The discipline of ballet training; The possible effects on long term mental health: Guest Post by Terry Hyde

Here is a Guest Post for you today! Psychotherapist, Terry Hyde MA, MBACP (registered), who danced in the 1960’s and 1970’s with Royal Ballet, London’s Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet), West End Musicals, Film and TV writes about MENTAL HEALTH. Putting both of those careers together, Terry has a fine understanding of what a dancer needs. 

Terry carries out therapy sessions via skype. To get in contact with Terry please write her at counsellingfordancers@mail.com (please note the English spelling of counselling).

The discipline of ballet training; The possible effects on long term mental health

In this article, I take a look at the potential links associated with the long-term mental health effects from traditional ballet training. How can you be affected  by ballet training from an early age?  Can this really have a positive or negative link to your mental health in later life?

Ballet is an extremely demanding discipline; it requires dedication, determination and talent. In the past, it was acceptable for the teachers to shout at, and even at times use physical force on students in classes.  They would roughly pull, push or twist their students bodies into the correct position during the classes. Thankfully this style of teaching is no-longer accepted, there are much better ways to motivate and inspire the student.

If you are reading this and are or were a dancer, it’s likely that you started to learn some form of dance from an early age. Perhaps it began as a hobby to burn off excess energy; your parents may have taken you to help with your posture. Some of you may have had a ‘stage-parent’ who sent you to classes to fulfill their own frustrated dreams.

If you fall into the latter category, you may already realise how debilitating this situation can be. As a child you may well have found yourself wanting to do the things that your friends were doing but because there was an underlying fear that you would lose the love and approval of your parents, you continued to dance. This can leave you feeling that you have missed out on parts of your childhood as a result.

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Photo Credit: Renee Scott

My personal history

I started training as a ballet dancer at the age of five in the mid 1950s and retired from dancing and performing in my early 30s. Although I loved my career as a dancer, I’ve seen that the effects of the training methods and the discipline required, can leave some individuals with long-term problems with their mental health.

When I started dancing, I knew instantly that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Many other children feel the same passion and continue taking classes throughout their childhood, teenage years and beyond.

Life beyond performing

From a practical perspective, the discipline I learned from ballet has carried me through my whole life.  Throughout my performing years and into businesses that I ran, and now into my psychotherapy practice. Now I’m  using my experience to help other performers deal with the stresses and strains of their profession,  whether they are still performing or have retired.

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Dancer: Former Principal dancer of Cincinnati Ballet. Photo by: Peter Mueller

I still have some obsessive traits from when I was told that “this is the only way to perform this step and that’s the way you are going to do it”.  This has made it easy for me to learn new things and always eager to “get it right”.  In some people this can result in the development of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), as they strive to “get it right”, the knock-on effects of this are anxiety and low self-esteem due to not being able to “get it right” in the demand for perfection in their performance.

Mental health issues

A number of other mental health issues arise from the performer’s “need to be perfect”. In addition to anxiety, low self-esteem and OCD many performers suffer from eating disorders and struggle with loss and grief due to not being good enough to start a career, or having to end a promising career due to injury. As performers, there is always a level of  instability due to insecurity of lack of work.  The list goes on.

Good nutrition is now being recognised as an important aspect of maintaining good mental health.  Click here  to hear about some research into how nutrition can help some mental health issues.

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Health Coaching for Dancers!

Today I will be featuring Jessica Spinner, founder and health coach of The Whole Dancer. I hope you enjoy what she has to say on this TGIF and please check out her free webinars on-line, as well as other services and programs for serious dance students and professional dancers.

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Finding gratitude as professional dancers is so important. Sometimes after dancing for many years and working so hard everyday, dancers start to feel burnt out.

Those are the most important times to come back to gratitude…

I remember early in my dance career, a non – dance friend saying, “so you just dance around all day?”

And I though, Ugh, if they only knew how hard ballet is they wouldn’t put it so lightly. Now, looking back on that moment, I have a very different perspective.

Professional dancers really do have the amazing privilege of dancing almost every day. Yes, it can be exhausting. Yes, it is HARD work.

No, it’s not all fun and games and as I was reminded by a very intense teacher during my more serious training, “everything is not beautiful at the ballet.”

Finding your happiness as a dancer doesn’t always come naturally. It’s important to make a regular practice of gratitude.

Just like taking class every day, aspiring professional dancers and those who have already “made it” should take the time to acknowledge the unique position you’re in.

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Most people will never know the shear joy of captivating an audience with movement or the fun of dancing in a corps de ballet with some of their best friends.

As a former professional ballet dancer turned health coach I am so grateful for the special opportunity I have now to help dancers create a more balanced mindset and a healthy and long – lasting career.

Mental and physical health can be neglected as teachers and artistic directors are typically more concerned with the exterior aesthetic – understandably. The look of the dancer is a big focus and training an aspiring dancer to have beautiful technique is a sizable task.

I see a major place for health coaching in the dance world so in August I founded The Whole Dancer and launched The Whole Dancer Program – an 8 – week group program designed exclusively with ballet dancers in mind.

The group program covers: goal setting, eating well, cross – training, personal assessment, self – love/care and career. So basically, all the things that should happen outside the studio to help you become a well – rounded artist and individual.

