Mirjam followed the Dance course at Rotterdam Dance Academy (Codarts). After that she worked for 10 years mainly on a project basis with choreographers like Nanine Linning, Anouk van Dijk, Itzik Galili, Joseph Tmim, Karin Post, Beppie Blankert, Thom Stuart and others, as well as with the company Djazzex.
What stage of the retraining process do you think you are at right now?
I graduated 10 years ago and have been working in my new profession since then. I still feel like a dancer, although I have now been working as a professional in my new field almost longer than I did in dance. My retraining process is complete.
What are you up to at the moment and how did you get to this point?
I’m working with a digital agency. We design and build big web applications. I’m concerned mainly with the technology side. I manage developers who make changes to e-commerce platforms, i.e. extensive webshops. After my Bachelor of Information Science and Master of Computer Science at the University of Amsterdam, I started programming, but now I function as the pivot between customer and developer. I translate the customer’s wishes into something that can be built.
What are the similarities or links between what you do now and dancing?
The work is fun and challenging, and you’re continually working towards deadlines, like you do for a openingnight. You also work together in an international team of people from different disciplines, just like creating a dance production. People work hard and great demands are made, so it’s not relaxed. In dance, you get personal attention, feedback and applause. I find there’s less of that in the business world.
What were the highlights of your dancing career?
I worked very intensively with Nanine Linning, which was a really enjoyable period. Solo 5.0, which she created on me, and the duet Karpp..? with Iris Reyes were especially challenging and really nice to do. I also have very good memories of the tours of the United States with Beppie Blankert. Performing in between the skyscrapers was a fantastic experience.
Which other qualities you developed as a dancer are useful to you now?
Collaborating, interacting with colleagues and working towards a goal are all extremely useful in my work. In a team, we create a piece of software rather than a choreographic work. During my studies, discipline was very important. You have to learn many new things in a short space of time, for which I needed plenty of perseverance and focus. Something I really needed to learn, which I hadn’t developed at all as a dancer, was how to talk. You never had to discuss or explain complex things. As a dancer, you are just required to keep your mouth shut and keep repeating the movement phrase.
How has the retraining process gone for you?
Two dance productions were postponed for a year and then I realised that I could grow further outside the dance world. In dance, I saw few other professional opportunities that matched my ambitions and I’d always been interested in doing a scientific study. I soon knew which study direction I wanted to take, as I’d already been interested in computers and programming as a teenager. Even during dancing, I was building websites. My choice was also influenced by the good job prospects. It was a tough decision to start studying. It’s a turning point; you’re putting a stop to something to which you’ve given your all. But once my studies got going, I found I’d entered an interesting new world and my focus was on the future. So something new had taken the place of dance. My studies were intensive and the material challenging, and I needed every bit of discipline I had, but I managed to graduate within four years and achieve good results. Afterwards, I found a job straight away despite my relatively advanced years. It was much easier to find a job than I’d expected.
What was your greatest challenge during this process?
Although I found the decision to start studying difficult, I had no doubts about it. The studying itself – and doing jobs on the side – was very tough, especially as delaying the studies was not an option.
What have you learnt from your retraining, and what advice would you like to give dancers who are ready to retrain?
Do something useful, with which you can find work and earn money. You might be a bit older when you enter the job market and not have the relevant work experience. It’s really great that there’s so much work in ICT. If you do something outside dance or art, you have start right at the bottom again, but the development opportunities are so much greater. I really enjoy having a regular job and not being dependent on subsidies and projects.
With hindsight, I think that in this profession I’ve partly rediscovered the aspects of dance that I liked, such as collaboration, communication and creativity. I enjoy not having to be continually preoccupied with my body. So try to think about what it is you enjoy about dance and whether you can find that in another profession as well.
Why do you think it’s important for dancers to receive support during the retraining process?
Dancers have such passion for what they do that they also have the potential to excel in another profession. But retraining is essential for this. Studying is very expensive, also because you have limited time to work alongside your studies. It’s important to have support in completing this process. I’m really happy that these opportunities exist. I think it’s such a bonus to have a second career that also gives me great satisfaction.