These Famous Dancers Are Talking About Mental Health—and We Thank Them for It
Recently, our friends at Dance Magazine posted a thought-provoking article about the dance world's inability to address dancers' mental health. It was one of their most-read articles to date, and it encouraged dancers, parents and teachers to share their own personal stories.
That group of storytellers includes some very high-profile dancers, and we're especially thankful for their courage. We hope that their willingness to discuss such a personal issue will help younger dancers feel comfortable talking about mental health as well, and hopefully help lead to better support systems within the dance community.
Here are two big names who've been open about their struggles.
When Keone and Mari Madrid performed "Darkness and Light" on "World of Dance" a couple of weeks ago, it was clear there was a powerful story behind the routine. A few days later, Mari wrote a blog post about the meaning of the dance and how it reflected a difficult time in her marriage with Keone. She admitted that she's been dealing with depression since age 15, but had tried to keep her negative thoughts to herself. It wasn't until more than a decade later, when Keone couldn't provide the support she needed on his own, that she opened up and sought help. We recommend you read the entire post, but the ultimate takeaway is that there's no shame in mental illness:
"To anyone dealing with depression and not thinking that it's worth it to keep going, to deal with the burden of living. Don't. Give. Up. Don't be opposed to reaching outside to get help and to keep searching for the right help. For what is going to be effective for you. And if you love someone who struggles with mental health, don't give up. Continue to love them, to search for how to support them through these waters."
Sydney Magruder Washington
Sydney Magruder Washington lists many titles in her Instagram bio: professional ballerina, Brown Girls Do Ballet mentor, wifey—and mental health warrior. At age 11, she was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), followed by subsequent diagnoses of major depressive disorder and panic disorder with Agoraphobia. On her blog, The Black Swan Diaries, she writes that as a child she used to hide her diagnoses, until she came to the realization that they're nothing to be ashamed of. In an article on The Mighty, "Dear Ballet Community, We Need To Start Talking Openly About Mental Illness," Washington discusses how the ballet world expects you to leave your mental health issues at the door, writing them off as character flaws when that's clearly not the case:
"Mental illness isn't baggage you can check on your way out of the country for your company's annual tour. Trauma doesn't wait politely for you beyond the threshold of the studio while you focus on engaging your inner thighs in rond de jambe. Mental illness and trauma bulldoze their way into every crack of your life without your permission and make it difficult, sometimes impossible, for you to even do the things you love most in the world. But most teachers, artistic directors and choreographers don't account for that."
Washington is a vocal advocate for support systems and open communication among choreographers and teachers, and she hopes to change the perception of what living with a mental illness looks like.
Misty Copeland. Her name is synonymous with exquisite artistry and outspoken advocacy. And her visibility has made a huge impact on the ballet world. Ballet's relationship with race has always been strained at best, hostile at worst. But Copeland's persistent message and star quality have finally forced the ballet industry to start talking about racial diversity, inclusivity, and representation. "The rarity of seeing ourselves represented is sad," Copeland says. "The more we see every hue and body shape represented on the stage, the more possibilities young dancers feel they have for themselves."
Last month, we asked why there wasn't a Best Choreography category at the Oscars—and discovered that many of you agreed with us: Choreographers should definitely be acknowledged for their work on the super-dancy movies we can't get enough of.
Now, we're taking matters into our own (jazz) hands.
Contemporary phenom Christina Ricucci has super-flexible hips, which means she can stretch her legs to unbelievable heights. But when she noticed herself making contorted positions in class, Ricucci realized she was approaching her extensions all wrong. "I went back to the basics in class, squaring my hips and using my turnout," Ricucci says. "I learned to create proper positions, rather than whacked-out versions of them."
Some dancers are so wonky they have a hard time supporting their high legs, while others struggle with limited flexibility. But no matter your facility, you can find a balance of stretch and strength to achieve your fullest range of extension. It's not about how high (or not) your legs can go: It's the quality of the movement, and how you get those legs up, that counts.
Yesterday, the dance community was heartbroken to learn that Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran, both 14-year-old dancers, were among the 17 people killed on Valentine's Day in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Once upon a time (until the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi concluded, to be exact), figure skaters had to compete to music without words. Before this rule change, a skater faced an automatic point deduction if the music even hinted at vocals. Understandably, there were *a lot* of Olympic programs skated to classical music, and you'd tend to hear the same music selections over and over and over.
There are plenty of current Olympic figure skaters who'd make beautiful dancers (first among them Adam Rippon, whose gorgeously choreographed long program won the internet, if not the gold). But today, as we wait for the women's figure skating competition to crown its new champions, we wanted to throw it back to one of the most beautifully balletic skaters of all time: Sasha Cohen.
The high-flying leaps of grand allegro are meant to be incredibly exciting. But at the end of an intense ballet class, when you're exhausted, it can be hard to give them the attention they deserve. Want to pump up your big jumps? Follow these 10 vital tips from Jennifer Hart, curriculum director and instructor at Ballet Austin.
"Whole, low-fat, or skim?" The question of which milk to drink has gotten a little more complicated lately, with a wide variety of nondairy milks popping up in grocery stores. To find out which ones are worth your milk money, we had registered dietitian Monika Saigal answer some FAQs.