Advice for Dancers

July 29, 2007

I’m a director of a professional ballet company who’s stymied by the low self-esteem of two of my dancers, in spite of their undeniable talent and my positive input and steady support. I want to suggest therapy, particularly for one dancer who confided to me that she feels so worthless she can barely get out of bed.  My fear is that it would further aggravate her depression if I suggest she has a mental problem. What should I do?

Distraught Director

Address Withheld

It sounds like you care deeply about your dancers. While this should lift their self-esteem, it takes professional help to tackle depression. Cognitive therapy, which addresses self-destructive beliefs, can be very effective. For instance, a dancer who is a perfectionist may believe that she’s a failure in spite of all her accomplishments. A therapist could help her learn how to overcome negative thoughts using facts, logic, and reason. Contact your state psychological association for a list of cognitive therapists in your area. When you give your dancers the information, explain that you don’t want them to suffer. You might add that there’s no stigma in honing these positive mental skills. In fact, Olympic athletes use similar techniques to enhance their performance. Presenting treatment as a way to build their abilities should make it more palatable. If they refuse treatment, ask permission to contact their families because of your concern for their well-being.

My 12-year-old daughter says she wants a ballet career. Should I be concerned at this point about the impact of the floors she’s dancing on? Is there common wisdom about sprung floors versus marley for ballet and pointe?

Leslie Aron

Atlanta, GA

You’ve done your homework. A proper dance floor is crucial for professionals. Yet according to New York City Ballet’s production manager Perry Silvey, pre-teens don’t require a perfect floor to dance injury-free. Your daughter’s needs at this stage are fairly simple: Look for a floor that’s resilient. That means an underlying wooden basket-weave foundation versus concrete. A surface that’s neither too slick nor too sticky also matters. PVC vinyls, which are the contemporary version of marleys, can do the trick as long as they’re well-maintained. Dancers should avoid using excess resin, which can clump and create spots that are too sticky or too slippery. Wood surfaces are also safe, as long as they don’t have slippery sealers. Oil and wax are obviously taboo.

Help! My teachers tell me that my knees look bent in ballet class. I’ve worked on them and tried stretching and massage. Nothing has fixed the problem. I’m out of ideas and my knees hurt all the time.


Lakewood, CO

I bet they do! Dance medicine specialists tell me that trying to force or lock your knees can actually damage your cartilage. So please don’t try to make them straighten! Instead, make an appointment with an orthopedist who can tell you whether your problem is due to anatomy, bone spurs, or weak quadriceps. If your body’s physical makeup is the impediment, there is nothing you can do to change it. However, you can consider other techniques. Ballet requires 10–15 degrees of hyperextension, but neither modern nor jazz do.  

I am a 55-year-old former ballet dancer with arthritic hips, one of which has avascular necrosis. Can you help me understand that condition? Also, since hip replacements are probably in my future, should I have both hips done at the same time? I teach ballet and Pilates and don’t want to become inactive.

Hips That Hurt

Dallas, TX

As you may know, the hip joint is composed of a ball and socket. The ball is the head of the thigh bone or femur. The socket is called the acetabulum. Many factors can contribute to this joint’s deterioration (see “First, You Cry: Hip Tips” Jan.). Once arthritis begins, it tends to progress in spite of treatment. Avascular necrosis occurs when the blood supply is cut off and the bone softens and dies. This usually develops in the head of the femur and may or may not be progressive. There’s no single reason for this condition. You need to discuss possible factors with a good hip specialist who can tell if it’s better for you to do one or both hips at once. Rehab plays an essential role following hip surgery. Your dance training will come in handy, because dancers like exercise and know how to work with their bodies. It will take time, but keeping an optimistic view will help. 

Former New York City Ballet dancer Linda Hamilton, Ph.D., is a psychologist, a wellness consultant for NYCB, and the author of
Advice for Dancers (Jossey-Bass). She has offered advice to Dance Magazine readers since 1992.