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Ask the Experts: How Do I Help My Comp Dancers De-Stress?

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Q: Balancing school and competitive dance can be very challenging for dancers, especially in high school. How can I help my dancers manage their stress?


A: I believe it's important for dancers to have as much time to study as possible. Freeing them up to focus on schoolwork will help them avoid burnout. Our senior and advanced dancers are at the studio three nights per week. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, they dance from 4:30 pm to 9:30 pm. (During competition season, we also hold rehearsals on Sundays.) Having Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays off allows them to study and to have personal time that is essential for balance.

We request that all high-school-aged dancers give us a list of their exam schedules in advance. Then, we try our best to avoid scheduling visiting choreographers on dates when our dancers have pressure at school. We also allow dancers to miss ballet classes during exams, as long as they make them up when they are done with testing. This is very challenging to accomplish, but we do our best.

Teacher Voices
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In 2001, young Chanel, a determined, ambitious, fiery, headstrong teenager, was about to begin her sophomore year at LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, also known as the highly acclaimed "Fame" school. I was a great student, a promising young dancer and well-liked by my teachers and my peers. On paper, everything seemed in order. In reality, this picture-perfect image was fractured. There was a crack that I've attempted to hide, cover up and bury for nearly 20 years.

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Health & Body
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Though the #MeToo movement has spurred many dancers to come forward with their stories of sexual harassment and abuse, the dance world has yet to have a full reckoning on the subject. Few institutions have made true cultural changes, and many alleged predators continue to work in the industry.

As Chanel DaSilva's story shows, young dancers are particularly vulnerable to abuse because of the power differential between teacher and student. We spoke with eight experts in dance, education and psychology about steps that dance schools could take to protect their students from sexual abuse.

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Technique
Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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