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A Dancer’s Mental Wellness: Through the Eyes of a PT, Dance Educator, and Dancer

Written by Dr. Laura Fetko PT, DPT

Many of you may not know that I received my undergraduate degree in dance. I am a choreographer, an artistic director of a dance company while I lived in Boston, and a dance educator. Therefore, this is a disclaimer that the following blog I am writing, I have either personally experienced within my career or are from those I have interacted with, whether it be one of my dance colleagues or students.

Dance is not only a physically rigorous career but also mentally. From my experience and dancers that I know, we are very hard on ourselves, striving to be better, perfecting the imperfections which is a great quality but… we need to remember that we are human. Everyone has a bad balance day that you’re not on top of your leg and falling out of your turns. I know this can be frustrating and discouraging; but from my experience, being hyper-focused on landing a turn instead of trusting yourself and finding your center to allow the pirouette to come effortlessly, you become more and more unbalanced. Take a second to regroup and try again. I find clearing your mind and trusting yourself takes pressure off your shoulders to allow you to execute your movements better. However, this theory is easier said than done. It can feel as if when you are having an off day that you are the center of attention and your teacher is fixated on you with every correction in class being directed towards you.

As a dance educator I can understand this from my perspective. What I see as “helping,” telling my student that is having a rough day to “turn out your passe, use your plie, what are your arms doing, quick spot”, can be perceived to my student different ways. The first being that I am focusing on them to help them be better, where the second is that I am noticing their off day even though they are trying their best but they know it is not good enough. I believe that dance educators only want the best for their students, but as a dancer it can be hard to grasp this on your worst days.

I think as dancers we have a habit of comparing ourselves to others. Looking at the person next to us thinking, “I want their feet, their turn out or their extension.” I think it is important to take the time to figure out what you bring to the table. Is it your strength, your endurance, your memory, your ability to leap, jump or turn with ease? I will admit, it is harder at times to acknowledge your strengths and focus on your weaknesses, but we need to give ourselves credit. Every single one of us has something that is special and unique that an artistic director or choreographer is looking for…just keep trying. Don’t give up on yourself and take the time to tell yourself that you are good enough, you are strong and most of all you love what you do which is the most important.

Having a support system is very essential. This can be your friends, family, therapist, educators or whoever you feel comfortable with. I have found that having a sounding board is helpful, talking out stressors or even sharing your accomplishments with others. Knowing that people are in your corner to support you and help you through the good and the bad is important. Take time for yourself, go on an adventure, spend time with friends and family, do what makes you happy. We all need a mental break sometimes. Never be afraid to talk about what you are feeling. Know you are ENOUGH and keep dancing!

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