An ensemble raises their arms together and bows, and it’s the last time they’ll do so for this particular program. An audience claps for a site-specific work as it concludes, and it’s the last audience that will. Dancers on a set hear the director announce “that’s a wrap!”, and it’s the last time they’ll do so for this particular project.
There might be a celebration after, there might not be. Dancers in the cast may have work on the horizon, they may not. Some will experience an emotional rollercoaster: complex feelings of joy and accomplishment, but also sadness that it’s done and perhaps anxieties around what’s next for them. If those dancers encounter such feelings, they are in no way alone; it’s the very common “post-show blues”. Finishing a job in the performing arts is hard – period.
We explore this phenomenon (what it is and what causes it), tips for managing it, and ways that the dance world as a whole can make it easier. We talk with NYC-based artist Danielle Marie Fusco, Dance/Movement Therapist Cashel Campbell (MS, LCAT, BC-DMT), and Mental Performance Coach Dr. Chelsea Pierotti. Both empirically-backed dance psychology and real-life experience will have a lot to tell us. Let’s chassé right in!
The post-show blues: the what and why
How can we define this phenomenon of “the post-show blues”? Broadly speaking, it’s the challenging feelings that arise when a show closes or a project wraps. It can include nostalgia for what the experience was, grief from it ending, uncertainty and confusion about what is next. Yet there’s no cookie-cutter definition of what the “post-show blues” is like; interestingly, Fusco, Campbell, and Pierotti all describe a somewhat different experience of it.
Fusco’s post-show emotional landscape has even changed as she’s gotten older. As a young dancer, she recognized how short-lived a performing career is and how much work it takes to get there. She wanted all of it that she could get; “it’s like an adrenaline rush….almost feels like an addiction.”
These days, it’s more about remaining connected with who she fundamentally is; “as I evolve into a seasoned artist reaching thirty-eight years old, the journey, the performance…it is an expression of the truth of who I am. When it is over and I return to the mundane survival jobs, it’s like returning to a lie….it is a deep grief,” she shares.
For one, we can start to see that our feelings – while completely valid – aren’t necessarily facts.
Campbell describes a “hunger” with her post-show experience. Literally speaking, she feels physically hungry; we know how challenging it can be to properly fuel oneself during a busy performance run. Yet, on a deeper level, there’s an emotional and even spiritual hunger for her: a void, a depletion, a significant sadness.
At the same time, she’s seen fellow dancers present emotions “opposite to what [she’s] experienced”: joy and sincere gratitude for the performing experience, for example. That’s not to say that those feelings haven’t been real for those dancers. Yet Campbell also notes that “performers have an innate ability to mask what’s really going on with us…the mask that we wear in character carries over.”
Dr. Pierotti says that her experience of the “post-show blues” has actually been more about relationships with fellow dancers ending – particularly when company seasons close and certain colleagues and friends move on to other opportunities. “When you go through something with people, when people are in the trenches with you, it’s hard to walk away from that,” she notes.
Many readers have likely experienced what she’s describing – how going through rigorous experiences together (for example, a company season, show, or film shoot) can make incredibly strong bonds. Dr. Pierotti describes how she recently found a notebook that she kept as a young dancer, during one summer program. She noticed that she wrote a good deal more about her friends there than about the dance training. When one reflects back on times dancing, they truly “might realize that a lot of it is about the people” with whom we do it, she affirms.
Strategies for coping with the emotional rollercoaster: stepping forward with a smile
Those performer bonds do come with, and from, wonderful things: laughter, joy, and genuine connection. Incredible memories blossom. Dr. Pierotti notes that as a performer, she tried to focus on that, the fact that those things happened, rather than sadness that they’re ending. In cases of “post-show blues,” first recognize that what you’re experiencing is very common and normal, she advises. Then, work at reframing your thoughts: shifting to a mindset such as “I’m a stronger artist for having had this performing experience, and I’m grateful for it.”
Dr. Pierotti underscores the benefits of being intentional and concrete with such tools and strategies. Another structured tool that she suggests is to write about your time performing in this particular show or project: lessons you’ve learned and special memories, for instance. “The memories won’t go away if you get them down [in writing],” she reminds us. Writing also helps to externalize our feelings, which allows us to see them with a clearer perspective.
Whatever emotions come, try not to censor them, Dr. Pierotti also counsels. Recognizing these emotions for what they are can bring some profound and meaningful understandings. For one, we can start to see that our feelings – while completely valid – aren’t necessarily facts.
When one reflects back on times dancing, they truly “might realize that a lot of it is about the people” with whom we do it.
Talking about our “post-show” experiences with people going through them with us can also be quite helpful, Dr. Pierotti notes. That can facilitate sharing memories, processing, and deciding what should come with you into the future (more on finding closure in the concluding section of the article).
Campbell also advises starting with recognizing feelings for what they are, and normalizing them. Finishing a job as a dancer can bring grief – and that’s not something to rush. See the whole span of time that a certain project might have been part of your life, Campbell advises – which can start from the very inception of its fundamental idea or concept. All of that can create quite a void! “Acknowledge the weight of what’s now gone and all that you put into it,” she adds.
At the same time, Campbell suggests, accept the inevitable nature of change. It will happen, even in ourselves day by day, she believes. “It helps to be able to see the change and have gratitude for it….to zoom out [in that way].” Campbell also believes that meditation can help to gain that sort of perspective – especially for dancers, who are so focused on doing that it can feel like a struggle to simply be.
Just being present, versus having to achieve or prove anything, can be a powerful tool: for insight, for healing, for integrating oneself (body, mind, and spirit), and more. For one, we can “manage our expectations of control,” Campbell notes. Connecting back with oneself through mindfulness practices can also help us to see all that we are beyond “dancer”.
That can certainly be a challenging inner process, but also a tremendously fruitful one. “Embrace the perilousness of learning to be yourself,” Campbell advises. When we can do that, there is so much more to experience and to appreciate than any particular performing experience (in this context, that may just have ended). For helpful tools on the meditation journey, Campbell recommends meditation apps such as InsightTimer, Balance, and UCLA Mindful.
A process-driven perspective, rather than one that’s outcome-oriented, can lay the foundation for closing a performing experience.
Fusco describes what’s been helpful for easing her post-performance blues: in short, keeping at the work, from creative to logistical and practical aspects. She finds inspiration for artistic work from all corners of life, journals about choreographic ideas and concepts that come to her, and uses her teaching partly as a laboratory for such ideas.
“I keep a vision of creating new work always in sight,” she shares. To lay tracks for realizing those visions, during periods between shows and projects she also keeps auditioning and attending to the business end of a performance career. Those periods of time could be when you plant the seed for your next project – so save your notes and footage, Fusco also recommends.
Keep your “body, mind, and spirit sharp” by continuing to train and hone your technique, she adds. For her, keeping this creative fire alive is sustaining and nourishing in those times following projects ending. “The way that I cope is to never give up, to find creativity in all that I do.” The question of “what next?” then can be an exciting rather than scary one.
Systemic changes in the dance world to make finishing a job easier
Much of the work of managing the “post-show blues” is personal, yet the dance world at large can make structural, systemic changes so that the experience stings less. Fusco, for her part, believes that fostering dance career longevity can ease the post-show experience; if there are more opportunities to perform, the weight of any singular opportunity ending can feel lighter.
She also suggests more education on the business side of a dance career, more building of tools and skills for sustained creative growth, and more mentorship with dance artists who’ve had a longer-term career in the field. “The dance career does not need to be short-lived…I think that we need to rethink the whole artist: what that means and how that applies to the twenty-first century,” Fusco argues.
Dr. Pierotti and Campbell also believe that closure, and making it structured, can make a big difference. That could be a formal wrap party, a more informal gathering, or anything that a group of performers decides would serve them. “Make it yourself if there isn’t something formal happening,” Dr. Pierotti advises. She advocates for normalizing such closure, formal or informal, beyond the “life milestone” events that we’re used to holding (such as graduating from a high school and therefore leaving a dance studio).
Campbell suggests a community “recap and grounding” after a performance experience, even guided by a professional facilitator. That can help us “go back into the body’s wisdom,” and for the body to ground and close, she says. “I’ve found that the biggest source of power and change in my life is to listen to the wisdom that was always there,” Campbell affirms: the wisdom within ourselves and within us collectively, in community.
As something for both individuals and the larger dance world to consider, it can also help to manage expectations for what will happen in any particular experience before it even starts, Dr. Pierotti says. That can be adjusting one’s definition of success in the work ahead, and entering an experience with a mindset of “I’m going into this open to whatever happens.”
A process-driven perspective, rather than one that’s outcome-oriented, can lay the foundation for closing a performing experience with that grateful “I grew and I made relationships” outlook that she describes. That’s one positive thing among many that more robust mental health supports for dancers, at every stage of their journey, can foster. “You just can’t care about dancer mental health when the show’s over…it won’t feel genuine,” Dr. Pierotti asserts. Dance and mental health is an intersection that we all, collectively, can attend to more often and more comprehensively.
If that “post-show blues” emotional roller coaster does come for a visit, Fusco recommends seeking support and “exploring ways to expand yourself…you are resilient!” Campbell advises sharing the work that you did and how you’re feeling. Sadness and self-judgment thrive in silence and darkness – so “don’t hide,” Campbell encourages.