Mental Health Awareness Week

Everyone has Mental Health, which changes along a spectrum from mental ill health to mental wellbeing. This changes during the course of a year, a month, a day or I know for me even in minutes sometimes. All kinds of factors impact our Mental Health; some we have more control over than others. We understand the circumstances that dancers live and work. There is no doubt that mental wellbeing is vital for dancers to lead fulfilled careers and lives. The enormous impact of the pandemic that continues to be felt by our community makes it essential now more than ever.  

DCD are champions of empowering dancers to make active choices in shaping your lives to able to show up as your best selves. This takes daily practice, something I myself am practicing and some days go better than others. The DCD team have kindly shared with us some of the ways that they take care of their mental wellbeing day to day.  So if nothing else, I hope you can take 2 minutes today to bring some awareness to how you take care of your mental wellbeing.   

  1. Rest & Sleep! We were all very inspired this week by Brene Brown’s announcement to take a sabbatical, prioritising the call for rest, over the call to work. Of course extended time off comes with privilege, but what small gifts of rest can you prioritise for yourself when you need it?  
  2. Cooking and eating a favourite or new healthy meal 
  3. Reading a novel or listening to a Podcast episode
  4. Practicing Mindfulness or Meditation 
  5. Journaling or writing a list of 3 things I’m grateful for if that’s all I have time to do
  6. Talking to someone friend/colleague/family without any solutions. Just being listened to.
  7. Exercising, either getting outside or doing something fun with friends 
  8. Do any of the above outside! Being with nature and fresh air is food for the soul.
  9. Take a moment to check in & notice, am I prioritising my own needs? What do I need? Quieten the noise of expectations. Then make any adjustments to my mind-set, or adjust my plans in order to give myself what I need. Coaching helps me do this too. Click here to find out about DCD free coaching service
  10. Asking for help. Communicate how you are feeling with someone you trust or feel safe with, communicate what you need to someone. 
  11. Give yourself permission, to take your time, not be productive, not to have the answer, to be and accept yourself where you are at. 
  12.  Self-Care – take a bath with bubbles and candles and music, paint your nails, do a face mask. Take care of those feet! Have a massage. 
  13. Spend time with people you love. Hug someone. Cuddles with your pet!
  14.  Take up a hobby/learn something new. Try something that you aren’t good at (this is more fun with other people). Give yourself permission to have fun with all the pressure off! 
  15. Looking at photos/reminiscing of happy memories or listening to music that makes me feel good
  16. Seek Medical and Professional Support

If you are experiencing mental ill health symptoms (find out more here) that are persistent and prolonged (more than 2 weeks) you can seek professional and medical support by contacting your GP. DCD staff are not therapists but there’s some incredible organisations out there with those skill sets and we’ve listed some of them for you below. 

Free therapy for current and retired dancers: 

https://www.bapam.org.uk/counselling-dance-professionals-bapam-and-dance-professionals-fund/ 

Mental Health Charities: 

https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/  

https://www.mind.org.uk/  

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/  

https://sidebyside.mind.org.uk/  

https://www.samaritans.org/  

https://mhfaengland.org/  

https://hubofhope.co.uk/  

Support for Black, African, Asian, Caribbean Heritage Communities: 

https://www.blackmindsmatteruk.com/  

https://www.theempowermentgroup.co.uk/  

https://www.baatn.org.uk/  

Support for LGBTQ+ Community: 

https://www.stonewall.org.uk/wellbeing  

https://www.pinktherapy.com/  

https://www.beaumontsociety.org.uk/transgender-counselling.html  

https://www.transunite.co.uk/  

An interactive check in guide for people who struggle with self-care, executive dysfunction, and/or have trouble reading internal signals:  

https://philome.la/jace_harr/you-feel-like-shit-an-interactive-self-care-guide/play/index.html  

Lucy Glover
DCD Support and Programmes Manager: Inclusion and Impact Lead and Mental Health First Aider.

 

What to expect at a Skills for Living webinar

We’ve had lots of questions recently on what is involved in an online webinar, so this post aims to demystify and break down any barriers you may have about what to expect.

 

What is an ACT3 Skills for Living webinar?

