• Jeanne Marie

Minding the Gap Builds Bridges and Kickstarts Change

Updated: Jan 18

Kathleen McGuire Gaines speaking about her work via Zoom on Jan. 14, 2021

Kathleen McGuire Gaines is a contributing writer for Dance Magazine, former dancer, non-profit and fundraising development consultant, and the creator of Minding the Gap, an LLC established to bridge the “chasm,” as she refers to it, between dancers who have mental illness and the professionals able to help them.

Gaines was recently re-thrust into the dance-community spotlight when an article in DanceTeacher Magazine reported that Minding the Gap would partner with Point Park University and Garfield Lemonius to create an all-new mental health program that would work to normalize, educate, provide resources, and study mental health specifically in dancers.

Previous to this announcement, Gaines was probably most well-known for her opinion piece published in Dance Magazine in 2017, Why Are We Still So Bad At Addressing Dancers’ Mental Health.

The article went viral, and people from across the globe reached out to Gaines to share their stories and connect with her about how they might help make a difference, tells Gaines.

“It sparked a fire,” she explains, “It was like the right words at the right moment kind of deal, right, that you can’t plan for at all.”

As a result, Gaines started to notice the gap she now works in.

“There are all of these incredible mental health professionals that want to work with dancers because, frankly, dancers are really interesting,” explains Gaines, “and on the other side of it I’m noticing a growing body of dancers, who really, really, really want to talk about this stuff.”

Gaines shares that she started speaking at Point Park University, attending dance health conferences, researching information, or a lack there-of, about mental health in dancers, displaying several sub-gaps within the void she observed.

“First, there’s a gap between the practitioners and the dancers, and, frankly, in the middle of that gap is the institutions preventing their connection,” says Gaines.

“Another gap that exists is that the information, the science, if you will, the data that could be very powerful in promoting change within mental health in the dance world isn’t reaching the population it needs to reach, and if it is, it’s not reaching them in an accessible language,” she explains.

Gaines says that these discoveries showed her the need in the dance world for an entity that would advocate for mental health programs in dance institutions of all kinds, conduct research about mental health disorders in dancers further than eating disorders and perfectionism, and ultimately bridge all of the chasms between the dance community and the resources to help them be genuinely healthy, leading her to create Minding the Gap and her partnership with Point Park University.

However, Gaines didn’t particularly plan on becoming a global dance mental health advocate and entrepreneur.

“I got here by accident,” she jokes, as she tells of leaving home at 14 to train at Pittsburgh Ballet Theater School, eventually moving to train at San Francisco Ballet School at 17, all to fulfill the dream of becoming a professional ballerina.

Moving away from home at a young age was hard on Gaines and then moving across the country from her family was even more challenging, she explains.

Gaines notes that it was around this second move to San Francisco when she started developing some disordered eating and low self-confidence.

Shortly thereafter, she sustained her first stress-fracture as she was preparing to perform in the company’s Nutcracker, tell Gaines.

She describes how the injury rendered her unable to dance for eight weeks, derailing her physically as well as emotionally, propelling her into her first experience with depression.

“I just disappeared. You know, I went from being a student in the class that was being watched and liked, to just being vapor,” says Gaines.

Gaines explains that she didn’t have any mental health resources or points of reference to learn what she was going through, suffered from internalized stigmatization of injuries, and therefore started acting out, which began to perpetuate a cycle of injury, depression, recovery, and re-injury.

“I was never really able to rebuild a scaffold of confidence,” says Gaines

Eventually, Gaines felt that quitting dance was inevitable due to the unsafe mindset and environment created, prompting her to stop dancing entirely and start to pursue a degree in creative writing from the University of Pittsburgh.

“I really didn’t want to write about dance,” says Gaines as she explained her collegiate writing experience, which focused on creating works of fiction.

However, after discovering a passion for creative non-fiction, taking some classes in that subject as well as journalism, and graduating during the recession, Gaines says that she decided to take an internship with Dance Magazine.

“For me, it was very much, like, a means to the end,” she explains, “I just wanted to get published, honestly, and to like see how a magazine worked and everything.”

However, the experience resulted in her finding a catharsis in dance writing by sharing information, stories, and resources she related to through her own experiences, so she stuck with it, explains Gaines.

“After all these years of interviewing mental health professionals and dancers, I got really frustrated that it seemed like there were just some really, really simple things that we could be doing to like at least begin to change this,” says Gaines

Ultimately, Gaines hopes that Minding the Gap will grow into a group that has a data-supported, funded programing that the “social good startup,” as she refers to it, can use to begin consulting with institutions who would like to implement mental health programming as well as provide a more direct service for dancers who may not have access to those institutions in their area.

“I want to see large, broad, cultural and institutional change,” says Gaines.

Want to support Minding the Gap, Kathleen McGuire Gaines, and mental health advocacy in dance? Follow Minding the Gap on their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as visit www.wearemindingthegap.org.

Struggling with mental health as a dancer? Check out Minding the Gap’s resource page for hotlines, a therapy search tool, articles, and more.

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