4 TPC Digest J. Claire Gregory, Claudia G. Interiano-Shiverdecker Behind the Curtain | TPC Digest Our study focused on exploring professional ballet dancers’ mental health experiences. Most research involving ballet dancers and elite athletes focuses on eating disorders, injury, and performance enhancement. Although these topics are important for overall wellness, there is a lack of research exploring ballet dancers’ mental health and there are no current standards for athletic counseling. This gap in the literature may leave counselors with a lack of knowledge or competencies when counseling professional dancers. Our main goal of this study was to explore professional ballet dancers’ culture and identity and how these influence their mental health experiences. Our three guiding research questions were (a) How do professional ballet dancers define ballet culture and identity? (b) What are the mental health experiences of professional ballet dancers? and (c) What are professional ballet dancers’ suggestions for counseling and advocacy with this population? We interviewed eight dancers identifying as either former, freelance, or current professional ballet dancers between the ages of 25 and 37. Data analysis resulted in four prevalent themes about professional ballet dancers’ mental health experiences. The first theme was ballet culture and how ballet is ingrained with tradition that dates to the 14th century. For the dancers, ballet culture was experienced on a continuum including both positive and negative qualities. All the dancers felt that professional ballet dancing required extreme physical and mental demands, which sometimes resulted in injury or anxiety. Additionally, the dancers all revealed positive aspects of ballet culture such as a sense of community and using the body for storytelling. In the second theme, the dancers identified how ballet is a part of their identity and development. They shared how professional ballet dancers possess strong tenacity and grit that extends even beyond their dance careers. The dancers felt that professional ballet dancing involves determination but also artistic expression. Four dancers specifically expressed that dancing was more than just a job; it was part of who they were. The third theme was mental health experiences of the dancers and how the dancers felt the need to compartmentalize their emotions. For example, the dancers voiced their experiences with depression and anxiety due to maintaining a certain physical appearance or competing for performance roles. However, the skill of compartmentalizing and setting feelings aside was needed to succeed. The four former professional ballet dancers shared that their mental health improved when they stopped dancing professionally. The final theme included the dancers’ recommendations for counselors when working with professional ballet dancers. Some dancers mentioned that ballet is a unique profession and that they would suggest that counselors develop an awareness of ballet culture. Recommendations also included counselors having an awareness of the rigors and demands of the profession and how society can view dancers as glamorous or celebrities, when in reality they are human with many challenges going on behind the curtain. J. Claire Gregory, MA, NCC, LPC, LCDC, is a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Claudia G. InterianoShiverdecker, PhD, is an assistant professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Correspondence may be addressed to J. Claire Gregory, Department of Counseling, 501 W. César E. Chávez Boulevard, San Antonio, TX 78207-4415, jessica.gregory@utsa.edu. Ballet Dancers’ Mental Health