Your first semester as a college dance student can be hectic. But being busy is no reason to put your mental health on hold. In fact, the times when you feel totally overwhelmed by tasks and to-do lists are actually when your mental health is most important.
Luckily, most colleges have tons of on-campus resources for getting help with your mental wellness. Just as you would go to the PT if your ankle were suddenly bothering you, you should seek out counseling resources if you're feeling anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed. DS talked to two college educators about the best ways to use your college counseling resources—and why it's important to do so.
University of Nevada Las Vegas dance student Ari Williams performing "Trying" (Josh Hawkins, courtesy UNLV)
Do Your Research
First things first: Find out what resources are available at your school. A lot of schools offer drop-in counseling centers, where you can quickly stop in (even without an appointment) to talk to a mental health professional after a particularly grueling rehearsal or stressful class.
Shannon Murphy, an adjunct professor at the University of the Arts who directs the Body Pathways curriculum for undergraduate dancers, says these drop-in services are crucial for dancers already juggling a busy schedule. "You never know when something concerning might come up," Murphy says.
In addition, lots of schools (including UArts) have individual counseling, for which you can make regular appointments, as well as medical professionals on call, in case you need help with any prescriptions or medications.
We know that researching mental health services might sound like extra homework, but it's way easier than that. Usually, the information you need is right in front of you. Louis Kavouras, the chair of the dance department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, says that information about all of the UNLV counseling resources is listed on every syllabus they hand out. This is common practice at a lot of schools, so check your syllabus before you check anywhere else.
University of the Arts students performing "Monumental" in 2019 (Paula Court, courtesy University of the Arts)
Speak Up and Reach Out
Your dance teachers are a wealth of information—about way more than the difference between a contraction and an isolation. If you're really overwhelmed, find a faculty member you're comfortable with and ask them to point you in the right direction. They're there to help you grow as a dancer, and your mental health is a huge part of that.
Kavouras even encourages UNLV dance professors to look out for students who might be struggling. "I think students are quiet about it, because with this kind of pressure, a student starts closing up rather than opening up," Kavouras says, "So we've had faculty who simply take the student, walk them over to the office and introduce them to the staff there."
Ya Gotta Get Comfortable!
As dancers, we sometimes find it hard to admit that we're having a tough time, or to ask for help. After all, aren't we supposed to be superhero performers with perfect technique, who never have off days?
But remember that using the counseling resources available to you is only going to strengthen your dancing. "Be aware that your mental health is as much a part of your dancing as your physical health," Kavouras says. "Those two things go hand in hand. The mind and the body are intrinsically connected."
"Find the courage, or find a buddy that will walk into that office to help you go," Murphy says, "Whether it's a sore ankle or a sore spirit, the earlier you find help, the easier it is to figure out how to make a change."