At some point in your dance career, friends
might have used the word “obsessed” to
describe you. Perhaps you smiled in response.
Priding ourselves on how hard and tirelessly
we work seems locked in our dancer DNA.
That’s partly because dancers need a
certain amount of laser focus to make it in the
competitive professional world. The skill and
concentration dance requires not only attracts
perfectionists, but also demands perfectionism
in some ways. “I think that’s where ‘I must do
this 24/7’ stems from,” says Nan Giordano,
artistic director of Giordano Dance Chicago.
But when you spend “one extra hour” in
the studio too often, the scales can tip. Dancers
can rehearse themselves into an injury, or try
a combination so many times that the result
is simply frustration. “Sometimes your body
and mind need a break—a day, afternoon or
weekend,” says Dr. Nadine Kaslow, resident
psychologist at Atlanta Ballet. “But dancers
feel bad about these things. They don’t feel
entitled. It feels like you might lose all your
training or your spot in a company in that
little time off.” The truth is, if you go too
far along the single-focus path, you could
inhibit—not assist—your artistry.
WHEN YOU GO TOO FAR
In a dancer’s uniquely scheduled life, an
intense drive can have its place. Nutcracker
season, for example, may not be the time to
expect balance. But while show obsession is
understandable, allowing that approach to
be your long-term strategy can backfire.
For starters, muscles need time to heal.
Most health professionals agree the body
needs at least one full day off each week, and
if you can keep another day for gentle activity, like restorative yoga, even better. Without allowing your body to repair itself, you
could put yourself at greater risk for injury.
Not only can overtraining lead to mental
HOW TO PRACTICE SELF-CARE
burnout, but you’ll be missing out on the
life experiences that feed your artistry. “It’s
the soul that makes someone a truly great
dancer,” adds Giordano. “In second compa-
nies with younger members, they are often
so strong technically, but there’s an antiseptic
quality that keeps them from letting go. What
always lacks is what a seasoned dancer has:
the experience and depth that comes from
So what does balance look like? To start, do
CURING THE CULTURE
something small for yourself each day, like
taking a hot bath or reading a book. Kaslow
suggests discovering your personal relax-
ation button. “Self-care includes things like
massages and pampering, but it also includes
leisure activities and fun!” she says. “It could
be movies or playing that game you love
on your phone. How do you treat yourself,
remembering dancing isn’t the only fun thing
we can do?” Indulge in outside hobbies, enroll
in college courses you’re interested in and let
yourself take an entire week of vacation—with
no dancing—at least once a year.
It can be challenging to find time for self-care
if your company or school isn’t supportive.
Kaslow thinks teachers and directors must
take responsibility for creating a healthier
culture from the get-go. She suggests dancers
look for places where the staff is interested in
having conversations about what’s working,
and what’s not. “We need to do that together,”
she says. “You’ll feel better, perform better
and enjoy a better mental state if you priori-tize treating yourself outside the studio as well
as practicing in it.” n
When time away
from the studio can
be just what your
BY LAUREN KAY
Psychologists recommend a
full week of vacation—with no
dancing—at least once a year.
Are You Too Obsessed?
8 Telltale Signs
• It feels hard to have a conversation about topics
outside of dance without circling back to “that show”
or “that mistake.”
• You add classes to your schedule even when your
body asks for (or doctors tell you to) rest.
• You avoid time with friends and/or family.
• Most meals are eaten while rushing in between
rehearsals, workouts and classes.
• Your body is constantly in pain (more than normal
• You have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
• Taking vacations makes you anxious.
• Loved ones have mentioned you might have an issue.