During her senior year at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, dancer Mimi Healy was moved up to a new technique level. She was thrilled—but her best friend, who remained stuck in a lower level, wasn’t. It was a situation pretty much guaranteed to generate awkwardness. But Healy chose to talk to her friend about it a couple of days later, diffusing the tension. “We decided together that your level does not define who you are as a dancer,” she says.
As if dance’s technical demands weren’t stressful enough, uncomfortable social situations in the studio can also create anxiety—and they’re often difficult to navigate. Feeling socially awkward? Read on for advice about how to cope with common sticky dance scenarios.
I just switched to a new studio, and everyone there is already friends!
Joining a different studio—or moving up a level at the same studio—may be what’s best for your technique, but it also means figuring out how to fit in with a new class. “When I switched studios, I tried to be outgoing and introduce myself to new people, but there were already established groups of friends,” says Sabrina Shultz, now a dancer at First State Ballet Theatre. Dr. Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who works with dancers, encourages patience in these situations. “Start by befriending people who may not already be in a clique—but don’t give up on trying to slowly connect with everyone,” she says.
Sabrina Schultz (center) works hard with her friends in class but also takes time to maintain strong friendships with peers outside of the studio. (Photo by Tisa Della-Volpe)
I got a part my friend really wanted, and now she’s mad at me!
If you’re cast in a role a friend coveted, Kaslow suggests reaching out to her right away to clear the air. “Say to her, ‘I know this must be really hard for you, but I don’t want this to hurt our friendship. How can I be supportive of you?’ ” Take time to talk about your feelings, and let your friend know that you’re there for her.
I’m the teacher’s pet, so no one likes me!
“I can remember sitting at lunch at a summer intensive and having people poke fun at me for being the teacher’s pet,” Healy says. If getting attention from the teacher is causing tension between you and your classmates, speak up about your feelings. You can also show them that just because the teacher likes you doesn’t mean you’re perfect. Make a point of going to your class’ turning phenomenon for fouetté advice, or of asking the resident Gumby for stretching tips.
Everyone in my class goes to the same high school—except me!
Shultz found herself in this kind of situation, and wasn’t able to share school memories with the girls in her class. Talk to your friends about events you can attend together. “Sometimes my friends invite me to a school dance,” Shultz says. Kaslow also suggests making regular nondance plans with your dance friends.
Some of the girls in my class went to the same summer program, and they came back best friends. I feel so left out!
It’s hard not to feel isolated when your classmates return from an intensive as a newly minted clique. When Healy was faced with this situation, she took the opportunity to make a new friend. “The two of us weren’t invited to hang out with the other group, but that actually ended up bonding us, and we became really close,” she says. And try to be patient. Over the course of the year, as your whole class goes through rehearsals and performances together, odds are you’ll start to feel connected to the girls from the summer group again.
Most importantly, if anxiety about social situations is interfering with your school work or your dancing, find someone you can talk to—a parent or, if the problem is serious, a health professional. “If you’re dreading dance class because of social tension, don’t keep it inside—that will hurt you the most,” Kaslow says.