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By Linda Hamilton
Dr. Linda Hamilton answers your questions: How to move on after losing your company contract, plus advice on flu shots and mysterious knee pain
My associate director fired me via a text message! I couldn’t believe it. I’ve worked with this non-union company on and off for over 10 years. The contract specifically required a conference between dancer and staff before either of us terminated the agreement. The text came a day after my contract expired. My focus since then has been to find another job, but I feel confused and troubled. How should I handle this? —Juan Michael, NYC
I’m so very sorry. While every American dance company has the option not to renew your contract, it’s inhumane (although not illegal) to do so by text. According to American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) national executive director Alan Gordon, a dancer’s only real protection in terms of notification of termination is to work in a union-based company. Most AGMA contracts stipulate how far in advance companies must tell you, usually in writing, whether you will be rehired. This at least gives you breathing room to prepare mentally and pragmatically to move forward. Of course, that doesn’t help your present situation, although you get major kudos for continuing to audition. I’d suggest you also seek out emotional support from friends and family. Dancers tend to be stoic, but now is the time for major TLC! Psychotherapy can help if you remain troubled or slip into a depression. Everyone has upheavals in their lives. Yet there’s often a hidden opportunity to grow in new and unexpected ways. Don’t give up!
I’ve never been a big believer in flu shots. But last year my best friend in the company skipped it like me, and then spent a whole week in bed. Should I get a shot this fall? I hear they don’t always work. —Jennifer, Boston, MA
Yes! While you still might catch the flu, the effects will most likely be less serious. A yearly flu shot or nasal-spray vaccine is the best way for dancers to prevent catching and spreading the flu to others in a company, where you share dressing rooms and touch the same barre during class. Be aware that it takes about two weeks after vaccination to gain protection. Check with your doctor about your health status—it isn’t recommended if you’re sick with a fever. But please don’t delay. Aim to get vaccinated in the fall before the flu season (October until May) gains momentum.
What’s the point of a vacation? I took time off this summer to relax in the Hamptons, but I ended up feeling worse than when I was performing. My knee aches all the time for no apparent reason. Is it because I’m too old to stop dancing for two weeks? I’m 28 and don’t know what to do. —Feeling Old, Summit, NJ
You are definitely not too old to take off a couple of weeks from dancing, as long as you ease back into shape afterward. However, I am concerned that your knee problem occurred out of the blue during a break. Various problems can cause aching knee symptoms. To figure out the culprit, your first step is to see an orthopedist who works with dancers. He or she will assess whether you have an anatomical anomaly, such as patellar malalignment, or if you are suffering the aftereffects of a past injury. If the problem isn’t orthopedic, your doctor will usually refer you to a rheumatologist or internist to rule out other potential concerns. For example, Lyme disease is a common cause of unexplained joint pain after a trip to areas such as the Hamptons, which are infested with deer ticks (and other animal hosts) that latch onto your skin. Although an infection is difficult to diagnose, a clinical history and physical exam plus a blood test will look for telltale signs of Lyme disease, such as a rash, fever, flu-like symptoms, changes in your immune system, and arthritic joints. Antibiotics are the treatment of choice if this is what’s wrong. Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so wearing white clothes that cover exposed areas, doing a body check indoors, and removing ticks with fine-tipped tweezers can help keep you safe. Anyone who goes to the Hamptons should get an annual checkup for Lyme disease along with a regular health exam recommended for all dancers.
Send your questions to:
Dr. Linda Hamilton
2000 Broadway, PH2C
New York, NY 10023
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 www.drlindahamilton.com.