Advice for Dancers: Trouble in Paradise

thinkstockphotos-489434904_r1How to keep your career on track when your company is suffering

Rumors are flying that my ballet company is having serious money problems. I couldn’t believe it because we have a loyal audience and the house is packed on tour. Then our director began casting mediocre dancers with rich sponsors in the best parts, while ignoring those of us who depend on the company’s paycheck. Please help before my career goes down the drain!

—Anonymous

There could be any number of reasons for a fiscal deficit. Possibilities include overspending on new productions, alienating some donors who don’t like the repertoire or failing to get an endowment that provides the company with financial security. Regardless of the reason, I can see why you’re alarmed since casting does affect your career aspirations. What to do? Aside from socializing at company parties with sponsors who may be willing to take you on, you might consider booking outside dance gigs that could give you more visibility. Don’t forget that you also have the option of auditioning for other companies. Meanwhile, enjoy the positive aspects of being in a professional company—like a consistent paycheck, access to company physical therapists and a large audience to perform for—while developing your artistry and technique.

Why do I drive myself crazy worrying if I can pull off a big performance? I’m an experienced dancer, love being onstage and rehearse till I’m thoroughly prepared. It’s so stupid that I spend weeks worrying.

—Terry, Los Angeles, CA

It’s not stupid to care about the quality of your dancing. However, self doubt can cause excessive worrying, creating more problems than it solves. To keep from becoming overwhelmed, it’s important to break down your ultimate goal, like being prepared for a role, into a couple of smaller ones. That way, you don’t feel like you’re climbing Mount Everest. For example, you could choose a long-term performance goal, such as building your stamina over a certain period of time. Try to be specific (“I’ll run through the piece twice without stopping during the last week of my private rehearsals”) rather than general (“I’ll do my best to be strong”). A nonperformance goal regarding time can also be useful (“I’ll practice by myself after every class for 20 minutes over the next month”). The next step is to create distinct rehearsal goals for yourself, like separating the choreography into two sections and running straight through each one individually over the fi rst two weeks, together the third week, and end with two complete run-throughs the last week. Keep track of your daily progress in a notebook or on your smartphone and consider sharing the results with a supportive friend. Be flexible if you’re lagging behind or are ahead of schedule for a certain benchmark. The point is to focus your attention on something challenging but attainable. As you achieve smaller goals, you’ll improve your overall performance and boost your confidence, while reducing your anxiety. I don’t trust doctors! Several years ago I hurt my foot in class, but none of the orthopedists in my hometown could fi nd anything wrong. It’s like they’d never seen a dancer. My foot still hurts on and off, but I’m reluctant to seek medical help. What should I do?

—Lisa, Atlanta, GA

Dancers have unique orthopedic needs since even minor physical problems can affect your ability to perform without pain. Unfortunately, orthopedists who are unfamiliar with dance injuries often don’t understand what’s required to be a dancer. They may fail to order the appropriate diagnostic tests. Even if you work with a dance medicine specialist, you may run into issues if they do not have specific expertise in foot problems. My advice is to contact nearby professional dance companies for referrals to their orthopedists. Be sure to ask these doctors if they’ve done a foot fellowship and belong to the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (aofas.org), where members receive continuing education on the latest medical advances and procedures in this area. While many dancers are reluctant to seek medical help for fear of getting the wrong advice, a correct diagnosis speeds up the healing process.

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