Can Dance Training Cause Psychological Harm?
Photo by Rachel Papo for Pointe
Any dancer could tell you that spending hours in front of a mirror being corrected every day will affect you psychologically. Sure, it can create incredible discipline and inner strength. But dancers are also known to be susceptible to issues like perfectionism and eating disorders.
Now, a new study out of Portugal shows that dance training—particularly in ballet—might be associated with additional mental health problems.
Based on questionnaires filled out by 113 self-selected participants, researchers found that ballet students had higher psychological inflexibility than non-dancers.
What does that mean? Dance students can be excessively preoccupied with internal events like emotions, thoughts and memories. That can change the way you perceive experiences, increasing your fear of failure and making you want to avoid uncomfortable situations. Unfortunately, those traits are associated with anxiety and depression in adolescents.
The research, published in the journal Psychology of Music, compared the answers of 33 dance students with 39 music students and 41 who don't study either. All were between the ages of 9 and 16. It's admittedly a small sample size, yet the results are still intriguing.
Photo by Thinkstock
"Similar to many sports, ballet involves discipline and physical demands, competitiveness, highly critical and perfectionist attitudes of trainers, and acceptance of emotional and physical suffering," the researchers write. They also point out ballet's pressures to maintain a low body weight.
Put all those demands together, and it's not hard to see why dancers may become obsessed with what's going on inside their heads, and do whatever they can to avoid negative thoughts, or experiences that bring them up.
So what can dancers do to stay healthy?
Teachers need to be aware of the problem so they can use healthier "behavioral techniques" (although the researchers don't exactly explain what those are). Parents can also play a role by helping students cope with negative emotions and by encouraging them to accept challenges.
For dancers, what it comes down to is this: Rather than cut yourself off from your feelings—both the good and the bad—work on learning to embrace and express them. And what's a better way to do that than through dancing?
"So why did you quit?"
It's a question I've been asked hundreds of times since I stopped dancing over a decade ago. My answer has changed over the years as my own understanding of what lead me to walk away from greatest love of my life has become clearer.
"I had some injures," I would mutter nervously for the first few years. This seemed like the answer people understood most. Then it became, "I was just not very happy." Finally, as I passed into my 30s, I began telling the uncomfortable truth: "I quit dancing because of untreated depression."
Improvisation, in its many forms, can be a door to the body's imagination. One of the few festivals to delve into it is the Seattle Festival of Dance Improvisation, July 30 to Aug. 6. This year the intensives are led by risk-taking teacher/performers including Hilary Clark, Anya Cloud, Joe Goode, Angie Hauser, Andrew Marcus and Taisha Paggett. Some of them (it's an improv festival, so last-minute decisions are the name of the game) will participate in the full-day "Dance Innovators in Performance" event on Aug. 4. velocitydancecenter.org.
The best day of the year is finally upon us—National Dance Day is tomorrow!
In case you've been living under a rock and haven't celebrated NDD before, it's an annual event established by Nigel Lythgoe and the Dizzy Feet Foundation where dancers and non-dancers across the country are encouraged to get movin'.
To be honest, we never tire of watching non-dancers tackle a day in the life of the pros. From athletes to average Joes, these videos always give us a good laugh, and they remind the rest of the world that a whole lot of work goes into every dance performance you see. But often times, these dancer-for-a-day videos don't fully understand the importance of training (i.e., you can't just throw on a pair of pointe shoes and give it a go).
That's why we're especially loving this video by Refinery29 that actually gets it. Lucie Fink, host of the R29 YouTube series Lucie For Hire , got a private lesson from American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston, and it was endlessly entertaining.
We'd love to know what it is that has Pina Bausch, Rudolf Nureyev and Gerard Violette so amused, or what Toer van Schayk (far right) is thinking here, but one thing's for certain: We're terribly envious of the journalist (second from right) who got to be there when this shot was taken in 1986.
It's the end of a long rehearsal day for the dancers of Abraham.In.Motion. They're reviewing phrases of a new work, Dearest Home. It's a pretty typical rehearsal scene. Some dancers cluster around a laptop trying to piece together steps learned long ago. Others review choreography together, working to figure out who remembered which arms correctly.
What isn't typical: The company's director and choreographer, Kyle Abraham, is nowhere to be seen.
That's because while the company is based in New York City full-time, Abraham spends most of his year teaching at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he joined the faculty last September. It's an unconventional model for a single-choreographer–led troupe, almost functioning like a repertory company in which choreographers drop in for a week to set a piece, leaving it up to the rehearsal directors and dancers to keep the momentum going.