My Mother, the Ballet Bully

A reader’s response of the post on bully teaches and coaches in ballet.

I received an email from someone who read my post on bully teachers and coaches in ballet.  The sender wished me to post her email but for it to be  anonymous.  If anyone else wants to send me articles and remain anonymous, please do so.

This is a very sad story of a young dancer who was not only bullied by her mother but also treated badly by the ballet school and ballet company.  There was a total disregard of an individual’s feelings.  As the writer said, she felt like a “puppet”.  Thank you to the writer for being so honest.

A  sad story of a ballet mother bullying her daughter

Dear Terry,

I shall try to keep it short although it is a long story: –

It all started when I received a scholarship at a stage school because, as the principal said to my mother, “She is going to be brilliant”. I was 10 years old then.

A few years later my ballet teacher came into our dressing room, an unusual occurrence, to tell me I had received Honours in my Elementary exam. I pretended I was happy but secretly my heart sank. Why, because the “expectations” had just gone up again. 

My Mother kept saying I was beholden to the school to do well as the scholarship paid my fees. Her favourite words to me were “You always have to do it your way don’t you.” Meanwhile I spent my entire childhood trying to second guess what my mother wanted me to do as her nagging was something to avoid at all costs.

When I was 15 years old my mother was nagging me that my nose needed to be altered to look good. In the end I was worn down and relented to the operation. It was a disaster and my nose became worse. I felt suicidal and contemplated night after night committing suicide but because of the love for my grandmother I could not do that to her.

Also at 15 years I won a cup for Ballet and my picture was put in the papers by the school, with of course a notice saying I was from this prestigious school. I realised then that my free education gave the school free advertising to obtain more pupils. The load of expectations and responsibility to the school and my mother held very heavily on my young shoulders especially as my mother would say I was beholden to practice, practice, practice!

mental health - depression
Royal Ballet School

Finally, at 17 years I was told I had an audition with the Royal Ballet Upper School. Again my heart sank! I was never asked whether or not I wanted to do these things.

I entered the Royal Ballet Upper School. On my third day there Miss Moreton, headmistress, summoned me to her office.  She told me that if she had been at the audition I would not have got in to the school because I was too small.  She said I should go into the programme to become a teacher. I told her that I did not want to become a teacher, so she put me in the “Overseas” class although I was English.

Dame Ninette De Valois saw me in this class and was astounded and told Miss Moreton that whenever she taught the graduates’ class I was to be included. Subsequently, Dame Ninette entered me for the Adeline Genee Awards.

Adiline Genee Awards

In the dressing room before the competition we were told that no mothers were allowed backstage. My mother said of course she could be there but I told her there were strict instructions. She told me I must pin my leotard in a certain way, which I endeavoured to do to the best of my ability.

I was very nervous and consequently wobbled in my penche. After 20 minutes of deliberation the judges gave the Gold medal to another girl and I received the Silver. 

When we arrived home my mother started telling me that I had pinned my leotard wrongly.  I tried telling her that I did my best. In the end after much nagging I ran to my bedroom, only for my mother to follow me a bit later and say to me in the doorway,  “watching you tonight was a nightmare”.

Turning professional

I did’t get into the Royal Ballet Company.   I did though dance with a famous male dancer I was at school with, at our Graduation performance at Covent Garden. I joined London’s Festival Ballet for 3 months. At the end of that season, because a small principal ballerina was leaving for the Royal Ballet, they sacked me as I was too small for the Balanchine Ballets they were doing in the next season.

My mother ploughed into me and started a nervous cough. I remember in a bus journey hearing my mother’s nervous cough.  My thought was, okay mother, you want me thin, you want me as your little puppet, well here goes. I went on a veg-only diet and became Anorexic very quickly. 

I think that is enough for you to realise the extent of the bullying. 

I see today in all sorts of dance and sports.  Talented children are not given a chance to become their own character.  They are forced into a mould that is not their choice.

Mental Health for Dancers (Bullying) Q&A 3

The third Q&A from dancers is about what to do about bullying teachers and coaches.

SUBMITTED: Some young dancers unfortunately find themselves in unhealthy situations with coaches or teachers. Some may feel too attached to their school or coaches to be able to leave, but may actually feel bullied. What would you say to a young dancer in this kind of negative scenario?

Bullying teachers and coaches should not be allowed to teach vulnerable youngsters.  Bullying by adults is a very difficult situation for a student to deal with.

bullying dancers
Can anyone stop the bullying?

This is not just a case for students because dancers in companies or shows can find the same situation with artistic directors, choreographers, ballet masters/mistresses.  The artistic world is full of highly strung, emotional and sensitive people, where feelings can run high.

stop bullying
Assertive communication

For the student or professional concerned the first thing is to learn about assertive communication.  This is to do with asserting how the other person makes you feel with what they say/don’t say or do/don’t do.  Learning how to stand up for yourself in a non-confrontational way.  Assertive communication should always be delivered in a calm way:  “What you have said to me is very upsetting for me, please don’t do it again” or “you will get more out of me if you don’t shout every time you correct me”. This is easier said than done.  If you are a child/adolescent you are taught to respect our elders, but bullying needs to be challenged.

Ask for help

Go above the bullying teacher to the head of year or the head of the school/college and use assertive communication (see above).  If that doesn’t

stop bullying
Stand up to the bully

work then find another school. You or your parents can also report the school to the authority that licenses the school or college.   It is doing you no good by staying in a bullying environment.  You won’t fulfill your potential there, even if the school or college is considered the best in town.  You may need parental help with these stages.  If you have underlying attachment and/or low self-esteem issues then psychological therapy sessions will help you to see the right path for you.  This will help you deal with any underlying issues that you are unconsciously holding on to.

I can use a personal example of a choreographer, who shall remain nameless.  He choreographed Don Quixote for a ballet company I was working for at the time.  He was rude, arrogant and a bully.  During the period of rehearsals he got worse and worse with his temper tantrums.  He didn’t calm down even after a number of complaints made via our ballet master.  The ballet master had to interpret, as the choreographer didn’t speak English.  Finally the whole company refused to work with him and he was asked to leave.  Result!

Stand up to bullies but also seek professional help for your own underlying issues or email me for some advice by going to my website.

Next time: perfectionism and its downside and the loss of identity beyond ballet.

Mental Health for Dancers (Self-care) – Q&A 2

Today’s Q&A  for Dancers’ Mental Health is about self-care.
SUBMITTED: Do you have any day-to-day simple calming techniques for dancers who feel overwhelmed?

Meditation, breathing and visualisations.

Meditation for good mental health

For good mental health meditation is helpful.  If you don’t practice mindfulness meditation already then there are a number of meditation apps which you can download.  Find one that suits you as you may find the voices on the app annoying, which won’t help you relax.

Here is one of many calming breathing exercises:

Breathe in through your nose to the count of four, hold for four and then breathe out through pursed lips, and make a noise, to the count of eight.  Then take four shallow (normal)  breaths before repeating the deeper breathing.  If you start feeling lightheaded then go back to your normal breathing until the dizzy feeling goes. Only do four cycles of this breathing exercise.


If you already have a guided visualisation CD then you can use it and if you haven’t there are plenty on sale or free on Youtube.  Here is one of my own recorded visualisations  It runs for about 10 minutes. A walk in the Valley.

You can of course use your own imagination.  Sit in a quiet place where you know that you won’t be disturbed, close your eyes, and take yourself off to a place, whether real or imaginary, that brings peace and tranquility to your mind and stay there until you feel more relaxed.

Beyond being calmed

Upset - what am I to do for good mental health
What am I to do?

If you reach a stage where none of the above can calm you, take a walk

outside to get some fresh air to give yourself some space.  When you get back, write all the things that have wound to up.  Having done that, go through the list and ask yourself if each of those things that you wrote actually matters at this time.  Those that don’t matter, cross them off your list.  You may find that you have crossed them all off your list, but if not, then the items that are left may be more manageable for you to deal with. Writing a journal of your thoughts and what is happening to you is very useful.  Write down what you want out of life, however outlandish it may appear to be.

Reflective Journal for good mental health
Reflective Journal

If you continue to become anxious and panicky then I advise you to seek professional help.  You could email me for some initial advice but remember the time difference from wherever you are emailing, when expecting a reply.

Next time – What to do about bullying teachers and coaches


Once a dancer always a dancer!