DCD’s unique Skills for Living online workshop, in partnership with and developed by ACT3 Psychology, are designed to provide you, as a professional dancer with psychological skills to help you navigate the challenges of your career. The online sessions are fun and creative and will focus on teaching you how to use a full range of ACT techniques, that can be applied to a range of life challenges.

 

How long is the session?

The workshop is 1.5 hours long.

 

What do I need to have at hand?

Mainly an internet connection and to be in a space where you can engage. Somewhere quiet and comfortable without distraction. You can also bring along paper and a pen. But don’t worry, we will send the slides to you afterwards to keep.

 

Who runs the webinar?

These particular webinars are led by former Royal Ballet Principal dancer Jaimie Tapper and Ross McIntosh, Organisational Psychologists and experts in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

 

Are these webinars for me?

These sessions are open to ALL current and former professional dancers who have worked in the UK regardless of genre, age and location.

 

How much does it cost?

These sessions are FREE to all UK Dance professionals.

 

How do I join the webinar?

All you need to do is register here for the session you would like to attend and we will send you the link to join. All sessions will take place via Zoom. For any access needs please contact dancers@thedcd.org.uk, we will be happy to support you.

 

What happens in the webinar?

Jaimie and Ross will demonstrate how to use the ACT model to build psychological flexibility, creativity and resilience. The session is a mixture of group discussion / sharing, listening and personal reflection. We aim to bring the concepts we are discussing to life using imagery, personal stories, metaphor and research evidence.

 

Do I have to talk?

Participation is encouraged but not mandatory. If you have any questions or concerns during the session but don’t want to talk, you can always send a message via Chat or alternatively as a private DM to Ross or Jaimie if you would like to remain anonymous.

 

Do I have to turn on my camera?

Cameras on is encouraged in order to get the most out of the workshop. It’s always lovely to see faces and we do feel it’s more engaging to be able to connect visually. You do not have to have it on if this is a barrier for you to engage, we understand individuals have different access needs, and we are all experiencing online fatigue. If you have your camera off please use Zoom’s chat function and Reaction buttons to engage.

 

Is anything expected of me?

Just turning up is a great step. We never pressure anyone to contribute but value the insights participants bring and help bring the topics to life. Workshop participants are invited to take part in ways that work for them, by joining the discussions, commenting and posing questions for us in the chat and just by listening and taking in the information. Whatever you feel comfortable with.

 

Is the webinar available publicly?

No, the session is totally confidential.

 

Am I allowed to attend more than one session?

Yes! You can register for as many sessions as you like throughout your career. You can also register for our other workshops like EVOLVE, alongside our ACT3 Skills for Living sessions.

 

How often are the webinars?

Online sessions have been run monthly. Friday 25th March 2022 is our final session in this series. We are planning on running both online and in-person sessions in the near future. Keep checking back to our calendar page on the DCD website or sign up to our newsletter, as we will be updating the ACT3 Skills for Living events page soon.

 

What happens after the webinar?

After the session you will be sent the slides from the workshop. We always provide further resources for anyone who would like to delve more deeply into the topics we discuss. We have also recently introduced follow up sessions where you will be invited to join us for a shorter session to recap and delve more deeply into how the skills and techniques you have learned are helping you and any challenges you’ve encountered putting them into practice.

 

Will you be doing in-person workshops? 

The online webinars have been really successful so we will continue to run these sessions virtually ongoing. Sign up to our newsletter to keep up to date with up-coming ACT3 Skills for Living webinars and workshops when they are announced.

 

I’m still unsure whether this is for me . . . 

Here’s some feedback from our previous attendees about their experiences. . .

‘The session provided a safe and communal space that allowed you to ask questions or shares doubts without fear of judgement.’ DCD Supported Dancer

‘The “matrix” we learnt was super helpful, having a structure to work with is a great tool to keep referring to.’ Skills for Living participant

‘The tools and insight given in the workshop were very useful and helpful in these times.’ Former DCD Partner Company dancer

You can also contact us at dancers@thedcd.org.uk where we can assist you and answer any questions you may still have.

