Addressing Occupational Stress in Dancers

By Hernandez, Barbara Michiels | JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, August 2012 | Go to article overview

Addressing Occupational Stress in Dancers


Hernandez, Barbara Michiels, JOPERD--The Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance


Dancers in professional companies and nonprofessional dancers on teams, in universities, and in civic companies need programs to relieve occupational stress. For professionals or professionals in training, in particular, dance is a physically demanding and competitive lifestyle. The precise, advanced techniques for dance mastery, especially in ballet, frequently cause psychosocial stress and injuries (Berardi, 2001; Noh, Morris, & Anderson, 2003), yet few studies have addressed stress in dancers specifically (Hamilton, 2000; Hanna, 1999; Noh et al.; Schluger, 2010; Sukelevic, Peric, & Rodek, 2010).

The leading occupational stress-related behaviors are modifiable (Greenberg, 2011), and worksite wellness and stress management programs are often available in businesses, universities, and athletic programs (Duke Human Resources, n.d.; Munz, Kohler, & Greenberg, 2001). Nevertheless, most dance companies lack programs that address physical injuries, risk behaviors, negative eating habits, unhealthy effects, and burnout (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], n.d.). Unfortunately, organizational support and budgets for dealing with occupational stress are often neglected by administrators in dance companies.

Occupational Stressors

A stressor is the trigger that causes stress, such as workplace conditions, relationships and social support, organizational structure, harassment, career development, and time (Greenberg, 2011; Hanna, 1999; Malinauskas, 2010; National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health [NIOSH], 2002). Occupational stressors are multifarious and involve personal characteristics, organizational role, and extra-organizational stressors (Greenberg), so they are different for each person.

Occupational stressors can be social/cultural, physical/environmental, psychological, or biological (Greenberg, 2011), and can be related to the work setting and conditions, hazards, high job demands, low organizational support, lack of decision-making authority, conflicting demands, inadequate supervision, deficient co-worker relations, lack of promotions, and job insecurity (NIOSH, 2002). Negative reactions to occupational stress can produce physical, emotional, social, intellectual, spiritual, psychological, philosophical, or hormonal effects (CDC, n.d.).

Hanna (1999) said that stress from physical, psychological, and genetic factors; teaching practices; and competition are prevalent among dancers. Dance-induced stressors include incorrect teaching, gender/racial inequality, inappropriate expectations, and stage fright. Major personal stressors--such as death of a loved one, financial problems, relationship changes, and personal illness or injury--can also increase occupational stress (Yi, Smith, & Vitaliano, 2005) and affect performance goals (Spano).

Effects of Stress Stress is a psychological reaction that can affect the physical body's immune cells (Insel & Roth, 2010) and lead to physical disturbances, such as gastrointestinal and cardiovascular illness and injuries.

Stress also reduces psychological well-being, life and job satisfaction, and performance in athletes (Malinauskas, 2010; Spano, 2008) and dancers. Psychological disturbances, in turn, can affect cognition and memory. Dancers face intensive physical training and practice (Sukelevic et al., 2010), as well as rigid travel schedules. When prolonged stress causes biochemical imbalances, immune system weakness, and illness, dancers can experience a higher turnover rate, increased sick days or absenteeism, negative job performance, eating disorders, injuries, and addictive behaviors (Greenberg, 2011; Insel & Roth; Malinauskas; Schluger, 2010; Sukelevic et al.).

Recent studies have found that dancers are at risk for stress-related alcohol, drug, and cigarette use and abuse (Schluger, 2010; Sukelevic et al., 2010). Psychosocial stress factors and overuse can also cause chronic dance injuries and pain (Hamilton, 2000; Noh et al. …

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