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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"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.

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Dance Magazine Chairman's Award Honoree: Linda Shelton

In an industry that has been clamoring for more female leadership, Linda Shelton, executive director of New York City's The Joyce Theater Foundation since 1993, has been setting an example for decades. As a former general manager of The Joffrey Ballet, U.S. tour manager for the Bolshoi Ballet, National Endowment for the Arts panelist, Dance/NYC board member and Benois de la Danse judge, as well as a current Dance/USA board member, Shelton has served as a global leader in dance. In her tenure at The Joyce, she has not only increased the venue's commissioned programming, but also started presenting beyond The Joyce's walls in locations such as Lincoln Center.

What brought you to The Joyce?

That was many years ago, but it's still the same today: It's a belief in and passion for the mission of the theater, which is to support dance in all of its forms and varieties—every kind of dance that you could imagine.

Diversity is so important in dance leadership today. How do you approach this at The Joyce?

Darren Walker said something interesting at a Dance/NYC Symposium, which was that The Joyce is a disruptor. It was nice to hear in that context, because we don't think of it as something new. We didn't have to change our mission statement to be more diverse. We've been doing this since day one.

Is drawing in new audiences and maintaining longtime supporters ever in conflict?

Of course. I call it the blessing and the curse of our mission. We do present more experimental companies that may attract a younger audience. But it's very tricky. You're not going to tell your long-term audience, "Don't come and see this because you're not going to like the music." We've had people walk out of the theater before, but it's a response. It's important to spark those conversations.

What experimenting have you done?

We've tried a "pay what you decide" ticket the past couple of seasons with some of our more adventurous programming. You would reserve your seat for a dollar and after seeing the show pay what you decide is right for you.

Do you have advice for other dance presenters?

Find opportunities to sit with colleagues from around the country. At Dance/USA there's a presenters' council where we come together and talk about what we're putting in our seasons and what we're passionate about. Maybe there are enough presenters to collaborate and make it possible to bring a company to New York or to do a tour around the country.

Also, remember what it's all about: making that connection between what's onstage and the audience. If we can do that, despite every visa issue and missed flight and injury and changed program and whatever else comes our way, then we should feel good about the job we're doing.

To purchase tickets to the Dance Magazine Awards or become a sponsor, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

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