About Finding Balance

Finding Balance Rasies Provocative Issues for Artists and Those Who Care for Them

Audiences see the perfect balance of youth, beauty, and movement on the dance stage. They are oblivious to dancers whose ideal bodies result from eating disorders or whose movements are underscored with injury and pain. Bellingham writer, critic, and educator Gigi Berardi's new book, Finding Balance: Fitness, Training, and Health for a Lifetime in Dance (Routledge Publishers)  shows dancers of all ages and art forms how to examine perfectionist tendencies and learn to work with physical limitations and realistic goal-setting. Berardi presents programs that are based in dance science and have enabled dancers to excel at performance, avoid chronic and debilitating injury, and prolong their careers (or start them, in the case of young dancers!). In easy and understandable language, Finding Balance presents the most up-to-date information on injury, injury treatment, somatic practices like Pilates, fitness regimens, and diet and health and addresses questions such as:

  • Why doesn't "practice make perfect"?
  • How is pain a warning sign for injury?
  • How are mistakes a critical part of learning?
  • How can artists work with physical and mental ("performance anxiety") limitations?
  • Which health practice to choose – Pilates? GYROTONIC? Yoga? Alexander Technique? Feldenkrais?
  • Which physical therapy to choose – modes and modalities (exercises) or manual (manipulation) therapy?
  • Why is the practitioner one chooses more important than the actual practice?
  • How does the science of dance inform the art?
  • How is cutting calories counterproductive to weight control?

In the first edition of this book (published by Princeton Book Company, Publishers, 1991), Berardi wrote about the off-balance world of professional dance and dance training and how to change it. Critics hailed her Finding Balance for its understandable language in "setting a precedent for a new standard in health in dance," and for taking issue with "those who would arbitrarily dismiss dancers who have reached a certain age." And, in Dance Teacher Now, "Once in a while a book comes along which makes me wish I had written it—such a book is Finding Balance. It is highly recommended for anyone teaching or learning."

In this second edition – almost completely rewritten – Berardi writes how few professional sports can compare with the demands that dance places on the body. Dancers, moreover, feel great cultural pressure to conform to an idealized look, particularly in classical ballet. Yet of the millions of dance students and tens of thousands of semi-professional dancers in the United States, few have an ideal dancer’s body. Even among professional dancers, the ideal physique is rare. In attempting to compensate, a young dancer’s greatest risk of injury is at puberty, just as the intensity of dance training and performing increases and normal bodily changes are undermining the ideal image of the thin, coordinated, flexible dancer.

Berardi writes that the adolescence student is inundated by messages of perfectionism, particularly an ideal look; depression, a sense of hopelessness, and loss of self-esteem may result.  Bad habits such as restrictive eating or overworking also may result. Studies abound documenting how preadolescent girls give up their individuality, especially in professional dance. The young dancer needs to develop coping skills. Boys, too, do not pass through this period unscathed. They, too, need role models for building self-esteem and their own unique identities.

In Finding Balance, Berardi relates stories of the most goal-oriented and persistent dancers, who fall by the wayside only to reemerge triumphant: the New York City Ballet soloist who gained 40 pounds, left in disgrace, but eventually returned to become a principal dancer; the electrical engineer who started dancing at age 23 and now performs with the Martha Graham Dance Company; the young dancer who faced near-amputation of her foot and now dances again.  How did they persevere? By learning to accept and work with their limitations, and applying a scientific perspective to training and injury treatment. These artists recognize the realities of the profession -- physical demands, work schedules, a general obsession with youth and perfection, but refuse to be limited by them.

Although the first version of the book was geared towards professional dancers and students, as well as teachers, the audience for this second edition has been widened to include arts students of all ages, their families, and others in the health professions who care for them. Indeed, this book is intended for all who have ever faced a physical, emotional, or psychological problem as they aspired to find a place in the world of the arts. It is based on the view that making decisions on how artists train, how they rehabilitate from injuries, how they condition themselves, and how they focus on goal-setting and attainment all are part of a lifelong learning process.

This second edition contains over 100 new photographs of Bellingham and Seattle artists and health practitioners, taken by former Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Angela Sterling. With hundreds of references on evidence-based research, Finding Balance presents an optimistic challenge to dancers to take charge, and enjoy a long and healthy career, as well as information that is relevant to the non-dancer -- to any student who’s faced obstacles in study and practice. As Francia Russell, co-artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet, writes in the foreword,  "Far too much has been written about the perils of a career in dance with little description of the rewards of being a dancer. It is, therefore, difficult to overstate how valuable this volume is..."