How to Reduce Stress for Dancers, Dance Teachers, and Dance Parents
by Ashley Mowrey
In my last few posts, I’ve been exploring things that can get in the way of a dancer’s healthy mindset. Today, let’s take a look at stress. Between juggling schedules, expectations, schoolwork, choreography, performances, auditions, and constant feedback, it’s no wonder why dancers, dance teachers, and dance parents are often stressed.
Here’s where I see stress come up most often for each group:
Dancers: high pressured environments at school and dance, rarely having a day off, financial worries (especially for professional dancers), long hours at the studio followed by long nights of homework, frequent lack of sleep, jam-packed schedules, managing the expectations of parents and teachers, competition, and auditions.
Teachers: boundaries with students and parents, lack of days off, pressure from parents/peers/bosses, too busy schedules with little downtime, preparing dancers for the stage, and complaints from parents.
Dance Parents: financial obligations of raising a dancer, busy schedule with little downtime for you or your child, pressure from teachers and other parents, frequent traveling, managing your dancer’s schedule, and observing stress in your dancer.
There are different types of stress, and not all are bad. In fact, eustress is a type of stress that can be beneficial to our growth and development. This is the state of stress when we are facing something new, out of our comfort zone. It is the stress we feel when faced with a challenge, but feel adequate and confident to handle it. Even acute stress, which is the short term stress we feel daily when we’re stuck in traffic, get in an argument, or have a tough rehearsal prepping for a big performance isn’t bad when it’s temporary. Our bodies are made to respond to short-term stress by activating the sympathetic nervous system, or the fight-or-flight response. Once the stressor or threat has passed, the body typically returns to its pre-stress state.
The problem lies when stress becomes chronic. Acute stress can become chronic if it becomes more frequent or lasts for longer periods of time. Elizabeth Scott, MS, explains, “chronic stress results from a state of ongoing physiological arousal. This occurs when the body experiences stressors with such frequency or intensity that the autonomic nervous system does not have an adequate chance to activate the relaxation response on a regular basis.” You can check out this list from Medical News Today to see a full list of signs and symptoms of chronic stress, including irritability, trouble sleeping, fatigue, and low self-esteem.
Let’s take a look at some things you can do in the moment to reduce stress. These are great to do right before class, rehearsal, auditions, or performances.
Guided relaxation and visualization: Super stressed before a performance, rehearsal, or audition? I’ve created this guided relaxation and visualization to help you feel less stressed and more confident. Check it out here.
Calming imagery: Where’s your happy place? On a mountain top, maybe relaxing at the beach, perhaps surrounded by loved ones? Close your eyes and picture yourself there for 1 minute.
Use a mantra: Some to try: I can handle this. I am imperfect and I am enough. This is temporary.
Music: What music would reduce your stress right now? Something chill or something upbeat to elevate your mood? Turn it on and let it shift your energy.
Double your exhale: Recent research shows a link between extending your exhale compared to your inhale and the activation of your vagus nerve, which can slow the heart rate and increase relaxation. Try it by inhaling for 4, exhaling for 8, 10-12xs.
Here are some daily habits to practice to reduce stress:
Gratitude: We’ve all heard that daily gratitude is important, but research shows it can actually improve our health and that “stress hormones like cortisol are 23 percent lower in grateful people”. Start now, by writing out 5 things you’re grateful for. Try to be specific and write new ones daily. If you’re feeling stuck, think about the little things that make your day better such as kindness from a stranger, sunshine, or a good book.
Make space for parts of your life that have nothing to do with dance: Our identities and self-worth can get so tangled with who we are as dancers, dance teachers, and dance parents. It is important to tap into our other qualities, strengths, and roles in our lives.
Fun: What can you do today to laugh and play today? Parents and teachers, this can be an important area to incorporate into your dancers’ day, as well as your own.
Get to know your stressors: Write out times, situations, people, and things that increase your stress. You may not be able to avoid all of them, but you can be more prepared to implement coping strategies like the ones listed above.
Meditation: Meditation can trigger the body’s relaxation response and help reverse the effects of stress on the body and mind. Here’s a great, short article about the benefits of mediation and how to get started and here is an additional article.
Mindfulness: The American Psychological Association defines mindfulness as, “…a moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment.” Check out this great article from PositivePsychology.Com for more about mindfulness, including the benefits and how to practice.
Healthy Eating: When we're stressed is when we usually reach for fast food, caffeine, and too much sugar. Eating healthy is true self-care in times of stress.
The demands of life as a dancer, dance teacher, and dance parent can be tough and stress-inducing. I hope these tips and tools can help you both in the moment and to proactively reduce stress in your daily life. If you’d like support while you go through this process, or if you’re interested in my work, head to my website to learn more and see how we can work together to build your healthy mindset to navigate the dance world at your best. You can also find me on Instagram for more free tools, resources, and inspiration.
Ashley Mowrey is a Performance Mindset Coach and Educator located in Fayetteville, AR. She holds a B.A. in Psychology from The University of Arkansas and is a trained facilitator in Tara Mohr’s Playing Big Leadership Program for Women. Ashley trained as a competitive dancer out of Dallas, TX before teaching and eventually directing a company and dance studio in Fayetteville, AR. It was during those years that she felt drawn towards the dancer’s mindset and the need for training and tools in the dance community. Now, as a Performance Mindset Coach, she is also a dance specialist with Dancers for Doctors. Ashley has also recently been featured on Dance Studio Amplified Podcast, (Ep. 14), Dance Boss University Mastermind guest presenter, and episode 58 of Dance Boss Podcast.