I've already had several dance jobs and apprenticed with a company. Now I've set up a series of auditions but can't shake the words of my old dance teacher. He told our entire class that, unlike him, we didn't have what it takes to be a professional. He also laughed at us and made humiliating comments about our bodies. We thought he was "mental" at the time, yet now it's messing with my head. What's wrong with me?
—Jason, Jersey City, NJ
Sadly, the words of a critical teacher (or parent) can haunt you even years later. As performers, we judge our self-worth to a large degree on how others see us. This is particularly true when you're bullied by an authority figure. A study I conducted with Dance Magazine of 960 dancers nationwide and documented in my book, Advice for Dancers, showed that those who were publicly humiliated by their teachers in class reported significantly more symptoms of stage fright, emotional stress and increased injuries. They were also less likely to reach their professional goals due to self-sabotage, such as overworking (even when injured) or avoiding auditions.
To your credit, you've found work as a performer and plan to keep auditioning. Now, to quell your teacher's negative voice, try these two techniques: thought stopping (when you start to think about his criticisms, tell yourself "No" and switch your attention to something constructive, such as your placement or musicality) and self-talk (use facts, logic and reason to dispute your inner critic and replace negative comments with positive statements that you believe, like "Everyone makes mistakes"). Remember: Good dance training does not involve intimidating you about your performance or appearance. All dancers should know it's okay to find a teacher who doesn't resort to inappropriate scare tactics.
Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.