The night before every big competition, 14-year-old Tessa Wilkinson, who dances with Plumb Performing Arts Center in Scottsdale, AZ, has the same dream: “I'm onstage performing, and then I either mess something up or completely forget part of my choreography," she says. “I usually wake up worried—and immediately start going over that section of my dance!"
Recurring dance dreams like Tessa's are common for teenage dancers. After all, when you're spending hours and hours at the studio each day, it makes sense that dance would creep into your thoughts at night. But your dance dreams could be trying to tell you something more. Karen Bonner, a counselor who specializes in dream therapy, compares dreams to the mirror a hairdresser gives you to see the back of your haircut: “Dreams show you the back of your mind," she says. “The more you can pay attention to what's going on in your subconscious, the more likely you are to truly understand yourself."
To help dancers like Tessa interpret what their dreams and nightmares truly mean, Dance Spirit recruited Bonner and Michael Loeffler, a therapist who specializes in dream analysis. Here's what they had to say about the most common types of dance dreams.
THE DREAM: You're performing, and you leap into a grand jeté—but instead of coming down, you just keep flying higher and higher, until you're up near the balcony. Just when you're starting to enjoy the view, you suddenly fall, which jolts you awake.
The Meaning: Flying in dreams can have a few different meanings. “Since flying gives you a different way of looking at the world, a flying dream may indicate that you need a change of perspective," Bonner says. “But if in the dream you're flying too high, that can actually mean you're getting too big for your britches. The dream is saying, 'Watch out! You're going too far!' "
The fall indicates that your life isn't as stable as you would like it to be. “Something doesn't feel safe," Loeffler says. “Take a little time to think about what that could be."
THE DREAM: You sleep through your alarm and wake up knowing that dance class is about to start—but you don't have enough time to get there. When you do finally make it to class, you realize you've forgotten your shoes!
The Meaning: Stress dreams like these indicate anxiety about something in your life. Sometimes, as in Tessa's nightmare about messing up onstage, the cause of a stress dream is apparent: a big upcoming competition. But other times, the meaning might not be as obvious. “Dreams where you're running late or have forgotten or lost something can indicate you're more stressed than you think," Bonner says. “If you're constantly dreaming that you're late, it might be time to take a step back"—either cutting out one class per week, or easing up on yourself for not completely nailing that tricky pirouette combo.
THE DREAM: You're Odette from Swan Lake, and the evil Von Rothbart is chasing you. Everywhere you go, no matter how fast you run, he's right behind you, and you're terrified.
The Meaning: Most likely, Von Rothbart is a metaphor for something you're scared to face in your waking life—like a goal you've been putting off. “Being chased in a dream can be an invitation to connect with a part of yourself you're avoiding," Loeffler says. Bonner agrees: “In real life, it may be time to come to terms with something that seems scary and embrace it."
THE DREAM: You're standing at the barre—but you don't recognize your own reflection in the mirror. It looks like your butt has ballooned to the size of a watermelon!
The Meaning: Dreams in which your body undergoes drastic changes can simply be a sign that you're going through physical changes in real life. “The teen and adolescent years are a time of rapid growth, so your mind is trying to make sense of what's happening," Loeffler says. “Body-based dreams are your psyche telling you to prepare for change."
THE DREAM: You walk into class and realize everyone's staring at you. You look down—and discover you're completely naked!
The Meaning: Bonner says the key to understanding naked dreams is to
reflect on how you felt in the dream after exposing yourself to the world. “If you were comfortable with it or nobody else was really paying attention, that may mean you're feeling confident," she says. “But if you were absolutely mortified, it's a good idea to think back over the last couple days. Ask yourself if you revealed something that made you uncomfortable"—something you'd prefer were still private.