Picture a four-burner stove. Each of the four spots represent a different aspect of your life: work, relationships, health and family. It’s said that in order to achieve success, one burner needs to be switched off. In order to be really successful, you need to turn off two. So does that mean that dancers are doomed to loveless and lonely lives? Is stress just something that has to be accepted and unquestionably endured? With success certainly comes sacrifice, but there is hope. While not without hard work and dedication, there are ways to keep all four fires burning.
Setting certain habits in place as part of the same foundation as our physical training can keep us from atrophying in our day to day lives. The trials and tribulations of our artistic experiences can be softened and even bouncing back from difficulty can happen swifter when our humanity is nurtured.
Connection, connection, connection…
As the career blossoms, the need for a grounded sense of self is absolutely paramount. Rejection is everywhere and the ego is on the scaffold every day. In order to maintain sanity, time away from the grind becomes as precious as time in the rehearsal room. The pursuit of a dance career can be a lonely path, but that shouldn’t mean that loved ones have to be cut out of the picture. Our family (be it traditional or one we create ourselves) roots us and is an invaluable connection to our core, essential selves. Currently with The Colorado Ballet, Cuban-born Yosvani Ramos knew that, despite a strong love for his family, his love of dance would lead him to a series of faraway lands.
At 18, just after graduating from The National Ballet School, he made the decision to leave Cuba.
“I wanted to have an international career,” he says. “I knew that if I stayed there that wouldn’t happen.”
But being miles away doesn’t mean that Ramos is cut off from his family. He makes regular time to reconnect with them.
“My family is my everything. I’m very close to them and they have a lot of respect for everything that I have achieved in my life. The relationship I have with them makes me a better person and a better dancer.” So in order to sustain a healthy relationship with our work, it’s effective to consistently remind ourselves who we are and where we’ve been. Who better to do that than family? Skype, social media and phone calls are easy to put off, but even one ten minute period of hearing a familiar voice can do wonders for the soul.
Understanding Begets Compassion. Mental wellness is unfortunately often one of the first things to go out the window in the pursuit of any creative career. Surrounding yourself with people who can relate to the
trials and tribulations of your work can be incredibly helpful. There is a shared vocabulary, an understanding of what makes a career as a professional dancer so challenging.
Currently performing the lead role in the Broadway smash, An American in Paris, British dancer-turned-actress Leanne Cope found that understanding and compassion were her lifeline to harmonizing her career and a life with her husband, Paul Kay, a principle dancer with The Royal Ballet. “We’re lucky that we understand each other’s commitment to the work. It’s such a short career. We always make sure that we have time together,” says Cope. “And that there’s always something to look forward to.”
Hit the Reset Button
When our stress levels go up, our cortisol (the stress hormone) surges. To be at our best, our nervous system needs to be nurtured and cared for. Hitting a reset button at the end of every rehearsal day is incredibly important so that yesterday’s stress doesn’t become tomorrow’s anxiety. For principle dancer with The Alberta Ballet, Nicole Le Roux, she has managed to carefully monitor this. “It’s really healthy because I can go home and not talk about work,” she says. “I work at work. If I have a bad day, I can go back the next day completely refreshed.”
Furthermore, this self-care practice was even more essential as she and husband Egan decided to have a baby. Pregnancy is a tough detour to reconcile in a dancer’s career. For Le Roux, it was a case of opportunity meeting preparation. “Luckily for us, trying to have a baby only took a month,” she says. “It was a perfect year to get pregnant. I wouldn’t miss that much,” she says, upon finding out that the 2016
season yielded only offers to reprise roles she’d already performed.
A huge advantage of being a company member at Alberta Ballet is that maternity leave is available. The physical reality of a far-along pregnancy would temporarily put her out of commission. “As soon as you start showing, you’re done,” she says, unflinchingly. But it’s not permanent. She is determined to keep her burners all lit, intending to return to performing. Thankfully, baby Brielle Genevieve, born March 7th, has a prudent, thoughtful mother.
Back to the Burner
Sure, it’s a simpler solution to switch off one of those burners on the stove. But rather than resigning to the belief that having it all isn’t a realistic goal, I urge performing artists everywhere to capitalize on their hard-won discipline to set boundaries. Channel the bravery it takes to set foot on stage to ask for what you want in a partner. The trust in your cultivated talents can be employed to trust that bonds between loved ones are
there to buoy us, affording an harmonious ascent into greater heights than we could possibly imagine.