Advice for Dancers: Stage Mom Trauma
What are the aftereffects of a pushy parent? Plus, how big-name dancers’ endorsements could help you.
Is dance selling out? I’ve noticed big brands, such as Avon, Under Armour and PUMA, are signing up dancers and major companies to promote items like perfume or sportswear. What I don’t see is the long-term payoff. Going mainstream may bring dance, as a whole, more attention, but it doesn’t make most of us down in the trenches better artists or richer. I’m starting to feel exploited!
—Downtown Dancer, Brooklyn, NY
It wasn’t that long ago when some people said dance was a “dying” art form. Now its beautiful aesthetic, combined with an athleticism that often exceeds professional sports, is finally starting to get the respect it deserves. At first glance, marketing by major brands may not appear to provide you with any personal gain. However, this mass attention has the ability to attract new audiences that help pay for things like visiting choreographers and longer performance seasons. In other words, there could be a trickle-down effect on dancers’ income. As for exploitation, I don’t see that becoming a reality at the moment, since the brands you mentioned aren’t asking dancers to change the way they dance. In fact, they seem to like what the art form has to offer. Focus on the positives and celebrate that dance is being portrayed in such a good light.
I fell in love with ballet when I was 5, and my dance-obsessed mother has always wanted me to be a star. She was the driving force that made my career possible, but now I’ve started partying and missing company class. Why am I ruining my chances after coming so far?
—Conflicted about Work, Philadelphia, PA
Try not to be so hard on yourself. Having a parent (or teacher) support your dance aspirations, emotionally and financially, is crucial for proper training. But problems can arise if that person is dealing with their own unmet needs for success and becomes overly involved. The psychological term for this behavior is “achievement by proxy,” which is essentially living vicariously through someone else’s talent. Frequently, the fallout for dancers is losing touch with their own motivation, while undergoing constant pressure to outperform themselves and others. These circumstances can cause some dancers to become extreme workaholics, while others may quit dance altogether or retreat from competing. Given your current conflicts about dance (not to mention your mother), I recommend psychotherapy to discover what
you want independent of anyone else. You can use the American Psychological Association’s search tool at locator.apa.org to find a therapist who specializes in particular issues, like career concerns.
As a performer, I’ve benefited from your advice on topics like injury prevention and this magazine’s wellness articles. Is there a way to bring this knowledge into the classes that I teach? I want my students to get a head start by knowing more than just technique.
—Elisabeth, Los Angeles, CA
You’re part of a growing group of teaching artists whose aim is to make the next generation of dancers better prepared to handle the rigors of this profession. If you read something that connects with your teaching goals, share the info with your students as a resource for further exploration. Another option to consider is Safe in Dance International (safeindance.com), an organization based out of the UK which offers Healthy Dance Certificates on core principles derived from research that’s tailored for teachers, schools and dancers. These include a preparation certificate that addresses risk factors in your work setting (like studio temperature and floors), in addition to a comprehensive certificate, encompassing multiple topics from alignment to managing injuries, knowing proper nutrition and hydration and appreciating psychological factors that play a role in a safe, effective learning environment. The certificate also covers how to adapt classes to students’ needs, abilities and desired outcomes, such as recreational versus pre-professional dancers. Options for completion include independent study, online mentoring and courses with registered providers. Another notable opportunity is the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science’s Day for Teachers at its annual meeting, along with
The IADMS Bulletin for Dancers and Teachers available at iadms.org.
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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.