May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and while dance may be one of the most effective ways to improve one’s mental health overall, there are aspects to a dancer’s experience that may challenge the balance between the mind and the body. Especially in more traditional dance settings, things like the mirror, food, and even peers can inhibit a dancer’s ability to maintain a healthy mindset. When this happens, comparison is chosen over compassion. Image is chosen over wellness. Perfectionism is chosen over personal care.
But, there are ways to shield dancers from these harmful notions. Whether you’re a dance teacher, a caregiver, or family member, in this article we aim to equip you with important tools to use in class or at home to support your dancers’ mental health through out their lives.
  1. Open the line of communication Talking about mental health is one way to  alleviate the stigma associated with it, as well as ease any tentativeness discussing topics like depression, anxiety, and body image. For example, up until recently, the concept of mental health was not readily accepted as a suitable topic of discussion in society. Now in our present day, it has become clear that silence perpetuates the problem. Not sure how to break the silence with your dancer? Share a way you practice self-care in your daily routine or what you do when you’re feeling down.
  2.  Advocate for healthy choices Dance is great for your physical health! However, when the emphasis is on one’s figure rather than wellbeing, the message that sends to dancers can be both mentally and physically damaging with long lasting effects. As teachers, caregivers, and parents, however, you can choose to send a different message. If you’re a teacher, being inclusive of all body types and abilities in class can radically shift your students’ definition of the word, “dancer.” At home, the conversation can be extended to the importance of eating healthy foods in order to make dancing stronger and more powerful. What’s our favorite way to advocate for a healthy choices? Leading by example. Your dancers are bound to notice and be inspired to follow suit.
  3. Promote positive self-talk- When you’re in a bad mood, have you ever noticed yourself talking down to yourself with phrases like, “Ugh, you can never do anything right” or “Why are you like this?!”- either internally or out-loud? Chances are you probably wouldn’t talk to your dancer that way, and you probably wouldn’t want them talking to themselves that way either! A change in the script can make a huge difference to self-esteem and can be helpful in nurturing compassion for ourselves (and each other) when we go through challenging times in life.. Instead of letting your dancer succumb to negative self talk, offer different phrases to try like, “I’m still learning” or “I’m growing through what I go through”. Through positive reframing like this, dancers learn the power of perspective and its ability to not only enrich their growth on the dance floor, but also, their mental health through out their lives.

    Try these at home and in class to help support your dancer’s mental health today!