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Advice for dancers.

AN ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT FORDHAM UNIVERSITY, LINDA HAMILTON, PH.D., IS ALSO A LECTURER, A PSYCHOLOGIST, A FORMER DANCER WITH NEW YORK CITY BALLET, AND AUTHOR OF ADVICE FOR DANCERS (JOSSEY-BASS).

I feel really stupid writing to you about my horrible body, but I don't know where else to turn. I absolutely hate my legs! It's not that I'm fat. (Actually, I'm quite skinny.) It's that my legs are sort of crooked and nothing I do makes them look straight, I'm so frustrated that I've started to skip dance class. I love all kinds of dancing, but I can't take much move of this.

Dancer on the Edge

You're not alone. Three out of four dancers suffer from a negative body image according to a survey we did in Dance Magazine ("To Your Health," November 1996, page 56), even though they're in great shape compared to the average person. Why are so many dancers hypercritical? Part of the problem has to do with trying to conform to the ideal body in dance. High achievers can easily fixate on their flaws, obsessing about minor problems until they've blown them out of proportion. Teachers who push dancers to work on physical problems that aren't likely to change reinforce negative feelings about one's body. Because a negative body image can lead to clinical depression as well as a serious eating disorder, it's important to stop excessive self-criticism in its tracks before it takes over your life. Here are a few suggestions to consider.

First, dancers who constantly criticize themselves for aesthetic problems should avoid staring at themselves in the mirror. Instead, shift your attention to a constructive goal, such as working on your placement--you'll get better results! Next, choose a teacher who knows how to work with different body types without being overly critical. Last but not least, never forget that dancing is about joy. We choose to dance because it fulfills an essential part of our being. Don't let anything--including yourself--stand in your way.

I recently read your answer to Kim from Sound Beach, New York, regarding research sources on dancers with eating disorders [Advice for Dancers, Dance Magazine, October 2001, page 78]. That's my interest as well. I was wondering: How would I approach dance companies to do a survey of their current and retired dancers? Any help you could give me would be greatly appreciated.

Rachel Louise Miller

The more we can identify the sources of occupational stresses in dance, from injuries to serious eating disorders, the better prepared we'll be to attack these problems. But while researching dancers' problems is admirable, it isn't easy. Dancers are inclined to be stoic--which means they rarely admit to having problems even if doing so would help them. This mindset also makes it difficult to approach most dance companies, although there is a growing interest in tackling certain problems, such as injuries. You need to convince them that your research will help them achieve their goals. A graduate degree in a health-related field, along with an affiliation with a dance company doctor or physical therapist, should give you credibility. You might also consider initially focusing on dance students, who may be more open to surveys.

Ever since I stopped menstruating, my doctor has been on my case, telling my mother and me that I'm going to ruin my health if I don't eat better and gain weight. I guess I should be regular, but it really doesn't seem like a big deal. What do you think?

Jennifer From Las Vegas

I don't want to get on your case, but dancers with amenorrhea (no menses for three or more months) are much more likely to develop stress fractures, particularly if they diet and deprive themselves of essential nutrients, such as calcium. In addition, recent research suggests that amenorrheic athletes are at risk for cardiovascular disease.

While there's no need to panic, it is important to follow your doctor's advice even if it means gaining a few pounds. Sexually active dancers who stop menstruating also need to get a pregnancy test.

I need help! I really admire the director of my dance school, who used to be a really famous performer. But I don't agree with everything she has to say. Like when she tells us dancers that as long as we can roll out of bed, we must take class every day, no matter if we're sick or injured. Do you agree?

Adam From New Jersey

I'm probably stepping on toes, but the answer is no. While dancers need to be tough, it's counterproductive to work when you're really sick or injured. Research shows that dancers who ignore injuries end up developing more musculoskeletal problems. Likewise, it doesn't make sense to work with the flu and risk injury due to exhaustion and weakness. My advice is to listen to your body. If you need to rest, your body will thank you.

My only desire at the moment is to be a dancer. But I read a book on career transitions and thought maybe I should do something to prepare for this event. All of my other interests so far are about helping people, so I thought about being a personal trainer. How do I know if this is right for me in the future?

Confused

Most dancers spend all of their time taking class and working on their technique. When it comes to picking another career, they have no idea where to start. But there's no need to hurry. Instead, explore your interests outside of dance when you have the time. And see what sticks. Dancers who are interested in becoming personal trainers can check out an excellent home-study course offered by the American Council on Exercise (800/825-3636 or www.acefitness.org). If you decide to become certified, you can make up to $50 an hour to support your dance career even if you decide not to be a trainer long-term.

SEND YOUR QUESTIONS TO: Linda Hamilton, Ph.D., at 2000 Broadway, PH2C, New York, NY 10023 and read her answers exclusively in Dance Magazine.
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Author:Hamilton, Linda
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2002
Words:1012
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