Why World Mental Health Day Matters for Dancers
Today is World Mental Health Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness about mental health issues. It's a serious topic, and not one that is at first glance related to dance. As dancers, we tend to be extremely focused on our physical health, but taking time to acknowledge the mental and emotional challenges of our field is equally important. We've gathered advice on dealing with some of the more common daily struggles of life as a dancer, but if you or someone you know is facing a more serious issue, don't be afraid to reach out to a teacher, mentor or someone you trust about getting help.
Stress. Everyone has to deal with it, but too much of it can have adverse affects on your dancing, such as delaying muscle recovery, sabotaging your healthy diet and creating a higher predisposition to injury. Luckily, there are lots of little things you can do to alleviate stress. Journal, meditate, take a luxurious bath, get outdoors—or, for a quick pick me up, try a few core activation exercises. At the end of the day, taking that little bit of time to manage your stress will pay off with increased focus, heightened creativity and healthier, more enjoyable dancing.
Body image. It's no secret that dancers tend toward perfectionism. When it comes to technique, this trait can serve you extremely well. But since our bodies are our instruments, it can be all too easy to switch from using the mirror as a tool for improvement to seeing only the ways our bodies are less than "ideal." From there, it's a short leap to self-deprecation. In both cases, mindfulness can help: Relegate the mirror to checking your placement, not your waist size, and banish self-deprecating comments from your vocabulary. Try taking a cue from ballerina Sarah Hay, who argues that getting beyond the idea of there being a "perfect body" can not only make you happier as a dancer, but will also enrich the dance world as a whole.
Feeling unmotivated. A life in dance requires consistent, exceptional commitment. And some days you just might not be feeling it. Being aware of how much effort you're putting into class, reminding yourself of your goal(s) and finding inspiration in other dancers or outside the studio can be just what you need. But you should also check in with yourself to see if there are deeper issues at play—a change of environment or a break to recover from burnout might be in order.
Injury recovery. The pain of not being able to dance is frequently just as bad as the physical pain of being injured. Missing out on performances is disappointing, returning to movements that caused your injury can be frightening and your body might not feel like your own. Know that this is normal, and take care of yourself through your recovery by setting achievable goals, giving yourself time to heal, surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family and reminding yourself of life outside of the studio. You'll come back stronger and wiser for it.
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.