Avatâra Ayuso on Dancers' Mental Health
As a trained dancer and dance teacher with 15 years’ experience working in the dance sector, I'm passionate about dancers and their wellbeing. I want to get dancers talking about mental health, raise awareness of the importance of good mental health, and give dancers the tools and support they need to nurture their mental health.
For this new blog series, I'm asking dancers to share any mental health challenges they've faced and give their views about mental health in the dance profession.
First up, it's Avatâra Ayuso, a dancer, choreographer and cultural leader in the dance sector in the UK and around the world. She's the artistic director of AVA DANCE COMPANY, and founder and director of AWA DANCE, a charity devoted to empowering women and girls in dance.
What mental health challenges do you face as dancer/choreographer?
Being a freelancer can be very isolating if you don’t make the effort to connect and communicate with those around you. You don’t have an organisation that prepares your schedule, that gives you studio access, that pays you monthly, that gives you a pension… You do it all on your own. The pandemic has increased this sense of isolation for all of us. This could easily become a mental health issue, but resilience and communication are key for me in overcoming the challenges.
As a freelancer, one of the hardest things is to keep fit in between contracts. As your body is your main tool, not being able to train affects your physical abilities, and therefore your wellbeing. Keeping a physically-healthy routine can help. It connects body and mind and helps overcome some of the mental health problems of being a freelance dance artist.
How is mental health perceived in the dance industry?
Over the last 10 years, there have been more conversations about mental health in the sector. Even though there is not yet enough support, dance artists are starting to speak about it, encouraging others to seek advice and support.
The recent pandemic has actually been catalyst to raise awareness about the importance of mental health across society, including in the dance sector. There is lots we still need to learn about how to support artists, but if organisations and individuals are not afraid of talking about it, the infrastructure will get better and better.
What do you do to look after your mental health? Do you have any tips for other dancers?
Finding time to do things outside of dance is very important for me to recharge. I have other hobbies that have nothing to do with dance, such as drinking all sorts of teas and reading history magazines. Spending time with my family brings me peace as well.
I would recommend all dance artists think about those moments when you feel connected with yourself - they can happen almost every day if you spend 20-30mins with your inner self. Do not underestimate those moments; they are essential for our wellbeing.
How do you think dancers’ mental health could be improved?
There needs to be mental health training at early ages in both state schools and dance schools - not only for students but also for staff. Everyone needs to be on board, and to feel supported to become resilient, mentally healthy and able to ask for help if needed.
There's also a shame culture around mental health that needs to change in our sector. Organisations and institutions need to make sure they provide mental health support which dance artists can use. Giving visibility and access to resources like specialist dance counsellors would be a good starting point.
Anything else you want to add…
As dance artists, we have a lot of knowledge about mental and physical resilience. Build on this when hard times come by and if you recognise you need help, do not wait, go and find that help. There is only one of you, so make sure you look after yourself. You have to work hard to be your best self.
If you’re a dancer and you’d like support for your mental health, I can help. I offer specialist counselling for dancers where you can speak about anything that's bothering you and explore how to make positive changes in your life. Get in touch to book a free, no-obligation consultation to find out more about counselling and consider whether it's right for you.