From Tights to Ties

The dance resumé is the epitome of utility. Name, address that week, companies you’ve performed with, how many calories you can survive on and your age minus five years. The resumé should be typed, although boldface, bullets and fancy fonts won’t matter a damn.

What will matter is making the first cut of the audition, then standing in line with 95 other dancers, all of whom are sticking out their right leg and pointing the hell out of their right foot while the USDA meat inspector walks down the row, pulling out the ground beef and leaving the chateaubriand.

And corporate America’s tough? Try downsizing the downsized.

But you’ll reach an age—even minus five years—when the USDA meat inspector will stamp vegetable on your behind, and you’ll have no choice but to pack up the tights.

My wife was much smarter than I was. She left dance first and immediately returned to school to study physical therapy. It was a practical choice that offered job security, professional respect, the opportunity to heal the wounded and the chance to be paid for putting your hands on other people s bodies. I, however, pretended not to hear the tick, creak, tick, creak of my biological clock, the one that tells you that soon you won’t be able to give birth to a double tour en l’air and land in a fetal crouch, thereby expressing the cycles of life and universal angst—all downstage left. No, when I finally learned to tell time by my aching knees, my stiff back and my lost ability to clip my toenails while in a split, it was too late. I was out of a job, a career, and my only direction in life was due east—the unemployment office.

What was I going to do for the rest of my life? The corporate sharks were swimming, and they were getting paid. I was trapped on land, trapped on a desert island. I was Robinson Crusoe, except there was no reason to say, “Thank God it’s Friday,” because every day was like Saturday or Sunday but without a paycheck to spend.

It was time to plunge into the realm of career changes. It was time to go to the library.

What Color Is My Straight Jacket?

The problem with dance, maybe the problem with life in general, is that you grow old and you’re no longer able to do it. The other problem with dance, and again, maybe with life in general, is that if you’re not doing it, what else would you want to do?

The answer lies somewhere in the career section of your local library. There’s an abundance of well-intentioned books designed to help you engage in the kind of soul-searching that will produce a statement like “My ideal employment environment will be a mix of working independently and in proactive teams dedicated to fulfilling the mission of the organization to which I am indentured.”

After hundreds of hours of slaving away at exercises that ask the hard questions, I narrowed my choices to two possible employment paths.

Option One. To seek a position in which I can expand my inner being, continue my quest for spiritual enrichment, have the freedom to express myself through music, movement, lighting and the carving of space, and fulfill my basic ego needs for attention and approbation.

Option Two. To seek a position which will enable me to open both checking and savings accounts.

Well, I’d already done One, so why not try Two?

Writing the Resumé: Veni, Vidi, Via, Vitae Curricula

My first resumé was a piece of garbage; it was honest, to the point, accurate. Furthermore, prospective employers did not find my previous position as principal dancer as impressive as I’d expected. Evidently balancing at the pinnacle of a dance hierarchy does not translate into corporate America’s definition of a mover and shaker.

The resumés went out, the rejections came in, the rain forests fell. I learned to doctor the document.

I learned that in the real world, at the top of the resume, you’re supposed to state your objective. You would think that an intelligent employer would know that your objective is to get the job, but employers don’t always catch on quickly. The redundancy of creating an objective that should have been obvious will also alert the prospective employer that if push comes to shove, you can push papers with the best of them. So I could write:

Objective: To use my strong interpersonal skills and highly trained legs to best advantage in an office or office-like setting.

The key to writing the body of the resumé is to list your assets and then distort them into pithy phrases and job titles that will resonate in BLS—Bottom-Line Speak.

For example, putting on tights over sweaty legs, especially sweaty, hairy legs, is not something easily done by amateurs, but I can put on a pair of tights with the seam straight, no bagging at the knees or crotch, in under a minute. The same fact in BLS:

Assistant Tights Administrator

Have reduced the time it takes to put on a pair of tights by 50 percent over the past two years, thereby increasing overall company productivity.

Running a rehearsal transformed me into an assistant director; driving the troupe to the theater made me a tour coordinator. The fact that I could turn on one leg more than three times without putting the other foot down meant I could assure prospective employers that I’d put a dynamic spin on whatever banal company line I was asked to toe.

I’d discovered my personal resumé spin. It was time to network.

