Illustration by Clare Mallison

How Dancers Can Deal with Social Media Stress

For 14-year-old Rose*, who trains at a prestigious ballet academy, social media is a double-edged sword. "I value it because I can keep in contact with people I meet at intensives," she says, "and it's also cool to follow dancers I look up to, who inspire me when I have down days." But on the flip side, "there's constant comparison," Rose says. "A friend might post a video of herself, and when I see it, I worry—am I improving enough? There's so much talent out there, it's easy to view yourself unfavorably."

If social media is giving you anxiety, it's time to take a step back and reassess. That doesn't necessarily mean going off the grid—though in extreme cases, logging out completely might be the answer. Here's how to keep your social media experience from taking a toll on your mental health.

Focus on the Positives

"Social media is unhealthy when it makes you feel bad about yourself," says Dr. Linda Hamilton, a psychologist who works with performers. She says the quickest way to boost your mood is to identify the ways the various platforms make you unhappy—and to avoid using them in that fashion. "If browsing dance stars' photos on Instagram makes you feel insecure or depressed, I'd say to stop looking at those accounts," Hamilton says. "If you go to social media to find support from people who are demonstrating healthy behaviors—if it's a true community—that's associated with more satisfaction."

Jami Artiga, co-owner of The Dance Zone in Henderson, NV, says that her studio pushes dancers to use social media in ways that can feed their dreams. "We encourage them to look up companies or colleges, instead of only following celebrities and making memes," Artiga says.

Take a Break

When you feel like you're suffocating under the pressure to keep up with everyone else's online excellence, setting limits for social media use can help you catch your breath. Hamilton cites a recent study in which 6 out of 10 teens who opted out of social media for a week said they felt better as a result. "Just as it's OK not to look in the mirror if you're being too critical of yourself, it's fine to get off social media if it's become a negative in your life," she says. You might give yourself a daily time allowance, turn off notifications, or temporarily delete an app.

Just as it's OK not to look in the mirror if you're being too critical of yourself, it's fine to get off social media if it's become a negative in your life. -Dr. Linda Hamilton

As you reboot, consider talking to someone about how you've been feeling. "I've known dancers who felt like they couldn't even tell their friends they were struggling, because they had to put out this image that everything was fantastic," Hamilton says. "Find one safe person you can confide in, face-to-face. That's usually a huge relief."

Remember What's Real

Yes, some dancers have turned social media fame into a legitimate career. But it's much more likely that you'll enter the professional world the old-fashioned way: by training tirelessly, and by auditioning a ton. That's why, when Artiga sees students obsessing over social media celebs' skyrocketing stardom, she offers to connect them with alums of The Dance Zone who work in the field. "Finding a mentor who can tell you what it's really going to take to get a certain job is much more helpful," she says. "A pretty scorpion jump makes a great photo, but it's not a must for a career." Qualities like hard work and punctuality are just as valuable—even if they don't have the same social media cachet.

Illustration by Clare Mallison

Keep It in Perspective

As you gasp at the dizzying pirouettes and endless balances you see on social media, remind yourself that they take serious work to master—and that you're also capable of putting in that work. Artiga asks her students, "What is it going to take for you to do that? More strength? Greater flexibility?" If a pose or step is potentially dangerous, she'll also go over any risk of injury. (The last thing you want to do is hurt yourself by mimicking poor technique or attempting something that's too far out of reach.)

In general, thinking more critically about the content you're viewing on social media can help you take other people's feeds less personally. "Social media shows an edited version of people's lives," Hamilton says. "They're choosing the photos and videos where they look most attractive." You don't know what's been retouched, or who's standing just out of frame helping to make those epic shots possible.

Above all, remember that "the big names on Instagram are humans, too. They make mistakes and have bad days," Rose says. "If you're working as hard as you can, that's what matters."

*Name has been changed.

A version of this story appeared in the December 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Social Media Stress."

Latest Posts

Photo by Joe Toreno. Hair by Marina Migliaccio and makeup by Lisa Chamberlain, both for the Rex Agency.

Sienna Lalau: The Dynamite Dancer and Choreographer Helping BTS Make Magic

At just 20 years old, Sienna Lalau is the living definition of "dynamite dancer": bold, confident, almost addicting to watch, and, at her core, overflowing with pure passion. From her work with The Lab Studios to Video Music Award–winning choreography for BTS, there's no stopping this starlet from bringing her love of dance to the global stage.

"Dance is something that can truly connect people," Sienna tells Dance Spirit. "It's a universal language. We may not speak the same language physically, but when we dance, there's a connection where we understand each other on another level."

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Beat the Cheat: Combat Incorrect Jump Landings With These Targeted Fitness Exercises

As dancers, we all have our vices—those little technique cheats that we know are incorrect, and we try our best to fix whenever we can remember...but at the end of the day, we just can't seem to banish them for good. After all, these cheats usually appear to help us: They can get our legs higher and our petit allégro a little faster, not to mention help us crank out that one extra rotation in a turn we dream about. Unfortunately, cheating proper technique also sets dancers up for a myriad injuries caused by improper alignment and undue stress on the body.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Joe Murchison, Courtesy Step Afrika!

8 Dance-Centric Juneteenth Celebrations to Check Out This Weekend

Dance organizations across the country have been planning ways to celebrate Juneteenth since well before it was declared a federal holiday by Congress this week. June 19 marks the date on which news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Galveston, TX, more than two years after the Civil War was declared over and enslaved people in the U.S. freed. Here are eight class and performance offerings, some in-person and some online, celebrating Black joy and resilience that you can check out this weekend.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

Enter the Cover Model Search