Audrey Rachelle recommends not drawing on personal experience when performing difficult roles. Aeric Meredith-Goujon, Courtesy Rachelle

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.

The Preparation

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.

Sanchez Narvaez sits on a small stage, wearing jeans and a grey sweatshirt. She has a brace on her knee and crutches lay beside her. She is wearing headphones attached to a phone, and seems to be singing.

Evelyn Lilian Sanchez Narvaez

David Gonsier, Courtesy Sanchez Narvaez

The Performance

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."

Rachelle looks off into the distance, wearing red lipstick and a black shirt. It looks like she has been crying. The image is very dark, with a few lights in the distant background. She is on the right side of the image; we only see a sliver of her.

Audrey Rachelle

Aeric Meredith-Goujon, Courtesy Rachelle

The Reset

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."

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Brandt in Giselle. Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT

Skylar Brandt's Taste in Music Is as Delightful as Her Dancing

American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt's dancing is clean, precise and streamlined. It's surprising, then, to learn that her taste in music is "all over the place," she says. (Even more surprising is that Brandt, who has an Instagram following of over 80k, is "in the dark ages" when it comes to her music, and was buying individual songs on iTunes up until a year ago, when her family intervened with an Apple Music plan.)

Though what she's listening to at any given time can vary dramatically, the through-line for Brandt is nostalgia: songs that take her back, whether to childhood, a favorite movie or a piece she's recently performed. Brandt told us about her eclectic taste, and made us a playlist that will keep you guessing:

Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

NYCDA Is Redefining the Convention Scene Through Life-Changing Opportunities

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:

Courtesy The Joyce

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.

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