Along with the rewards of a dance career come numerous sources of stress, from the demands of a busy schedule to challenges in the studio.

"We want to be perfect," says Shuaib Elhassan, a dancer with Alonzo King LINES Ballet, "and we want to reach for the best we can do."

While occasional acute stress—like pre-audition anxiety—is a normal part of life, long-term problems like financial strain, an injury or an abusive work environment can contribute to chronic stress. "When demands exceed coping resources, stress results," says Dr. Jennifer Carter, a sports psychologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.


Chronic stress can lead to health problems ranging from depression and heart conditions to prolonged injury recovery. So what are some ways for dancers to cope?

woman meditating in her bedroom with a tablet app

Getty Images

Try mindfulness and meditation

Use a guided meditation app, or take your own meditation breaks by focusing on your breathing, gently returning your attention to your breath when your thoughts wander.

"Mindfulness is nonjudgmental awareness of our thoughts and feelings—accepting all emotions, including anger, sadness and fear, as part of the human experience," Carter explains. "Dancers who practice mindfulness skills might notice a thought like 'I'll never get this role,' and gently escort their attention back to their breath without much reaction. This takes a lot of practice!"

Learn cognitive behavioral skills

Identify and challenge distorted and harmful thoughts when they arise. For example, Carter suggests you could gently counter a thought about not getting a role with " 'The role hasn't been cast yet. I've gotten some great roles in the past. I'll take a deep breath and do my best.' "

Make time to connect 

Research shows that being proactive about reaching out for help and having a supportive community can make you more resilient. "You become a family in a company, and you learn how to help each other out," says Elhassan, who cites the sense of community at LINES as a key protective factor against stress. "We're all individuals, and we all have different ways of getting help," he points out, saying that for him, a conversation or hug from a friend can be exactly the boost he needs.

Do non-dance activities

Find a free class, play or concert in your community. Sampling something new—even if it's just a different genre of music or film—can refresh your week.

Express yourself 

Journal; write stories, poetry or music; draw, paint or sculpt.

Take time for you

Treat yourself to a special morning or evening routine, like making a fun breakfast or listening to soothing music before going to bed early.

Reflect on your priorities

Is there anything you want to move around on your mental to-do list?

Practice saying "no"

Set healthy boundaries, whether that means declining a night out with friends to get some rest, or turning down an extra shift at work to spend time with a friend.

Remind yourself why you dance

"As dance transitions from being an activity of joy to becoming a professional path, it is easy to lose your intrinsic motivation," says Robin Kish, an associate professor of dance at Chapman University. Figure out what is motivating your drive to dance. Kish suggests channeling the memories of times you danced for the joy of movement, without worrying about being good enough or letting anyone down.

Reach out for help

If your stress feels overwhelming, or you'd like to learn to manage it more effectively, make an appointment with a therapist.

Latest Posts


Matthew Murphy, Courtesy DKC/O&M

MJ The Musical Casts Its Michael

MJ The Musical has found its Michael Jackson: Ephraim Sykes.

If there's anyone who's up to the task, it's easily Sykes. The Tony-nominated triple threat has proved his mettle time and again in six Broadway shows. No stranger to the soul and pop genres, he was in the casts of Memphis and Motown The Musical, and is currently starring as David Ruffin in Ain't Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
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:

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB

Dance Magazine Award Honoree: Sara Mearns

Sara Mearns is a force. There is a monumentality to her dancing that was apparent even as a young corps member of 19, cast in her first Swan Lake with New York City Ballet. She threw herself into the role heart and soul, stretching each shape to the limit, trusting the music to carry her to a deep place (and her partner to save her should she go too far). In the 13 years since, her dancing has gained in power and focus, while never losing that edge of risk.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
contest
Enter Our Video Contest