Fighting dance's mental health issue one chat at a time

Published on 21 May 2020 at 12:00


Similar to the fashion industry, dance also has a mental health issue. In the same way that fashion has models on a runway, dance has performers on a stage, and both have all eyes on them, and this can sometimes lead to problems for the individual.


As a dancer, there is constant attention to our bodies – the way we look, move and feel the music are under scrutiny every time there is another person in the room. When it comes to dancing our bodies are the vessels we use to translate emotion and move through music. Despite this need for our bodies to be healthy, it's easy for a dancer's mind to become warped by the conflicting messages received from the media, teachers and even fellow dancers.


But it isn't only body issues which dancers tackle with during their career. Due to starting training at a young age, performers are immediately told that there is a wrong and right way to do something, whether that is turn-out, the correct placement of a hair bun or posture. The fundamentals of dance styles like ballet rely heavily on these teachings, and it may not be evident at the beginning age of dance. Still, in later life, this can manifest into more profound psychological struggles.

Each dancer has their struggles at different stages of their career, which can sometimes be hard to understand when there is a lack of discourse within the community. One man who is helping to start these much-needed conversations is dance counsellor Terry Hyde:


Out Of Step: What is your background with dance?


Terry Hyde: My mother took me to ballet classes when I was six years old. I gained a scholarship to the RAD for five years and then was accepted into the Royal Ballet Senior School when I was 16. I joined the Royal Ballet before finishing school and moved to London's Festival Ballet as a soloist a few years later. I then moved on to perform in Musical theatre, film and TV. 


OOS: Why did you choose to become a counsellor?


TH: On retiring, I set up a Business Management company looking after the needs of people in show business. During the ten years of running it, some clients would offload their personal issues, which I didn't know what to do with, but I was interested to know how to. When I sold the business ten years after setting it up, I trained to be a psychotherapist and gained a Masters Degree in 2012. It wasn't until 2016, when a retired dancer came to see me, having just been discharged from a psychiatric unit, did I figure out that I can help performers in a way that not many other therapists could.


OOS: What issues do you see people raise most often?


TH: Anxiety is the usual reason for coming to therapy, but once in my therapy sessions, a lot more comes out.  It could be to do with injury, performance or audition anxiety, indecision about whether or not to retire or a loss of identity. There are so many underlying reasons.


OOS: Which method of counselling do you use?


TH: I was initially trained as a Jungian psychodynamic psychotherapist but have now accumulated other methods as I didn't want a 'one size fits all' therapy practice. Everyone is unique, bringing with them their own unique back story. I work with the client's unconscious. Using their dreams is part of it and also finding out about their reactions to situations. Our reactions come from the 'child within', which is to do with their upbringing.


OOS: How do you make your services accessible to a clientele which is known for not making a lot of money through their craft?


TH: I have a few places a week, in which I offer a concessionary rate. Performers are also referred to me by Equity, as they are funding six sessions for their members.


OOS: Do you mainly see male or female clients? Do you think there is a reason for this?


TH: I see both. In general, there is more emotional intelligence in the performing arts in males, than in the general public, so males are more open to talking. There is still a stigma about mental health as the performers don't want to show a sign of weakness, either amongst their peers, but mostly in front of the management.

OOS: How is the best way to deal with rejection?


TH: By reframing the rejection into a more positive way of dealing with situations.


OOS: What do you suggest to help support people who lack self-esteem due to body stereotypes with different styles of dance?


TH: In therapy and my workshops in vocational schools, I emphasise each individual's uniqueness and get them to work on that through different exercises.


OOS: Do you think dancers from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds have different issues that they raise with you?


TH: I have only had a few BAME clients, and they come with the same issues, including bullying, whether to do with race or not.


OOS: What do you think the dance industry needs to do better to help dancers mentally?


TH: Change needs to come from the dancers, the dance teachers and the dance management or school principals. Dancers are humans and not machines. Being told to push through your pain, both physical and emotional, is not conducive to being a healthy dancer. There needs to be parity between physical and mental health. There needs to a supportive atmosphere in vocational schools and dance companies and shows, that allows the dancer to speak up about their mental health issues without feeling that they are 'weird', 'sick in the head', 'weak' and other derogatory remarks.


Check out Hyde's website for more details on counselling for dancers.


By Niamh Rooney


Illustrations by Poppy Quy