How to Support Your Dancer
There are many levels of ballet dancers. From beginning pre-ballet to auditioning for the New York City Ballet, every level faces its own challenges, emotions, and unique struggles. But if you’re the parent, friend, significant other, or family member of a dancer, their struggles affect you too. If you’re not sure of the best way to cope and all the right things to say to the dancer in your life, here’s some advice on how to best support and live with a ballet dancer (even though they can be difficult to understand sometimes!)
Know the Life
One of the most adverse effects of knowing a dancer — particularly one on the track to a professional career — is dealing with the schedule. This, however, is also one of the most difficult things a dancer has to deal with too!
Know and accept your dancer’s schedule. It may limit the kinds of things you can do together, like movies on Friday night (when she has partnering class) or going to the park Saturday afternoon (when he has rehearsal for the spring gala). Write down your dancer’s schedule and think of things you can do together on the off times, even if there aren’t many.
Mental Edge:Valued Time
Many dancers encounter frustration when they’re abandoned by loved ones for having hectic schedules. Don’t ditch your dancer just because she can’t hang out in the evening, or has rehearsals on weekends. Instead, remember that dancers are special people and, while their schedules can be frustrating, the time you do get to spend together is more valuable and appreciated!
Learn the Ropes
No dancer expects others to know the difference between a tendu and a dégagé, or why Fernando Bujones was such a fantastic Basil in Don Quixote. But learning the basics of ballet can not only make your dancer happy, but make it easier for you to understand what’s going on at work.
Try checking out some iSport videos and guides on ballet to get a better idea of what it’s about and the pitfalls that often cause dancers frustration. Your dancer will be impressed with your knowledge, but more importantly, you’ll understand your dancer better as well.
Be a Sounding Board
Just like with any relationship, the most important skill is not knowing exactly what to say at every moment, but rather knowing the most important skill of all: Listening.
Dancers are often conflicted with studio and company politics, casting difficulties, and technique frustrations. While it’s nice to talk to other dancers about how hard the life is, most of the time dancers just want to vent to someone who will listen. Offer an open mind and clear ears for your dancer to use; just going on a twenty-minute rant on the drive home about not getting the part of Sugar Plum Fairy and how frustrating fouettés are will bring you closer. It will also let your dancer know that he or she can open up to you about life in the ballet.
Don’t Rely on Stereotypes
Following the explosion of the ballet world’s frequency with eating disorders, it’s no surprise that every other person immediately associates the word anorexia with any and every ballerina. It’s great and very helpful to keep an eye out on your dancer to make sure she doesn’t go overboard in her pursuit of looking like her idol ballerina. But on the other hand, don’t assume she’s starving herself just because she’s thin, either.
Keep in mind that most dancers (particularly those on the pre-professional track) are working out intensely several hours a day, almost every day of the week. Add on top of that naturally quick metabolisms and maximum hydration and it’s no wonder most dancers are in great shape! Offer your dancer healthy, filling foods to eat, but don’t be fearful if she doesn’t want to down a hamburger and milkshake right before rehearsal. Dancers try to eat healthy, and the true meaning of healthy eating is moderated eating — different kinds of healthy foods all eaten in variation and moderation.
Hot Tip: Extend A Hand
Dancers go through a lot during the course of one day; classes and rehearsals can take a major toll on the body. If you want to really treat your dancer, offer a massage. Even if you’re not super skilled at it, just the effort and treating your dancer to relaxation will show how caring (and pampering) you are — a huge plus after a long day of pointe shoes and grande jetés.
Sit through the Movies
Whether it’s Center Stage or Step Up, Swan Lake or La Bayadère, one of the most important things to a dancer is having someone with which to curl up and watch a ballet on TV. At first you may be repulsed by the idea, and want to do anything — anything — but spend your Friday night watching a mass of tutus and men in tights. But remember, there’s more to it!
Sit down with your dancer and ask questions when you watch the ballet instead of just trying to make it through it. What moves look cool to you? What looks hard? Why do they hold their legs up that high? All these questions and more are great examples of how you can learn to truly appreciate ballet — and thus truly appreciate your dancer. On top of that, your dancer will love nothing more than sharing her love of the art with you — an honor indeed! (And in exchange, your dancer can sit down with you and watch that sports game next time.)
Happily Ever After
Being a part of a dancer’s life is a job of its own, requiring skills and talents that many don’t have. But don’t fret, and don’t give up! Having a dancer in your life is a magical thing, and the effort you put in will be rewarded doubly when you sit down and watch your dancer soar across the stage in the show whose rehearsals have been stealing your Friday nights together.