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

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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.

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Rachel Papo

Our 8 Best Pointe Shoe Hacks

It turns out that TikTok is good for more than just viral dance challenges. Case in point: We recently stumbled across this genius pointe shoe hack for dancers with narrow heels.

Dancers are full of all kinds of crafty tricks to make their pointe shoes work for them. But don't fear: You don't need to spend hours scrolling TikTok to find the best pro tips. We rounded up a few of our favorites published in Dance Magazine over the years.

If your vamp isn't long enough, sew an elastic on top of your metatarsals.

Last year, Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Elizabeth Murphy admitted to us that her toes used to flop all the way out of her shoes when she rose up onto pointe(!). "I have really long toes and stock shoes never had a vamp long enough," she says.

Her fix? Sewing a piece of elastic (close to the drawstring but without going through it) at the top of the vamp for more support...and also special-ordering higher vamps.

Solve corns with toe socks

Nashville Ballet's Sarah Cordia told us in 2017 that toe socks are her secret weapon: "I get soft corns in between my toes because I have sweaty feet. Wearing toe socks helps keep that area dry. I found a half-toe sock called 'five-toe heelless half-boat socks' that I now wear in my pointe shoes."

(For other padding game-changers, check out these six ideas.)

Save time by recycling ribbons and elastics.

Don't waste time measuring new ribbons and elastics for every pair. Washington Ballet dancer Ashley Murphy-Wilson told us that she keeps and cycles through about 10 sets of ribbons and crisscross elastics. "It makes sewing new pairs easier because the ribbons and elastic are already at the correct length," she says. Bonus: This also makes your pointe shoe habit more environmentally friendly.

Close-up of hands sewing a pointe shoe.

Murphy-Wilson sewing her shoes

xmbphotography, by Mena Brunette, courtesy The Washington Ballet

Tie your drawstring on demi-pointe.

In 2007, New York City Ballet's Megan Fairchild gave us this tip for making sure her drawstring stays tight: "I always tie it in demi-pointe because that is when there's the biggest gap and where there's the most bagginess on the side."

Find a stronger thread.

When it comes to keeping your ribbons on, function trumps form—audiences won't be able to see your stitches from the stage. Many dancers use floss as a stronger, more secure alternative to thread. Fairchild told us she uses thick crochet thread. "Before I go onstage I sew a couple of stitches in the knot of the ribbon to tack the ends," she says. "I do a big 'X.' I have to make sure it's perfect because I'm in it for the show. It's always the very last thing I do."

Don't simply reorder your shoes on autopilot.

Even as adults, our feet keep growing and spreading as we age. Atlanta podiatrist Frank Sinkoe suggests going to a professional pointe shoe fitter at least once a year to make sure you're in the right shoe.

You might even need different sizes at different times of the year, says New York City Ballet podiatric consultant Thomas Novella. During busy periods and in warm weather, your feet might be bigger than during slow periods in the winter. Have different pairs ready for what your feet need now.

Fit *both* feet.

Don't forget that your feet might even be two different sizes. "If you're getting toenail bruises, blood blisters or other signs of compression, but only on one foot, have someone check each foot's size," Novella says. The solution? Buy two pairs at a time—one for the right foot and one for the left.

Wash off the sweat.

Blisters thrive in a sweaty pointe shoe. Whenever you can, take your feet out of your shoes between rehearsals and give them a quick rinse off in the sink. "If feet sweat, they should be washed periodically during the day with soap and water and dried well, especially between the toes," says Sinkoe.