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
Help! I was never a big eater until I got an apartment without a
roommate. Landing a wonderful, well-paying role in a musical made
it possible to move to a spacious studio with an open kitchen. So what’s
with my sudden need to keep eating?
—Food Junky, Queens, NY
After ruling out any metabolic disorders associated with changes in your
eating habits, you might consider the layout of your apartment. While open
kitchens are trendy, a recent study in Environment & Behavior shows that
people who see extra food get more refills and end up eating a greater
amount of calories. Unless you want to remove everything edible from your
countertops, a strategically placed screen between you and the kitchen can
help solve this problem.
It also sounds like you’re under considerable stress, due to all the
life changes that have happened recently. Landing a new role is a major
professional achievement, but with it can come different responsibilities, job
conditions or hours. Plus, you’ve had a change in your living situation and
have altered your social habits, since you left your roommate. According
to the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, an inventory of common stressors
used in psychology, the more changes you have within a year, the higher
your chance of developing a stress-related disorder, such as overeating.
Although the impact of a particular stressor will vary from one dancer to
another, you can regain a greater sense of stability by practicing good
health habits, such as getting rid of any junk food, and scheduling regular
meet-ups with friends.
My director has informed me that I have two years at most before he wants
me to retire. I’m a ballerina in my late 30s. What can I do? I don’t want
another career apart from performing. Dance is it!
—Lost in Transition, Midwest
That’s tough. Ballet tends to favor young adults because the technique
takes a toll on the body over time. Economic concerns have added to the
strain, resulting in fewer company dancers who perform more often. Still,
that doesn’t mean you have to give up dancing altogether after you retire
from your company. You might guest with smaller troupes or experiment
with other dance techniques, like contemporary, which allow your body
to move in a different way. Wendy Whelan and Mikhail Baryshnikov are
two glowing examples of ballet luminaries who found success in modern
dance in their 40s. Some choreographers actually prefer to work with more-experienced older dancers. For instance, Beth Corning’s The Glue Factory
Projects creates professional productions specifically for performers over 45.
Also remember that no matter what limitations your body develops, you can
usually take dance class forever.
How do I deal with a jealous clique of dancers who resent my success at
competitions and talk behind my back? The negativity takes away my joy of
—J.C., New York, NY
Insecurity often brings out the worst in people, especially if they feel less
accomplished than you. But no one can rob you of your joy of dance unless
you choose to give that person the power to do so. My advice is to ignore
the negative vibes. You can be courteous, but keep the focus on what’s
most important—your work! Newcomers who look up to you, or more
established dancers who are not competing for the same roles, may be
more open to friendship. It’s also useful to have a life outside of dance with
a different group of people and other interests to create a better work/life
advicefordancers | BY LINDA HAMILTON
Living without roommates can
be a triumph for dancers, but it
comes with its own challenges.