Waiting in the Wings photography book addresses mental health in Pittsburgh dance scene | Dance | Pittsburgh

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Photo: Courtesy of Anita Buzzy Prentiss

Chandler Bingham Waiting in the Wings – Pittsburgh Dancers Experiencing the Pandemic

Pointing out that artists and performers took an especially bad hit during the pandemic feels redundant at this point, but reiterating it does little to actually aid those recovering from the effects of the last two years. A new photography book will set out to help Pittsburgh dancers bounce back, and raise awareness about the need for mental health treatment in the scene.

Waiting in the Wings – Pittsburgh Dancers Experiencing the Pandemic features 30 dancers from eight Pittsburgh dance companies. The dancers pictured represent Attack Theatre, Confluence Ballet Co., NACHMO/The Pittsburgh Dance Collective, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Shana Simmons Dance, slowdanger, STAYCEE PEARL dance project & Soy Sos, and Texture Contemporary Ballet.

The project is a collaboration between Anita Buzzy Prentiss of Buzzy Photography and former dancer Kathleen McGuire Gaines, who founded and runs Minding the Gap, described as a “social good company that seeks to see mental health regarded with the same seriousness as physical health in dance culture.”

According to a release, the images in Waiting in the Wings include quotes from the dancers on “the challenges they faced and what they learned dancing through the pandemic.”

“These photos that I was so honored to create with the dancers while they were off stage during the pandemic show them as the confident, strong, graceful people they are,” says Prentiss. “Sticking with what they love during this challenging time was so inspiring to me and this book is a tribute to them.”

click to enlarge Jessica McCann (left) and Yoshiaki Nakano (right) in Waiting in the Wings – Pittsburgh Dancers Experiencing the Pandemic - PHOTOS: COURTESY OF ANITA BUZZY PRENTISS

Photos: Courtesy of Anita Buzzy Prentiss

Jessica McCann (left) and Yoshiaki Nakano (right) in Waiting in the Wings – Pittsburgh Dancers Experiencing the Pandemic

The project started two years ago when Prentiss and Gaines, who both live in Swisshelm Park, began taking frequent walks together over the 2020 shutdown. During the walks, they began to discuss how they could support dancers who were unable to work after the spread of COVID-19 canceled performances and closed venues.

The two imagined a book that would highlight the “beauty and diversity of Pittsburgh’s dancers and support their mental health.”

“The importance of mental health has never been clearer than it is now,” says Gaines. “Dancers must surmount incredible mental challenges every day, often with little or no mental health resources, but the impact of the pandemic has been staggering. It warms my heart that Anita has chosen to support the dancers in this way.”

The Minding the Gap website links to various research and studies citing the kinds of mental health challenges professional and aspiring dancers face. Published reports from the National Institutes of Health, American Psychiatric Association, and others theorize that the pressure of landing jobs in the highly competitive world of dance can lead to eating disorders, depression, and anxiety, all of which could be exacerbated by the added crisis of the pandemic.

In a November 2020 survey of 78 dance students from Point Park University, Mind the Gap found that 48% showed “high levels of anxiety,” and that the ballet dancers were more susceptible to poor mental health than their peers studying jazz or modern dance.

The book is now available for purchase on the Buzzy Photography website, and a portion of the proceeds will support Minding the Gap’s mental health programming for dancers. A release party for the book will take place on Sat., April 16 at Attack Theatre, where guests can meet the photographer and mingle with the featured dancers.

Waiting in the Wings Book Launch Party. 4-6 p.m. Sat., April 16. Attack Theater Studios. 212 45th St., Lawrenceville. Free. Search “Waiting in the Wings Book Launch Party” On Facebook


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