Injury and illness, prolonged or acute, are damaging to any career path, and dancers face unique challenges when it comes to earning a living while healing. Wage earning potential for dancers is directly linked to being healthy. Most performing arts professionals, however, do not have access to employee health insurance due to their frequent status as independent contractors or short-term contract workers. Additionally, dancers are professionals who extract creative and social satisfaction from their employment, so being unable to work often causes emotional trauma. And to make matters more challenging, many hurting performing artists do not know anywhere to turn for help. Fortunately, The Actors Fund exists with its goal to help dancers, and all those in the performing arts and entertainment, in times of crisis.
Dance Informa spoke with The Actors Fund and Catherine Drury, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and the Dancers’ Resource Social Worker, to learn more about how the organization is set up and how it brings support to dancers during times they need it most.
What is The Actors Fund, and what services does it provide?
“The Actors Fund is a national human services organization that helps everyone – performers and those behind the scenes – who works in the performing arts and entertainment. Serving professionals in film, theatre, television, music, opera, radio and dance, The Fund’s programs include social services and emergency financial assistance, health care and insurance counseling, housing, and employment and training services. With offices in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, The Actors Fund is a safety net for those in need, crisis or transition.”
What’s the scope of care that The Actors Fund is able to provide to dancers in need?
“Many injured dancers come to The Actors Fund initially because they’re under financial stress while they’re unable to work or perform. In addition to assisting those dancers in applying for financial assistance through The Actors Fund, I often collaborate with medical providers, workers’ compensation lawyers, and other community organizations to cover as many of the dancer’s medical and living expenses as possible. The client and I then review his or her budget and establish a financial plan for the coming months together, freeing the dancer from anxiety about bills so he or she can focus more fully on rest and recovery. I also refer injured dancers to our Career Center for help finding a job to replace their dance earnings until they are able to return to rehearsal, or to simply explore other interests and training opportunities while they heal.”
What is your direct role with The Actors Fund?
“As the Social Worker for The Dancers’ Resource (the social services program for dancers at The Actors Fund), I provide emotional support, individual and group counseling, and referrals to dancers throughout the East Coast who are dealing with injuries and the emotional stress of managing a professional career in dance. I advocate for and inform dancers of workers’ compensation and disability insurance rights and processes, and assist them in accessing healthcare, housing and emergency financial assistance through The Actors Fund’s many other programs. I also collaborate with Career Transition For Dancers to engage in outreach efforts at dance companies, community organizations, and dance festivals and events, where I conduct educational seminars and share about the services available to dancers at The Fund.”
What interests, experiences and training led you to become involved with The Actors Fund?
“I have been practicing as a licensed clinical social worker in New York City for over six years, working primarily with young adults in need of short-term counseling and crisis intervention. Much of my own childhood and teenage years were spent studying at an intensive ballet school and repertory company. After suffering from an injury at a pivotal point in my training, I began to pursue other interests and goals, but dance has shaped who I am and remains an integral part of my life. Several years ago, I started volunteering with the New York City Ballet as a way of giving back to a community that is important to me, and when I found my current position at The Actors Fund, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to blend my two passions. Now, my love for dance, my understanding of the demands of maintaining a career as a dancer, and my clinical expertise in addressing anxiety, trauma, disordered eating, loss and change equip me to support and build programming for dancers’ unique needs.”
What should a dancer know about and/or learn from The Actors Fund before he/she is injured?
“The programs of The Dancers’ Resource were developed with the understanding that the dancer’s experience is different from that of other performing artists. As a body-oriented profession, dance typically demands complete dedication starting at a very young age, and so any disruption to a dancer’s career is often experienced as a type of crisis or trauma. At the moment of injury, a dancer’s busy and full life is brought to a halt, leaving that dancer with a tremendous void as he or she begins to work toward recovery. An injured dancer is suddenly unable to pay bills, participate in class or rehearsal, or do the work that is such a significant part of his or her existence and identity, and the logistics of accessing appropriate health care and navigating the health insurance and workers’ compensation benefits systems can be extremely overwhelming. The Dancers’ Resource should be the first place that any dancer calls during such times of stress, as we will help to hold and piece together the physical, financial and emotional components of that dancer’s injury and recovery. For those dancers who are not injured, being engaged with The Actors Fund and its preventative workshops and seminars ahead of time is the best way to proactively reduce anxiety and confusion should an injury occur.”
