture interests outside of their dance career while they’re still performing.

All of us who work with dancers, athletes, or any high performer in transition, should be incredibly thankful to Orlando for her willingness to share her story and her search for closure after taking her last bow. We are also grateful for Spencer’s ability to bring us so deeply into Orlando’s process transition from an illustrious performance career, to a choreographic role, and to her current position as Artistic Director of Ballet Kelowna, where she is able to offer support to her own dancers as they navigate their career transitions. 


Helping dancers make necessary transitions into, within, and from professional performing careers since 1985.