Advice for Dancers

April 27, 2009

I’ve made a horrible mistake! I decided to train at a prestigious dance academy outside of the U.S. after winning a scholarship. It was supposed to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Instead, it was toxic. My teacher was right out of the Stone Age, making me work in pain and criticizing the tiniest mistakes. Now I’m injured and feel like a total loser. Help!


Chicago, IL


Your story should be a wake-up call to the dance community. With the advent of dance medicine, there is no reason to continue antiquated teaching methods. The latest information is at everyone’s fingertips through the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science ( Certification in Safe and Effective Dance Practices for all genres is also available at Trinity College London in association with IADMS. My new book, The Dancer’s Way, outlines New York City Ballet’s wellness principles, which can help you recover from injuries with a variety of tools, from physical screenings that target underlying weaknesses to stress-reduction techniques. The book’s resource section lists where to find dance medicine specialists and affordable health insurance. Take advantage of these options during your recovery. 

All my dance friends send e-mails, instant messages, and search the web. My mom, who is a painter, thinks I’m wasting time using “technological gadgets” instead of my imagination. Do they hurt creativity?


Eugene, OR

Good question. Your mom may have a point. Scheduling time away from the internet can help your dancing and your creativity. Research shows that we only have so much brain power. We can multi-task, resulting in less thought on any particular subject, or we can home in on one project with better results. Creat­ivity also calls for time to daydream. George Balanchine used to get some of his best ideas listening to classical music while ironing his laundry. Not exactly high tech! Unfor­tunately, today’s go-go-go mentality rarely allows us the luxury of downtime. This is too bad. In addition to promoting creativity, enjoying non-tech pursuits can refresh your spirit while helping to prevent burnout.

Why do my joints ache? I’m only 19 years old but my body has been a mess for years. My knees, ankles, and back all have been injured. I don’t think it was from bad technique. What’s wrong?


Queens, NY


You’ve had a tough time. Please get a complete physical checkup to rule out underlying problems like Lyme disease. Another possibility is benign joint hypermobility syndrome (BJHS), a connective tissue disorder that can result in multiple injuries yet often gets overlooked. Why? Many doctors only consider hypermobility if you have generalized laxity, such as hyperextended knees and elbows or the ability to push your thumb down to your forearm. Yet minor symptoms, such as loose stretchy skin, near-sightedness, and joint pain for three or more months also can be tell-tale signs. Have your doctor check out the Revised Brighton Criteria for BJHS ( Dancers with BJHS can reduce injuries with a physical therapy program that focuses on strength, balance, and coordination to stabilize the joints and improve proprioception.


I decided to call it quits after performing for more than 20 years. I was feeling embarrassed about bad reviews and had to face the fact that my dance ability was slipping. I know it was the right thing to announce my retirement, but I can’t settle on a final date. Does this mean I’m fighting it?



Most dancers have mixed feelings about retiring from the stage. While your body may be slowly going downhill, I doubt that you’ve lost your love of dance, let alone all of your skills. In the meantime, your artistry has probably grown with experience. Put these factors together and it becomes difficult to let go. Some dancers gain time by switching to a less taxing genre or scaling back on technically difficult roles. Others join companies such as Paradigm or Nederlands Dans Theater III, small troupes that use performers in their 40s and beyond. Still, if you’ve made up your mind to retire, it helps to be prepared. Change comes in stages. Typically, we circle back and forth from denial to thinking about it, setting a deadline, taking action, and then finally maintaining a new way of being. Right now, you’re in stage two: thinking about it. This is a giant step forward, but it can also create ambivalence that leaves you stuck. The key to setting a deadline is to correct the mismatch between your thoughts (“It’s time to retire”) and feelings (“Nothing can replace performing in my life”). For example, if you’re worried that you will lose your identity, it helps to discover other meaningful pursuits that tap into your talents. These run the gamut from something totally different, like graphic design, to staying connected to dance through teaching, writing reviews, photography, physical therapy, and other related professions.