As mental-health awareness around dance is becoming more recognised I thought it might be quite fitting to talk with someone whom has huge knowledge, experience and passion in this field. Terry Hyde is an ex member of the Royal Ballet and is now a psychotherapist. He has set up the website www.counsellingfordancers.com. yes he really does exist, how fortunate are we to have not only a qualified psychotherapist to help us, but someone who has been a dancer themselves working across many areas in the performing arts industry?
Terry started ballet classes at the age of 6, at 10 he was awarded a 5 year scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dance in London, later attending the Royal Ballet senior school. At 18 he joined the Royal Ballet and then moved to London’s Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet) as a soloist. After 5 years, he moved to musical theatre, performing in London’s West End, Film and TV.
Terry showed promise as a dancer from the early age of 6. His mum took him to his first ballet classes. At 10 years old Terry then won a scholarship to go the RAD and then joined the RBS as a senior.
Part way through Terry’s third year he was approached by the director of the Royal Ballet and asked him to join the company for a season on tour. The role was for a specific part and because of the rep classes that were taken at the Royal Ballet School, Terry knew all the rep so was put into all the different ballets. At the end of the tour the company were going to America but had cast all their dancers already.
Although Terry couldn’t go, the company asked Terry to join them permanently when they got back. Terry then went onto perform with the company for a few years.
Terry then joined London’s Festival Ballet, now known as The English National Ballet, as a soloist for another few years. He then wanted to talk and sing, so left the classical ballet world when he was offered a place in a touring company performing ‘West Side Story.’
Terry has also performed extensively in the West end & on TV. While Terry was in the West End show ‘Billy’, the story of Billy Liar, Terry had an idea to create t-shirts for the show, this was in 1973 and was a new concept in the UK. Terry then started a business called ‘Show shirts’.
Once Terry had retired he set up a business management company to look after people in show business, not as their agent but as a business manager. He looked after their finances.
Terry worked with high profile names, jobbing dancers, actors and actresses. He also looked after lighting designers and designers, word got around and people trusted Terry, he had been in the business as a performer himself so his clients were able to relate to him.
Through his business Terry found that his clients wanted to open up to him, this lead Terry to study psychotherapy where he successfully obtained an MA in Psychotherapy. It was only in 2017 that Terry put his two passions together and became a mental health practitioner for dancers, setting up his website, ‘Counselling for Dancers’.
What challenges did you face as a dancer ?
My best man was the stage manager of the touring section at The Royal Ballet. He said now is the time for you to look elsewhere. This was because the Royal Ballet Touring section, the company I was working for was about to merge with the Royal Ballet Covent Garden. There wasn’t going to be enough roles and performances at Covent Garden, so I, like a number of others, left the company. I felt like I needed to be in control.
There is so much control that is needed for dancers, we need control of our weight, our shape, when we are training we are told this is wrong, that is wrong and so we create that control and that need for perfectionism. This is when mental-health issues such as anorexia and eating disorders can take hold.
I decided that I had enough control in my life and left the company and went to London’s Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet)
From then on everything started to happen for me, the way I dealt with it then unknowingly was that I used the “mind in the heart not the mind in the head”.
How do you help dancers ?
I understand performers, I find most of them to be negative and sensitive. Their sensitivity brings in the negativity.
I look at their childhood to see how they were brought up.
This gives me an idea of how their personalities have been formed
There may be traumas, which doesn’t necessarily have to have happened to them, it is something the client could have witnessed as a third party, it can still affect them.
I also look at dreams, the unconscious is always trying to tell you something. We talk through dreams. The unconscious is chaos so it will come out as chaos but will link to you and your personality.
How long does it take to help someone?
It depends upon the individual. I had a client who was booked for six sessions by his employers however after the fourth he said he didn’t need any more therapy. I also have a client that I have worked over 10 years. She now only sees me once every three months, she had severe OCD severe obsessional thoughts and came to see me after being discharged from a psychiatric unit, so quite a few mental health issues.
There are many people that have issues for years but they have had it for so long that they think it is part of them and that it is normal, they then see this as their identity. So what happens when that identity is taken away from them? They become better. The fear is they don’t know who they will become if they can’t identify with the illness. Their identity is their illness.
I suppose a lot of people can be stuck in the past how do you help them with this?
You accept and learn from it. This will help you to be more mindful in the future .
What is the most common challenge mentally within the dance industry?
That the performer feels that they are not good enough.
Dancers constantly compare themselves to others, for example, thinking they are not the right shape, this then goes into perfectionism and if they can’t control that, they control their eating which can then lead to anorexia.
Do you see a lot of people with eating disorders?
Yes, even ones who have gone through the NHS eating disorders system.
You mentioned before that dancers are sensitive do you think that leaves us susceptible to mental health issues?
Yes but also to criticism and situations that are out of our control. You can look up on line “am I a highly sensitive person?” (HSP). The websites will give you a score from a test to tell you and I bet there would be a high number of dancers that would get a high score, because they are artistic.
I guess we have to be in touch with our emotions so that we are able to connect easily when performing but when faced with rejection, we have to disconnect from those feelings?
Yes absolutely. Injury can also create mental health issues. Dancers need to dance, they need to express themselves, so when they see others dancing their roles due to injury its very difficult for them, they also may be worried that they may never dance again. So they feel that they are not a dancer anymore. They have nothing to identify with.
