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
After being fired by my new director, I started having nightmares and
avoided class for a few months. The company was my home for over a
decade. It’s only with the help of my friends and family that I’ve slowly
begun to imagine a meaningful life working in children’s theater. Will the
fear and stress ever go away?
—Traumatized Dancer, Philadelphia, PA
It’s smart to surround yourself with family and friends because emotional
support can make a huge difference in your ability to cope with stress and
reimagine the future. However, it sounds like you may be suffering from
post-traumatic stress disorder and need professional help. (To locate a
therapist, visit www.ptsd.va.gov/public/where-to-get-help.asp.) But there’s
good news about PTSD recovery: A recent article published in the Monitor
on Psychology estimates that up to two-thirds of people who experience
trauma can have positive growth afterwards if they are open to new
experiences and seek out connections with others, as you’re doing. The key
is to deal with your feelings with an experienced therapist who can foster
resilience. Then focus on your progress. At that point, your fear and stress
should lessen. While getting let go is definitely a shock, it’s possible to use
this opportunity to start a positive new chapter of your career.
A bone in my foot is dying! My doctor diagnosed me with early Freiberg’s
disease and put me in a boot for six weeks to see if it heals or needs
surgery. How could this happen? The only red flag was some pain and
swelling under my second toe.
—Olivia, Los Angeles, CA
Obviously, it’s shocking to discover that a seemingly minor problem, like
swelling, is a serious injury. Although the cause of Freiberg’s disease is
unclear, it disrupts the circulation to the bone, resulting in necrosis, or
death of the cells. Before you panic, you deserve major kudos for catching
this problem early, especially since the initial symptoms are mild. A boot
will hopefully encourage better circulation to the head of your metatarsal
bone and give it a chance to heal (instead of dying and forming itself into
softer bone that easily collapses). If it doesn’t heal, you’ll need surgery to
alleviate the resulting pain, stiffness and deformity. Fortunately, removing the
dead bone and reshaping the deformed joint doesn’t involve inserting a rod
or implant, and the procedure has a high success rate. After surgery, you
should be back to dancing within 8 to 12 weeks.
Auditions are coming up soon and I want to be mentally prepared
to wow directors. Any tips?
—Sasha, New York, NY
You’re already ahead of the game by considering the mental aspects
involved. For starters, be aware that tremors, muscle tension or short,
to do so can help you focus and exercise fine motor control. To take the
edge off before and during an audition, try a few slow, deep, rhythmic
breaths. This will reduce stress hormones, calm your nerves and increase
your sense of control. It also helps to smile, which alters the blood flow to
the brain and releases neurochemicals that relax you.
Since being overly tense as a result of anxiety can interfere with your motor
coordination, you may want to add a progressive muscle relaxation exercise
to your routine. Making it a habit can help cut down on anxiety, so you’re
less likely to feel nervous once you reach an audition. Try it when you’re
cooling down or falling sleep—not before you dance or you’ll be too relaxed.
First, take a slow, deep breath, then tense the muscles in your back and
chest for five seconds as hard as you can before exhaling and letting yourself
relax. Repeat and notice the difference between the tension and relaxation.
Continue the same exercise twice with your legs and buttocks, arms and
shoulders, face and neck, and then your entire body. I once gave this exercise
to a group of dancers at the end of a long, hard day of audition classes, and
one girl fell asleep and started snoring. While a bit embarrassing, she was
much more prepared to get a good night’s sleep. Nevertheless, you might
want to practice the exercise reclining in a chair—the goal is to learn how to
be relaxed and alert so you can perform at your peak. ■
advicefordancers | BY LINDA HAMILTON
A few deep breaths can reduce stress and
squelch nerves during an audition.
How to move past a major career
setback, plus tips for banishing