 

We would love to hear from you

If you have topics in mind for the next series or any feedback on how to improve these sessions for you, we would really love to hear from you dancers@thedcd.org.uk

 

Would you like to attend our next ACT3 Skills for Living webinar?

Book now for our last ACT3 Skills for Living webinar of the series ‘Being your best self (a bit more often)’ on Friday 25th March 1:30pm-3:00pm. Find out more here and book your place by clicking this link here.

 

We also run exclusive ACT3 workshops for our DCD Partner Company dancers. To find out more speak to lucy@thedcd.org.uk.

Guest Blog – Crystal Nicholls

Taking the Blinders Off

When theatres closed in March last year, I had six weeks left of my contract with Disney’s The Lion King.

I had been in the show for six years and had finally decided to move on. I already had another gig lined up and was about to start rehearsals. The truth is, I was exhausted, and welcomed what I thought would be a two-week break.

It soon became clear to all of us that this would go on much longer than we anticipated. As the lockdown went on, and the dates for my gig were pushed back further and further, I became nervous, anxious and scared. I was scared that my gig would be cancelled. I was scared of blowing through my savings and not making any money. And I was scared of losing my identity.

For most of my life, I identified as a dancer. Who was I now that I wasn’t taking class or on stage, or doing auditions? What was my identity now? The uncertainty was the most frustrating part–I felt like I was in limbo.

One day I was listening to my favourite podcast–The Model Health Show–and the host spoke about the need for nutrition and health coaches. He said that now more than ever, people needed leaders who could transform their lives and show them how to sustain their bodies through the pandemic and beyond.

The thing is, I always loved nutritional science. I listened to this podcast religiously, and I was always reading up on the latest research, sharing what I learned with family and friends. I just never knew or thought it was possible to have a career in it.

Like most dancers, I had blinders on. I couldn’t see beyond my dancer identity, and with the hectic west end schedule of eight shows a week and one day off, I never had the time or energy to develop any of my interests past a general curiosity.

But now I had time. And energy. So I did something about it. I did lots of research into nutrition coaching and enrolled in the Institute of Transformational Nutrition. What I loved most about their program is the fact that they described nutrition as anything that feeds you–physically, mentally and spiritually. These three pillars make up the foundation of heath, and without one, the foundation cannot be strong.

This stood out for me because as a dancer, I was always so focused on my physical health, and completely neglected my mental and spiritual health. I spent years beating myself up and speaking to myself unkindly. I never felt like I was good enough–even when I was performing in the biggest West End show. I didn’t see the value of balance, of mindset, or self-care, because I didn’t think those things mattered. But I realise that if I had known then what I know now, my journey would have been much more joyful and fulfilling.

In January of this year, I finished my course and graduated as a fully certified Transformational Nutrition Coach. My mission is to teach other artists how to achieve a balance in their lives, so they can achieve their career goals without losing themselves. It has been deeply fulfilling work to coach other artists one on one and give them the tools, support and encouragement I only wish I had received sooner.

I want to tell other artists that it is ok to take your blinders off and explore your other interests, talents and passions. No one in this world is passionate about just one thing. We are artists, yes, but we are human beings first, and it will do us a world of good to remember that.

 

Click here to book your place for the EVOLVE Digital workshop this Thursday 5 August, 10:30 – 2pm and hear first-hand from Crystal: ‘How to get out of your own way, manage negative thoughts, and step into courage’ 

Free, online workshop guiding dancers through managing energy and enhancing wellbeing at this time.

 

Crystal Nicholls Coaching

Credit:
Credit: Mark Mcgee.

 

An Invitation To Be

DCD’s Executive Director – Jennifer Curry – invites dancers to approach January gently.

At the start of a new year, many of us look to set new resolutions. What will we do differently in 2021? These tend to focus on what didn’t happen or go well in the previous year.  

This year, I am focusing on intention. Intentions allow compassion, for ourselves and for others. Intentions are not fixed, but can flex depending on where we are at that time. Intentions allow us to focus on moment by moment, day by day. 

I am reminded of the quote by author Cheryl Strayed:

“You don’t have to move fast or far. You can go just an inch.

You can mark your progress breath by breath” 

Breath by breath.  

