Dancers often reach out to each other first when they're in a crisis. Photo by Velizar Ivanov/Unsplash

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
  • self-harm
  • 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.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021