Health & Body

How Hypnotherapy Saved My Dance Career

Chi De Marinis Photography, Courtesy Nicholls

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.

Dance Training
Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Mark Morris Dance Group

You know compelling musicality when you see it. But how do you cultivate it? It's not as elusive as it might seem. Musicality, like any facet of dance, can be developed and honed over time—with dedicated, detailed practice. At its most fundamental, it's "respect for the music, that this is your partner," says Kate Linsley, academy principal of the School of Nashville Ballet.

Keep reading... Show less
In Memoriam
Ross Parkes, right, teaching in Shanghai in 1983. Lan-Lan Wang is at left. Courtesy Lan-Lan Wang.

Notable dancer and beloved teacher, Ross Parkes, 79, passed away on August 5, 2019 in New York City. He was a founding faculty member at Taipei National University of the Arts in Taiwan, where he taught from 1984 to 2006. Lin Hwai-min, artistic director of Cloud Gate Dance Theater, said: "He nurtured two generations of dancers in Taiwan, and his legacy will continue."

About his dancing, Tonia Shimin, professor emerita at UC Santa Barbara and producer of Mary Anthony: A Life in Modern Dance, said this: "He was an exquisite, eloquent dancer who inhabited his roles completely."

Keep reading... Show less
The USC Kaufman graduating class with Mikhail Baryshnikov. Gus Ruelas/USC

Just four years ago, the University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance welcomed its first class of BFA students. The program—which boasts world-class faculty and a revolutionary approach to training focused on collaboration and hybridity—immediately established itself as one of the country's most prestigious and most innovative.

Now, the first graduating class is entering the dance field. Here, six of the 33 graduates share what they're doing post-grad, what made their experience at USC Kaufman so meaningful and how it prepared them for their next steps:

Keep reading... Show less
Breaking Stereotypes
Lindsay Martell at a class performance. Courtesy Martell.

More than once, when I'm sporting my faded, well-loved ballet hoodie, some slight variation of this conversation ensues:

"Is your daughter the dancer?"

"Actually," I say, "I am."

"Wow!" they enthuse. "Who do you dance with? Or have you retired...?"

"I don't dance with a company. I'm not a professional. I just take classes."

Insert mic drop/record scratch/quizzical looks.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox