Self-care isn't so easy these days. Many of our go-to sources of R&R—seeing friends, taking vacations, booking spa days—aren't quite as feasible during a pandemic. Yet looking after our mental health has never been more essential.
"Especially for dancers right now, with their particular tragedy where their identity is linked to their artistic life that's on hold, learning self-care is fundamental," says Jo-Anne La Flèche, resident psychologist at l'École Supérieure de Ballet du Québec and co-vice president of Healthy Dancer Canada. "They're cut off socially, their personal identity is challenged, not to mention the financial stress."
So how can dancers find a sense of comfort?
Rather than taking the stoical dancer approach of toughing it out, La Flèche recommends using the extra time we have right now to change personal habits and invest in the simple things: Eating well, going to bed early, meditating, journaling, going for walks in the park or the woods. "If we connect with nature, it makes us feel that we're part of something bigger than ourselves," she explains. "We don't feel as alone."
She recommends finding ways to stay connected to dance to "nourish your flame" and express your feelings through art—whether that means taking online classes, cross-training, improvising, choreographing or reading books on dance. But it's also wise to connect with loved ones and pursue other passions to create the kind of balanced life that artists are usually too busy to manage. "It's time to think about and do things other than dance," she says. Hopefully, she adds, building these habits now may help dancers maintain personal balance even after their typical schedules resume.
Seven dancers shared what self-care has looked like for them recently, and the hobbies and habits they've found comfort in over the past few months.
Jared Grimes: Writing Screenplays
Tap dancer Jared Grimes—who also plays the character Adrian on the NBC show "Manifest"—has been writing screenplays for drama series. "I love creating stories," he says. "Laying my imagination down on paper is one of the best escapes possible with what all is going on in the world."
He says the writing process fuels his creativity in the dance studio as well. "I can literally feel storylines and character arcs in the rhythms my Ks create," he says, referring to his K360 tap shoes.
Tamisha Guy: Creating Vegan Meals
Tamisha Guy's chickpea pasta with sesame oil, peppers, mushrooms and kale.
In addition to grounding herself with some sort of daily movement practice (or a moment of stillness), A.I.M dancer Tamisha Guy has thrown herself into cooking.
"My love and eagerness to create new and tasty vegan meals has gone to new heights," she says. One of her favorite meals to cook is a vegetable chickpea pasta with sesame oil. Another go-to is lemon pepper fries with black bean or pecan burger patties. "I make both from scratch. It is all so tasty!"
Karla Garcia: Her Morning Ritual
Hamilton swing Karla Garcia has been maintaining her sense of artistic community by teaching a weekly "Class for a Cause" every Friday to help raise money for organizations she supports.
But on a day-to-day basis, having a regular morning ritual brings her the most comfort: "I wake up and read The New York Times email update. Then coffee (lately outside), meditation and light exercise to wake up my body."
Leal Zielińska: All Things Polish
Gibney dancer Leal Zielińska has been missing her family back in Poland. "Due to travel restrictions and safety, some recent plans for visiting fell through," she says.
To help "aid the sense of longing and belonging," as she puts it, Zielińska has been searching for the familiar wherever she can find it. "Turning to books and movies in Polish, as well as frequenting a Polish grocery store to find some foods that fill a nostalgic void, have all brought me great relief," she says. And, like most of us, video calls have become a regular part of life.
(If you're looking for professional mental health help, check out Zielińska's Okay, Let's Unpack This site, which includes a list of therapists offering free counseling sessions.)
Evan Ruggiero: Working on His Car and Gardening
Musical theater performer Evan Ruggiero has found a sense of calm through gardening in the backyard of his parents' house, where he's been staying. "I dug up an 130 square foot patch of grass and then filled it in with organic soil," he says. "I've been going as far as to measure the PH of the water and soil before each watering."
Gabe Stone Shayer: "Billions," Business and Meditation
Like a lot of people, American Ballet Theatre corps member Gabe Stone Shayer has been finding comfort by binging his favorite TV show: "Billions." But unlike most of us, he's used TV as inspiration to do something more with his life. "The legal jargon and cutthroat mentality inspired me to be more assertive about the things I want to achieve," he says. "I've put into motion multiple projects to create, innovate and capture forward-moving art in a time of stagnation." Now, he's found himself joining the digital world of conference calls and non-stop email chains.
But he still found himself missing the "zen" of doing barre every morning. When he happened upon an Instagram Live meditation led by Karine Plantadit, he started to make slowing down to meditate a regular part of his schedule. He says, "In finding a niche for my mind and body to flourish, I've found comfort."
Joya Kazi: Cooking Food She Grows
When work came to a grinding halt in March, commercial Bollywood choreographer and performer Joya Kazi realized that her career had become her entire identity. "If I'm not dancing, performing, traveling, choreographing, filming or teaching, who am I?" she asks. "Being a South Asian American female artist pursuing a full-time career in the entertainment industry meant dedicating every moment I could to building my career."
She began cooking three-course meals from scratch—using vegetables she'd grown herself. Never before able to maintain a garden due to her travel schedule, she now grows zucchini, tomatoes, green beans, garlic, ginger and chilis. "Putting love, care and effort into growing healthy veggies that I can cook with and seeing little seedlings grow into beautiful plants has been so rewarding and centering, both emotionally and physically."