«Ballerina, Interrupted
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Advice for Dancers

By Linda Hamilton


My daughter and I always read your column for its sensible advice. Now we need your help. Our school has a bully who is teasing a talented young dancer behind teachers’ backs. The other mothers are as appalled as I am by the constant taunting. I don’t understand the school director’s blatant disregard for the problem after I lodged a complaint. How can we protect our children if no one listens?

 

Anonymous


Bullying is a huge problem in schools across the country—not just in dance studios. Given the serious consequences that can ensue, ranging from missed classes to depression, everyone needs to nip this behavior in the bud. Check out Bully Police USA, a non-profit organization that helps parents document these incidents and approach school administrators (www.bullypolice.org/help_for_parents.html). Dance schools will also benefit from having an anti-bullying policy. A model policy, which can be downloaded for free, offers schools clear guidelines for handling complaints and educating students (www.bullypolice.org/bullying_policy.html).


I got a lucky break (I think) with an offer in a second company. My fear is that I’ll waste a couple of years in a temporary situation and then be out of work if the main company doesn’t want me. Should I go for it and risk failure? Or is it better to keep auditioning for a full company position?


Sarah

Rye, NY

 

There are no sure bets in life, let alone in an economically stressed dance world where companies are laying off members. So let’s stick with the facts. Right now, you have a chance that could lead to performing in the big time. This experience will showcase your talent to artistic directors, while giving you valuable performing experience. It also doesn’t need to stop you from auditioning for other companies during breaks; most contracts are renewed annually. Your fear of failure is another story. According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers: The Story of Success, talent and hard work are only part of the mix for becoming successful in any walk of life. An equally crucial component is taking advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. In your case, this happens to be performing in a second company. 

I teach dance in a wonderful college program with a highly supportive director and talented students. The goal is to nurture their gifts while making dance training a positive experience. Knowing how prevalent eating problems are in the dance world, we’ve gone out of our way to never pressure any dancer to diet. Yet we continue to have outbreaks of problematic eating. What else can we do?


Concerned Teacher


First I want to congratulate you on what you are doing right. Outside pressures to lose weight rarely work for long, leaving both dancers and teachers in a no-win situation. At the same time, even well-intentioned dance programs can be flummoxed by students who develop an eating disorder. Certainly, all dancers need to know how to manage their weight by following a healthy lifestyle. Yet other factors place some dancers at risk. These include a genetic vulnerability to disordered eating and being a perfectionist. In the latter case, this trait often can be associated with being gifted. While perfectionists work harder than their less driven peers, this same drive can, at times, lead to intense pressures to persevere at any cost. The key to reducing disordered eating is to catch it early. The New York State Department of Labor has developed guidelines on this topic for young performers and models. These include annual physical screenings with questions that directly relate to one’s eating behavior. They also offer treatment recommendations and educational material. It should be up on their website soon.


Help! My artistic director put me on probation for being too weak. This decision caught me completely by surprise because my past injuries have healed. Maybe being injured took away some of my strength. How can I get it back?


Desperate

NY, NY


Let’s take this one step at a time. Every injury leaves dancers with residual tightness and/or weakness. The good news is that an individualized rehabilitation program can get you back to performing at your peak. In addition to physical therapy, I recommend a physical screening by a dance medicine specialist who can evaluate the status of your injury, along with your current strength, flexibility, and aerobic stamina. Once you know where you stand, you can address each aspect at the gym and in specialized programs, such as Pilates and Gyrotonics. For information on screenings and dance medicine specialists, check out my book The Dancer’s Way. Injuries are a fact of life in dance. The key is to know how to deal with them and, ultimately, come back even stronger.

«Ballerina, Interrupted
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