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Dissertation

Identity crisis and adult involuntary career transition: An exploratory study of professional classical dancers in transition

25 July 2003

Abstract

Theories of career transition focus mostly on transitions of young adults to the world of work, on transitions from career to retirement, or voluntary transition to a new career field as a result of an exploratory career development process that constitutes the normal growth of the individual. Super's (1990) life-span, life-space theory of career development describes a process of change characterized by a sequence of Growth, Exploration, Establishment, Maintenance, and Disengagement. Abrego and Brammer (1995), describe individuals ' responses to transitions from the perspective of loss and reattachment. The experience of tangible or symbolic loss often leads to a reorganization of self-concepts in a successful transition.' An implicit characteristic of individuals Marcia (1966) would describe as identity achieved or identity moratorium, is active exploration (Berzonsky, 1989). It is clear that exploring career choices facilitates successful transition. Little research has been done in the area of adults transitioning to new careers involuntarily, i.e., the need for transition is imposed by external circumstance.

This investigation explored the career transition process of professional classical dancers. For many reasons, dancers come to identify themselves through their work; that is, they may come to view their own identity as indivisible from their roles as dancers. Forty three individuals who were currently, or in the past, full time professional dancers completed questionnaire packets that included a demographic form, a measure of the degree to which individuals exclusively identify with their dancer role, a measure of identity status, and a measure of career transition stress. The goal was to analyze the relationship between the degree to which professional classical dancers exclusively identify with the dancer role and their perceived internal and environmental resources at career transition. It was hypothesized that the more strongly individuals consider their identity as exclusive to their current or previous role as a professional dancer, the more stressful the transition process. Questions were posed regarding the particular dimensions of transition and how they might correlate most strongly with dance identity. A second goal of this investigation was to explore the relationship between identity status, dance identity, and the various dimensions of transition stress. Questions were posed regarding how any of these findings might differ with respect to proximity, either before or after, the point of retirement.

Data was analyzed for 36 of the 43 participants. Results of this investigation suggested a significant relationship between strong dance identification and transition stress. As time passed from the point of transition, however, dancers did come to feel as though they were in control of their own transition process. Individuals with an exploratory component to their identity were more confident in their ability to perform career-planning activities. Implications of these findings are discussed with suggestions made for future research and career counseling with this group


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