Former New York City Ballet dancer Linda Hamilton,
Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice, the
author of Advice for Dancers (Jossey-Bass) and
co-author of The Dancer’s Way: The New York
City Ballet Guide to Mind, Body, and Nutrition (St.
Martin’s Griffin). Her website is drlindahamilton.com.
Dr. Linda Hamilton
2000 Broadway, PH2C, New York, NY 10023
My big toe is sore, stiff and—my doctor says—slowly becoming arthritic.
How could this happen when I’m only 21? He told me to wear a spacer
and pointe shoes in class (no flats) to keep it aligned and as immobile
as possible. Does this mean I can never perform contemporary pieces
in bare feet?
—Doomed Stiff Toe, Philadelphia, PA
It’s shocking to learn that your toe is showing the beginning stages of arthritis.
However, this can happen to dancers at any age for a number of reasons,
including genetics; trauma, such as a badly stubbed toe; or a biomechanical
problem like excessive pronation, or rolling in. The good news is that an early
diagnosis can help you take precautions to slow down the progression of
arthritis. This typically takes several years to develop and may eventually
restrict motion of that toe completely. Right now, you should be able to
perform contemporary work with certain modifications. To lessen the pressure
on your joint when you’re dancing barefoot, adjust your technique by
lowering your demi-pointe from a 90-degree angle until the stiffness no
longer causes pain. Wearing a toe spacer, with or without shoes, can
also be useful because the big-toe joint moves best when it is properly
aligned. Switching to pointe shoes in class will protect the toe and lessen the
pain as you move through the ball of the foot. Additionally, a precut moleskin
“turf toe” strap (available at myfootshop.com) worn under the joint can help
limit its motion. Of course, if you have any technical problems, such as rolling
in, now’s the time to correct them with physical therapy.
Three of my friends are starting to look for performing jobs in Europe. I
know February is one of the last months that companies hold auditions.
What I didn’t realize is that all I need is a passport to travel, and if a director
likes me, I get hired. Why aren’t more dancers in America trying out
—Taylor, Washington, DC
American dancers may not be aware that many European companies have
instigated more relaxed hiring practices since they no longer have to justify
that a foreign dancer is better than the local talent. That being said, it’s
difficult to predict how recent terrorist attacks will affect border controls and
hiring in the future. I know dancers who’ve set up inexpensive audition tours
between European countries by flying Ryanair ( ryanair.com), and booking in
advance for midweek flights that can cost less than $30. You can also make
reservations for affordable housing at places like youth hostels (hostelworld.
com). Before you go, make sure you’ve researched the requirements for each
company’s audition. The “2016 Auditions Guide” on page 62 is a great place
to begin your planning. Tip: I’ve been told that the staff of dance companies
throughout Europe prefer receiving a real audition package in their hands
versus an email link on their laptop.
Surviving in Manhattan has been almost impossible. I take 15 dance classes
a week in my BFA program and work a 30-hour shift at Starbucks to cover
living expenses. This schedule leaves me feeling constantly exhausted with
less than eight hours of sleep a night. Is there any way out?
—CC, New York, NY
Find a survival job where you aren’t spending too much time on your
feet after dancing. Otherwise, you could risk burnout and injury due to
fatigue. Ideally, you should try to seek employment that requires fewer
hours while paying significantly more than the minimum wage. Savvy
dancers can use all of their prior experience to garner lucrative survival
work. For example, maybe you had a position as a summer camp counselor
that could set you up for a well-paying babysitting job. If you have a
double major, a minor or are proficient in other academic areas, like math
and writing, you may be able to get hired as a tutor. Work-study programs
can also help with tuition. Don’t forget about other types of experience
you have, like dog walking or yoga certifications, that could translate into
a way to make money. I think you’ll be surprised with all your options
for side jobs that still leave time for an adequate night’s sleep to do what
you love—dance! ■
advicefordancers | BY LINDA HAMILTON
How to keep dancing with early onset
arthritis, plus tips for finding survival
jobs that won’t drain your energy.