Advice for Dancers

July 31, 2007
Former New York City Ballet dancer Linda Hamilton, Ph.D., is a lecturer, a psychologist in private practice, and the author of
Advice for Dancers (Jossey-Bass). She has been offering advice to Dance Magazine readers since 1992.

All I’ve ever wanted is to be a ballerina. Now, I’ve put in four years at my company performing in corps, soloist, and even a few principal roles, assuming it would lead one day to a promotion. Once again, some young dancer has caught my director’s eye and gotten a soloist contract while I’m stuck in the corps. It all seems so meaningless. How can I face another season? —Despondent Dancer, New York City
I understand you’re upset. But please don’t give up yet. Dancers tend to be overachievers, making it extremely painful to be ignored, and their careers depend on the good graces of an artistic director whose personal preference dictates their opportunities. Still, you can’t be passive about your career goals. Make an appointment with your artistic director to discuss your goals, as well as areas in which your dancing may need improvement. Be prepared to hear what’s keeping your director from moving you up. Next, find a good teacher who can help you reach your full potential with classes and private coaching. Also, boost your morale and confidence by arranging gigs during breaks with your colleagues, home dance school, or a dance agent. If you continue to be overlooked, you can audition for another company where you have the option of inspiring a new artistic director, as did Elizabeth Gaither, a longtime American Ballet Theatre corps member,  [see DM’s April issue]. She is now a principal with The Washington Ballet.
’m having squeaking issues! After a total hip replacement with a ceramic-lined titanium socket and titanium ”bone” with ceramic ball, my hip literally squeaks loud enough for my students to hear it when I teach. There’s no pain and my surgeon has found nothing wrong in follow-up x-rays. Yet it makes me nervous and is embarrassing while teaching. What can I do? —Marla Hansen, Boise, Idaho
I’m so sorry. It’s bad enough for dancers to have hip replacements without the extra stress of strange side effects like squeaking. Though there’s little information on this problem, Dr. Jack Henry, past president of the Southern Orthopedic Association, says that a ceramic on ceramic (or metal on metal) hip replacement can rattle.The good news is that you aren’t in pain, which is a possible complication with all replacements.

Last week my ballet mistress asked me to step in for another injured dancer while I was recovering from a back injury. I was still in rehab but I felt like I had to do it, or she would think I was a wimp. So far, I’m OK but I’m afraid that my back will go out again. —Injured Dancer, Miami, Florida
No matter how you look at it, dealing with injuries isn’t easy during a busy dance season. First, there’s the ballet mistress’ need to replace other injured dancers, often at a moment’s notice. Then, you have to decide whether you’re ready to jump back into a full dance schedule or require a few more weeks to recover. Dance medicine specialists are a big help in this area, especially if they communicate with the artistic staff on a regular basis. Unfortunately, even with the best intentions, many details about a dancer’s rehab fall through the cracks once a season gets underway. It’s then up to you to guard your health. This can create conflict for dancers, who often feel guilty about being injured in the first place. I am a big believer in companies having an “Injury Re-entry Form,” signed by the appropriate health care professional, that would take the pressure off dancers. It also  would give the artistic staff a clear assessment about the dancer’s current level of functioning, including the ability to take class, rehearse, and perform.

Ever since I left home for my BFA program in dance, I’ve had an almost overwhelming craving for sweets. Sometimes, I’ll try to satisfy it with two or three bowls of cereal. Other times, it’s cookies, candy, and any kind of junk food. I’m almost afraid to eat, because it seems to trigger me to eat more. I never used to be like this at home. What’s wrong?—Overeater, Phoenix, Arizona
Many factors can trigger people to overeat, including stress and hypoglycemia. A lesser known, but equally powerful trigger, is what we eat. “Bad” carbs, like instant oatmeal, white bread, and pasta, can make you ravenous within a few hours of eating. “Good” carbs, which include whole grains and most fruits and vegetables, fill you up. Caffeine can also intensify cravings, especially if you tend to guzzle coffee, tea, and diet sodas. First rule out any health problems and then consult with a nutritionist to make sure you’re eating the appropriate balance of protein, carbs, and fat now that you’re living on cafeteria food. If you’re still having problems, don’t hesitate to seek support through your college counseling program.