More Dancers Experience High Levels of Shame Than the Average Person. Here's What You Can Do
Let's say that today you're having a terrible time following your class's choreography and are feeling ashamed—you're always stumbling a few beats behind. Do you:
1. Admit it's your fault because you didn't study the steps last night? Tonight you'll nail them down.
2. Feel worthless and alone? You slump your shoulders, avoid eye contact with your teacher and fellow dancers, and wish to disappear.
Shame is a natural emotion that everyone occasionally feels. If you answered #1, it may be appropriate—you earned it by not studying—and positive if it motivates you to do better in the future.
If you answered #2, your shame may be highly debilitating—increasing your anxiety, lowering self-esteem and causing feelings of inferiority and isolation. "It's not that what you did is wrong," says Paula Thomson, a professor and dance coordinator in the department of kinesiology at California State University, Northridge. "You feel like your entire being is wrong."
Shame, Anxiety and Childhood
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Thomson, who is also a licensed clinical psychologist and a certified sport psychologist, recently co-authored a study that looked at shame in pre-professional and professional dancers of ballet, contemporary and urban street dance. Most of the dancers had low levels of shame. However, about 11 percent had high levels, meaning their feelings of shame reoccurred frequently or heavily affected their senses of self and how they interacted with others. In turn, they experienced more anxiety (dread about things that might happen in the future) and decreased self-esteem. (In comparison, Thomson's research has discovered that a whopping 26 percent of opera singers have high levels of shame, compared to 4 percent of the general population.)
There are many reasons why dancers may be more susceptible to shame than the average person: the constant demands of public exposure, critical evaluation by teachers, the pressure to stay thin, the competitive nature of company rankings or working freelance, or the rarity of being a man in a female-dominated world. "You're forever being judged," says Thomson.
However, one big cause stood out in this study: a bad childhood. Thomson says, "Our research shows that when you have more childhood adversity, you're way more vulnerable to being shamed and anxious." This means that high-shame dancers may have lived through emotional, physical or sexual abuse; physical or emotional neglect; or family issues like mental illness, incarceration or substance abuse. These experiences color how children see themselves, with effects that can last into adulthood.
Teachers who regularly use shaming as a training tool only perpetuate the problem. Thomson says they should "be very aware that there are a lot of students who are hiding high anxiety and high shame. Creating a shame-based culture of learning is only going to intensify that toxic level of shame and most likely destroy that raw talent that may exist."
How Do I Overcome It?
To decrease the negative impacts of shame, Thomson suggests the following:
1. Name it: Think about what you're feeling. Is this shame? Acknowledge it.
2. Normalize it: Shameful dancers tend to personalize what they're feeling and think they're the only one, says Thomson. "They have to normalize it and let themselves know that this is a social emotion that we all get to feel."
3. Move forward: After a bad class, Thomson says you should get curious. "Why did it go wrong today? Oh, it's because you only had three hours' sleep." Then you can make a plan to not let that excuse happen again.
As for that dancer who didn't learn the choreography, Thomson says, "If you beat yourself up and think, 'Oh, I'm no good, I should quit, I don't deserve it, everybody's looking at me, they hate me,' then the emotional state is running the show." Rather, she suggests that you focus on being more task-oriented, taking on a mind-set of "Well, I screwed up. I need to learn this and I'd better pay attention and do it right now." Thomson says, "Although shame tends to be regarded as negative, it can be positive. It depends on the degree."
- Paula Thomson - The Trauma Therapist Project ›
- Paula S. Thomson | California State University, Northridge ›
When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?
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The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."
Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
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It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
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The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
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The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
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On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
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When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.