That question was a constant throughout the conversation that took place between an audience, Leslie Nolte, Nate Kaeding and Shumpei Yamaki. Nolte used to be a dancer, Kaeding used to be a pro football player, and Yamaki used to also be a dancer. The hour long discussion was about the 1st and 2nd act of the lives of dancers and athletes.
The 1st act is the actual career that a dancer and athlete has. The 2nd act is after. After the injuries that no longer allow that dancer or that athlete to continue the dream that they always had in their minds.
The conversation started off with the MC of the night saying that for dancers, they know that their career is going to end. It’s simply a matter of when. When this happens, when the dancer or athlete makes the decision to end their professional career, that is their first death.
Shumpei Yamaki began his introduction by saying that he came from Japan at the age of 21 and wanted to breakdance and be a student. He was going college in Philadelphia while at the same time being a part of a hip hop dance group. He couldn’t manage being a part of the group and maintain good grades in college and so he moved to the University of Wisconsin. His senior year of college he was hit by a drunk driver. The accident caused him to severely damage his left knee and his right arm. The accident resulted in his mom telling him to take an art/ceramics class which would work as a way for him to rehabilitate his arm. He then went to grad school at the University of Iowa for Art/Ceramics.
Leslie Nolte began her introduction as if it was her 20 year old self up on the
stage of The Mill. She believed that no doubt she thought her career would never end. But then the surgeries happened. She tore her ACL and her MCL in one leg and then tore the ACL and MCL in her other leg. Even with everything that the “universe sent my way to say maybe this isn’t your path” she was still getting job offers and contracts at the age of 21. Her husband and her were living in Chicago because thats where the companies that wanted to work with her were. Her husband, Mark, then moved to Iowa City and didn’t expect Nolte to follow him. However, weeks later, Nolte discovered she was pregnant. For her, this was the moment of truth for her dancing career.
Nate Kaeding began his introduction by saying that as a young athlete, he never thought “What’s next?” For him, it was always, “How can I get better?” Kaeding was a star athlete in college and he had, what he called, “tunnel vision.” The only thing that mattered to him was making it to the pros. Through constant training, he was able to do just that. In the first play of his career, he tore his ACL. He continued to play pro football picking up multiple injuries but his body was “never quite the same.” Kaeding said that his torn ACL was the “beginning of the end for me.”
Nolte discussed what she called the transition period between Act 1 and Act 2. As a female, she was forced to choose between family and career. Could her family withstand her career and could her career withstand her family? The answer for Nolte was no.
Nolte admitted to being pissed for 10 years after she left Chicago to start her family. She stated that the reason she was pissed was because she never really got to see what her reality could have been. Instead, she was left with the wonder. The “what if?” She doesn’t know what she could have been and it has left her with the question, “Is it better to succeed and then fail or to never have succeeded at all?” She always thought that the path she ended up taking “was forced upon me.”
Kaeding discussed that when when the profession one has dies then it’s time to change your mentality. You have to begin the process of writing the next chapter in your life. Kaeding admitted to being a “one trick pony.” Due to the fact that his ability to score field goals wasn’t a skill set that you could apply to other careers. He stated that for years people tell you to “follow your passion.” But when your left with a blank state later in life you have to build a new skill set and one way to do that is by “thanking the past for leading you.”
After Nolte, Kaeding, and Yamaki finished telling their stories, the MC asked the crowd to come up with questions. The first question was what advice would the 20 year old versions of Nolte, Kaeding, and Yamaki give themselves to prepare for their 2nd act.
Yamaki stated that he had never really stopped dancing and loved his passion for ceramics. Nolte said that she would tell herself, “Don’t be angry. Leslie, move on.” Kaeding’s advice for himself would have been to prepare himself by focusing on other things.
All three are parents so the question was “What role did being a parent have in their transition of their 2nd act?”
Kaeding replied that it showed him, especially after his career ended, that he couldn’t be selfish. Being a father allowed him to be more well rounded and have a less singular focus.
Nolte stated that she wouldn’t have been able to do what she had planned to do when she was younger and have 5 children. She asked herself if she would trade her 2nd act with her 1st. Her answer was no. Her children mean everything to her. She stated that the fight of being a good mom and being a successful company director is hard.
Yamaki responded by saying that his daughter was the reason he had so much passion into pottery. His daughter was his core and motivation for having passion for what he does. He stated that he wanted his daughter to respect him and to believe in him.
The last question asked was “After moving into your 2nd act and seeing others start their 1st act, how do you feel?”
Nolte responded that at the beginning of their transition period she did feel jealousy and anger at seeing others accomplish their dream. She stopped having these feelings when somebody thanked her for helping their dreams come true. Her jealousy and anger turned to happiness.
Kaeding replied that he feels more pain for the guy that misses the game winning kick as opposed to feeling happiness for the guy who scored the game winning kick. He feels nostalgic whenever he goes to football games at Kinnick because he knows that he can never replicate those feelings. The feeling of running through the tunnel, the feeling of playing.
Yamaki responded that he felt great because “I’m full of myself and I don’t really see any better dancers than me.”
Listening to Nolte, Kaeding, and Yamaki really gave me something to think about. Dancers and athletes know that their body is going to break and they know that their career is going to end either right away or years later. Yet, they still push through it, they still strive to accomplish their goal. Tonight gave me a newfound respect for dancers and athletes.