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 (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.


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.


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.


Effort vs Efforting today

What are your thoughts on the definition of effort? What about the act of efforting? Is there a difference? Is one more positive and/or more productive than the other. . .

Lately, dancehealthier has been doing a bit of research and cognitive thinking on whether there is a clear difference, and whether that difference – if it exists – is pertinent in everyday life. Yup, dancehealthier is going deep today.

The Still Point

Photo Credit: Philip Koenig

Effort is the result of attempt that often times is forced and strained, in order to make something happen.

For Example, on a physical level sometimes our body tells us, by a particular sensation, that a specific action is painful. Regardless of what our body is telling us, we still do it anyway. Therefore, we are doing everything in our effort to make it happen, ignoring what our body is trying to tell us.

A mental example of forced effort is making yourself act happy (or saying you are happy) when really deep down, you are pissed and/or sad (or anything but happy).

In both these examples, your conscious decisions could be made due to impulse, denial, perfection, or impatience. However, it is essentially important to remember that forcing effort is a part of human nature.  It’s okay to be imperfect. That’s the important part to identify with. Accept your behavior, and start again.


This is where the breakdown of efforting occurs. Efforting concentrates more on the idea of consciously being aware of how one really feels in more of a relaxed and realistic manner.  Efforting depends on digging down deeper into your subconscious, taking account for your own self-care, and accepting the truth.

A way to practice in the dance studio:

Next time you try for another piroette, think to yourself in a calm way, “do it, do it, it,” versus anxiously and innerly forcefully yelling at yourself inside, “DO IT, DO IT, DO IT!”

It’s not always possible to not strain, yet relax, but check whether you are aware of how you talk to yourself. With time this awareness, and efforting the ability to start again, will help you along your way in a more stress-free and positive manner.

Kansas City Photographer - Aaron Lindberg

Kansas City Photographer – Aaron Lindberg

Feel free to comment your thoughts or ask any questions by commenting.

Thanks for your attention today and remember to always dancehealthier.

Research shows: A summary of a study on performance anxiety.

Here’s a question for you? Do you feel that there is currently enough dance research being done?

Dancehealthier advocates for further research, education and greater concentration of material.  There are way too many talented athletic aspiring and professional dancers that deserve the proper amount of research to provide for the best preventative, coping, and evaluative methods.  There is need for growth.  I’m hopeful!


Dancer: Kristi Capps. Photo Credit: Peter Mueller

For now, dancehealthier feels that it is important to spread the word on the current research out there.  The National Institute of Health published an article titled, “Performance anxiety experiences of professional ballet dancers: The importance of control,” by Walker IJNordin-Bates SM.  

This study interviews 15 professional dancers representing all ranks of one company to evaluate qualitative data on ballet dancers’ experiences of performance anxiety in relation to: 

1. Symptom type, intensity, and directional interpretation.

2. Experience level (including company rank).

3. Self-confidence and psychological skills.  

Results showed:

  • Cognitive anxiety was more dominant than somatic anxiety.
  • Interestingly, a certain level/amount of somatic anxiety (butterflies in the stomach) were interpreted as facilitative or beneficial to performance.  
  • The highest amount of anxiety was felt and experienced by principal dancers vs. corps de ballet members.  
  • When asked what caused most of the inflicted anxiety, the idea of not being in control of the performance dominated (speed of music, partner falter, plainly the idea of “anything can happen”, etc).   
  • As a result of the study, “Dancers may benefit from education about anxiety symptoms and their interpretation, in addition to psychological skills training incorporating cognitive restructuring strategies and problem-focussed coping to help increase their feelings of being in control.” (Walter lJ, 2010)




Oh why I do love you, ADRENALINE RUSH

Post performance time! Aahhhhhhh! A big sigh of relief.  Flashbacks of what really happened.  Music still in my head.  A sudden panic in the morning that I have to do it again.  An appreciation.

There are a lot of people and things I’m thankful for as I look back at these past 2 weeks of shows, but I’ll keep that more private.  What I can, and so willingly would like to be publicly thankful for, is the almighty adrenaline rush that always seems to come at the perfect time.  It’s real, you can Google it.

So just for fun, I Googled adrenaline rush, just to humor you all just to humor myself.  I kind of chuckled, as I thought, “That is exactly why adrenaline might be the best rush ever!”

Urban Dictionary defines adrenaline rush as: A sudden burst of energy from an increase of the hormone adrenaline which usually occurs during a stressful event. Sometimes causes feats of abnormal strength.

The last part is what made me chuckle.  Just as you think you are on empty, that superhuman neurotransmitter which I have learned to both crave and love so much somehow knows just when to hit the ON switch.  The body is amazing.

Here are a few pics from the past two weekends.

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Jerome Robbin’s Fancy Free with Ryan Nye

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Ballanchine’s Allegro Brilliante with Geoff Kropp

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Another one from Fancy Free with Ryan Nye

Breathe, one step at a time.

Inhale, exhale. . . Inhale, exhale. . . Inhale, exhale. . . Inhale, exhale.


Naturally our body breathes.  We do it subconsciously and automatically.  Breathing is a necessity for function, life, and pure survival.  Breathing is something that thankfully happens without having to think about it (thank you Autonomic Nervous System), but what about if we turn the ON switch to full blast and exaggerate our breath? Simply, what if dancers consciously were more aware of how each breathe relates to their movement (sharp – slow – full)?  Specifically, coinciding each inhale and exhale with the movement that is demanded from our body.  Would this exaggeration of thought benefit us? Could it potentially increase the life expectancy of our careers? Maybe so!  Or simply, just make us enjoy it more?

The simplicity of the idea of breathing has been a thought in my own mind, as my own anxiety has been turned up a notch.  Tomorrow, I enter the beautiful Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts to take on the first day of tech week for Kansas City Ballet’s opening season.  It’s a challenging, diverse, demanding, yet viscerally exciting opening as we brace the stage with Jerome Robbin’s, Fancy Free; Balanchine’s Allegro Brilliant; Jody Gate’s premiere of Keep Me Wishing in the Dark; William Whitener’s Triple Play; and new Artistic Director, Devon Carney’s, world premiere of Opus 1.  I’ll be wearing the principal costume of Allegro, a 40’s get up in Fancy Free, a tutu in Opus and my favorite color dress (green) in Jody’s.  It’s a dreamlike repertoire for me, but yet, a challenging one to say the least. Which brings me back to my point!  J U S T   B R E A T H E.

What are the benefits of breathing and why is it crucial to emphasize while dancing? Perhaps it provides for deeper movement, continuity of movement, meaningful value to each step, deeper range of motion, proper flow, fatigue fighters (increased intake of oxygen), and a form of injury prevention.  But most importantly, it provides for “A WAY,” of dancing.  An enjoyment of movement.  A fulfilling quality that is enduring to oneself, which in the end will be enduring to the audience. Let’s hope, anyway!

So continue the push of breathing, and take one step at a time.  Merde to you all!