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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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.

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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 www.aaronlindberg.com

Kansas City Photographer – Aaron Lindberg
http://www.aaronlindberg.com

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

Thanks for your attention today and remember to always dancehealthier.

The Swan DREAMS project with Aesha Ash!

Today, I share with you a story that instills grace, discipline, advocation, and hope! Today’s DH post is about Aesha Ash, retired New York City Ballerina, and current founder of The Swan Dreams Project. It’s nice on a day like today, after such a tragic TV crew shooting, to read up on someone who is famed for making a positive impact in our world. So read up on something positive today. . .

By: Aesha Ash

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 3.42.31 PMOne of my goals, even before beginning a professional ballet career, has always been to change the demoralized, objectified and caricatured images of African-American women and girls. My desire is to show the world, all while reminding ourselves, that we too can command poise, grace, elegance and beauty-we too can be beautiful swans. As a professional ballet dancer, I used my passion as a vehicle to spread this message as far and wide as possible. Like many others may have experienced, the need for such positive self-imagery amongst young African American women is greatly needed. A need which also transcends ballet. Take the NY Times article where televesion critic Alessandra Stanely mentioned how actress Viola Davis didn’t fit a ‘classically beautiful’ image. Not only the ballet world, but society in general has a difficult time viewing most women of color in a classical light.

Photo Credit: Thaler Photography

Photo Credit: Thaler Photography

Upon retiring, I was saddened that I could no longer try to make a difference in the way women of color are viewed through my active participation with a ballet company. There was this heaviness and void that I carried with me until after my first child, a girl, was born. I began to look back on my career and feel that I had unfinished business. Business that I felt was important to take care of, not only for myself, but for my daughter. I began to think about ways in which I could continue to spread a more positive image and change the perspective of how African-American women are viewed in society and in media. I was quickly reminded of a photo that inspired me throughout my training at the School of American Ballet. It was a photo of then African-American dancer Andrea Long (now Andrea Long -Naidu). At the time Andrea was a dancer with NYCB and the photo was from her years as a student in the school. This image was so inspiring to me, as she was the only dancer of color in the photo. It was a powerful remider that becoming a ballerina was indeed possible. Whenever I felt downcast and alone, I would look at this image and immediately find the strength to carry on. Thinking back on those moments, I realized right then and there that I had to use photography. Thus began my creation of The Swan Dreams Project.

Photo Credit: Thaler Photography

Photo Credit: Thaler Photography

Through the use of imagery and my career as a ballet dancer, I want to help change the demoralized, objectified and caricatured images of African-American women. I also hope to promote greater involvement and increase patronage to this beautiful art form.

Photo Credit: Renee Scott

Photo Credit: Renee Scott

How can you help?

By purchasing an image you are helping to spread not only the message of The Swan Dreams Project, which is one of hope and possibilities, but you are utilizing the power of imagery to inspire. Pulitzer Prize winner, Eddie Adams, whose photograph helped change Americans attitudes towards the Vietnam War once wrote, “still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world.” For myself, it was an image of Andrea Long-Naidu on the wall of The School of American Ballet that empowered me as a young aspiring ballerina. Images do indeed have power, and what we don’t see sends as powerful a message as what we do.

Photo Credit: Renee Scott

Photo Credit: Renee Scott

I hope these images will stand as a reminder that all things are possible. Beauty and grace are not limited by race or status—they are boundless, limitless.

http://www.theswandreamsproject.org

Balance

“I would say good health is the sense of accomplishment you feel when you’ve found the balance between self respect, good self-care, and pushing hard to achieve your physical and mental goals.” – Julia Erickson: Principal dancer with PBT and Co-Founder of Barre

The word balance came up most often from the number of dancers that defined health – with dance in mind.  To do what we do , to push past limits, to become stronger dancers, we must then have a balance of health.  What we as dancers cannot forget is that we are people first, dancers second.  So beyond just physical and mental health, we also cannot forget about the other segments of the pie – social, emotional, spiritual, and environmental.  Together these elements make us up to be people.  People who throughout the course of life, pull from these segments differently, depending on which way the road is leading us.  Life as a person and life as a dancer must collaborate together, but also remain separate.  This is not meant to cause distraction, but make us have greater self respect, self-care, and above all greater purpose.

Instead, this relationship between self and dancer creates a push and pull effect.  One feeds off the other.  One needs the other in order to fulfill its true potential, a well rounded person, and a healthy life.  So indulge yourself, try something new, explore, and see if it helps.