When we think about career development and future goals, we don’t have to have it all figured out straight away. We can pause, listen in and set small intentions that might help us move forward. Just an inch.  

One conversation, one connection, one opportunity to hear from a new voice, can be a gentle start.  

No pressure to ‘know’ or ‘do’ just an invitation to ‘be’.  

This is all we invite you to do through  DCD’s one to one conversations, personal and career coaching and EVOLVE and ACT3 workshops – all free of charge, online and open to all dancers in the UK. Click here for more: 

https://thedcd.org.uk/calendar/

Breath by breath.  

Guest Blog: Part time student, full time dancer

Isabella Gasparini is a Soloist with The Royal Ballet, a role she combines with studying for a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing at The Open University. Here, she shares a unique insight into her journey as a part time student and full time dancer. 

 

What will I do when my dancing career is over? It would be natural for anyone who knows me to think that I would follow my mother’s footsteps, taking over her ballet school. A destiny plotted by inheritance, but it is not quite so simple. I always imagined that when I retired, I would go on to do something entirely different. Perhaps when I was younger, I saw it as an escape from the responsibilities of directing a school, but I think that what I’ve always really wanted was to find out what life would have been like had I not found ballet, if I had pursued other interests.

When we were twelve years old, me and my cousin Luiza collaborated on a few editions of our own newspaper ‘O que rolou por aí’, an account on the latest happenings in Atibaia: Christmas preparations, family gossip, June party and Carnival. We did all the detective work, typed our notes in my dad’s computer, printed out page after page of the ‘breaking news!’ and sold the leaflet for one real to any family member or friend in the vicinity. We fantasised on becoming writers or journalists, and we were quite good at it!

Carnival in Atibaia – (from left to right) Mayra, Luiza, me and Leo. Partners in crime.

A lot of dancers feel at a loss when they try to imagine a future outside dance. I feel very fortunate to have an interest in developing other aspects of my being, a desire to open up my horizons! Having spent my childhood in Brazil, attending a normal school and growing up in a nurturing home, I kept myself in contact with the ‘real world’. There are kids who join boarding school at eleven years old, where ballet becomes their identity. It is quite hard to picture yourself doing anything else when dance is all you have ever known, all you have focused on your entire life.

I would have never jeopardised my dancing career to pursue a curiosity for literature and writing, but I knew it was always something I could turn to. It got me thinking… what could I actually achieve with loving books? Would I even have the skills, imagination, the knowledge to become a writer? How to find out? I later discovered that there was, in fact, a way I could dip my toe in the water without letting go of my dancing dreams. I also discovered that it was o.k. for us to feel afraid and anxious about life beyond dance, and that we in fact had a strong support system to guide us through that transition.

My love for ballet always spoke louder than anything else.

Right at the start of my first week with Northern Ballet, I was introduced to the DCD: Dancers’ Career Development. I was puzzled at first as to what that even meant. Career development? Transitioning?! Sitting crossed legged in the studio, with pen and paper in hand, I took note of what this was about: an organization that would help dancers, not just me but all company members in the room, to retrain and transition into alternative professions after retiring from performance, by offering guidance and financial support. At the time, my life as a dancer had only just begun! Thinking about starting something new was out of the picture, but a little seed had been planted.

The DCD is the only organization of their kind in the United Kingdom. I never knew how grateful I’d feel one day to have this amazing resource. When this crazy urge to study became too loud to ignore, I knew exactly who to turn to. By the time I felt ready to commit to it, the years had gone by and I became eligible for their partner company retraining grant. To apply for it, you must have been a professional dancer for at least eight years, five of those being with either Northern Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Scottish Ballet, Rambert, or The Royal Ballet. There is also the opportunity for independent dancers to qualify for a retraining grant; details can be found on the DCD website.

Besides, one must show a genuine interest in whatever you have chosen to pursue as a possible long-term career path, and propose a realistic retraining plan (research, select a course, explain why you think it is suitable for you). After sending all the papers, with proposals and a personal statement and sitting face-to face with one of their team, my application for support was accepted! This was the encouragement I needed to follow through with my study plans.

