Ballet dancing is an art form requiring immense discipline and commitment, and while many dancers find enormous satisfaction in dance, the life of a ballet dancer is not without its challenges. Let’s take a look at a few of the bigger challenges that don’t get talked about so much.
While we tend to associate stage fright with public speaking or theatre; dancers often experience stage fright too. When ballet dancers perform, they have to be conscious of the audience and of the creative director - who’s most likely sitting in a prime seat, deciding who to cast in the next production – talk about pressure! Many ballet dancers experience bouts of nerves before each and every performance; the anxiety never really goes away, no matter how much of a ‘veteran’ they become. Luckily muscle memory can help a nervous dancer through the start of a performance - all that practice suddenly pays off!
Aches well beyond the feet
Most of us ‘civilians’ know that dancing en pointe can affect female dancers’ feet and toes but were you aware that male dancers face injury challenges too? Male dancers often suffer from lower back injuries because of the lifting they need to do as part of each performance. They also tend to experience high rates of ankle injuries as a result of all the different jumps they do. Both male and female dancers are prone to over-use injuries in the hips, knees, legs and upper body as well. Fortunately correct technique can lower the risk of many types of injuries.
Pressure to look a certain way
Especially if you’re female, chances are you spend at least some of your day agonizing about perceived deficits in your appearance. The pressure to attain bodily perfection is a challenge for all of us, but it’s particularly challenging for ballet dancers.
Imagine being required to show up for work each day dressed in a skin-tight leotard and leggings; where every perceived flaw is visible. Now imagine you spend most of your work-day surrounded by wall-to-wall mirrors, and you’re asked to constantly monitor your own appearance. This is what it is like for ballet dancers. Overcoming the pressure to look a certain way can therefore be a big challenge for ballet dancers.
Investing in health
Professional ballet dancers are superb athletes; while every ballet performance seems effortless; in reality, as most of us realise, the only way dancers can achieve such a flawless display is if they put in a huge amount of grunt work. However, this work extends well beyond the studio; most dancers undertake regular and frequent forms of alternative exercise to strengthen different muscle groups, and improve cardio strength. This all takes extra time, so while a ballet dancer might not be ‘at work’ in the studio, they are still working out of hours!
It’s the same with diet. When your body is literally your job you kind of need to invest the time to take care of it. Like any other athlete, ballet dancers generally adhere to strictly healthy diets; often excluding alcohol, processed sugar and refined carbs. In fact ballet dancers tend to eat like the rest of us wish we could (if only we had the self discipline!) – Lots of fresh fruit and veggies, small amounts of lean meat, and plenty of fruit and nuts. This can take considerable planning and it can get expensive too if you’re committed to only eating fresh, whole-food ingredients. The pay-off of course is healthy habits mean you get the most out of each day, rather than having to reach for your third cappuccino at 9am!