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
I’m a fifth-year corps dancer who is lucky if I get to be an understudy in the
fourth cast of a corps role. I know I’ve improved with lots of hard work, and
I have fans in the audience and visiting choreographers who want to use
me. Yet when I’ve tried to ask my director what I can do to keep growing
artistically, he gives me vague answers about why I’m being ignored. I
wonder if it’s time to leave.
—Lost in the Corps, Queens, NY
While each dancer develops at a different rate, five years in the corps should
be sufficient time to know if your career is going somewhere. My guess is
that an issue other than your talent could be at the heart of your dilemma,
since it would be easy enough for the company to not renew your contract
if your dancing stood in the way of casting. For example, I know that some
companies have sponsors who pay for a dancer’s annual salary, thereby
all-but-ensuring that this performer will be cast ahead of those without
sponsors. Other obstacles could come from your director favoring newer
dancers, operating under the belief that younger is better, or simply not
knowing how to use you. Regardless, you get an A+ for working hard and
asking for guidance.
I would never advise leaving a company before you have another
job lined up. However, it would be in your best interest to consider other
options. Although most auditions are over by February, you can find a list of
current openings for dancers in “The 2016 Jobs Guide,” on page 55. You
may also want to look into small touring groups. They can offer opportunities
to perform better roles during breaks until the next audition season rolls
As a former bulimic, I know too well the pitfalls of eating disorders.
Fortunately, I overcame my problem with the help of a psychologist. I’ve
slowly started teaching ballet, while still performing, and have had parents
ask me to speak to aspiring dancers who exhibit signs of disordered eating.
I want to help but don’t know what to say. Any advice?
—Former Bulimic, Santa Monica, CA
Obviously, you need to tread carefully with vulnerable dancers who may be
highly critical of their bodies. Most people who develop eating disorders
suffer from low self-esteem and often feel hopeless. As a professional
dancer and teacher, your job as a role model is to provide hope, while
directing dancers with eating problems to specialists. Giving feedback can
be extremely useful as long as it’s done in private. You can share what
you’ve noticed regarding their eating and how it may have impacted their
dancing. Of course, it’s important to work within your school’s regulations.
However, as a rule of thumb, I recommend that before resuming class,
Is sleep or money more important for a freelance dancer? I’m currently
any dancer with a problem—whether they’re a professional or a student—
get a complete physical exam with a doctor’s note that he/she is healthy
enough to dance, be in weekly treatment and, if anorexic, meet a weight-
gain goal as prescribed by a specialist who understands dance’s physical
requirements. Check out my book Advice for Dancers for information about
how to determine a healthy weight and The Renfrew Center for an inpatient/
outpatient program or therapist nearby ( renfrewcenter.com).
tending bar, often doing double shifts that pay more but end at 5 am or
later. I don’t need the money to survive but have trouble saying “no” to
cash. What do you think?
—Carly, Hoboken, NJ
As long as you’re covering your basic financial needs, sleep should always
take precedence for dancers. Research shows that sleep deprivation slows
down your motor responses similar to the effects of drinking alcohol.
This means you may be more likely to get an acute injury like a sprained
ankle. Lack of sleep also affects your appetite hormones. Getting as little
as six hours can give you a major case of the munchies, which can lead to
weight gain over time. And it goes without saying that your mood tends
to plummet when you’re tired. The bottom line: While dancers often have
trouble refusing extra shifts because it goes against their strict work ethic, it’s
important to prioritize. Your body comes first! ■
advicefordancers | BY LINDA HAMILTON
Fast What to do if you’re in a
dead-end dance job, plus tips for
juggling finances as a freelancer