What to Do If You Think a Fellow Dancer Is Having a Mental Health Crisis
When it comes to mental health, dancers are the ones on the frontlines trying to support each other. Many find themselves routinely confronted with concerns for their friends. Maybe it's the dancer down the barre who you know is cutting, or the partner who only speaks about himself with disparagement and disgust.
According to Dr. Sharon Chirban, a sports psychologist who works with dancers at Boston Ballet, it is normal for peers to seek each other out when dealing with mental health issues. Yet many are unsure of what to do when a friend approaches them. Keep these six actions in mind the next time you need to help a fellow dancer.
Listen Without Judgment
Don't feel like you should play the role of a mental health professional, warns Dr. Leigh Skvarla, a counselor who works with athletes and performing artists in Pittsburgh. "Don't try to 'solve' the situation. Rather, listen to what they are saying," she says. "Sometimes people don't need you to give them solutions. They will benefit from you sitting with them and acknowledging that they're struggling."
Don't Agree to Be Off-The-Record
Skvarla warns against promising to keep the conversation secret. "This not only isolates your friend, but can make you feel alone with their challenge too."
Take The Initiative
If you notice that a fellow dancer is clearly suffering without support, talk with them. "Don't assume that they will get help by themselves," says Skvarla. Observations should be the foundation of your message. "I-statements work well," she says, "such as saying: 'I noticed that you didn't show up for class for the past two days. Are you okay?' "
Watch Out for Red Flags
How do you know if a friend's problem warrants an evaluation with a mental health professional? Skvarla suggests looking out for changes in your friend's personality or emotional expression, including the following:
- shutting down when they were previously open about their mood
- behaving as if everything is fantastic
- believing that nobody likes them
- changes in sleep habits
- changes in nutrition and weight
- social withdrawal
- illegal drug use
- making distressing or hopeless comments
- feeling sad for two weeks or more
Ask for Backup
If your friend's behavior has not improved, they may need more help than you can offer. "Take the question you might have about someone's well-being, even anonymously, to the person who you think is the most sensitive to the health of the dancer," advises Chirban. This is often a parent, but it may be a teacher or artistic staff member.
Know that your friend might initially be hurt. "It is possible that they will be angry," says Skvarla, "and that is valid." Being "outed" can cause embarrassment or shame. But remember that in the long-term, your friend will most likely be grateful.
Don't Forget Self-Care
While your friend is struggling, it is possible that you will as well—it's an emotional burden to feel responsible for someone else's well-being. "On an airplane, the flight attendant will remind you to put your oxygen mask on first before you help others. The same principle applies," says Skvarla. "Taking care of yourself is critical." Carve out time to meditate if it helps you, connect with other friends or seek quiet time for yourself.
- Mental Health Needs More Than "Dance Isn't for Everyone" ›
- Why Are We Still So Bad At Addressing Dancers' Mental Health ... ›
Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.