According to author of Turning Pointe: How a New Generation of Dancers Is Saving Ballet from Itself, Chloe Angyal (2021), “It is impossible to talk about ballet’s mental illness problem without talking about perfectionism, about the inevitable mental and emotional toll of an art form that requires its practitioners to spend hours in front of mirrors, comparing their fallible bodies to an unattainable ideal, and to each other” (https://lithub.com/the-toll-of-perfectionism-on-the-physical-and-mental-health-of-ballet-dancers/).
And yet, Angyal explains, dancers need their mental health to be successful in their chosen career. This is a tall order considering all the other requirements to survive in ballet (see https://lithub.com/the-toll-of-perfectionism-on-the-physical-and-mental-health-of-ballet-dancers/).
PROPS for ballet - professional ballet training with psychological skills - provides a way forward. PROPS Promotes self-awareness for Resilience so that students can Optimize their potential with Psychological Skills.
The PROPS method suggests 6 Teaching Strategies that can be incorporated into ballet classes to help students learn from the beginning of their training, that they can create their own approach to ballet technique that is right for their body, mind, and spirit. Students learn collaboration, reflective thinking, goal scaffolding, setting cues, and managing self-talk to help them maintain their emotional well-being.
Through PROPS training, teachers learn how to ensure that students have the time and appropriate guidance to find the best movement patterns for their body that satisfies the ballet aesthetic. Teachers are shown how to organise learning activities that promote students’ ability to problem-solve in their own best interest, think critically to challenge the paradigm that insists that “there is only one way to do this (and it’s my way)”, and experiment to discover their potential to offer beautiful and creative art.
I hope the new generation of dancers can truly create change, as Angyal suggests in the title of her book.
And I hope that teachers will help them - guide them - because students will need their vast experience and knowledge - and I hope that teachers will at last shed the need to inflict heartache and pain on students in the name of discipline. Teachers can instill the required discipline through caring mentorship and inspired teaching that honours the gift that youth and young bodies and minds bring to the ballet profession. With the right training, they can be the proverbial breath of fresh air that invigorates and enlivens ballet - if their spirit is not trampled and their emotional well-being is caringly cultivated.