The sheer joy of freedom

Photographs: Regula Bearth © ZHdK

Student portrait Filipe Portugal

Filipe Portugal ended his dancing career at the age of 42 and decided to focus on choreography. Part of this transition is his enrolment in the Master Dance in Choreography.


Bianca Bauer: Why did you decide to end your career?
Filipe Portugal: In general, dancing careers aren’t very long. You’re aware of the timeline and you’re in touch with your body. As a dancer, you know pain and you know exhaustion and you have to be strong enough to say: “This is the end.” Having worked as a choreographer throughout my dancing career enabled me to slowly shift gears.

What’s the most important tool for a dancer?
A strong mind. Mental health is underrated. So many dancers are struggling and ending their careers because they cannot cope with the pressure. Being a dancer challenges you on so many levels, physically and mentally. You cannot dance without considering your mind. You have to be able to be aware of your thoughts. Using your mind as a tool allows you to stay positive, to view obstacles and setbacks as part of the journey and to reframe them into an opportunity to grow.

Do we need art? And why?
I’ve asked myself this question and it has really made me think about the importance as well as the position of art. We need art because it makes us feel something. It’s irrelevant what you feel as long as you are connected to the feeling itself. You don’t have to understand art. You feel art. As a dancer, I can express emotions artistically. They run through me. My body then becomes the transmitter of these emotions, which are shared and received by the audience.

Do you have any goals for 2022?
My goal is to expand, grow, discover and connect. When the pandemic hit, it pressed pause. I decided in summer 2020 to officially end my dancing career and to fully commit to choreography. This is my time, an opportunity to try out new things without any pressure, without being bound to the outcome. The Master in Choreography is an investment, a sacred time where I get to be a student again.

Your favourite place in Zurich?
The Opera House. For me this is home. I spent 17 years of my professional life dancing and choreographing within those walls. And no matter how shy I am, every single time I stepped on that stage, I felt free. When I pass by the Opera House, I still feel the appreciation that accompanied me through all those years. The building represents my roots. Now I’m expanding and growing within the walls of ZHdK until the time to return comes.

What comes to your mind when you think about “no regrets”?
The choice to accept and be who you truly are. When I consciously decided to fully embrace who I am, it liberated me and gave me absolute freedom. I’ll never regret that decision.

Further student portraits published in Zett
Bianca Bauer ( is responsible for communications at the Department of Performing Arts and Film at ZHdK.
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