Getty Images

It’s OK to Grieve: Coping with the Emotional Toll of Canceled Dance Events

Grace Campbell was supposed to be onstage this week. Selected for the Kansas City Ballet School's invitation-only Kansas City Youth Ballet, her performance was meant to be the highlight of her senior year. "I was going to be Queen of the Dryads in Don Quixote, and also dance in a couple of contemporary pieces, so I was really excited," she says. A week later, the group was supposed to perform at the Youth America Grand Prix finals in NYC. In May, Grace was scheduled to take the stage again KC Ballet School's "senior solos" show and spring performance.

Now, all those opportunities are gone.

The COVID-19 pandemic has consumed the dance community. The performance opportunities students have worked all year for have been devoured with it. Those canceled shows might have been your only chance to dance for an audience all year. Or they might have been the dance equivalent to a cap and gown—a time to be acknowledged after years of work.

You can't replace what is lost, and with that comes understandable grief. Here's how to process your feelings of loss, and ultimately use them to help yourself move forward as a dancer.


You Are Not Alone

Dr. Lucie Clements, a dance psychologist and senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Chichester in the United Kingdom, says that it's normal to feel like no one else can understand what you're going through right now. This is hard, and whatever feelings you're having are valid. Yes, there is a lot of suffering in the world at this moment, but it is completely okay to feel upset, angry, and disappointed for your own losses.

As we all practice social distancing, it's easy to feel alone. And the fact that dance has moved to online and social media platforms, where dancers frequently present polished, hyper-positive versions of themselves, can create its own strange feeling of distance and insecurity. Even participating in your own studio's Zoom classes, "You might think, 'These other dancers have a better space to practice in right now, and they are going to improve more,' " says Campbell. "Remember that a lot of people are in the same position as you are. Don't be afraid to reach out to your friends and tell them how you are feeling, because they may be feeling the same way, too."

Perform Another Way

"There is some benefit to adversity, particularly if you are sharing it with other people and collectively going through it," says Clements. Since traditional dance performances are off the table, consider connecting with an audience in an alternative way—maybe by creating something new that you can share with friends via video or on social media. Or make it a team effort, which will help you stay connected with your peers. "That creates something for the spectator as well," Clements adds. "You'll not only be helping yourself, but also the people watching."

This kind of content will serve as a record of an extraordinary time in your life. Kelley Larkin, director of Studio L Dance in New Jersey, has been motivating her students with challenges (including prizes like free summer tuition) to make dances and post them. "I tell them, 'All these videos that you make, save them all—I promise they will be useful later.' "

And not everything has to be audience-oriented. Don't forget to simply dance for joy. Now is the time to connect with why you started dancing in the first place. "At the end of every class, I let my students pick their favorite song and improv before we say goodbye to the class," says Larkin. "Just be goofy and have fun."

Connect with Your Disappointment

It's normal to feel sadness when something you've been looking forward to is canceled. But Clements says that it's also important to spend some time analyzing the reasons you're upset. Are you sad because you're missing the joy of being onstage? Or are you sad about losing a chance to win a prize, or impress someone in the audience? "There is an immense amount of research that shows that if you are motivated by something intrinsic—essentially, enjoyment—then you are more likely to continue and be successful," says Clements. "Those who are extrinsically motivated, who are going after a trophy, are the ones who will find this harder." If you discover that much of your disappointment is rooted in extrinsic motivations, this is a good time to refocus your approach to training, so that you're working for joy rather than for rewards.

The pain of loss is an affirmation of love. "I am motivated to keep going through this," says Campbell. "The reason that I'm feeling these sad feelings is because my passion is still there. It's definitely frustrating, but it's important to know that in the end, I want to keep trying because of that loss that I felt."

If you'd like to talk to a mental health professional, here's a list of therapists and counselors offering free sessions for dancers. You can also find mental health resources for dancers at the Minding the Gap website.

Latest Posts


Because you know you've always wondered... (Getty Images)

Sounding Off: Here's What Your Favorite Musicians Think of Dance Routines Set to Their Songs

In the competition world, a small group of musicians has attained almost cultlike status, with choreographers turning to their tracks over and over. We know how we feel about these bangers—there's a reason we can't stop dancing to them—but how do the musicians feel about us? We caught up with three contemporary artists whose music has dominated the competition scene recently, and gauged their reactions to the dances set to their life's work.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Challenge Your Friends and Family to This TikTok Ballet Quiz

The latest popular TikTok dance challenge isn't the "Renegade," or set to "Savage," by Megan Thee Stallion—it's testing how much your friends and family really know about what you do in the studio all day.

TikTok user @kayausvlogs recorded herself asking her partner to guess what common ballet terms look like based on the way they sound. The results were...mixed, to say the least—and pretty hilarious. Naturally, the trend went viral, and now dancers everywhere are testing their friends and family and posting the results. Here are some of our favorites.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Project 21 dancers (from left) Selena Hamilton, Gracyn French, and Dyllan Blackburn (Photo by Quinn Wharton; hair and makeup throughout by Angela Huff for Mark Edward Inc.)

How Project 21 Is Shaping the Next Generation of Competition-Dance Standouts

"I wish I had a better story about the name," says Molly Long, founder of the Orange County, CA–based dance studio Project 21. In truth, it's a play on the fact that she was born on the twenty-first of August, and 21 is her favorite number. "I was away on a teaching tour, the audition announcement was going live on Instagram the next day, and I desperately needed a name. Project 21 was just the least cheesy of the options I thought of!"

The fact that fans might expect the name to have some profound meaning speaks to the near-mythic status Project 21 has achieved on the competition and convention scene since its founding in 2014. Long's dancers are all wholly individual, yet jell seamlessly as a group, and are consistently snagging top prizes everywhere on the circuit. Each season brings a slew of new accolades, high-caliber faculty, and legions of devoted followers.

The industry has taken notice of the studio's unique ethos. "Molly gets through to her dancers in a special way, and they have this incomparable level of commitment to their craft as a result," says dancer and choreographer Billy Bell, who's worked closely with Long and her dancers. "That's what sets them apart—it's like a little dose of magic."

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

contest
Enter the Cover Model Search