Samantha Parr, Archie Williams High school Junior, leaps into talking about mental health in dance

Beauty. Grace. Perfection. When dance comes to mind, these adjectives often do as well. Despite the elegance that is associated with dance, mental health struggles are not an anomaly among those who participate in the seemingly innocent sport. Samantha Parr, a junior at Archie William’s high school, is a ballet student at Stapleton Ballet School of the Arts. Parr is also the founder of Dancer for Dancer (D4D), an organization that brings awareness to prevalent issues in the dance community. 

Parr’s objective in founding D4D was to build a community that openly discusses and spreads awareness about the common obstacles dancers face within their community.

Smiling for a headshot, Dancer for Dancer founder, youth activist and dancer, Samantha Parr. Photo courtesy of Samantha Parr.

Although D4D is mainly focused on mental health, their discussions also include topics such as body image, racism, LGBTQ+, perfectionism and, more recently, COVID-19 restrictions. Additionally, Parr has created an online presence with an Instagram account and website for D4D. 

“The main reason I started [D4D] was because I had a lot of experience moving around the dance community through competitions and [ballet] intensives. [I was] being exposed to the intricacies of the dance world along with some levels of toxicity within [the community]. I noticed that a lot of dancers were struggling with things that weren’t talked about enough, mainly [regarding] mental health in dance,” Parr said.

Parr began the organization by holding her first Zoom meeting on July 10, 2020, with a total of 10 attendees. Since then, D4D has grown into a vibrant community with over 300 dancers representing 52 different countries and 250 ballet studios worldwide. On Feb 21, 2021, D4D held a question and answer Zoom call with Casimere Jollete, a star cast member of the Netflix TV series, “Tiny Pretty Things,” a fictional show focused on ballet and the competitiveness within the industry.

“On that Zoom call there were over 250 dancers from across the world. [Jollette] has a pretty wide audience, so [when] she shared [the Zoom call] with her followers, [D4D] gained a larger following.

Dancer for Dancer holds it first international zoom meeting with representatives from five different countries. Photo courtesy of Samantha Parr.

Expanding internationally also allowed us to grow and reach different communities,” Parr said. 

D4D has reached members of the Redwood community such as sophomore Samantha Teree, who agrees that mental health in dance is not being discussed as frequently as it should be. Teree, a Just Dance Academy dancer, attended a D4D meeting focused on body image and mental health.

“It was nice hearing what everyone [at the D4D meeting] thought. I think [mental health in dance] should be talked about more because at dance we don’t really talk about it much,” said Teree.

Redwood graduate and former Stapleton dancer, Kathleen Gao, has also attended some of Parr’s meetings. Gao is currently pursuing ballet professionally with the New Ballet Studio of San Jose. She danced with Parr for a couple of years and decided to attend her first D4D meeting to support her. The meeting discussed body image and its prevalence in the dance industry with a focus on mirrors and how too much time in front of the mirror often equates to dancers critiquing not only their technique, but also their appearance.

“[In the meeting], we talked a lot about mirrors and how [a dancer] can use the mirror as a tool to fix their technique, rather than something that is harmful. We also talked about [our] personal experiences with negative body image and what some teachers may say to make you uncomfortable about the way you look,” Gao said. 

Balancing at the barre, Samantha Parr demonstrates a signature ballet move, an arabesque.

Since starting D4D, Parr has held a total of 15 meetings, six of which focused on body image. Parr is providing a platform for dancers to speak about both negative and positive experiences in maintaining a good relationship with self-image. 

“[Parr] is trying to change people’s mindset around body image. Instead of saying, ‘Body image is a really hard [topic] for dancers [to talk about],’ [Parr] said ‘How can we change our mindset around body image so that it can be less of a problem in society?’” Gao said.

Thus far, Parr has recruited 26 regional ambassadors located around the globe and in order to spread the word about D4D. Ambassadors are encouraged to invite at least two friends to every meeting to further expand the community. 

Jaime Cole, a Stapleton ballet dancer and senior at San Rafael High School, was one of D4D’s first ambassadors. Having also grown up in the dance community, Cole understands the relevance of discussing such topics. 

“A lot of people don’t feel there is an appropriate time to talk about [mental health in dance], and [Parr], by doing these Zoom calls, is creating a time where it’s okay to bring up all these issues,” Cole said.

By addressing subjects such as body image, mental health, race and sexuality, Parr is working to eliminate the stigma of shame surrounding mental health issues that dancers frequently deal with. 

“I’ve been exposed to a lot of social issues that are important to [the dance] community and need to be talked about. I’ve found a voice in some of these [issues] and want to bring that to the community,” Parr said.

For more information on D4D, check out their Instagram, @dancerfordancer, and their website, www.dancerfordancer.com.