Training to be a ballet dancer was a way of life for me that started at a fairly young age. Going to my ballet classes was all consuming. My family, friends and my parents’ friends all knew that my dream was to become a professional ballet dancer.

Whenever I told an adult what I wanted to do when I grew up the response was often; “Very few of you become professional dancers”.  Followed by; “Make sure that you get a good education by going to university or learn another skill to fall back on”. This always puzzled me. How was I going to find time to study another skill that probably didn’t interest me when ballet was my first love?

Dancer was my identity

Most of all, being a dancer was my identity, this was who I was. I listened to ballet music, I collected photos of my favourite dancers and of course went to the ballet whenever I could. This was in the 50’s and early 60’s long before YouTube!

To follow my dream, I left school at 16  without any other ‘skills’ and with the minimum of a formal education. I am not recommending or condemning this, I am simply describing how my life as a dancer/person evolved. On finishing my training, I joined a small company in New York, so those adults with their gloom and doom predictions were wrong!

I was not as committed

At the age of 23 I noticed that I wasn’t as committed or ambitious any more. I was also getting tired of fighting with my body. We all have strengths and weaknesses.  I noticed that my weaknesses never went away no matter how hard I worked to improve them. Becoming curious about the world outside of ballet, I wanted to go there and see what it’s like for me to be in different situations.

I asked myself, what on earth would you do when you stop? The answer was, I don’t know! The only way to find out was to stop dancing and trust myself to find another type of job. After all, there must be one job out there that I was capable of doing!

A world outside of ballet

My first job was as a dresser in a theatre in London’s West End.  I was then given a job as Wardrobe Mistress in no time at all.  Assorted jobs followed until I decided to ‘go back to school’. At the age of 45 I trained to be a psychotherapist and later on as a mediator.

I discovered that my dancing career and training meant that I could run rings around most people I worked with. My builtin commitment to whatever it was I was doing, my ability to give 100%. I took responsibility for any job. I was creative in how I approached work, and compared to the non-dancers, I never seemed to worry about hard work or being tired!

And Finally…..

I would love to have a quiet word with dancers who through injury, or other factors, was forced to stop dancing. I would say that the years of training and dancing has actually given them the best education ever. My father, who was a university professor, once said that a dancer’s education is better than a university education.

The moral of this tale is to first and foremost trust yourself. Then remind yourself that you already have some very sophisticated skills that are part of who you are. These skills, combined with poise and confidence that all dancers have, make it possible for you to apply yourself to almost anything.

No one can take your unique life skills way from you, once a dancer, always a dancer!

Diana Mitchell

Q&A 1 for Ballet Dancers’ Mental Health

Today’s post starts a series of Q&As from dancers regarding Mental Health issues for Ballet Dancers.

Mental Health Awareness Week UK

It is Mental Health Awareness Week  in the UK this week (May 8th -14th 2017) so I am addressing some questions that have been put to me by dancers.

Jeanette Kakareka, a dancer with English National Ballet, has a list of questions to me from her and other dancers on their mental health.  If you have any questions relating to mental health issues, please send them to me and I will do my best to answer them for you.

Recognising mental health symptoms

Question from Jeanette: “One of my biggest challenges, and I I’m sure this goes for many others, was recognising my symptoms for what they were, a mental health issue.  What sort of symptoms may point to a larger problem than your typical stress, ups and downs, or perfectionism?”

It is difficult to talk about individual symptoms, we are all unique and each symptom may manifest itself in a different way in each of us.  In addition, everyone has their own level of resilience to issues which are causing difficulties.  It is often the case that people around us recognise any changes in us more so  than we do ourselves.  So you may find that supportive friends and family are the ones who bring these matters to your attention.

Some Symptoms

Mental health moods

You may find yourself wanting to be alone when you are normally gregarious.  You may also be feeling tearful, tired or lethargic and irritable. Another common symptom is being short tempered with people who are close to you. You may feel fearful of something but you don’t know what the something is.  You may may have lost your appetite or obsessively control your eating (the start of anorexia/bulimia).  You could also become controlling in other aspects of your life.  These are only a few of the symptoms that you may experience.  As mentioned above, each one of us is unique and therefore the symptoms will manifest themselves in different ways.  In addition to the above symptoms, there are other factors to take into consideration.  Hormonal issues around puberty, adolescence and for females, the menstrual cycle.

Most importantly, symptoms are a manifestation of underlying issues and your body’s warning that you need to deal with them.  Unfortunately, the worldwide medical profession, on the whole, only treat the symptoms, usually by medication, rather than dealing holistically with a patient to find out what is creating the symptoms.

mental health - depression

Being a ‘rock’ in isolation and being ‘strong’ is sometimes detrimental to oneself as it saps energy from our own self-healing system.  The British resolve of the ‘stiff upper lip’ doesn’t work at all, it only exacerbates the problem by  keeping it inside of us, which is toxic to our mental and physical health. For you to ask for help when you recognise the symptoms, is in itself the first step to healing.  For some who are normally resistant to showing signs of ‘weakness’, it’s the bravest step.

The stigma of psychological therapy

In the USA psychological therapies have been around since the first world war.  It was recognised then that the returning troops needed psychological help.  From this point psychological therapy became part of the way of life in the USA.

Whereas in the UK, the British resolve of, as I mentioned above, the ‘stiff upper lip’, created a mental health stigma.  “I couldn’t talk to anyone about my personal issues”.  “No one else will understand my problems”. “if I don’t think about my problems they’ll go away.”  “Don’t talk about family issues outside of the family” etc.

mental health attitudes
Mental Health Attitudes

Hopefully now with Mental Health Awareness Week and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry’s ‘Heads Together’, it will help those who have been suffering in silence to get help and talk to a professional therapist about their issues.

Here are some of the questions I will be answering in following posts:

Do you have any day-to-day simple calming techniques for dancers who feel overwhelmed?

Some young dancers unfortunately find themselves in unhealthy situations with coaches or teachers. Some may feel too attached to their school or coaches to be able to leave, but may actually feel bullied. What would you say to a young dancer in this kind of negative scenario?

For what benefits do you suggest dancers seek counselling from a therapist such as yourself, specialising in dancers’ mental health?

Please send me any questions regarding issues that you are struggling with, or tell others how you have overcome something in your life.  You can ask to remain anonymous if you wish.


Early teenage anxiety as a ballet student

I enjoyed being one of the smart kids at school

Jeanette - Ballet early years no anxiety
Jeanette – Ballet in the early years

I grew up in the suburbs of Pennsylvania USA and was always a perfectionist at academic school. This came naturally to me, but was also a trait from my mother. I genuinely enjoyed excelling and being one of the “smart” kids but none of this ever caused me any anxiety. I was also pretty emotionally sensitive, a book could upset me greatly and I’d sometimes take on emotional guilt from others. I started dancing very young, but neither I nor my family took it seriously until I was about 11 years old when I switched dance schools.

Not recognising what anxiety is

Jeanette Kakareka San Francisco Ballet School anxiety
Jeanette Kakareka – San Francisco Ballet School

My first memory of anxiety came from around the time when I first started competing in ballet competitions. I didn’t recognise it as anxiety as I believed it rooted from a physical problem. Of course I was stressed. It made sense to be overwhelmed at 13 with hormonal changes, increasing workload at school and now ballet competitions. But when it got to the point that I felt physically ill and thought I might get sick daily, I knew something was truly wrong. Unfortunately, my parents and my teachers didn’t understand it and neither did I. I was under a constant dark cloud for about a year from the physical symptoms. I didn’t understanding what was wrong with me, which I am sure contributed even more to the problem. Little did I know that the physical symptoms were stemming from my mental health.


Anxiety continued to come back and forth in waves for nearly a decade, some particularly bad. I finally recognised it for what it was thanks to other ballet friends who had similar stories to tell. I took medication for a while, came off it, then I went to a therapist. Over the years I made progress, but it was never going away and I felt pretty helpless at times. I felt like I couldn’t do the things I wanted and it wasn’t just at school or at work. It affected me outside too; friendships, flying, commuting, even just being in a room full of people and feeling like I couldn’t escape, I found terrifying.

Unending support and understanding

Jeanette & Jinhao anxiety
Jeanette with her boyfriend Jinhao Zhang Photo: Alex Fine

It wasn’t until after I got into my current relationship with my boyfriend that I started to feel on top of my mental health. The unending support, trust, and more deep understanding that there is much more to life has been invaluable. He has helped to remind me of my identity beyond ballet and recognise that everything will not fall apart if I’m not perfect at my job or perfect at whatever is on my to-do list.

I have small moments of anxiety, as it has not disappeared.  With this unending support I have not felt so lost or physically burdened for years now. I’ve found confidence in my ability to help myself.

I now recognise triggers and I’m able to cut off my negative, over-thinking tendencies and transforming them into self-acceptance. I can dance with much more happiness and freedom and my more positive frame of mind has been noticed by many of my friends and co-workers. I have to be mindful of it everyday but it’s making me a happier person. Best of all, I know that I am healthier and stronger for it.

Speak out about mental health

Jeanette Black Swan pas de deux
Jeanette Kakareka and Daniele Silingardi – Black Swan pas de deux
Photo Laurent Liotardo

Whatever situation dancers find themselves in, some on the complete opposite end of the spectrum than me, I encourage them to recognise their symptoms and seek help. When others help you, you can start to help yourself. Dancers’ lives are extremely complex. Most of us take on adult-level stresses at a very young age we decide our career path perhaps ten years before the average person. It is an artistic career, which brings along the ups and downs of doing something you’re passionate about and have given so much for and it is also regrettably competitive. The more we speak about mental health, the more that silent sufferers can get the help that they need. I hope that some of what I’ve told may help someone out there.

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Narcissism in ballet dancers

Narcissists are around us in all walks of life.  All performers, to a certain degree, are narcissists, otherwise they wouldn’t want to get on stage and perform to an audience.  It depends to what extent narcissism takes over as to whether or not it becomes detrimental to those around the narcissist and to the narcissist themselves. There is a wide spectrum, from low self-esteem, through healthy narcissism, to extreme narcissism.  Beyond that is a psychopath.   A narcissist is not necessarily a psychopath but a psychopath is also a narcissist.

Narcissism Nijinsky
Nijinsky as Narcissus in ‘Narcisse’

Dancers have to look at their own reflections in mirrors constantly, trying to perfect how they and  others see them. Perfectionism.  Adoration and perfectionism for their own talent and their looks is a given. as a dancer needs to know what an audience thinks of them. Where they stand in the hierarchy of the ballet class, ballet company and ballet world is very important.

Narcissistic traits and how to recognise them:

Here are the main traits of a narcissist as listed by Having all of these would probably mean the person has a Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  • Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a very strong sense of entitlement, e.g., unreasonable expectations of especially favourable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  • Is exploitative of others, e.g., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  • Lacks empathy, e.g., is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  • Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
  • Regularly shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes.

Did you recognise any of these traits in others; stars from the past and present, your director maybe, or ballet teacher, colleagues, friends, relatives, partners or even your parents?

There many high profile business people and politicians, whom I will not name, but look at the list above and fit the traits to the names.

Click here to take a narcissist test, it’s not a diagnosis but just gives you an idea of where you are on the spectrum.

Origins of Narcissism

Where does the name Narcissist come from? Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, took the name from Greek mythology about the young man, Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection and drowned trying to kiss the image of himself. Another character in the story is Echo. She is a nymph who fell in love with Narcissus, who continually spurned her love for him. Eventually she physically faded away and only her voice was heard as an Echo.

John William Waterhouse [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Are you an Echo? Do you constantly have to do someone else’s bidding, if so then this is probably a co-dependency relationship?

I will write an article about healthy narcissism at another time but please respond to me privately if you wish to talk to me about anything that you’ve read in this article.

Image and weight concerns even after retiring from dancing

Susan Marlys, retired Royal Ballet dancer, explains how her image obession stayed with her even after retiring from performing.

I feel somewhat embarrassed by my neurosis.  Is my obsession because I lived in the image conscious environment of the ballet world and should have shed the self absorption when I left?

Royal Ballet School
Susan Marlys image
Susan Marlys centre of 2nd row from the back

I went to White Lodge (Royal Ballet junior school) when I was 12 years old.  I auditioned in Canada while The Royal Ballet Company was performing in Vancouver.  Because I was not accompanied by my parents, I was appointed a guardian in England who took care of me in the various holidays during the year.

