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

Can Dancers Take Mental Health Days?

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.

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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?

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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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