Networking: How to Shake Three People’s Hands at Once and Make Each One Think You’re Shaking Only Theirs

Rubbing shoulders with the Who’s Who in your community is an invaluable networking opportunity. I found a sponsor to invite me to the annual chamber of commerce dinner. Without the benefit of an orchestral overture, I made my entrance at the country club in my $10 garage-sale suit. At the check-in table, they said my sponsor had been detained, but wouldn’t I like to join the other guests?

The room was stuffed with mingling suits, wall-to-wall 100-percent wool. Before me seethed a pack of wolves in sheep’s clothing, and my gut reaction was to head for the nearest exit. Instead I hid behind an enormous fern, took deep breaths, and gave myself a pep talk: You haven’t met a potential employer in months. You must mingle. You must impress. You must eat again.

I left my hiding spot and turned to the first person I saw, then the next and the next. “Hi, I’m Jesse Traschen.” “I work well under pressure.” “I’m performance oriented.” “Um, a seltzer would be fine, thank you.”

It was clear that the waiter was not interested in furthering my career. I worked the crowd.

The Job Interview: I Feel Privileged to Be in Your Presence

Four quick swipes of your palm against your pants’ leg will remove most excess sweat. Firm handshake, eye contact followed by a deferential glance at the ground, followed by reaffirming eye contact, followed by temporary blindness. Sit down and wait for the questions.

“Jesse, I see from your resumé that—”

I panicked. I wanted to say, “I lied, I lied. I never ran that rehearsal. I’m sorry.” Instead I blurted out, “But I’m a really nice guy.”

The Next Job Interview: They Don’t Care If You’ve Lied; Will You Lie for Them?

I would be better prepared next time. When the interviewer said, “I’m looking at five candidates. So, Jesse, tell me, why should I hire you?” I’d lean forward in my chair, hands clasped between my knees, and say, “Bob, I like to sum up my management style with the acronym TIGHTS: Totally Independent Go-getter, Has The Stuff. And believe me, I can make TIGHTS work for you.”

Day 1 on the Job: The First Impression’s Every thing

Finally I’m going to stop living off the tax base and start mooching off the consumer base. What a moral relief.

I park in a far corner of the parking lot two hours before the office opens. This puts me in the perfect location to retie my tie five times until the knot is straight and to remove all nose hairs within 2 feet of the nasal aperture. Nose stinging, jaw clenched, I step out of the car at 7:50 a.m. I straighten my tie one more time, smooth back my hair, and out of habit reach down to pull up my tights. Then I remember my new mantra: If it doesn’t have a fly, don’t wear it.

Day 550: The BoardroomPower at Last

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I conclude that if we do not move with haste, if we do not rightsize through a methodical downweaning, if we do not equi-structure our workforce through empowered, groupspeak, mini-utilization, task-force SWAT teams, then our share of the market will plummet, and quite frankly, it won’t be a pretty song and dance.

Power. Pushing through a decision that affects the lives of your co-workers. Pushing through a decision that affects the lives of countless people you don’t know and will never know—that’s power.

The tie was tightening, the knot implacable. Pinstripes shrouded my once-lyrical legs.

Day 1,256: Still Trapped in the Rose Garden

It all looked so pretty: the gleaming glass office tower, the cherrywood paneling, the mahogany desk. A real business card with my name and title printed on it for any who had ever doubted my existence.

But the rules. All those unspoken rules, the ones that don’t appear in the glossy brochures that Human Resources gives you. When the career books in the library talked about corporate culture, they didn’t mean free tickets to the ballet.

When I came in for that job interview so long ago, did the receptionist have a nervous tic, or was she trying to communicate through secret hand signals, Leave now before you’re trapped like the rest of us?

The days of racing into the unisex dressing room to change into my tights were over. The tie that binds the neck binds the soul.

Day 2001: Nurturing Your Inner DancerWhat Goes on Behind Closed Elevator Doors

There are moments in the day when I’ve found I can recapture the lost spirit. If I’m alone in the elevator—and it doesn’t matter if I’m floating up or sinking down—I dance. I wriggle and squirm and extend my arms in ethereal port de bras. Timing is everything. I lose myself in another world for three or four seconds, squeezing out just one last squiggle even after the elevator has stopped.

As the door slides open, I slip back into the corporate mold and step forth armed with a firm handshake, solid eye contact and a well-rehearsed, “Hi, I’m Jesse Traschen. Pleased to meet you.”

About the Author

Jesse L. Traschen

Jesse Traschen graduated from Yale University in 1982. He performed with the Connecticut Ballet, the Garden State Ballet and numerous regional ballet companies. With the post-modern Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, he toured the United States, Europe and the former Soviet Union.

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