As a teenager, I had a coveted place in the
highest level at San Francisco Ballet School.
But every night I would sit on the roof of
my apartment building, wishing the gray fog
would carry me away with it. I knew that the
next morning I’d have to return to the studio,
and my ice bucket, to soak a fractured bone
and watch my peers improve without me.
Depression is a silent struggle. There is no
X-ray or blood test, so to others it can look
like exhaustion, laziness or a bad attitude.
According to Dr. Bonnie Robson, a psy-
chiatrist who has worked with dancers since
1983, depression will affect nearly one in ;ve
Americans in their lifetime. But for all the
nutrition, Pilates and stage-makeup seminars
presented to young dancers, mental health is
often the elephant in the room.
WHY IT HAPPENS TO DANCERS
The perfectionistic drive of most dancers may
make them more predisposed to depression.
Dr. Brian Goonan, a psychologist who works
with Houston Ballet Academy, points out that
the natural progression in dance is to go from
your small pond, where you are the big ;sh, to
a bigger pond. And once you are the big ;sh
there, you go to an even bigger pond. “So until
you are the principal in the best company, you
are always looking to a bigger pond,” he says.
Sometimes it feels like the progress just stops,
which can send dancers into spirals of self-
doubt. “Someone is always doing something
better than you are.”
Often, the onset comes after a psychologi-
cal or physical loss, such as losing a part, says
Robson. For dancers, injury is the most com-
mon trigger. In addition to the physical pain,
and the heartbreak of missing performances,
dancers are separated from their social support
system if they’re no longer in the studio.
Major life transitions can also put you
at risk. “Most people experience their ;rst
depression in their late teens or early 20s,” says
Robson. For dancers, this is a time of more-competitive schools, company auditions, new
jobs and relocations. You may ;nd yourself in a
strange city, managing alone for the ;rst time.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
One troubling symptom in dancers is fatigue.
This is particularly dangerous because it puts
you at a high risk for injury. Other symptoms
Keep Depression At Bay While Injured
■ Establish a routine. Make your days feel purposeful. Meditate or take a walk
every morning. Go to yoga. Have dinner with a friend.
■ Breathe. “We have evidence that deep breathing reduces depression
and anxiety and increases focus and retention,” says psychiatrist Bonnie
■ Keep your body healthy. Go to physical therapy and engage in whatever
level of physical fitness you are able. Eat well.
■ Use visualization. According to psychologist Brian Goonan, “Routine use of imagery can reduce the
time needed to return to full form.”
■ Get plenty of sleep. If pain keeps you awake, tell your doctor.
■ Stay positive. “Don’t focus on the fact that you have been off for two weeks,” says Robson. “Focus
on the fact that you can walk this week, and you couldn’t last week.”
■ If possible, attend rehearsals. Becoming familiar with new rep will help you feel closer to your return
to dancing. —KM
A Juilliard dancer performs in Aszure Barton’s
return to patience. Photo: Rosalie O’Connor
· Bachelor of Fine Arts degree
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Apply by December 1
Although dancers may be
Winner of The Capezio Dance Award
Lawrence Rhodes, Artistic Director Tackling
predisposed, few wellness
programs address it.
BY KATHLEEN MCGUIRE