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
Is dance selling out? I’ve noticed big brands, such as Avon, Under Armour
and PUMA, are signing up dancers and major companies to promote items
like perfume or sportswear. What I don’t see is the long-term payoff. Going
mainstream may bring dance, as a whole, more attention, but it doesn’t
make most of us down in the trenches better artists or richer. I’m starting to
—Downtown Dancer, Brooklyn, NY
It wasn’t that long ago when some people said dance was a “dying”
art form. Now its beautiful aesthetic, combined with an athleticism that
often exceeds professional sports, is finally starting to get the respect
it deserves. At first glance, marketing by major brands may not appear
to provide you with any personal gain. However, this mass attention has
the ability to attract new audiences that help pay for things like visiting
choreographers and longer performance seasons. In other words, there
could be a trickle-down effect on dancers’ income. As for exploitation, I don’t
see that becoming a reality at the moment, since the brands you mentioned
aren’t asking dancers to change the way they dance. In fact, they seem to
like what the art form has to offer. Focus on the positives and celebrate that
dance is being portrayed in such a good light.
I fell in love with ballet when I was 5, and my dance-obsessed mother has
always wanted me to be a star. She was the driving force that made my
career possible, but now I’ve started partying and missing company class.
Why am I ruining my chances after coming so far?
—Conflicted about Work, Philadelphia, PA
Try not to be so hard on yourself. Having a parent (or teacher) support your
dance aspirations, emotionally and financially, is crucial for proper training.
But problems can arise if that person is dealing with their own unmet needs
for success and becomes overly involved. The psychological term for this
behavior is “achievement by proxy,” which is essentially living vicariously
through someone else’s talent. Frequently, the fallout for dancers is losing
touch with their own motivation, while undergoing constant pressure to
outperform themselves and others. These circumstances can cause some
dancers to become extreme workaholics, while others may quit dance
altogether or retreat from competing. Given your current conflicts about
dance (not to mention your mother), I recommend psychotherapy to discover
what you want independent of anyone else. You can use the American
Psychological Association’s search tool at locator.apa.org to find a therapist
who specializes in particular issues, like career concerns.
As a performer, I’ve benefited from your advice on topics like injury
prevention and this magazine’s wellness articles. Is there a way to bring this
knowledge into the classes that I teach? I want my students to get a head
start by knowing more than just technique.
—Elisabeth, Los Angeles, CA
You’re part of a growing group of teaching artists whose aim is to make
the next generation of dancers better prepared to handle the rigors of this
profession. If you read something that connects with your teaching goals,
share the info with your students as a resource for further exploration.
Another option to consider is Safe in Dance International (safeindance.
com), an organization based out of the UK which offers Healthy Dance
Certificates on core principles derived from research that’s tailored for
teachers, schools and dancers. These include a preparation certificate that
addresses risk factors in your work setting (like studio temperature and
floors), in addition to a comprehensive certificate, encompassing multiple
topics from alignment to managing injuries, knowing proper nutrition
and hydration and appreciating psychological factors that play a role in a
safe, effective learning environment. The certificate also covers how to
adapt classes to students’ needs, abilities and desired outcomes, such as
recreational versus pre-professional dancers. Options for completion include
independent study, online mentoring and courses with registered providers.
Another notable opportunity is the International Association for Dance
Medicine & Science’s Day for Teachers at its annual meeting, along with The
IADMS Bulletin for Dancers and Teachers available at iadms.org. ■
advicefordancers | BY LINDA HAMILTON
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