This is hard. You are not alone.
Read that again.
Read it one more time.
Over this past year, we have felt isolated, lost, and alone. No matter where you are along this journey, you deserve support.
If your health is suffering
If you have lost a loved one
If you find it hard to get out of bed in the morning
If you are dancing less than you were a year ago
If you are not dancing at all
If you moved home with your parents
If you have lost touch with friends
If you are taking a gap year from school
If you went back to school
If you have taken on a new job
If you can’t find a job
If you are struggling emotionally, financially, mentally, or spiritually
If you are angry, depressed, anxious, bitter, scared, or numb
You are not alone.
Amidst this global health crisis, it’s just as important to care for our mental health and wellbeing. As the world begins to open back up, the pressure is mounting for us all to swan dive back into the hustle. But the journey will undoubtedly be messier than we’d like. A little self-compassion can go a long way. Give yourself grace (dancer pun intended), cultivate a sense of grounding, and continue to reach out if you need support.
Below are some insights and resources for the dance and greater performing arts community.
“Since the beginning of 2020, this present Coronavirus pandemic has created both negative and positive aspects in the dance world. It appears that those with a flexible mindset have been able to survive a lot better by accepting what is happening and looking out for opportunities to continue with their lives as a dancer. Take for instance the rise in online dance classes, filming dance performances virtually. My Mental Health Self-Care Workshops, for instance, are now all online around the world. On the other hand, those with a fixed mindset have been stuck in the ‘oh woe is me’ state of mind, stuck in fear and unable to move forward. You need to know what you can and can’t control. Leave well alone what you can’t control and to have the strength to change the things you can.” © Terry Hyde 2021 www.counsellingfordancers.com
Terry Hyde MA MBACP
Psychotherapist/Counsellor, Founder of Counselling for Dancers, retired professional dancer
“One of the main differences between a dancer who pursues an artform and a dancer who makes it her profession is mindset. Technique is the artform. Diligence, commitment and the ability to deal with rejection, stress and constant pressure is what separates the novice from the pro. Over the past year, dancers have all been tested to stay on track and find innovative pivots to stay in shape, keep money flowing towards them and, hopefully, find some new passions and projects to fill the waiting time. To keep going, to deal with uncertainty, to allow for the pressure and stress to be there and still move forward…that’s what dancers do!
Dancers know this all too well: resisting what’s happening will only take you further away from what you love and dream of. Leaning into it, breathing deeply, staying connected to and caring for your body was the best medicine when you didn’t get the job, hit a frustrating plateau or suffered an injury when you could go into the studio or onto the stage. That same commitment and care is what can get you through what’s happening now.
Being in your body is how dancers dance. In the most connected of performances, the dancer just does. She doesn’t think. She dances. When you get into a space where you worry or feel anxiety or the intense fear we pair with the unknown, slow down. Watch your breath and slowly, get present to your body – your physical and your senses. Anxiety and worry and fear are all about an impending future. It really could go all of the ways, we just tend to think about the doom and gloom so we can be ready (and hopefully prevent it). Right now, in this moment, none of those anxieties or fears are coming to fruition. Right now, we are just waiting – breathing, feeling and sensing. Getting out of your head and into your body is your art and it’s what needs to be practiced.
It’s also a good time to consider your support team – family, friends and professionals who will help you stay present. Take some time to consider who those people are for you. If your “team” lacks players, considering joining a therapy group, coaching program, text therapy app (like Tawkify) or, if it’s available to you financially, hiring a personal or wellness coach to keep you accountable for taking care and remaining in a healthy mindset. Cognitive Behavior Therapy is great for this, as is Dialectical Behavior Therapy, as is mindfulness. Building your team and your personal practice to take care will be of amazing benefit when you get yourself back out on that stage again too.”
Rachel Harvest MS RDN CDN
Registered Dietician, Behavioral Health Specialist, Personal Coach, Former Professional Ballerina
“As we approach the year mark of the pandemic, it is becoming clear to me how much our industry will benefit from the work of performance psychology. Taking in what I have learned from my studies in school, as a teacher during this pandemic, and as a dance student, it will be important to not dwell on the past. We cannot change it, we cannot go back to it, we can only learn from it. The ‘normal’ of how life as a performer was will no longer exist. What our industry will look like is anyone’s guess, but we have to come to terms that it will be different. And that is OK.
What will be imperative as we move into this new phase of our industry is the importance of learning to be in the present. Teachers and educators must recognize this and emphasize this more than ever to their students. Performance psychologists are great resources to provide mental skills for students to help aid in their ‘return to play’ (as they like to say in the sports world). These techniques include self-talk, relaxation, imagery, breathing, goal setting, and concentration. People thrive and experience physical/mental wellness and positive development when the psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are satisfied.
