For Dancers, 2020 Has Been Full of Uncertainty. Here's How to Keep Coping
Since starting Counselling for Dancers in 2017, psychotherapist Terry Hyde has worked with dancers of all ages on performance anxiety, auditioning and career transitions. He is particularly focused on destigmatizing mental health issues among young dancers and has created workshops for Elmhurst Ballet School, Joffrey Ballet School in New York City and the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet, among others.
He admits that it’s been difficult to get through to dance companies and schools. “Performers were crying out for help, but dance companies don’t want to be seen as having mentally ill performers,” says Hyde. “But you don’t have to be mentally ill to see me. It’s a work in progress, but it is working.”
In his practice, Hyde draws from his personal experiences attending The Royal Ballet School and performing with The Royal Ballet and London Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet) and in musical theater. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Hyde shifted his focus by developing free virtual workshops and social media talks about dealing with the uncertainty of a global health crisis. With most dancers facing ongoing personal and professional instability, Hyde says the keys to survival are mindfulness and having a flexible mindset.
When it seemed like the pandemic was only going to last a few months, dancers could plan for their return to work. Many months later, there’s no real end in sight. How do you suggest dancers deal with prolonged uncertainty?
There’s one word: acceptance. When I’ve done talks since the pandemic took over, I’ve asked people in the audience: What are five things that have changed in a positive way? A lot of them say they’re visiting their families more or walking in nature. What about the musical instrument that’s collecting dust, that you put down when you were 10 years old because ballet took over? What about the art that you used to do and aren’t doing anymore? Once you’ve expanded your mind, your dancing is going to change as well.
During the pandemic, dancers are coping with career transitions beyond their control, like lost performances, early retirements and other missed milestones. Why do dancers struggle with career transitions?
Transitions are losses, even if they’re positive transitions. If you haven’t got a support system that talks about grief—if they just brush things under the carpet and say, “Get yourself together and get over it,” then you don’t understand how to deal with transitions and grief. Young dancers face parent pressure, teacher pressure and peer pressure. As you’re going through life, these things build up. Suddenly something happens, even if it’s something that seems small, and you’ve got this avalanche behind you. When I’m dealing with dancers, we work with the underlying factors.
Can you recommend some helpful resources for dancers during this time?
Meditation is really important. There’s a number of apps, like Insight Timer, which is doing 30 days free and has brief talks on mindfulness. Journaling is important as well—writing down your thoughts and feelings.
What else can dancers do to look after their mental health?
There are food and mood links, so diet can also affect physical and mental ability. Be careful of overworking, especially if you’re dancing in the kitchen or the living room. Give yourself a day off. Get out of the ballet bubble. Talk to people who have got nothing to do with dance, and get another point of view on life. The mind and the body need rest.