Do you ever have those days when you feel like life is just too much and you want to get off the ride for a little while? I have those days more often than not and I know I am not alone. Some days I feel so overwhelmed that I want to sit in silence in the corner just listening to my own breathing to lull myself. My sense of overwhelm is not unique in the dance world.
From the outside, a dancer’s life looks like a bed of roses. Getting to dance for a living is a beautiful thing. It leads to a life lived expressively. It leads to a life where a person can feel free. It leads to a life outside the box for many making us objects of fascination and revere. It just plain looks like fun!
With so many apparent positives, why can a dance life become overwhelming and unhealthy? That’s a good question. There is a lot more to a dancer’s life than meets the eye of the observer. I think the biggest cause of overwhelm in dancers is constant self-adjudication – critically examining form, body, and beauty with a microscope. With so many hours served in front of a mirror, there is little way around this self-adjudication. This has its pros and cons.
For the pros column, this adjudication is time invested in self-improvement, change, and besting form. This results in a healthier dance body when alignments are engrained and perfected resulting in fewer injuries. This results in a healthier career as well because if you have excellent form, you have a competitive edge to obtaining more work. It is also gratifying when what feels good on the inside matches what looks good on the outside.
For the cons column, this adjudication can be damaging mentally. It can feel like there is a carrot constantly dangled slightly out of reach of perfection. It can feel like you are never going to achieve that perfect moment where you feel like you have made it. It can play games with your mind and affect self-esteem. The constant strive for perfection and lack of reaching it can drive some people mad. This madness presents itself as depression or an eating disorder in many dancers.
Eating disorders often develop out of depression as a means of gaining control in a life that seems to be unravelling. When you feel your career is in someone else’s hands, that your body cannot be physically perfect because of your genetic make-up, or you are putting in your all and feeling like you are receiving little in career, these are stressors that can start a person down this road.
Eating disorders start in many seemingly innocent ways. A common start is just a simple diet to meet an aesthetic ideal. From there, it can start to feel like you have so much control and power over yourself and becomes an obsession that is hard to shake. There are few dancers that exist that have not battled an eating disorder of some duration or experienced depression as a result of the crushing demand for perfection.
It is important in our line of work to keep grounded in reality. It is important to take time away from the perfection of the studio to spend time enjoying the other amazing things life has to offer. This includes interpersonal relationships, other forms of pleasure, and sometimes just having quiet days that do not include physicality. Having someone to talk to who can hear and reflect back to you your stressors and help put them in perspective can be a healthy checkpoint to have in life as well. A dance life is supposed to be enjoyable, so make sure you are taking time to make it so!