I guess that’s why if you build a positive mindset it will make all the difference. I talk about the importance of a positive mindset in my book and it seems that you also had the same attitude when you were training/performing. If you believe you can you will?
Yes, I did this unconsciously, however along the way I have picked up a lot of negative things that I didn’t realise until I started to train as a psychotherapist.
It sounds like we all need a therapy session?
Yes I would advocate everyone should have therapy. However I feel that stigma prevents us from doing this.
We have seen a lot of coverage about the trauma that soldiers suffer (PTSD), however they feel that they won’t be understood so don’t talk .
I did a post on Instagram where one day we will talk about going to the therapist just as we talk about going to the gym. They do more so in America than they do here.
Can I go back to perfectionism in dance?
How do we maintain the balance?
You need to try and look at yourself as an individual, that you are not competing with anyone else, you are competing with yourself. The individual needs to realise what is attainable and what is unattainable and aim for the attainable. The perfectionist carries it too far to the unattainable and that is when it becomes the extreme. Extreme eating, extreme practice, over rehearsing, then injuries happen because you are tired.
It is hard to find that balance though isn’t it?
Yes but you need to be mindful and each dancer needs to ask themselves what can I attain what is beyond my limits? It maybe what is beyond my limits at the moment so you can work in stages as you are trying to improve yourself.
We are asked to be the top of our game so many of us take it to the extreme why is this not good?
If you’re eating to a minimal extreme you are worried about going out to eat. If you are doing too many classes and spending hours rehearsing you are not going to have an outside life, so you then have a very narrow outlook on life.
Then it becomes obsessive?
Yes, and that’s the control. So in therapy its getting someone to talk through and to gently challenge them in a way that’s not a cross examination. There are certain ways of approaching the questioning I ask questions to help. It’s called softening and slowly the client will come around, maybe not straight away, as they are still fixated on their old way of thinking. Most of the work is actually done by the client in between sessions, so they start to see things from a different perspective.
What would you implement into our dance training to help dancers in the industry?
I would like to see in all dance companies and in all vocational colleges at least one person having done a mental health first aid course (UK) so that someone can recognise when a person has an emotional issue. So someone is there to signpost the individual to go for help. They would also be trained what to say and just as importantly, what not to say. I have a client who has got over anorexia, however her parents denied to themselves that she had it. The weight was going down she was over exercising but they still couldn’t see it. She had to go to hospital under the care of a psychiatric unit. The parents were away a lot of the time. She couldn’t talk to her mum, as she was a busy professor and her father was away a lot of the time. A wealthy family that gave her gifts and money to replace them not being around.
So in the companies and colleges I would like to see support from at least one person. Then it goes beyond that my book which I am in the process of writing ‘The mental health self care for dancers’ will give some pointers about not only noticing it in yourself but noticing it in others. There was recently a hash tag on Instagram, #asktwice, it’s the second time of asking “how are you” that’s important and its small things like this, that make all the difference.
What advice can you give to dancers that find it difficult to deal with rejection?
To reassure them that they are unique and that their uniqueness was not needed on that job. Choreographers and directors can be fickle for instance if someone needs replacing in a show it could be for many reasons such as they are not going to fit in a costume as well as the person next to them. You may not fit what they are looking for, not what they have in their vision doesn’t matter how talented a dancer you are.
What advice would you give dancers that are about to embark on their careers?
Once again realise your own uniqueness, that is a must, realise your own talent and abilities. It’s no good trying to fit in to what other people want, you are you. Of course they should buy your book as well!
What advice would you give to dancers that are in the midst of their careers and have lost motivation and are not working?
Listen to what’s happening, there is a reason why something might not be working, why is that? Is it stamina, have they lost their technique? Maybe it’s time to think about doing something else, this industry is not for everyone.
A story to end………..
I auditioned for chorus line when it first came to London and we had three months of auditions, in that time we learnt the whole show, we had to learn everything and it whittled down to one and a half casts. I was then asked to come in to do an audition with script and song. In this same audition Michael Edwards the director and choreographer of the show flew in from America for the audition but wanted to see everyone dance. I didn’t bring my dance gear. I was up for the part of the Puerto Rican and was asked to dance, even though it was a singing audition. I was rubbish in thick-soled outdoor shoes. “Thank you very much” and was asked to leave. I saw all the other dancers standing in the wings and they were in disbelief as walked off stage. My agent then sent me to do a cabaret in Italy for six weeks, the first week I was there my agent called me up and said Chorus Line wanted me in the show. So I asked my agent to call them and tell them I know the show, there was another week after I got back so I could do the week’s rehearsal, they said no they wanted me there now and I couldn’t do it. After that I did one more Television shows and then retired from performing. In hindsight I realised that the Universe was working with me, had I got into the show I believe I would have suffered more but realising there is a bigger picture as to why things are happen will always help you through.
Thoughts from Terry………..
Follow the mind in your heart not the mind in your head….
The gut is the second brain. The signals from the gut go to the brain and tell it what it needs to do. So always go with your gut feeling.
I am a psychotherapist/counsellor registered with the BACP and abide by their Ethical Framework for Good Practice.
I carry out sessions on Skype (UK and worldwide), phone (UK) and face to face in Brighton and Hove, Southampton and the Isle of Wight.
I offer a 10% discount off my fees for One Dance UK members.
Please go to my website https://www.counsellingfordancers.com for a description of the way I work and the conditions/issues that I could help you with.