Health & Body

Can Dancers Take Mental Health Days?

A break can be an investment in the longevity of your career. Photo by Sage Friedman/Unsplash

In dance, pushing through pain is often glorified. Dancers can be reluctant to take time off when sick or injured for fear of missing out on opportunities. It can feel even harder to justify when the pain isn't physical. Though it's becoming more commonly acknowledged that mental health is just as important as physical health, a dance career doesn't leave much time to address mental or emotional issues.

But dancers need to take care of their mental well-being to be able to perform at their best, says Catherine Drury, a licensed clinical social worker for The Dancers' Resource at The Actors Fund. So what can you do if you need a mental health day?


It largely depends what kind of contract you're on and what kind of relationship you have with your director. The sick or personal time that's built into some contracts can be used for mental health purposes—it's up to you whether you'd like to disclose what exactly you're using it for. (In the case of a supportive boss, it may help to be transparent, but keep in mind that the stigma around mental health means that some directors may react negatively.)

Freelance dancers may face harder choices if they have no time off included in their contracts. Drury recommends keeping in mind the benefits of taking a break, and thinking of it as an investment into the longevity of your career.

Dancers can also be proactive about building time into their schedules to check in on their well-being so that they don't have to miss work. If you find that you're having to take frequent mental health days, it's probably time to have a therapist help you address the root of the problem and develop more constructive ways of coping, says Drury.

What Companies Can Do

Directors can take steps to create a healthy work environment for their dancers—and hopefully reduce the need to take time away from the studio. For Cincinnati Ballet artistic director Victoria Morgan, this means being selective about what kinds of personalities she brings into the studio as choreographers, and hosting feedback sessions where dancers can anonymously share thoughts and grievances.

When dancers do need to take time off, companies could help by having specified mental health days or clarifying that sick days can be used for mental as well as physical issues, says Drury. If dancers feel less guilty about taking these days, it will ultimately make them more effective.

Although Cincinnati Ballet doesn't have a specific mental health day policy, Morgan says she's happy to support dancers who are going through a mental health crisis and is flexible about taking time off. She encourages them to speak with the company's human resource representative, who has expertise around these issues.

When to Take a Mental Health Day

  • If you can't focus in the studio because of a life event. Take time to address the issue at hand—distraction can lead to injury and can become a safety concern for other dancers.
  • If you feel you might be close to a place of crisis or burnout. Check in with yourself before your symptoms lead to longer-term problems.
  • If your mental health will negatively impact your co-workers.
  • If there are appointments related to your mental health that you aren't able to schedule outside work hours.

Broadway
The "Merde" bag. Courtesy Scenery

Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.

But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"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.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Sara Mearns in the gym. Photo by Kyle Froman.

New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.

"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "

She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox