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The Blog

I recently met the mother of a young ballet dancer in a major ballet school who is struggling. She told me near tears how worried she is for her 12-year-old daughter. There were a lot of red flags, her child was showing disinterest in attending performances she would have previously loved to go to, teachers said she seemed “distant” in class, and she was breaking down, daily, about her hair not being just right. “My teacher will say I look sloppy” she would cry to her mother in frustration. And then she shared another fact, that her daughter is biracial.

Like so much of the nonprofit community, dance institutions are on a mission to be more inclusive and diversify their ranks of dancers. This is in part because it is the right thing to do, and because major funders are pushing these arts institutions to do so in order to receive funding. A noble, but perhaps short-sighted pursuit. 

It is, of course, important to break down racial barriers in dance. Schools with resources should have ou...

May 9, 2019

Shelly Power is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Ballet. Previously she was the CEO and artistic director of the Prix de Lausanne and the administrative and artistic director of Houston Ballet Academy. While in Houston, Shelly instituted one of the most integral mental health programs in a ballet school with Minding the Gap senior advisor Dr. Brian Goonan.

A few weeks ago, I walked into a meeting with my senior team and said, “I am depleted, I don’t think I can make another decision right now.” We had just finished a huge project and I am fortunate to be in a space with that team where I can say this, and that’s okay. Those kinds of statements are honest responses and leaders need to be able to have those moments just like everybody else. 

It is imperative that the dance community continue to do a better job of addressing mental health. But this effort must be directed at the whole of an organization, including from the top down. Leadership needs the opportunity to make good-fa...

April 19, 2019

Chelsea Keefer is a soloist at Ballet West and a certified yoga teacher. She recently launched a podcast aimed to provide mental wellness support to dancers on her website. Responses below are as told to Minding the Gap founder Kathleen McGuire Gaines. 

What led you to mental wellness advocacy for dancers?

I had just joined Tulsa Ballet II when I was 18 years old. I had moved out of my parent’s house and there was all this pressure because I was in college while taking this first job and I was also working a second job to support myself and my living situation. I was really overwhelmed because in the first few months I was invited to dance with the main company and learn the Sylvie Guillem role in In the Middle Somewhat Elevated. So I’m this fresh 18-year-old who is just freaking out. I’ve got a lot of the company members upset with me and they were very blunt that they were upset. I was trying to cope and was feeling this overwhelming anxiety. And I didn’t even know what anxiety was at...

November 27, 2018

I left ballet due to mental illness that I could not manage. An illness so severe that I felt my only way out was to abandon one of the things that I loved most in my life.

It has been two years since I left my job as a ballet dancer with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. I left in the middle of the summer, breaking my contract, in tears in the director's office. I couldn’t live with the pain anymore.

It has taken me that whole two years since to finally be completely honest with myself (and others) about the true the reason why I left. Of course, I was very honest in that conversation with my director that it was that for health reasons why I had to leave so abruptly. But I still hid the true severity of my illness and all that was wrapped up in it from him. And I definitely didn’t tell any of my former colleagues, except for the few whom I was incredibly close with. I was embarrassed, I was sad, and I was so depressed.

I loved dancing so much. I still do. I still struggle with redefinin...

October 31, 2018


When dance patrons poured into the Benedum Center Sunday afternoon, they did so with the heaviest of hearts, grief clung to their faces. We had all arrived to celebrate the final performance of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre star, Julia Erickson. But just 24 hours earlier a white nationalist had entered a synagogue in Squirrel Hill, just 2.5 miles from my home, and slaughtered 11 people, injuring six more, with an AR 15 assault rifle. When I entered the theatre I worried that the events might also destroy the joy of watching this final dance by someone I love so deeply. But I found something else.

The day before I had departed my home with my almost-three-year-old daughter in tow at 9:45 am – the same moment the shooter entered the Tree of Life synagogue. We loaded into the car and sped off down Pittsburgh’s main artery of 376 West to arrive at the Children’s Museum right when they would open at 10 am.  As the Squirrel Hill exit entered my rear view, I noticed three cop cars flying down the...

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