Advice for Dancers: Stop Self-Sabotage

May 31, 2015

How to keep moving toward your dance goals, plus advice on dealing with overly hot studios and pre-performance panic

Dancing in a hot studio can be dangerous, but you can take steps to protect yourself from dehydration and heatstroke. Photo courtesy Thinkstock.


I often make bad decisions in the moment, like giving up on auditioning after the first rejection or indulging in fattening foods that make costume fittings a nightmare when I do get a gig. I’m not sure why I do what I do or how to fix it. Can you help?

—Impulsive, Cleveland, OH

It sounds like your “bad decisions” could have a negative impact on your wish to pursue a dance career. But if you figure out the root of this self-sabotaging behavior, you can make the changes necessary to save your dream. For example, your tendency to make decisions based on a whim could be due to fear of failure, poor impulse control (aka attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or lack of motivation. A psychological evaluation from an experienced therapist could provide answers and appropriate treatment based on your diagnosis. Your state psychological association or insurance carrier can give you a list of qualified practitioners in your area. This therapist should be trained to evaluate a variety of problems or know specialists who can help. Whereas behavioral interventions and/or medication can have a tremendous effect on ADHD, if you’re feeling unmotivated when it comes to dance, you may benefit from the “nudge approach.” It’s a favorite of mine that I use during therapy sessions to subtly guide people to make better choices. The tactic will show you how to move closer to your goal, step-by-step, in a way that feels more manageable. For instance, I might remind dancers to set up monthly auditions or encourage them to replace tempting foods that lead to binging with tasty alternatives like fruit. Small changes, such as choosing a juicy blood orange over a pint of ice cream, can make a huge difference. Never forget: Catching a problem early is key to turning it around before you suffer any adverse consequences.

During a company break last summer, I returned to my dance studio back home and almost died from the heat. Is there a healthy temperature dance studios should maintain to keep us from passing out?

—Cathy, Miami, FL

Extreme high temperatures put all dancers at risk for possible dehydration, fatigued muscles and heatstroke, so I’m glad that you’re taking the time to consider this. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration guidelines recommend that workplaces keep the temperature within a comfortable range. This is not a bad suggestion for dancers who frequently fail to listen to their bodies. The International Fitness Association proposes that aerobics, weight-training and Pilates rooms are best kept between 65 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit, with humidity around 40 to 60 percent.

How does this apply to dancers? When a room is too hot, stripping off layers of clothing, drinking more water and asking the teacher to adjust the thermostat or use a fan may do the trick. If you are still concerned about your safety, it’s okay to take a break from the studio since overly hot temperatures can lead to serious problems. Check out the heat-illness and dehydration tips from Dance/USA to help you identify the warning signs at

The closer I get to performing the Rose Adagio, the more I panic about its beautiful but difficult balances. Early rehearsals went well, but now I’m worrying over tiny details. My biggest fear is that I’ll mess up a balance and embarrass both myself and my director. What am I to do?

—Frightened Ballerina, Moscow, Russia

A professional dancer at your level already has the muscle memory to perform onstage just like you’ve been doing during rehearsals. Your problem appears to be a result of overthinking. Your gut instincts should help you perform a role that you’ve developed over hours of rehearsals, but this response is being drowned out by deliberate thought, which interferes with your muscles’ trained movement. While rational thinking can serve beginners who need to carefully consider their steps, this same technique can backfire when used by more experienced dancers like you. There’s no need to worry about tiny details as you get closer to opening night because you’ve already addressed any difficulties in the studio and have the necessary expertise to perform this role. Now is the time to trust your emotions—not your head. If you need a little distraction to pull off a skill you know how to do, shift your focus to the music or your breathing instead. By briefly engaging your mind with something other than the task at hand, you leave your instincts free to execute and enjoy those balances that all your practice has made possible.

Send your questions to:

Dr. Linda Hamilton

2000 Broadway, PH2C, New York, NY 10023

e-mail: [email protected]

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