Mental Health and Resilience: A dancer’s perspective

March 2020 Issue

The industry of the arts is a wonderful place. A place full of opportunity, community and influence however, behind the scenes lies an often darker, hidden state. Underneath the surface, much more is occurring. The stunning choreography of spellbinding productions and breathtaking technique showcased by such talented artists acts as a barrier to what is really required to create such physical beauty. 

Resilience; a word often misconceptualized in modern society and used in an attempt to motivate but, what does it really mean? As children, we are taught to stand up, brush off the dirt from our knees when we fall and continue to play. As young adults, we are shown to work hard and remain focused when all we would rather do is enjoy the final years of our childhood. As adults, we are expected to keep our heads held high, maintaining status and normality when worries out of our control enclose our freedom. But how does this relate to the arts?

Auditions for upcoming jobs, colleges and career prospects are what performers train for their whole lives and in this demanding industry, it’s an unpredictable fight. Thousands of young girls and boys have dreamed of the role you have worshipped since you learnt to walk, yet only one can take the prize. The noun ‘resilience’ means the ability to overcome challenges and recover from failure, a means in which performers often forget. Because you didn’t get recalled for that job or chosen to be in the select group in a masterclass does not mean you have failed, it means you are growing. The ever-growing competitive nature of the arts is what makes dancers some of the strongest beings on Earth. Hours and hours of training and perfecting, classes followed by tears and sweat filled sessions to perfect that pirouette or get your grand battlement to your ears, its work only the supernatural can do, thats why you do it and others don’t. Each dancer is different. Our ways of performing, our technical backgrounds and styles all vary, and thats what makes the dance community so beautiful. There is always something out there meant for you, and only you. 

A dancer’s mental health is just as important as their physical ability and performance skills. As the performing arts industry is such a risky, but exciting, community, extra care must be taken to support those who require it. It is perfectly ok to have bad days, lets face it, we all have them. Days where we need to step back and revaluate situations and take a break in order to come back stronger than ever, feeling like ourselves again. To support ourselves as athletes, we must ensure we are caring for our bodies correctly in order to support a healthy mind. Eating right and ensuring sufficient sleep contributes to a healthy mind. Additionally, after a set back, whether that be at an audition, a masterclass or during your training, talking to people outside of that environment can help through gaining advice from people close to you. A piece of advice I have been given is to have another hobby, an interest completely contrasting performing, allowing me to unwind and take breaks from dancing. This personally helps me to relax and release any stress related to performing, benefiting my well-being and allowing me to feel refreshed before my next class or training session. Resilience is something we, as a dance community and myself as a young dancer, need to work on and nourish. Not only the mental side, but also the physical.

Resilience’s other definition refers to objects, it means the ability to spring back and return to the natural state. As performers, our training regimes are intense and as athletes, we must learn how to take care of our bodies as well as our mental health. After long hours of classes we must be able to push through the stiffness and soreness of DOMS, delay onset muscle soreness, and wake up feeling refreshed, revived and ready for another day of training and auditions. 

As a young performer, who has experienced first hand the emotions of returning from an intense day of training feeling unsatisfied with herself or from an audition with an outcome I had dreaded, my advice to you is never give up. You have been given the gift of movement and dance for a reason, go out there and shine. Personally, I believe that if you go down a path with no obstacles, it most likely isn’t the right one. When auditioning for colleges, I experienced a great deal of worry and lacked self belief due to past experience and doubts I had in myself. Without the support of others and following my own advice I probably would have never taken the chance. Now I am living my dream and training at the best college with the most amazing faculty, training and other performers that I have ever encountered. This happened because I remained true to what I love and allowed my own strength to overcome the fear. Who knows what the future holds but, whatever it may be for me and for you, it is definitely greatness. As Martha Graham said “Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion” and “Dancing is just discovery, discovery, discovery.”

Keep loving what you do, discovering what makes you unique and never give up on your passion.

Costello

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