Posted on Jan 16, 2020

Cirque du Soleil Dancer Chooses Nursing as Second Act

Cirque du Soleil Dancer Chooses Nursing as Second Act

Born in Ukraine and trained at one of the world’s most prestigious ballet schools, USF College of Nursing student Vladimir Lut craved the freedom of dance.

Studying, training and performing ballet took center stage in his life for more than two decades.

The allure of dance began at age six when he saw a ballet dancer on television and was mesmerized by his movements.

“That kind of caught my eye. He seemed very free and at the moment. I said, ‘I don’t know what it is, but I want that. I want to do that,’ ” he said.

Lut danced professionally until age 30, but an injury forced him to leave the grueling career.

Now as a nursing student in the accelerated second-degree program hosted at the St. Petersburg campus, Lut is hopeful that studying and training to be a nurse will give him a second career that will help and heal others.

Classically trained in ballet at the renowned Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, Lut came to the United States at age 18 and toured with several different dance companies before landing a character role in the Cirque du Soleil show La Nouba.

The contemporary circus show featured colorful acrobats, dramatic dancers, and other artistic performers. The show was based at Disney Springs in Orlando and ran for 19 years before shutting down in 2017.

Lut spent three and a half years at La Nouba, performing in the role of a sad Pierrot clown. His character meets the lost ballerina, and the love that they have for each other transforms in the storyline. The duo was considered the Romeo and Juliet of the show.

Coincidentally, his ballerina dance partner also graduated from the famed ballet school in Moscow.

Lut said he danced in more than 1,200 performances, often twice a day. One of the highlights was meeting comedian Robin Williams, who stopped by after one of the shows and joked with the cast and crew.

But in the summer of 2010, Lut’s career as a professional dancer was shattered when he sustained what would be a career-ending injury.  He fractured his left metatarsal bone during a La Nouba performance, and the long, painful road to recovery would take more than a year.

Suddenly his childhood dream of dance was ending, and he had to find a plan B.

As a dancer, “you always think it’s not the time yet. I’m still young. I can still go on. But I understood that I had to find something to do other than dance. I think I felt that I wanted to move on,” he said.

That’s when he considered doing something in the medical field and focused on becoming a physical therapist. At Cirque du Soleil, physical therapists were always close at hand, working with dancers before, during, and after performances.

But before tackling the academic rigors of a physical therapy degree, he decided to enroll in a massage therapy program as a way to earn money while pursuing a health-related field.

Massage therapy was also a way to better understand his injury so he could help others.

“I really fell in love with helping people. I worked with a lot of sports injuries and athletes. Having that interaction and seeing the results really made me realize how much I like medicine,” Lut said.

Soon his dreams of pursuing a physical therapy degree morphed into a nursing career. He said the endless clinical possibilities drew him to the profession.

“I am very goal-oriented, so I like to see the change with what I do, and I think nursing will give me that opportunity to really make a difference,” he said.

He started researching accelerated nursing programs in Florida, and USF’s accelerated second-degree program, which launched in St. Petersburg in Fall 2019, looked like a perfect fit. Lut had already earned a Bachelor of Science in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Central Florida.

Now at age 39, with a 12-year professional ballet career squarely in the rearview mirror, Lut said he is excited to see what opportunities lay ahead in nursing.

“If someone were to tell me that I would become a nurse 10 years ago, I would laugh. I would straight up laugh. And I would probably say there’s no way. But with life and the path it takes us, shapes us, and makes us who we are today, I guess it prepares us for our future choices.”

Story by Elizabeth L. Brown, USF College of Nursing