There are also more focused one – on – one programs for dancers who are seeking more personal guidance and desire a devoted mentor outside of their current circle.

In the short time since the inception of The Whole Dancer, working with aspiring dancers through seasoned professionals has been beyond rewarding. Words cannot convey how humbled I am to hear that they feel the trajectory of their careers is forever improved from their participation in the The Whole Dancer programs.

Sometimes we feel we know all the right things we should be doing but with The Whole Dancer you get to additional support and accountability to help you follow through and take the best possible care of yourself.

Thank you dancehealthier for spreading the message of health to dancers and for sharing The Whole Dancer with your readers.

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Ambition at its very best. . . Barre – A Real Food Bar!

“We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are.” ~ Alice May Brock

Julia and Aaron in action!

Dancers tend to be ambitious people.  Luckily, our ambition (in most cases) tends to stick to us like glue, naturally creating new fascinating and desirable paths for us to experience and share. I recently had the privilege to talk with cofounders, Julia Erickson and Aaron Ingly, of Barre – A Real Food Bar. Julia, a Principal with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre along with her husband Aaron, a retired dancer from PBT, serve as perfect examples of dancers whose ambition is far from being on the shy side. Today, Julia and Aaron are on the fast track with their new business endeavor – Barre – A Real Food Bar. It all began with a little heart, creativity, intelligence, but most importantly the glue that stuck. . .  Ambition to create healthier lives for dancers.

*By the way, a portion of the proceeds benefits arts education!

dancehealthier:  Tell us, what is Barre – A real food for dancers – and what inspired you guys to create this product?

Barre:  As I’ve gained experience as a dancer, I’ve become increasingly more attuned to how I fuel my body. I created Barre because I was looking for a better pre and post rehearsal snack. I started futzing around in the kitchen, getting creative, and realized I could make something more nutritious and tastier than the bars out there on the market. You know how we, as dancers, are always trying to find that perfect pre-show snack…something that’ll support you yet not weigh you down? I’d found it! I designed Barre to serve dancers perfectly as a balanced source of slow and fast burning carbs, protein, fiber, and naturally occurring electrolytes – to provide great energy, muscle support and recovery. My creation was a hit at PBT among my colleagues; Aaron and I then got to thinking that we should share it with the rest of the dance world and beyond.

dancehealthier:  What is Barre’s mission?

Barre:  This is our mission statement:  In order to fuel their bodies for top athletic performance in rehearsal and on stage while remaining lean, dancers have very specific nutritional needs. The mission of Barre is to provide exceptional nutritional fortification—inspired by these needs—for dancers and everyone else who demands clean, wholesome, nutritious and great tasting sustained energy. To accomplish this goal, Barre produces and distributes health-minded snacks and performance products specially formulated to live up to the rigors of such a demanding artist-athlete lifestyle. Barre supplies all levels of the performing arts and related exercise industries from studio to stage. But this isn’t the limit of Barre’s scope: the attention to detail given to nutrition by dancers can benefit people in all walks of life, whether it be picking up your kids from school, running a 5k, or combating the dreaded midday office slump. Barre uses simple ingredients that everyone can pronounce, in their purest and most unadulterated form. And while good nutrition is the foundation of wellness, as artists we believe great taste is paramount! When all natural, healthy ingredients are artfully combined, nutrition and taste need not be mutually exclusive. We believe in aiding performance in the fine art of life through our superior quality gourmet nutrition products.

dancehealthier:  What flavors do you currently have on the market?

Barres!

Barre:  We currently have two main flavors, Pirouette Cinnamon Pecan and Black Swan Chocolate Berry, on the market. We also have a limited edition flavor, Pirouette Crunch, which has an extra added crunch.

dancehealthier:  The barre is good, tasty and pure – using only real ingredients? How important is it for barre to promote healthy nutrition for dancers?

Barre:  We saw a void in the dance world of healthy, readily accessible snacks, and we have set out to change that. We’d love for Barre to be sold at every dance studio in America – so kids and adults alike are never presented with that situation we’ve all been in: when there is no healthy snack around so you’re forced to eat something not great or witness your energy level suffer and risk injury. It is so important that good nutrition is advocated for in the dance world, because it is an environment with a naturally high risk for disordered eating. This being said, it seems that more than ever dancers are embracing healthfulness as the new paradigm for success, and we are thrilled to partake in this positive change! Our charge is really to help educate dancers and their families about why it is so important to take great care, through great nutrition, of the very tool with which we perform our art. And to make great nutrition readily accessible!

dancehealther:  If barre could give dancers any piece of advice, with integration of dance and health in mind – what would it be?

Barre:  Work hard, stay balanced, and eat well!

To order barre, be sure to visit http://realfoodbarre.com/products-page/.  If you think could/should/would be interested in carrying Barre – pilates/yoga/dance studios/stores, of course including your workplace (if you think there’s a place for it there) feel free to contact Julia and Aaron for further inquiry at info@realfoodbarre.com.

**Thanks to all dancehealthier readers and subscribers for all of your support so far. If interested, you may subscribe to dancehealthier at the right hand side of the homepage.  You will only be e-mailed when new posts are published. Dancehealthier also has a facebook page.  To check it out, click HERE!  Feel free to make a comment or contact me via e-mail at dancehealthier@gmail.com.**