SAMUEL WUERSTEN: Leaving the comfort zone is never easy, but there’s always something to discover

Samuel Wuersten (1961) Gstaad, Switzerland. Is the artistic and executive director of the Holland Dance Festival. Originally trained as a dancer, Wuersten has developed into a visionary arts administrator committed to making The Netherlands an international guide country in the field of dance.

Alberto Villanueva, the brand new communication officer of the retraining scheme, spoke with him about his view on dance and beyond and why the retraining program belongs in the dance scene.

This year’s 18th edition of HDF was beautiful and memorable in many ways. Organizing it in the middle of the pandemic presented a considerable challenge for the whole team and plenty of insecurities.

But as a reward, the public warmly embraced our efforts and added a new layer of appreciation. In spite of the capacity restrictions, you could hear the enthusiastic sea of bravos and clapping at the end of every show.

It was almost therapeutic to be able to go to the theatre again. Experiencing the magic of a live performance again, was fulfilling, says Wuersten.

Dancers have a characteristic charm; they don’t leave things unfinished, have an incredible discipline, and are goal-oriented, qualities which are valuable not only in dance but for the regular work market too. These skills are transferable to any field of work.
Samuel Wuersten

Education and Transition

Being involved in professional dance education and the beginnings of dance careers and and being involved in the professional dance field through the Holland Dance Festival is a combination Samuel treasures.

As a former director of Codarts & currently running the Bachelor and Master dance programs at the Zurich Arts University, Samuel is still much involved in education.

Talking about transition to young dancers who are starting is tricky. Discussing the end of your career before it even really starts, is a bit of a paradox. That doesn’t mean it has to be a taboo.

The seed of being aware of career perspectives has to be planted early on. Samuel finds it helpful to do this by sharing examples of ‘best practices’ with aspiring professional dancers.

Starting with the surrounding network of teachers, choreographers and supporting staff is an obvious first step as those people have often transitioned from being a dancer into their current career of teach, coaching, choreographing, organizing or administrating. This already forms a natural and organic way to start the conversation about career.

The role of ODN in the dance environment of The Netherlands.

The Netherlands is one of the leading countries on dancers retraining, and ODN has a long history of working together with the international organization IOTPD. It sets an example. Other countries have similar systems, but they are a minority.

ODN is unique because it’s system supports freelancer dancers and company dancers with their different needs and perspectives. The transition system fits within the overall package Holland offers in dance; we have an excellent infrastructure.

Education is part of that network; companies, theatres, production houses, subsidies systems, etc. they all cater to many different aspects, and the transition program does that too.

ODN is a critical component in a dancer’s career; it facilitates something normal and natural: transition from one career to the next.

Speaking about transition in dance always has a specific dramatic flavour, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. There are examples of people who continue dancing for a long time; it’s not for everyone the same.

HDF hosted The Dance On Ensemble, closing this year’s edition, with dancers whose age varies from 43 to 71 years; they present brilliant and captivating work. A dance career no longer has to end at age 35. The scale has become much broader.

But once the decision is made to end one career and move on to a next one, it is necessary and helpful to find financial and practical support to make this transition. ODN is making this possible with a flexible and tailormade approach.


Talent beyond the stage

Several studies have been made about success rates in transition, and with dancers the outcome is overwhelmingly positive.

Dancers often discover their talent and vocation at a very early age. This sets them aside as for many people, it is challenging to find out what they want to do, where their passion and talent lie.

Dancers have a characteristic charm; they don’t leave things unfinished, have an incredible discipline, and are goal-oriented, qualities which are valuable not only in dance but for the regular work market too. These skills are transferable to any field of work.

In a way, through the nature of the dance practice, dancers are pre-destined for transitions. Becoming a professional dancers requires a very specific focus, one could say, a tunnel vision. As the dance career progresses and grows, the scope becomes broader and broader to achieve one’s full potential. The momentum of this ongoing curiosity and attitude of life-long learning is very helpful in the transition.

Dancers are incredible: they do the most courageous things on stage in a strange combination of humility and self-confidence. These are great assets for career transitions.

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