By Nykisha Banks.
“The power to change this culture lies with teachers, ballet masters, and directors-those who are in positions of influence among dancers.” (Kathleen McGuire, former dancer & mental health advocate).
After surveying several dancers, below are some of the dark sides of a dancer’s world:
· Body image reminders from peers and adults (Overweight, Anorexia, Hips, Butt, Breast, Hair, etc.)
· Eating Disorders
· Bullying by other dancers
· Home, School, & Dance life conflict
· Suicidal thoughts
Many dancers I’ve encountered have experienced the above pressures more than one at a time on a consistent basis.
Why don’t we as dance teachers or studio owners speak about mental health and the importance of them not succumbing to their dark side?
As a former dancer, I remember some of my peers would arrive to the dance studio in a concerning mental space. It was frowned upon to show up with anything other than a mind of preparation for dance class so we were all conditioned to leave our problems outside of the studio entrance. This was an introduction to what the taboo of suppression looked and felt like. There were days where I simply couldn’t honor my teachers request as if my brain had a light switch to simply shut off my reality and switch on to the fake characters/roles that they had us to portray in our performances. Although our minds are resilient, too much of anything, even the suppression of our truth, is not a good thing even in the midst of doing things that we love. Especially in our rearing years. As dancers, we were also taught to become physically stronger and flexible but our inner conflict never caught up with the resilience of the physical fitness of our bodies.
Currently as a full-time dance instructor, I’ve made good choices, I’ve made mistakes, and I’ve repeated patterns. I’m known by many for having structured classes, even if it meant pointing to the door and escorting the dancer out. However, I’ve also been guilty of keeping certain energies out of dance classes such as nasty attitudes, eyes rolls, smart mouths, or even them entering in the room and standing as a mute during class with a tear rolling down their faces without aiding in a solution.
Although being involved in the rearing of other people’s children can wholeheartedly be a blessing and sometimes have moments of feeling as if one is pouring into a thankless career of training them in the dance, hugging them, loving them, nurturing them, counseling them, and fighting behind the scenes for them, we still learn as instructors that there’s much more to learn about the whole dancer not just the dance outcome; more to learn about the performer not just the performance outcome. The mental health of a dancer should always be as equally important as our expectations of their physical health. Engaging only one part of the entire being of a dancer (the physical) gives them a disservice from their teachers.
Mental Health and suicidal awareness are important for the dancer. I believe it can aid in increasing their resilience when they sit in those dark spaces in the above survey if we allow open conversations of awareness. Dancers can’t give a great performance for others and most importantly for themselves if they can’t tackle what they don’t know. We as instructors can’t help them or ourselves tackle what we may not simply have awareness about. Not having the education or resources to help eliminate the most common taboos in dance studios such as dismissing a dancer’s mental health by deeming them as lazy, full of drama, and/or attention seekers causes us to prejudge what may or may not even be their truth and it increases the stigma on our dancer’s mental health.
Confidentiality is a very hard thing to seek & receive, especially at their age. As their dance instructor, the artistic director of In the Key of Dance Performing Arts, Inc., a 501c3 organization representing dance education, a board member of Self-Discovery Pain, Positioning, and Purpose, Inc., a 501c3 organization that raises awareness on mental illness, bullying, & suicide prevention, and as future studio owner, I vow to fight the mental health stigma in our dance world by:
· Have an open-door policy in the studio
· Mindfulness of my wording while giving instruction, training, and choreography
· Communicate openly about Mental Health without shame
· Continue to educate myself and have the proper resources available for the dancers, parents, and myself
· Eliminate prejudging without acknowledging their dark spaces without a solution
· Promote a safe space for dancers to become aware & acknowledge dark spaces
Resource: Dance Magazine: https://www.dancemagazine.com/dance-mental-health-2613383483.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1