How do dancers find out if they qualify for support from The Actors Fund?
“Any professional dancer is welcome to call The Dancers’ Resource for support, information and referrals. If a dancer is seeking emergency financial assistance or a grant or scholarship through Career Transition For Dancers, there are certain eligibility requirements that must be met, which are based on documentation of a dancer’s professional earnings and listed on The Actors Fund’s website.”
How does insurance through The Actors Fund differ from other insurance options?
“The Actors Fund does not provide health insurance but assists entertainment industry professionals who are not covered by an employer or union health plan in getting health insurance and finding quality medical care. The Artists Health Insurance Resource Center helps our clients identify and enroll in appropriate coverage options through individual consultations, weekly seminars, online educational materials, and community outreach and advocacy.”
How will the care of an injured dancer working with The Actors Fund be improved over a dancer trying to manage his/her injury alone?
“The Dancers’ Resource offers injured dancers something that does not exist anywhere else to my knowledge and that is so essential to their healing and recovery processes: a safe, confidential space in the form of a support group to talk about the many feelings and questions that surround their injuries. Most dancers, especially if they are managing a major injury for the first time, are wary of making their injury public for fear of retribution from present and future employers and colleagues. So, at a time when their first love, that which motivates, inspires and gives their life meaning, is taken away from them, dancers isolate, withdraw and don’t share their struggles with the people who know them best.
For 10 consecutive weeks, three times per year at The Actors Fund, dancers of different ages and ethnicities, and from a wide variety of dance communities and career stages, connect and are vulnerable in a way that is not always possible among peers and friends. As the Support Group for Injured Dancer’s facilitator, I gently guide its members through topics such as identity, grief, loss, injury’s impact on relationships, body image, pain, time, burnout and career change. The group becomes a necessary component of a dancer’s healing process, as messages of encouragement and the importance of self-care are repeated, and individuals discover the wisdom within themselves after sharing that wisdom with others. The support group also has a very practical component. Dancers trade names of doctors, surgeons, physical therapists, healers, uplifting podcasts, injured dancer-friendly classes and lawyers. Group members guide one another through workers’ comp and health care systems, and cheer for and applaud one another as they slowly return to class and rehearsal or explore new ventures.
Research about the psychological impact of injury on the dancer and the relationship between stress and the duration of injury points to social support as a necessary component in the management of dance injuries; yet most dancers who are not connected to The Actors Fund will find such community elsewhere. The Dancers’ Resource ensures that no dancer has to face injury alone.”
How long has The Friedman Health Center been open, and how does its existence change the care that The Actors Fund is able to provide?
“The Friedman Health Center Opened in March 2017. There are many advantages to making The Friedman Health Center for the Performing Arts available as the primary medical care provider for our community. To list a few:
- Conveniently and centrally located in Times Square
- Accessible offering extended hours
- Quality care from the Mount Sinai Health System
- Many insurance plans accepted
- Free insurance counseling on site
- Greater continuity of care for those who cycle on and off their union plans and other types of insurance, allowing you to stay with the same doctor rather than finding new doctors every time your insurance changes
- Specialty services targeted to our entertainment community’s needs.”
How does The Actors Fund raise money to support its causes?
“The Actors Fund is a 501(c)(3) charity that receives support from thousands of individuals who care about the arts and artists, and a range of sources including special events, foundations, corporations, government agencies, unions, guilds and trade associations.”
What else would you like to share about The Actors Fund and your role with it?
“The Dancers’ Resource is meant to be the first point of contact for any question or concern faced by a dancer in his or her career or life. I would encourage all dancers to check out our website, join our mailing list, and let us know how we can be supporting and addressing the needs of dancers where they are.”
For more information, visit: www.actorsfund.org.
By Emily Yewell Volin of Dance Informa.