Psyched for Summer Intensives!

August 1, 2010

Summer dance intensives are up and running. Many of you are working hard—taking 3+ classes each day—to further your talent and ambition with new repertory, cross training and even yoga or Pilates. Given that you’re poised to fast track your dance career, summer intensives are a great setting to introduce wellness classes that focus on topics like mental skills, managing emotions, self-confidence and goal setting.

This summer is my fifth year working as the Director of Wellness Program for the New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble. This year, the dancers taking Psychological Techniques for Dancers range in age from 11 to 14. Basically the classes are about mind over matter. Dancers learn that mind has power. Through guided imagery exercises, self-assessments, selected readings and group discussions, the dancers have a chance to articulate what dancing means to them. They are encouraged to set personal goals for their dancing. Having short and long term goals helps dancers notice improvements, indentify their personal best, and practice self-rewarding through positive self talk.

Often times people are not sure what to make of psychological methods. You cannot really see, taste or touch what is happening inside our minds. But young dancers are open to sensing, feeling and self-reflection. So often, students make comments about having the advantage of  practicing mental skills while working hard throughout their summer intensive programs. Having the ability to advance one’s dance training while resting his or her tired body is a benefit.

Different groups of students work in various ways. Sometimes for the older teens we focus on self-confidence. Another variable, managing emotions, may have room for improvement. These are areas that all teachers may help students with if they are aware of basic issues and methods. Students are encouraged to express their feelings in the safety of the group. Relaxation methods are practiced, and dancers are asked to label their feelings. Next it’s good to identify what is triggering emotional reactions through self-reflection. And finally, we make decisions on how to problem solve. Either addressing the situation with others or making an internal adjustment that may involve accepting the problem for the short term, or figuring out what needs to change on the inside. On a basic level, just normalizing feelings feels good, and helps the group to work well together.

There are many good resources for dancer’s wellness. Books like Psychology of Dance by Jim and Ceci Taylor and Linda Hamilton’s Advice for Dancers cover more on these topics. Sports psychologist Shane Murphy has worked with many young Olympic athletes. His writings are easily applied to dancers in training. The Cheers and the Tears and The Achievement Zone are full of helpful information for teachers, dancers and their parents.

With all the time, energy and sacrifice in dance training, it makes a lot of sense to supplement programs with psychological knowledge and practices. Young dancers are truly inspired, impressionable and up for the challenge of learning all that is presented.

You could say that psych skills give hard-working dancers a leg up within the competitive world of dance!


Dr. Harlene Goldschmidt is a Dance Psychologist with a private practice in Livingston, NJ. She is the Director of Arts Education & Wellness for the New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble