Post-Performance Trauma Is Real. Here's How To Protect Yourself
Even though it's been a year since he took his last bow in the piece, Kidd Pivot dancer Jermaine Maurice Spivey still feels the aftermath of touring in Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young's Betroffenheit. The harrowing piece chronicles Young's own journey through tragedy, with dancers embodying his grief, trauma, guilt, addiction, euphoria and glee. "We endured an emotional negotiation each night because of how much the show cost. It was a weird kind of dread, because you wanted to pay the full cost. Otherwise you couldn't do the show justice."
Dance psychologist JoAnne La Fleche says there's little research on the emotional fallout from challenging performances like Betroffenheit, but dancers with poor self-care may be at risk of developing secondhand trauma or PTSD-like symptoms. These can range from fatigue, anxiety and depression to flashbacks and panic episodes.
The "weird dread" Spivey describes is not uncommon. La Fleche points out that our brains activate in the same way whether we're imagining something or experiencing it in reality. Severely violent and traumatizing roles are rare, but even minor challenges, left unaddressed, can emotionally debilitate a dancer over time.
Dancers tend to downplay or ignore discomfort, and in doing so, eventually diminish their self-awareness and overall wellness, and heighten their risk of injury. Being mindful of your own needs and limits when performing emotional roles is key to maintaining a healthy relationship to the work.
Just as the brain experiences difficult images as reality, the same is true for positive ones. Next time you're gearing up for a tough show, make imagery an integral part of your warm-up. Picture your body inside a dome of light. "It's an energetic field that protects you without closing you off from the outside world," La Fleche says. Then do a body scan guided by your breath and set boundaries from the inside out. That way, you're ready to care for your emotions when you go onstage.
Evelyn Lilian Sanchez Narvaez, a New York City–based freelance dancer who creates vulnerable solos and performs with Miguel Gutierrez, brings tokens of nature—such as shells collected during a recent tour to France—to the performance venue as a way to energetically warm up the space. "It's a piece of me that's tangible, something that makes me understand my power," they say. [Sanchez Narvaez uses she/her/they/them/ella pronouns.] The practice of consciously collecting sensory information, whether it's internal images or visible reminders, can help you feel in harmony with your surroundings and bring that sense of safety onstage.
Evelyn Lilian Sanchez Narvaez
David Gonsier, Courtesy Sanchez Narvaez
When Audrey Rachelle started performing regularly in Punchdrunk's Sleep No More, she quickly realized it was unsustainable to draw on her own life experiences in order to sink into her roles. La Fleche warns that without cultivating distance, dancers may over-identify with a role. "You have to get into an 'as-if' mode," she says, "without becoming the character."
Aeric Meredith-Goujon, Courtesy Rachelle
After a performance, practice shaking off the emotions you just built up. Jump and exhale as you land, shake your limbs, brush your body or imagine you're scrubbing yourself in a shower. "If you struggle to release, contract your muscles to the maximum and then suddenly let go as you audibly exhale," La Fleche suggests. Post-performance can also be a good time to vocalize or cry. If you want to avoid casual post-show conversations after a challenging performance, time your cooldown so you leave the theater after the audience, recommends Spivey.
It's important to fight feelings of isolation and negative self-talk after a show, says La Fleche, which can contribute to emotional vulnerability. Rachelle debriefs with each dance partner to touch base as real people, not just characters. "Talking to your colleagues prevents you from making up stories in your head," she says. Sanchez Narvaez thanks the space, the crew and fellow performers. "If you're thankful for being pushed, you're able to understand that the performance was a gift," they say. "When you return to that memory, you have a sense of gratitude instead of anger or frustration."
We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.
But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"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.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
It's a much-repeated part of Francesca Hayward's origin story that she discovered ballet at age 3, when her grandparents bought a video of The Nutcracker to keep her occupied and she immediately started dancing around the room. What's less well-known is that there was another video lined up next to The Nutcracker that Hayward liked to dance along to: Cats. "I really just did the White Cat bit and fast-forwarded the rest," she remembers. "I'd make my friends who came around be the other cats."
Twenty-four years later, she's not only become a Royal Ballet principal, but has been cast as Victoria the White Cat in Tom Hooper's new movie adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, out in theaters on December 20. "I remember the director telling me I'd got the part: 'Just to let you know you're the lead in a Hollywood film,' he said." Hayward laughs. "This is crazy!"
"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.