Advice for Dancers
I loved your recent talk at the Healthy Body Workshop at Steps on Broadway. It was inspiring to hear you say that my body image could improve if I stopped criticizing myself in the mirror. I still check my line, but I don’t nitpick anymore, and I feel so much better in class. Thank you!
You’re welcome! Unfortunately, dancers’ drive to excel can be their undoing if they get too self-critical. While the mirror can be your friend, most dancers do not use it constructively. Instead, it becomes Enemy Number One. Rather than using the mirror as a feedback tool to correct technical problems, they focus only on what’s wrong. Apart from putting you into a major funk, this can lead to a negative body image, low self-esteem, and eating problems. When in doubt, don’t look. You’ll dance better by simply feeling your placement and how it connects to the movement. After all, dancing is not static. Some of my best classes occurred onstage during New York City Ballet’s European tours. It was liberating not to have a mirror. Good for you for ignoring the mirror’s siren call to check your body for flaws.
What should I do when an injury won’t heal? My ankle has bothered me off and on for the last five years. My doctor tells me that it’s tendonitis. I’ve taken time off and done physical therapy, but it always comes back. I’m only in my mid-20s, and feel like I’m too young to be in chronic pain. Any ideas?
While we have to give up many things to dance, I am not a big believer in suffering for your art. Certainly, no one should be in pain for years. I’m glad you sought out medical help, but there’s no guarantee that you received the correct diagnosis and treatment plan. My advice is to get a second opinion from an ankle specialist who treats dancers. Bring along all of your previous test reports and X-rays. You might want to discuss two promising treatment options that can speed up the healing of musculoskeletal injuries. Prolotherapy (also known as regenerative injection therapy) tightens stretched-out, weak ligaments, making them stronger and more functional. It basically involves a series of injections of a dextrose solution that stimulates an inflammatory response, the body’s natural process of healing. This can be particularly helpful if you have sprained your ankle and the ligaments are still loose after traditional treatment failed to correct the problem. The other option, called platelet-rich plasma (PRP), uses a vial of your own blood. It helps heal tendon and muscle strains by injecting blood platelets that contain growth hormones into the injury site. Obviously, the choice depends on the type of problem you’re dealing with. Neither approach is a quick fix, since both involve downtime and some degree of immobilization. But their value is that they get at those places that are hard to heal with little risk. To find out about different types of ankle injuries, check out “The Ankle That Won’t Heal,” by William G. Hamilton, M.D., from February 2007 on www.dancemagazine.com/issues.
Why can’t I let go of dance? After my apprenticeship with a good company ended, I went to vocational counseling and settled on going for a graduate degree in journalism. I really like writing, but I keep wishing that I’d had a chance to dance longer with the company of my dreams. I was so close and it doesn’t seem fair.
Los Angeles, CA
It’s never easy to give up dancing when it’s your passion. Of course, you might have auditioned for other companies. I know a number of dancers who didn’t get into their first-choice company but had fulfilling careers elsewhere. However, you don’t sound like the type of person who likes to “settle,” which may explain your current dissatisfaction. On the surface, you did everything right: You switched gears with the help of a career counselor and made a sensible choice based on another interest. Yet you haven’t dealt with the complicated emotions of giving up your dream. You are not alone. Just about all dancers feel the tension between choosing to dance and having to pay the bills. Others are forced out of the profession due to age, injuries, burnout, or unemployment. Although programs like Career Transition For Dancers (CTFD) often help them find a new path, the anger and pain of leaving dance can make it difficult to move forward. It might be useful to seek out a psychologist who can help you work through your feelings of missing out. CTFD (www.careertransition.org) or The Dancers’ Resource at The Actor’s Fund (www.actorsfund.org) should be able to give you a referral in your area. You might also consider writing about dance. It will help you stay in the world you’re passionate about, while easing the transition to your new career in journalism.
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 www.wellness4performers.com.