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.

 

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Paulo Arrais rehearsing Agon with Lia Cirio. Photo by Brooke Trisolini

Fear of Reinjury Could Make You More Prone to Hurting Yourself Again. Here's How to Avoid It

It was Boston Ballet's first full run-through of its upcoming show, Kylián/Wings of Wax. As he prepared with a plié for a big saut de basque, principal dancer Paulo Arrais, 32, heard a Velcro-like sound and suddenly fell to the floor. He went into a state of shock, hyperventilating and feeling intense pressure on his knee. It turned out to be a full patellar tendon rupture, requiring surgery and an entire year off before he could return to the company.

Though his physical condition continues to improve, Arrais' mental recovery has also been challenging. "Treating your mind is just as important as treating your body," he says.

Feeling safe when returning to the studio can be tricky for any dancer. Some researchers believe a fear of reinjury can actually make athletes more prone to hurting themselves again. We talked to several medical professionals to understand why that might happen and what dancers can do to overcome that anxiety.

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