Creating, identifying and maintaining a support system is so valuable for dancers. We spend so much time internalizing the emotional burden of the profession and too little on finding healthy outlets and stability in our daily routines. I am certain it is not lost on you that balance is important, dancer or not. Finding balance in your life of work and play, discipline and spontaneity, is important but can be oddly daunting. It is especially daunting when you have trained to be so tuned in to perfecting your body and own thought process.
We often neglect the power of teamwork and community within the profession. Of course, your body is your instrument, but your teachers, directors, and peers all guide the progression of your training and performance. Especially in a corps de ballet, the collective efforts of everybody working as a single unit are what makes the work successful. Sarah Jukes for Medium wrote, “Dance is a collective. Dancers feed off the energy of those around them. They are used to working in small groups and are reliant on their peers for support, feedback and advice.” Teamwork and community are innate parts of company and studio culture. A full production of Swan Lake, for instance, cannot be held together by a single dancer. It takes the contributions of every company member.
Sometimes, that sense of belonging and support does not click right away. It may take more time to establish trust or to feel supported. This is where a support system comes into play. It can be easy to isolate yourself, especially when you’ve worked so hard and put so much of yourself into the art. A sense of disconnection can set in, but if combated with optimism and the acknowledgement of the resources around you, you’ll develop a sense of belonging. To do that, sometimes we need that rational presence who can be the voice of reason and a sympathetic listening ear.
Your support system doesn’t have to be nor should it be just one person. It should comprise of a mix of people or institutions. A healthy support system includes both professional and personal relationships. Professional relationships might include those between you and your artistic director, rehearsal mistress, physical therapist, etc. Personal relationships not only include your friends in the studio but also those outside of the studio. Your family, friends in other fields, or even peers from non-dance organizations such as from a yoga class, your gym, even a church could serve this role. Sometimes talking to another dancer is hard because they are too close to the source of your frustration and because they themselves are dealing with their own woes. Finding a mix of dancers and non-dancers will encourage personal growth while healthily taking on personal challenges.
What sets these relationships, professional or not, apart is that they should be individuals you truly trust and value their opinions and insight. Finding and establishing those relationships means that you will surround yourself with people who know you as not only a dancer but as your own person, separate from your career. They will hold you accountable, but they will also ensure that you hold yourself accountable. They are the ones who will offer honesty and challenge you, but they won’t do the work for you. You hold yourself up, and they will be there if you stumble along the way. Because let’s be honest. We all fall down once in a while.
A step towards finding those people and creating your support system is knowing yourself. Knowing yourself and your body, not just in the context of technique, will allow you to know what you might need from others and alternately what you bring to the table. Lisa Ross Marcus, a dance life coach, suggests that in knowing yourself, there are some questions you should consider when identifying those in your life who can take on a supportive role. She reassures dancers that fostering a support system is not time consuming, but it is a process that requires attention. She writes, “You can start to identify who is in your support network by simply asking yourself which relationships in your life already bring you love, affirmation and honest feedback?”
Dance is a lifestyle. It is a full-on commitment, but to carry out a lifestyle, any lifestyle, you cannot isolate yourself. Each dancer’s journey is individual, but we must all find ways to feed off each other, learn from each other, grow from each other. There are enough stressors in the world of dance without feeling like you are being left alone to conquer them.