Dancing years

I was 18 when I joined the company.

Susan Marlys image Swan Lake
Susan Marlys Peasant Girl solo Act 1 Swan Lake

I retired from the company when I was 24.  The Touring Company disbanded (in 1970) and I was one of the casualties of that decision. I had no regrets leaving as the final two years in the Company were very difficult.  My husband was ill and committed suicide in May 1970, just before our final performances a month or so later.  I was offered soloist positions with London’s Festival Ballet and the Canadian National Ballet but was burned out and emotionally fragile.

New careers

It is worth mentioning that there was no transition program available to retiring dancers at that time, so my search for employment (and for a new identity) was rather haphazard.  I did a typing course, worked briefly as a secretary at Spinks & Sons, then was hired as a dancer in some of the historical series that were being filmed by the BBC and ITV. (War and Peace, The Strauss Family, Yeoman of the Guards, Katherine Mansfield).

I married again in 1972 to Yuval Zaliouk, former conductor of the RB Touring Company.  We had 2 children and in 1980 moved to the United States where he became music director of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra.  I taught dance, became an Artist in Residence with the Ohio Arts Council and was associated with The Lincoln Center Institute teaching dance in schools.

My weight concerns did not influence my choice of work.  I worked in dance because it was the only skill that I had and I was offered the opportunities because of my background with the Royal Ballet (I had no teaching experience at all though!) However, I was still working in the dance field so my body image was very important to me.

A life of not performing
Image in class
In ballet class in the Royal Ballet

It is worth noting that I was not taught any skills to adjust to life outside the protective environment of the Royal Ballet School and Company.  I had a lot of problems with my identity.  Because of my husband’s work in the international music world, I was introduced to famous soloists and conductors as a “former dancer with the Royal Ballet”.  As long as I still looked like a dancer I could cope with the social pressures.  It was important for me to keep my shape and image.

Now, years later, I still have that “appearance chip” imbedded in my brain despite circumstances having changed.  I do not teach, I have more confidence and it no longer matters what my BMI is. We have a successful family business, we travel a great deal and my life is very happy and settled.

Retired ballerina, Shirley Grahame Kershaw, explains how an injured ankle nearly ended her career

Thank you to retired ballerina, Shirley Grahame Kershaw for explaining how an ankle injury nearly ended her career, as well as a glimpse into her ballet schooling.

Royal Ballet School

From a local ballet school, Shirley Graham (her stage name) went to White Lodge from age 11, the Royal Ballet junior school.  Shirley tells me “looking back to my school days at the Royal Ballet School, although mostly happy, there was a lot of stress incurred. They expected perfection in every respect which for an eleven year old could be pretty tough.  Looking back it was very necessary.

“I can remember going home some nights crying and stressed out after a bad class. My mother told me that I didn’t have to stay if it made me so unhappy.  I said through my tears that I wanted to dance and knew that was the best place to be.

Humiliation in Class
Ballerina Shirley GrahameAct 2 Lac
Shirley Grahame
Swan Lake Act 2

“An incident that has stayed in my mind was when I fell over in a pirouette and the teacher laughed! I felt humiliated and useless. I’m sure she didn’t mean to be unkind but that was how it felt at the time. Suffice to say after that I dreaded pirouettes and this never left me for the whole of my career.

“As a teacher I was very aware of the above points and always tried not to fall into the same trap!! I have seen a number students whose spirit has been broken in this way and haven’t had any support. 

Famous teachers

Shirley then listed for me the teachers that had taught as a student and through her career: 

Miss Edwards (Vera Fedorova) Diaghilev Co.,  Leonide Massine, Mdme Kasavina, Mdme Messerer, MdmeTchernichava, Serge Grigoriev (Fokine’s ballet master), VassilieTrunoff, Harold Turner, Mdme Volkova, Dame Ninette De Valois.

Quite an impressive line up of teachers.

Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet – Injury

At 17, Shirley joined The Sadlers Wells Royal Ballet (SWRB) and after 3 years became a principal in the company.

“I had a bad foot injury whilst in SWRB and was suffering for over a year. After many consultations with the SWRB surgeon who was unable to diagnose the problem was told that maybe, from a psychological point of view, I didn’t want to dance any more!!!

