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The Journey To Retirement & Options

by Jennifer Ordonez

There I was, hanging out with several of my dance colleagues I had known for many years in the living room of our Airbnb, as we enjoyed a weekend together in Miami. It was March 2019 and during the conversation, I finally said it out loud…” I think I’ll retire in the next five years”. This came as a shock to the girls, but for me, I had been thinking about it for almost a year. It was something I had started to feel bubble up inside of me as I examined my future and started the journey of thinking about what I wanted to achieve in the next decade. Let me preface this by stating that I LOVE Raqs Sharqi. I have been a dancer’s dancer for many years, have traveled, competed, written a book, and achieved more than I thought I ever would when I started. When I began to realize that retirement was going to be a necessary component to achieve my goals for the next ten years, I must admit, I felt almost ashamed to even be having thoughts of letting it all go. My business was very successful in the niche I had carved out for myself (private event entertainment) and it seemed almost ridiculous to think about closing it as it just kept growing each year. The extra income was certainly nice to have.

That was it though…I had invested my LIFE into the dance business. Nights and weekends were all about the business. In the pursuit of success, I had given up personal events, rushed through injuries and exhaustion, and was giving up the precious resource of time to work on and in the business. I had put other personal projects aside to achieve business goals. I love the dance, but the business aspect after so many years began to take on another feeling.

It felt like a heavy chore to get ready before a show after a hard day of work. It was harder to leave the house knowing that instead of a date with loved ones, a night in to rest, or time to pursue another project, I would be focusing on giving all my energy to others in exchange for money (this was crazy as it's all I could have ever dreamed about achieving years before). This, I knew, wasn’t healthy for me and it wasn’t the vibe I wanted to bring into a performance. I found myself barely practicing, no longer hunting for new inspiration or ideas, and stagnant.

So when I shared in that little AirBNB that I was going to retire, I was ready to bring it into the world, but what would retirement look like? I didn’t want to give everything up. There was still so much that I loved and that invigorated me. Would I have to leave the community and never touch a dance floor again as some of my predecessors had?

The last five years have been a journey, and frankly, I am still in the process of transitioning mentally in many aspects (more on this later). There is one thing that is certain, there are so many more options than letting it all go. You can still keep the dance and community if you want, you have to find the root issue and figure out what is best for YOU. So let’s explore!

Options in Retirement are Plentiful

For me, and maybe some of you reading this, I knew that retirement would not mean that I would stop dancing or being a part of the community. For me, it was a very specific and finite thing…closing the business. When I share this concept, I am met with colleagues that “get it” and some that are very confused by this idea. You see, the business was the source of my resentment as far as the “time suck” aspect. It represented the time that I had committed via performance contracts that I could not use for other ventures. My priorities are very different in life now (I am 35) than it was when I was only 19 years old.

I had seen several dancers in the community “retire” over the years and it meant something very drastic (selling everything, stopping anything to do with the dance or community, and simply “disappearing”). This was their truth and what made sense for them and their priorities. Other dancers would simply shift to volunteering their time. I had never spoken to anyone about what other options there were, so I began to dig deep. What can one do post-gig life?

A Few Possibilities to Consider

The following will all need to be customized to whatever your root issue is so that you can achieve your happiness and truth. I hope these just help expand our community's thoughts behind what retirement means and that it isn’t as black and white as it may appear:

  • Complete Removal: this is the most dramatic of all. In this scenario, the dancer gets rid of all inventory and assets related to the dance business. They remove themselves from the community and additionally decide to no longer dance. This can be due to one or several factors (marriage, religion, children, hardship, or a huge positive change in wealth, etc).

  • Community Removal: in this scenario, the dancer enjoys the dance and continues to do so for personal enjoyment only, but not at community-related events. The dancer may get rid of inventory and assets related to the business. They continue to dance (even professionally via paid gigs) but decide not to support any community events as the community aspect is what has triggered their desire to retire. They identify as hobbyists or professionals depending on what track they choose (gig or no gigs).

  • Business Removal: this option is for those who enjoy the dance and the community but seek to have resource gains in the form of time. They may sell off all or the majority of their assets related to the business. They typically are in a financial state where they do not depend on an external income stream and can simply remain involved for the pure joy of it and see the dance as a hobby. They perform, participate, or support community events at their leisure.

The above is not all-encompassing but serves as three categories of retirement that may serve others. Feel free to share your thoughts on

Mental Transition

It is important to note that no matter what retirement means to you, the actual transition (after the fact) is no easy feat. Support your fellow human, as there is a lot of change involved. The mental aspect, for me, has been the most difficult part of the adjustment to retirement (and this is with five years of planning to reach the goal).

Here are a few examples of what I mean…

From Unlimited Opportunities to Only a Paycheck: I have always been able to manifest a gig or sale as needed to make a little extra cash before a holiday, travel, or event because, as an entrepreneur, I believe YOU have to create opportunities for financial gain. Right now, living on paychecks is not fun. I am in a comfortable financial position, but when surprises occur, I don’t have the business handy to make a sale a quick sale. I love sales! Some people dislike sales. If that is the case, it will be an easier transition for you.

Fewer Parties: I am very extroverted and love to party. All I did was go to nightclubs 2-3 times a week when I was 18-21 years old (before the dance business picked up). I knew having a company where I could dance the night away was a dream! I won’t be at MENATH weddings and parties all the time anymore. Fewer festivities mean I am focusing time on other projects, but it also means I have to transition to going to Arab nightclubs and lounges more rather than big, lavish weddings all the time.

Fashion: I still need a couple of costumes for community performances, but I am thinking about what my style will be. I need a couple of items that are multi-functional and multi-genre. I want to have two looks in the future that can achieve this, as I no longer need a closet full of costumes. What they will look like, I am not clear on, but this is on my mind.

Expectations: Am I still expected to perform at a “certain” level that matches my colleagues when I perform on stage? I am still struggling with what to do with this one. I am a hobbyist now, so I haven’t been investing or training as I did years ago, and I feel the difference. Discovering what “performing well” means now is a topic on its own.

Self-care routine: I used to have a weekly routine leading up to the gig date for eyebrows, skin, nails, etc. This has been a hoot to re-learn. Without a gig, I no longer have that consistent weekly deadline/motivation. I now write things in my planner, or else, I find that I “let go” of the beauty regimen a lot more.

Health and Fitness: Without the long cardio sessions of shows (my shows were 30 minutes) the body sure does need a bit more maintenance to stay in shape. As I decreased the number of gigs to zero upon retirement, I had to completely change my workout routine. I have flourished in this area (health has always been a huge priority in my life) after much consistency and discipline. I now do short, high-intensity workouts 5 days a week to stay in shape and remain strong. It isn’t “dance shape” as I recently went to a dance event and my feet were NOT used to being barefoot for so long (my feet hurt so bad) and I was quite sore by the last workshop, but I still have stamina and the personal look I like to have without the gigs.

The Journey Ahead

All in all, I hope that if the time comes when retirement is something you must consider, this candid look at a few options and some realities of what transitioning will bring, will serve as a helpful aid.

Some of you may know me as the author, the performer, the designer, instructor, but no matter whether we have crossed paths or not, sharing our stories and experiences has always been an immense help along the way. What will yours be?

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