Chi De Marinis Photography, Courtesy Nicholls

How Hypnotherapy Saved My Dance Career

I am a dancer in a successful West End show and a year ago I nearly quit.

My anxiety came suddenly and without warning. We were in the middle of a stressful cast change and tensions were high as everyone wanted to prove their value to the production.

I felt as though someone flipped a switch in my brain. I started to feel pressure about perfecting my performances and suddenly felt unworthy of being there. My mind became consumed with negative images about what I was doing wrong, or what could go wrong.


I became obsessed in particular with one maneuver that I couldn't seem to do anymore, even though it was something that I used to be able to perform without a second thought. It only lasted two seconds but represented a broader sense of failure for me. I obsessed about it on the way home, while eating, even during conversations with other people. It started keeping me up at night and became the first thing I thought about in the morning. I was constantly in tears and the shows became torture.

Before going on stage, I started to experience heart palpitations, dry mouth, and stomach pains. My whole body felt weak.

The worst part was the embarrassment and shame. I was living my dream and felt ungrateful for not loving every moment, so I told no one.

Crystal Nicholls stretching her hamstrings

Chi De Marinis Photography, Courtesy Nicholls

In desperation, I did a Google search on anxiety treatments, and stumbled across a hypnotherapist. I had never even considered hypnotherapy as an option. Portrayals in movies had led me to believe it was fake. But I was desperate for anything that could help.

Hypnosis is nothing like the media depicts it. It is not about someone controlling your mind or getting stuck in "sunken places."

Hypnosis is a state of relaxed awareness. During a session your body is completely relaxed, but your mind is fully alert. You are in control throughout the entire process. It is during this state that your mind is receptive to hypnotic suggestion. It is an effective treatment option for many mental afflictions, including anxiety, phobias, addictions and anger.

I did a total of four sessions over a four-week period. In my first session, I sat in a chair with my eyes closed while the therapist led me through a series of relaxation techniques. Once I was in a deeply relaxed state, he made a series of hypnotic suggestions aimed at changing the way I saw myself in the show. After the session I felt incredibly relaxed but not immediately different.

I went to work the next day and was surprised to find that my anxiety had lessened. It wasn't a drastic change—I still felt the usual knots in my stomach—but I had a little more control of my mind before and throughout my performance.

After my second session I found a confidence I had not felt in weeks. I started to look forward to my sessions. My therapist used hypnotic suggestions that rewired my subconscious mind to see the stage as a positive and safe environment. I did not have to keep the suggestions in mind when I was backstage—what was suggested in the sessions carried through to my performances without any work on my part.

After my final session I discovered an amazing sense of calm and clarity. My mind stopped spiraling out of control and I eventually stopped feeling panicked before performances. The show no longer consumed my life and I no longer thought about it once I left the theater. I also started sleeping better.

Performance-anxiety is more common than we think, but people are too ashamed to open up about it. Dancers often feel weak or judged for feeling this way, and as a result, many suffer in silence.

The fear of judgement can isolate us. We feel as though no one understands what we are going through; but I've come to realize that there is no worse judgement than our own.

Hypnotherapy has not only helped me manage my performance-anxiety but has also altered the way I see myself. I am not my thoughts, feelings or bodily sensations. I still sometimes feel the familiar pang of stage fright before performances, but the difference is, I now surf the wave of anxiety without drowning in my thoughts.

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J. Alice Jackson, Courtesy CHRP

Chicago Human Rhythm Project's Rhythm World Finally Celebrates Its 30th Anniversary

What happens when a dance festival is set to celebrate a landmark anniversary, but a global pandemic has other plans?

Chicago's Rhythm World, the oldest tap festival in the country, should have enjoyed its 30th iteration last summer. Disrupted by COVID-19, it was quickly reimagined for virtual spaces with a blend of recorded and livestreamed classes. So as not to let the pandemic rob the festival of its well-deserved fanfare, it was cleverly marketed as Rhythm World 29.5.

Fortunately, the festival returns in full force this year, officially marking three decades of rhythm-making with three weeks of events, July 26 to August 15. As usual, the festival will be filled with a variety of master classes, intensive courses and performances, as well as a teacher certification program and the Youth Tap Ensemble Conference. At the helm is Chicago native Jumaane Taylor, the newly appointed festival director, who has curated both the education and performance programs. Taylor, an accomplished choreographer, came to the festival first as a young student and later as part of its faculty.

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July 2021