Ballerina Shirley Grahame Beauty Act1
Shirley Grahame
Sleeping Beauty Act 1

“My director said he had heard of a surgeon in Denmark who was interested in treating dancers and had great success with treating them. My director suggested I go and see the Danish surgeon and within ten minutes of seeing him he had diagnosed the problem and I had successful surgery the following day.

“On returning to London, the SWRB surgeon, having read the report, said it was a lot of nonsense, and again intimated that I unconsciously probably didn’t want to dance again!  Suffice to say I never had any more problems.

“I had no support during this time and had begun to think it was all in my mind. Looking back I needed someone to talk to and share my worries with. My career could easily have been cut short by ten years. The worst thing was seeing other dancers taking over my roles when I was at an all time low.

It is so important that dancers get the support when at the time that they need it.

Shirley remained with SWRB company until she joined London’s Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet).  I had the pleasure of working with Shirley as her “Manager” to her “Street Dancer” in “Le Beau Danube” (Leonide Massine 1970)  during her time in London’s Festival Ballet. 

Moving on to teaching

After a year in the company she retired from performing and set up a ballet school with Dame Merle Park.  Over the years Shirley became ballet mistress at the Royal Ballet junior School, teaching around the world for The Royal Academy of Dance and teaching at Rambert School of Dance in London.

Realising your Gifted Potential

Gifted potential

children with potential
Ballet children

Each child is born with a unique range and combination of gifts, traits, skills and talents. This is the basis for their potential. Each attribute or skill can be positive or negative depending on how it is nurtured. If a child shows a particular talent then it is common for parents and society to expect that child to excel and pursue that talent to the highest level. But that is not the whole child.

One dimensional individual

ballet students showing their potential
Ballet students

In pursuing one talented dimension we are often overlooking many others and thus create a monochrome individual rather than a well-rounded individual who has made their own commitment to their particular skills or talents. This can lead to burn-out, depression and many other disorders that prevent someone achieving their potential in life holistically as a whole and balanced person. This is what we all need to find in our lives, balance, harmony, inner peace, motivation that arises naturally and joyfully, commitment and determination that is measured against quality of life.

Insidious narcissistic parenting

Sometimes parents want to make up for what they see as their own lack of opportunity and realised potential and they look for this in their children. They can convince themselves that it is for the child because they want to make sure their child does not lack the support that perhaps they didn’t have. But sometimes their real aim is to gain vicarious success through the child/children.  This is an insidious form of narcissism which does not recognise the child’s own needs at all.  It instead projects the parents own inner issues onto the child and then channel their life into this apparently easily controlled and manipulated object, their child.  This with a layer of guilt icing, saying look what I gave up for you, look what I do for you, you would be nothing without me. If any of those phrases feel even slightly familiar then this is probably part of your make up. It can be changed, fixed, undone and remedied.

Setting your ego aside for peak experience

Principal ballerina potential achieved

When you can come at a goal or challenge with love, excitement and enjoyment in your heart, your mind will find it easy to overcome the challenges that go along with it.  You won’t be fighting against yourself to force something, it will flow from you and be all the better for it. Our ego gets in the way at the best of times and a damaged ego can be the most destructive thing to possess. When you really soar your ego drops away, your mind stills and it is just you and the talent you are expressing.  It is almost as if it flows through you and is not from you directly.  It is just expressing itself through your body and your mind and your skills and experience. This is called flow or peak experience.  It occurs when someone truly is able to let go of all the agendas and burdens they carry and fly with their potential becoming manifest.

Embracing failure

Failing is one of the most crucial parts of learning to excel too, because fear of failure can paralyse you. So facing failure, embracing failure, making it your friend will enable you to go through that too. Failure allows you to learn how not to do things, how not to force yourself but rather to allow and encourage yourself to excel.

Thank you

to my friend Sylvia Clare for writing this article which she took from her book Releasing Your Child’s Potential (200).

Sylvia Clare runs mindfulness retreats.  Prior to that she has had academic papers published and taught in academia, written columns in newspapers and magazines and was a psychological therapist for 22 years.

Sylvia’s books are:

Trusting your Intuition, Living the Life you want, Raising the Successful child, Releasing your Child’s Potential, Heaven Sent Parents