Neurotic Perfectionism and Dance

By Katie Weinstein

Dancing is proven to lower rates of anxiety and depression as well as increase self-confidence and provide opportunities for social interaction. However, the competitive dance field creates an environment that promotes neurotic perfectionism, causing dancers to lose their love for dance. While perfectionism is what enables dancers to strive towards meeting their goals and working hard, neurotic perfectionism is when people set unreasonable expectations for themselves and feel shame when they do not achieve their goal. Neurotic perfectionism can lead to disordered eating, anxiety, substance abuse and depression.

Dancers feel that there is no excuse for not landing the part or not getting attention from their teacher besides lack of effort, so dancers spend hours perfecting their mistakes and comparing themselves to others in the mirror, fostering an incredibly competitive environment and causing dancers to become overly critical of their bodies and skills. Instead of focusing on the positive and creating opportunities from mistakes, dancers expect every movement to be perfect and are overly self-critical when this isn’t the case. Additionally, dancers compete with other people for their next paycheck, so they end up setting super high expectations that are nearly impossible to achieve, wishing they could get their leg up higher or look thinner than everyone else in the room. They often think that if they are not casted, they might not be able to afford to pay rent or buy groceries. Dancers end up pushing themselves too far, and often end up with insomnia from nervousness and injured because of burnout. This can even lead dancers to self-medicate so that their injuries are off the record, leading to substance abuse.

Some signs of neurotic perfectionism include setting unrealistic expectations, feeling shame or guilt and overemphasizing the final product, but underemphasizing the process. It is important to change your thought patterns so that you are not overly critical and can set realistic goals for yourself.

If you or someone you know is experiencing neurotic perfectionism, please contact our psychotherapy offices in New York or New Jersey to talk to one of our licensed professional psychologists, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, or psychotherapists at Arista Counseling & Psychotherapy. Contact our Paramus, NJ or Manhattan, NY offices respectively, at (201) 368-3700 or (212) 722-1920 to set up an appointment. For more information, please visit


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