The pandemic is a perfect example that this theory holds true. The need for relatedness is extremely difficult to satisfy in the current climate and as a result, we see struggles in motivation. As educators and teachers, we need to get creative and make sure these three needs are met so our students are given every opportunity to succeed in a time of uncertainty. Success is not achieved and maintained by hard work alone. Let me repeat…Success is not achieved and maintained by hard work alone. We as an industry must understand this. As an industry, we can no longer ignore mental health. It is all connected. We have to train our bodies and our minds to see optimal success.
If this pandemic has taught us anything as performers, it is that it is important to separate what we do from who we are. We are more than what job we book. If we continuously attach who we are to what we do, when we lose what we do, we lose our identity. We need to free ourselves to learn who we truly are as individuals. In general, dancers are resilient. We live lives of uncertainty. That doesn’t mean that everyone has found this time away easy. Some dancers will have flourished while others may have struggled, even to the point of developing symptoms of anxiety or depression. We all (students and teachers) need to have compassion moving into whatever the future holds; compassion for ourselves and compassion for others.
Sports teams have been using performance psychologists for years. There is science behind it, and it has proven effective. I hope performers will be more open to the idea of utilizing these types of services, and I hope that our industry can provide ways to make them accessible to anyone. Seeking help or advice from a professional is a great first step to achieve the sound body and sound mind needed for optimal performance.”
Performer, Educator, Graduate Student (MA in Performance Psychology)
“As a therapist who has worked with dancers and athletes for a long time, when they get injured or and are forced to sit an entire season or sometimes even years out, they question their identity:
‘Am I still a dancer? I haven’t taken a class in a year.’
‘It’s painful to hear everyone talking about choreography when I can’t participate.’
I have worked with these questions of identity for years but COVID has thrown something new into the mix. Due to the pandemic, dance classes, auditions, rehearsals and performances have been cancelled. At first, everyone was frustrated and/or devastated, some having just landed a role or finally got a callback on an audition they had been practicing for. I spent months with clients working on grief. Grief that was real and valid. Grief for missing those opportunities and big breaks and their way to creatively express themselves. However, as weeks turned into months, and delay after delay was announced, people started moving from grief to isolation, anger, uncertainty, and disconnection.
Some people left NYC for a little space outside the city and didn’t think to bring dance shoes, foam rollers, and other things they usually have as part of their dance practice. Then the two week stay with their family or friends out- of -state dragged on. Some people just stopped dancing because they didn’t feel like it, didn’t know the point, but some people felt it was more important to dance and feel connected to some sense of normalcy. Regardless, a theme was emerging, a conflicted identity.
As with any serious athlete, many dancers when asked to describe themselves will first identify as dancers, before students, sisters, brothers, partners, religious affiliation, etc.
It has now been a year and people are struggling with so many things, and identity is a big one. Some folx question if they are still a dancer if they haven’t danced in a year, if they have danced everyday but only by themselves, away from their community, or they have danced for fun, but not structured. The answer only lies within the individual, however, I always give this example as guidance: My sister lives in another state, a plane ride away. I often see her twice a year for a couple of days, which is not a lot. The months in between, I don’t question if I am a sister, being a sister lives within me. I have always identified as such. While a human relationship is different for obvious reasons, the identification can be relatable. You are whatever you feel, whatever you believe you are. There is no official definition of what makes someone a dancer. I always ask people to think back on their childhood, did they consider themselves dancers before competing? Before auditions? Before performing in front of others? Several folx have told me they couldn’t have gone to auditions or practiced for their recitals if they didn’t already consider themselves dancers.
So who is a dancer? Use it as a journal exercise and see what comes up. You are a dancer! Whether you are paid for performances or dancing in your kitchen, whether you can do the splits or are injured. If you dance, you’re a dancer.
The Actor’s Fund offers online workshops and resources including social services, financial assistance, career counseling, health insurance guidance, mindfulness meditation, and support groups.
The Broadway Advocacy Coalition empowers the community to actively participate in the fight for social change. BAC offers online forums, accountability check-ins, and artivism fellowships and partners with organizations including Black Lives Matter, Theater of Change, and Theater Vs.
The National Dance Education Organization (NDEO) offers webinars about teaching online and COVID safety protocols for dance studios.
Here is a list of anti-racism resources including books, podcasts, articles, and social media accounts to follow.
Dance/USA provides resources related to the coronavirus including federal assistance, reopening guidelines, and additional informational webinars.
On Backstage.com you can find links to financial assistance, healthcare resources, and tips to nail self-tape auditions.
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