Advice for Dancers: The Curse of Career Happiness

My girlfriend wants me to say “no” to extra work outside of the company. During breaks, I typically teach master classes, do gigs and choreograph. I love these opportunities, but I’m always tired and it interferes with our time together. What should I do?

—Principal Dancer, New York, NY

There are many reasons for overwork, though not all are bad. Research shows that one cause is the “curse of career happiness.” Most dancers feel passionate about their work, whereas only 13 percent of the general population is happy with what they do. This makes it easy for you to get sucked into taking on more and more projects—even if it’s exhausting and leads you to neglect loved ones. To create a more constructive work/life balance and avoid burnout, try to reframe breaks as opportunities to express different aspects of yourself through favorite hobbies, like painting or travel, and enjoying the luxury of quality time for cherished relationships. This approach will enrich your overall well-being and help you recharge your batteries to be more productive at work. Of course, you can still take on special dance jobs during a layoff. You shouldn’t feel guilty for doing what you love or taking advantage of the chance to earn extra income. Just reassure your girlfriend that you plan to prioritize and strive for moderation. 

 

I’m naturally thin and have been living on fast food such as burgers, fries and pizza. Now I’m trying to eat better to prepare for auditions. I know the basics, like choosing good carbs, protein and fat, but it’s hard to make smart choices when I’m grocery shopping. Any ideas?

—S.H., New York, NY 

It’s great that you’re making a healthier diet a priority, especially since you live in a city like New York, where takeout can be so easy. Focus on making the majority of your diet real, whole foods. When choosing packaged foods, there’s an app called Fooducate that gives a letter grade for quality and content, based on everything from calories and fat to healthy ingredients, vitamins and minerals. It also spots hidden traps such as empty calories, lots of additives and high-fructose corn syrup, which lower a food’s grade. Just scan the bar code of a product or search with a specific keyword, like “bagel,” to see how algorithms created by nutrition professionals and dietitians rate it. If you’d like help with a more comprehensive plan, you can work with a registered dietitian nutritionist. Referrals are available through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, at eatright.org/find-an-expert. Either way, being aware of what’s in what you’re eating will help ensure you have sufficient energy for dance.

 

I’ve had two stress fractures in my tibia over the last few years. Each time, they were treated and healed with physical therapy. Now I’ve got a third one in the same place. Maybe it’s because I do a lot of jumping, but that’s what male dancers do. How can I keep this from happening again?

—John, Chicago, IL

While it isn’t unusual for a stress fracture to recur, three fractures in the tibia represent a significant pattern of reinjury. You may have an underlying vulnerability that could take a big chunk of time out of your career. A metabolic disorder (which requires a workup by an endocrinologist to diagnose) or the structural shape of your leg may make you more prone to tibial fractures. In the latter case, dance medicine specialists say that only surgery can fix this permanently. Typically, the two surgical choices are a bone graft with a plate and screws or placing a rod down the shaft of the tibia. Though both sound extreme, the recovery time is only 8 to 10 weeks. If you dance on proper surfaces—not concrete floors—that’s usually the end of the problem. Since tibial fractures are common in professional basketball players, I’d recommend seeking out the orthopedist for your local team—it’s likely that doctor has performed a large number of these surgeries. If you don’t address the root of the problem, you may be facing yet another fracture next year. 

Send your questions to:

Dr. Linda Hamilton

2000 Broadway, PH2C, New York, NY 10023

email: advicefordancers@dancemedia.com

Former New York City Ballet dancer Linda Hamilton, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice, the author of Advice for Dancers (Jossey-Bass) and co-author of The Dancer’s Way: The New York City Ballet Guide to Mind, Body, and Nutrition (St. Martin’s Griffin). Her website is drlindahamilton.com.

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