Bradley Shelver Writes Home About Life on Tour with the Limon Dance Company

Bradley Shelver, a member of the Limón Dance Company, talks candidly about life as a professional dancer on tour. The first in a six-part series.

NYC is a mecca for artists, musicians, actors and, of course, dancers. It’s also very different from my native country, South Africa. During my last year of performing arts high school, and after considering a career in law due to the dire condition of the arts in my country, I received a full scholarship to attend The Ailey School in NYC. After a few months I was offered a position with Ailey 2. After two years with the company, I went on to dance for Elisa Monte Dance, Complexions Dance and Ballet Hispanico, and just nine months ago joined the Limón Dance Company.

Being an ambitious 25-year-old, I wasn’t satisfied with just having a job. I needed to establish a career. That road, however rewarding, is not easily traveled. While teaching throughout the U.S. and Europe, I’ve noticed that there’s a distorted perception of life as a professional dancer. Here is my firsthand experience.

An Alternative Lifestyle

On a recent tour of Italy and Germany, the airline misplaced the entire company’s luggage, including all the costumes and technical equipment. When we arrived in Casalmaggiore, Italy, the whole company—dressed in the same (not very photogenic) clothes we’d worn for the last 24 hours—attended a media conference with TV and newspaper journalists. To top it off, a photo of us made the front page of the local paper. The best way to handle stressful situations like these is to be patient and professional.

On this same tour, we performed on an inordinate number of raked stages. Due to the stress put on my body from performing on a surface I wasn’t used to, as well as the rigors of touring, I pulled a muscle in my ankle and spent four hours in an emergency room getting it taped properly so I could perform the next day.

The last stop of the tour was the Munich State Opera House, where we performed for 2,200 people and reveled in eight curtain calls. At this point, we were all exhausted. I, however, wasn’t done yet. While the rest of the company went home, I flew to Denmark for a freelance teaching and rehearsing job. I was hired by Nini Thieland, a 90-year-old Danish ballerina who danced with Mikhail Fokine and was one of Salvadore Dali’s muses, to learn a piece that she had choreographed at 16.

Afterwards, I met the Limón company in Alaska, where the sun beamed for 19 hours a day. We had four performances in a 52-hour period, which included traveling at 6 am and performing that same evening in a space three times smaller than the one before. Things in this business are never predictable, so it helps to keep an open mind and a positive energy (not to mention lots of coffee).

Getting By

After a while, your body begins to make decisions for you. As much as I work to maintain consistent technique, some days I wake up with an inability to turn, or my coordination seems off. I survive these moments by realizing that every day is different and nothing is permanent. Then I focus on something else—usually a vacation!

A professional dancer’s adaptability is an important asset because it helps when coping with the long tours, few rehearsals, unemployment stints, relationship struggles both inside and outside of companies, health concerns, living out of a suitcase, marketing yourself and making and keeping contacts. When learning to embrace these elements, it becomes vital not to limit yourself to one technique or style. If you want to eat, you have to work; if you want to work, you have to make yourself as valuable to a choreographer as possible.

My passion for dance goes beyond the stage. One cannot only be an artist when performing. You must eat, sleep and breathe your craft; you have to know when to push, when to strive and, especially, when to let go. My friends say this life is glamorous; I say it’s hard work. The journey takes discipline, but the outcome is magnificent.

Latest Posts

Alex Wong (Collette Mruk, courtesy Alex Wong)

6 AAPI Dancers Share Their Stories

Last year, anti-Asian hate crimes increased by 150 percent in many of America's largest cities. And last month, a mass shooting in the Atlanta area took the lives of eight people, six of them Asian women. Since then, the attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have continued, sparking a national movement to stop AAPI hate.

In light of this, Dance Spirit wanted to help amplify the voices of AAPI dancers. We asked six to share their thoughts about anti-Asian racism and how it appears in the dance world. Here's what they had to say.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
William Zinser works with a dancer at The Joyce Theater (Kristin Stevens, courtesy William Zinser)

How to Beat 5 Common Cheats Dancers Commit

Y'all, we get it. Dance is really, really hard. So what's the harm in taking the easy way out on a technical correction? Answer: an increased chance of injury, and a whole slew of new technique problems that could take a loooooooong time to fix.

Lucky for you, Dance Spirit has enlisted the expert help of Dale Lam, artistic director of CCJ Conservatory in South Carolina, and William Zinser, certified athletic trainer at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries in NYC, so you can start leveling up your technique the honest way.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
What happens if you are passed over for the opportunity when it feels like your time? (Getty Images/kf4851)

What to Do When Your Dance Teacher Says You're Not Pointe Ready

Since the day you pulled on your first leotard, you have no doubt been dreaming of the day you would attend your first pointe shoe fitting. Going on pointe is a rite of passage as a ballet dancer, and the result of years of hard work.

But what happens if you are passed over for the opportunity when it feels like your time? It's totally understandable to be disappointed and frustrated if your teacher doesn't move you on pointe, but don't lose faith in yourself. "I've seen a lot of dancers go on pointe over the years," says Josephine Lee, professional pointe shoe fitter and founder of The Pointe Shop. "I don't think I have ever seen a dancer who was held back from pointework feel like they were behind in the long run."

Ideally, your teacher has laid out clear guidelines for what makes a dancer pointe-ready. But if they haven't, there are some milestones that ballet professionals are looking for to give the green light for your first pair of shoes. Factors like your age, technique level, range of motion and strength all come into play. And the good news is that if going on pointe is a goal for you, there are proactive ways that you can get there.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

Enter the Cover Model Search