DANCERS often have to move away from home to further their studies or obtain employment. Particularly in Australia, moving interstate or travelling overseas is quite a common experience.
While dancing far away from home might be seen as quite glamorous, in reality, moving to a new city or country presents a range of challenges for which a dancer is not always prepared. And it is not just dance students who have to cope with being away from home – many professional dancers have to follow the well-worn audition paths across Europe and North America.
Dancers of all ages can feel very homesick when faced with such a change. Moving away from home means entering a new, unfamiliar and possibly unfriendly environment. It requires you having to adapt to new routines and meet new people, and takes you far away from your friends, family and support networks. Furthermore, you are expected to manage all of this while striving to improve your dancing with new teachers and possibly new techniques. In some cases you may even have to learn a new language!
Dancers can feel homesick even if they’ve lived away from home before. Many factors can contribute, such as:
* How far away the new location is (i.e. Melbourne versus London).
* A sense of disappointment or anticlimax at finally arriving at your destination after working towards it for so long.
* Whether the decision to move was what you wanted, rather than what people expected you to want.
* Unhappiness if your expectations aren’t met.
* Anxiety and/or stress if the training is more demanding than you are used to.
* Problems with personal situations back at home (e.g. family members who are not well or happy).
* Sadness, anxiety and/or anger if the new lifestyle is significantly different compared to your old, more familiar one.
* Possible guilt for enjoying yourself and your new life so much that you don’t miss home as much as you think you should.
You can help yourself through homesickness in a number of ways.
* Maintain regular contact with family and friends – you can do this through email, phone and the internet (such as Facebook and MySpace). Make use of cheap options such as Webmail or Skype.
* Make contact with “friends of friends” – get their details before you leave home and have your friend introduce you via email or phone before you arrive.
* Involve yourself in activities that you enjoy outside your dancing – this is often a great way to meet new people with similar interests.
* Look after yourself. Make sure that you’re eating well and getting enough sleep – it is important that you are both emotionally and physically fit enough to deal with all the changes.
* Make sure you have the contact details of a qualified professional (such as a psychologist) to whom you can chat should you start to significantly struggle with homesickness. This contact could be virtual (such as by email or phone to someone back home) and/or with a local professional – which may be a service provided by your new school or employer.
* Remind yourself of why you are where you are. Coming home might ease your stress in the short-term, but possibly create greater stress, upset and disappointment in the longer-term.
* Remind yourself that homesickness is very common in anyone who moves away from home – from professional dance artists, to elite athletes, to people serving in the army.
Teachers and parents can also help young dancers cope with homesickness.
* Include the topic of homesickness as part of the dancer’s preparation for moving away – often, feelings of apprehension about the move can occur weeks before the move.
* Normalise the feelings of homesickness by identifying some of the feelings dancers might experience (such as sadness, sense of loss, loneliness, anxiety and minor physical ailments such as headaches or stomach-aches). Make sure that dancers can recognise these symptoms and know how to deal with them.
* Visit their child or pupil, especially within the first six months.
The best way to beat homesickness is to ensure that you prepare for it, recognise it if you do experience it, and do something about it straight away. You have control over your brain and therefore what any new experience means to you – so choose to view homesickness as a reminder of just how many people support you, care about you and want to see you be successful in your new life.
Dr Gene Moyle is an ex-ballet dancer turned psychologist working for the Australian Institute of sport, as the Sport Psychology Coordinator at the Queensland Academy of Sport, and with performing artists and elite athletes in her private practice. She lectures in Performance Psychology at QUT Creative Industries – Dance and additionally works as an organisational psychologist in the corporate business sector within Australian and overseas.