Sonatina, The Royal Ballet, 2017. © ROH

Applying for university wasn’t an idea that came to me on the spur of the moment. It took me years to gather courage, to understand that there was no harm in trying. I hardly remembered what it was like to be a student, to write in academic English, but I never let go of my interest in learning. Even when joining the National Ballet School, I took academic lessons very seriously. But the good grades have always been reflective of my determination and hard work, I believe, and not so much of a high intellect. Now at university level, I prayed that hard work would suffice.

I enrolled at the Open University knowing that I would have to sacrifice a lot of free time. Whenever I take on a new challenge, it is everything or nothing, but this time I gave myself permission to try it out, see how I could accommodate a distance learning course having a full time job (and one that is quite demanding).

The Open University has an online platform called OpenLearn where you can explore a wide range of topics and subjects, study free courses, and get acquainted with student life. This is where I’d start looking. After trying out some free courses through FutureLearn, I found out about the Open University distance learning scheme.

I was looking for a general idea of all arts subjects, something of a foundation, without realising that no matter what specification I chose, whether it was literature or writing or classical studies, I would have started out with the same module: The arts past and present (now called Discovering the arts and humanities). It would introduce me to a wide range of subjects, from music to religion, literature, philosophy. I chose this module and one other (Voices, texts, and material culture) to receive a Certificate of Higher Education in the Arts and Humanities. It was a two-year course (long-distance) which could be counted towards a higher degree.

Reading through each course prospectus will give you an idea of what to expect, as each module will be presented with its key features. Besides learning a range of subjects related to the arts, I wanted to refine my ability to argument and analyze, to sharpen up my writing skills, and communicate with clarity and confidence. Upon receiving my certificate in July 2019, I phoned up the university and transferred my credits to a BA in English Literature and Creative Writing. I chose to use the momentum to continue on, committing to another four years of distance learning.

Managing Dance and Study

The Open University has a pretty straight forward system to help you with time management. Every module is broken down into study weeks. When you start a course, you’ll have a Student Homepage, where you find access to a study planner – a detailed week-by-week schedule – with the number of minutes or hours required for each task.

I try to do most of my studying during work hours, incorporating it into my ballet schedule. Whenever I get a long break, I take my backpack and go out to a cafe or down the Opera House stairs to my favourite corner of the canteen, and start working on my essays. It could be a three-hour gap in between rehearsals, or the hours leading up to a performance, these are productive hours.

Dancers hate waiting around to go onstage for the very last act of a ballet, but I’ve made the most of hanging around in the theatre. I fill it up with university readings, essay planning and editing. I choose what to work on very carefully to make sure it won’t pull my focus away from the performance, but I find that it actually helps me get rid of any worries or anxiety.

If I had to spend all weekend absorbed in my books, I’d feel very guilty. Sundays are sacred, for resting and recovering. I try to stick to working over short periods during the week, which means that these days I hardly spend any idle time in the changing room or reading a nice book for pleasure. My trips to coffee shops became working hours. It is the price I have to pay.

If I’m very busy with shows and rehearsals, I skim read over some chapters just to get a general overview of the material and focus on the marked assignments. Being selective has helped me stay on track and not fall behind on the study planner, especially last year when studying Literature at stage 2, where I had a lot more reading and analysis to do.

My study desk in Neals Yard.

Distance Learning with the OU

On your Student homepage, you find a weekly planner with a very thorough outline and due dates of assignments, online or face-to-face tutorials, and student forums. The university uses a combination of online and printed materials, and a mixture of reading, videos and audios, all accessed via the internet.

I’ve submitted all assignments online. Naturally, you might be assessed differently depending on the course. I’ve had five or six tutor-marked assignments each year, and an exam at the end of my second year. I’ve never been so nervous. It took place in this massive hall, Harry Potter style, a big clock counting the time, where hundreds of students sat at their desks and wrote frantically for what felt like ten hours. I must confess it wasn’t my greatest performance, but I passed.

The most exciting part of my first year as a student was attending face-to-face tutorials, but these are sadly becoming a less significant part of OU studying, for obvious reasons. Just seating in a classroom and conversing with different people, of all ages and backgrounds, was a whole new experience, one that proved to me it is never too late to go back to school, to learn something new.

