At some point in your dance career, friends might have used the word "obsessed" to describe you. Perhaps you smiled in response. Priding ourselves on how hard and tirelessly we work seems locked in our dancer DNA.
That's partly because dancers need a certain amount of laser focus to make it in the competitive professional world. But when you spend "one extra hour" in the studio too often, the scales can tip. Dancers can rehearse themselves into an injury, or try a combination so many times that the result is simply frustration.
"Sometimes your body and mind need a break—a day, afternoon or weekend," says Dr. Nadine Kaslow, resident psychologist at Atlanta Ballet. "But dancers feel bad about these things. They don't feel entitled. It feels like you might lose all your training or your spot in a company in that little time off."
How do you know if you've gone too far?
Jim Lafferty for Pointe
• It feels hard to have a conversation about topics outside of dance without circling back to "that show" or "that mistake."
• You add classes to your schedule even when your body asks for (or doctors tell you to) rest.
• You avoid time with friends and/or family.
• Most meals are eaten while rushing in between rehearsals, workouts and classes.
• Your body is constantly in pain (more than normal soreness).
• You have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep.
• Taking vacations makes you anxious.
• Loved ones have mentioned you might have an issue.
If this sounds like you, try finding balance with these steps:
• Take at least one full day off from dancing each week to let your body heal. If you can keep another day for gentle activity, like restorative yoga, even better.
• Change your mindset: Instead of seeing non-dance activities as indulgences, realize that they can deepen your artistry. "It's the soul that makes someone a truly great dancer," says Nan Giordano, artistic director of Giordano Dance Chicago. "In second companies with younger members, they are often so strong technically, but there's an antiseptic quality that keeps them from letting go. What always lacks is what a seasoned dancer has: the experience and depth that comes from within."
• Discover your personal relaxation button. To start, do something small for yourself each day, like taking a hot bath or reading a book. "Self-care includes things like massages and pampering, but it also includes leisure activities and fun!" says Kaslow. "It could be movies or playing that game you love on your phone. How do you treat yourself, remembering dancing isn't the only fun thing we can do?"
• Find other passions: Indulge in outside hobbies and enroll in college courses you're interested in.
• Let yourself take an entire week of vacation—with no dancing—at least once a year. It will refresh both your body and your mind.
• If you have trouble finding balance on your own, find a therapist you feel comfortable talking to who can help.
James Whiteside (Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine)
Say you're perpetually impeccable designer Thom Browne. Say you're planning your Spring 2020 Paris menswear show along a "Versailles country club" theme. Say you want a world-class danseur to open the show with some kind of appropriately fabulous choreography.
Who do you call? James Whiteside, of course. On Saturday, the American Ballet Theatre principal—wearing pointe shoes and a glorious pinstriped tutu—kicked off Browne's presentation at the École des Beaux-Arts with a 15-minute, show-stealing solo. Whiteside choreographed the piece himself, with the help of detailed notes from the designer.
I'd been a professional dancer for five years when I realized the pain I'd been feeling in my hip and down my sciatic nerve was not going away. I had been treating it for two years as we dancers do—with regular visits to my masseuse, physical therapy, baths, ice and lots of Aleve—but I never stopped dancing. It finally dawned on me that if I kept going at the speed I was going (which was, well, speedy), the pain would only get more severe and unrelenting, and I might never dance again.
I told myself I'd take two months off, and all would be better.
That first morning when I woke up at 10 am, I had no idea what to do with myself. My life until that moment had been dictated by class and rehearsal, every hour accounted for. How should I fill the huge swath of time ahead of me?