A Dancer’s Mental Health Wellbeing
Isabella Gasparini, Soloist with the Royal Ballet, tells us about the highs and lows of her life as a dancer from Brazil to London, as a soloist with the Royal Ballet .
Mental health is something we dancers often neglect. We’re so physical and passionate about what we do, but learning to deal with our emotional state better is a big part of the job. It is our nature to always strive for more. As perfectionists we obsess over our work. In the world of ballet, these traits of personality are emphasised, we get too emotionally involved with every missed performance, every ‘failed’ audition. Every casting sheet that goes up on the board comes as the most exhilarating news or with a wave of disappointment.
Throughout my career, I have beaten myself up for many outcomes that were out of my control. This led me to believe I wasn’t good enough. My professional journey has taught me that trusting in myself, and my abilities is perhaps the most important factor in reaching my goals. And also leading a happy life. Instead of feeling disappointed, I started to see each audition as a learning experience. Then each role, no matter how small, became an opportunity to grow and develop. Things come to me when I am finally ready for them.
There’s more to dancing than training every day and aiming for perfection. We often focus on the technicalities of dance. Ultimately, what I truly want as an artist, is to express myself and communicate with the audience. Each day brings a new set of challenges. These are linked with how my body feels, and also my mindset. Often we don’t see that our emotional wellbeing influences our physical endurance and level of performance.
I’ve always underestimated how important it is for dancers to have proper breaks. However, since joining The Royal Ballet with very busy schedule of rehearsals and performances, it became essential for me to find ways to relax and re-energize. Like other dancers, I am driven by the desire to realize my full potential to perform at my best. We are all relentlessly determined, and very hard workers. But that constant drive and pressure may leave us mentally and physically drained
Usually, dancers come back from a holiday feeling reinvigorated and inspired to work even harder. All we needed was a good rest and some space for creativity. When I am extremely busy at work, going out for a coffee or a good catch up with friends can lift my spirits. Additionally, having time away from work usually helps me put things into perspective. I need to spend time with my family, my favourite books to dive into, and restful days to allow my body and mind to reset. Finding a life and work balance has become a priority for me.
As dancers, we live in constant fear of what the future might hold. We know full well that our career is short. We are often so absorbed in
our dancing that we disregard other aspects of our being. We neglect other interests that could be nurtured and pursued. I have always loved reading and writing, and four years ago I finally decided to start studying towards a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing with the Open University. I’m finishing my fourth year now and loving every minute of it.
Studying has enriched my life and made me appreciate all art forms. Their interdisciplinary qualities, are invaluable for our understanding of humanity. I’ve made day trips to art galleries and museums around London as research projects for my essays, learned about different cultures and artefacts, and attended literary talks. One thing has led to another and I found, in the midst of a pandemic, something of great value. It gives me pleasure and a whole new purpose. I have started writing my own blog!
Writing has made me appreciate dance, and all that it has taught me even more. All I needed was to get out of my comfort zone and expose my mind to new concepts and new ideas. Dancing means embracing a different lifestyle, one which brings us enormous joy and satisfaction. It should be one which does not ask us to jeopardize our mental health and wellbeing. On the contrary, our dance career is supported by our values, friendships, and life experiences. Nurturing a sense of calm and contentment allows us to do our job to the best of our abilities.