Books I read for my literature module

My first tutor was very passionate about teaching and meeting her face-to-face was quite amazing. She made the classes very fun and informative. Last year’s tutor was a musician and arts critique. Coincidentally, she would always do trips to the theatre. We met over a glass of wine at the Royal Opera House. It was with the greatest relief that I entered stage 2 of university knowing that my tutor was someone I could approach easily, who knew and understood what it means to be a ballerina and lead a crazy life.

Neopolitan with James Hay, Swan Lake. © ROH

Reaping the benefits

My first two years at university made me appreciate all art forms and their interdisciplinary qualities. I saw how valuable they all are in our understanding of humanity. I made day trips to art galleries and museums around London as research projects for my essays, something I would never have set time aside for. I learned about different cultures and artefacts, watched a whole BBC programme/documentary called Civilisations, went on literary talks and discovered The Literature Festival, attended a Christmas concert as preparation for my essay on Handel’s Messiah, and even wrote a short story.

Moving on to stage 2 was a step up from the fun museum trips, but it was a gradual and continuous progress. Studying literature has given me great insight into the world of books, the one I have appreciated since childhood, and made me aware of the different techniques that writers utilise to make their story so magical. I became a fan of Thomas Hardy and Edith Wharton, and one of my favourite works was writing about Arundhaty Roy’s The God of Small Things. I hope these blogs have kept my writing skills sharp and imagination going throughout this lockdown period, as I’m about to start a Creative Writing module this October.

My personal life has been enriched by my studies, and so has my professional life. It has made me appreciate dance even more, all that it has taught me, and the many years of dancing that lay ahead. I was thinking about my future when I decided to apply for university, but what I really needed was to get out of my comfort zone, to get my mind exposed to new concepts, new ideas.

Ideas rarely come from nothing. We stimulate our brains to come up with ideas when we learn new things or when we rehearse the things we are learning. They come not from sitting around and waiting for inspiration to descend, but from working: trying things out, reading, learning and doing.

The School of Life – Philippa Perry

Dancers are very skilful human beings, something we always hear from the DCD team. We are determined, persistent, hardworking, disciplined, responsible, creative, we have countless transferable skills to be used in any other profession. All we need is not be afraid to discover ourselves and our potential.

 

It is never too late to learn, never too late to set new goals and ambitions.

 

Q&A with Interim Support and Programmes Officer, Lucy Glover

We are delighted to Welcome Lucy Glover to DCD as Interim Support and Programmes Officer.

Tell us about yourself and your background in dance? Where did you train? What drew you to the profession?

I started dancing at the age of six, at the Madelaine Kelly School of Dancing where I took Ballet, Tap and Modern ISTD/RAD dance classes. I also convinced my teacher to offer GCSE and A level Dance so that I could take it. This is how I was introduced to Contemporary dance which is where I really found myself, my passion and my home. I became a member of SHIFT youth dance company at The Place. I was then lucky enough to be accepted on to the BA Dance Theatre course at Trinity Laban. I remember telling myself if I hadn’t been able to do a vocational dance degree I would have gone into conservation work, so this really did change the course of my life..

Where have you worked prior to joining DCD? What did you learn and enjoy in your recent roles?

Once I graduated I had an opportunity to work at Dance UK (now One Dance UK) It was here in the role of Administrator that I learned about myself that I enjoyed so much more supporting artists and the dance ecology than being in the competitive audition room. I was never going to be the best dancer, but I could be the best person to help others achieve their goals.

I have had a really varied career working for all genres of dance and some non-dance companies including IdeasTap, Big Dance 2014, Boy Blue, Second Hand Dance. I built a portfolio career working across events and project management sometimes freelance and sometimes not. I am incredibly humbled to have worked for two of my all-time favourite dance companies – Michael Clark Company and Studio Wayne McGregor.

What are you looking forward to in your new role at DCD?

And now I’m super excited to be working with the DCD team! What I’ll most be looking forward to in this role is using my skills in a totally different way. Working in a support driven environment again. It’s a special experience to be a part of dancers journey and at such a unique time in our lives it really feels like important work.

Photo by Camilla Greenwell