Could this break be your breakthrough?
by Amber Tacy
For the first time in decades, Broadway theaters sit dark and empty. National tours are halted or canceled. World-renowned dance studios have closed their doors and dancers are sent home. While there are many obvious negatives to the social distancing effects of COVID-19, there are perhaps some positives that we can expect from the dance community. As we know, dance was recently named the country's most physically demanding profession, despite these rigorous demands, there is no “off-season.” Other professional athletics with highly physical jobs have time off as they recognize the importance of recovery, yet, dancers and freelance artists have no such luxury.
This means that dancers, those with the most physically demanding job in the nation, are working day in and day out. From taking class, auditioning, teaching workshops, working out, attending physical therapy, performing 8 times a week, to the side-hustles that sew all those things together, all of this and more is just part of the territory of having the most athletic job.
It comes as no surprise that many dancers feel the pressure and uncertainty of this strange time in history amid the COVID-19 crisis when nearly every job a performer can hold has been banned for the unforeseeable future. However, this break could be the best thing to happen to the dance industry in decades.
I'm a remote personal trainer for professional performers, and a performer myself. For weeks I’ve only heard about how stressed and mentally exhausted my clients and my colleagues find themselves; it is NYC audition season after all. Unofficial lists for open calls start at 4am, lines snake down the streets of 7th ave, and by 9am every dancer is already on their 2nd cup of coffee. It’s hard to imagine feeling excited to create choreography or inspired to make art after being typed out, not seen, or dismissed from two to ten auditions in a day.
In a season when we’re wired on caffeine and anxiety, this break should be a welcomed, guilt-free time to slow down, hopefully, avoid burnout, and recharge your creative muscles. In the first week of quarantine, the dance community has truly come together. There have been virtual classes, Tik Tok challenges, viral improv games, and a myriad of other creative outlets.
Perhaps this is the renaissance period of dance we’ve been waiting for! With less day-to-day stressors and more mental energy and time, dance creatives can work on their passion projects. After all, Shakespeare wrote King Lear while in his own quarantine during the Black Plague, so I am hopeful the dance industry will use this time to concoct its newest, most progressive works. It could start in your very own living room. If you’ve been feeling mentally exhausted from audition season and now feel overwhelmed with uncertainty, I invite you to channel your energy into a creative space.
Now is the time to let your body move in its most organic way. Put on that song you have been wanting to choreograph to, but have not had the time. Dance in a way that shows your fear and frustration. Dance using only your hands and fingers. Feeling stuck? Dance like your feet are glued to the floor. Use this break, this gift of time, to connect with your inner artist and hone in on your voice as a dancer. Record and share it or don’t.
But for the first time, maybe in years, use these few weeks away from the studio, away from mimicking someone else’s body, away from the overcrowded holding rooms, to reconnect with your own body and re-establish your own voice as an artist. Imagine the mental and emotional breakthroughs awaiting you.
It is no secret that dancers are chronic over-trainers. We love to go 110% in the studio, tend to favor workouts that leave us dripping sweat, and chant the phrase “Better sore than sorry!” So as we look ahead and assume that social distancing will remain in effect, how can we ensure we maintain our physical progress? In fact, during this time when most dance studios and gyms are closed, many dancers have reached out asking “Will I lose my strength?” And the answer may surprise you.
No, you will probably not lose your strength and, in fact, there is a good chance you will bounce back stronger than before the break. A UK study found that after a 6-week break a group of dancers had an increase in strength, flexibility and aerobic endurance (VO2 max).
This is great news!
High-intensity workouts, dance classes and gym sessions alike are meant to instill a muscular response. Effectively done, this response leads to muscle and physique adaptation like muscle growth, strength, or even body fat reduction. But this is where we get carried away, thinking “If a little of something is good, a lot of something is better!”
This is simply untrue.
While the response of a hard workout might lead to muscular adaptation and is also meant to help with recovery, too much inflammation will lead to weakened immune systems, under-recovered muscles and ultimately injury, fatigue, poor sleep, changes in appetite, and a host of other negative effects. As the aforementioned study showed, not just hours of rest, not just a couple days of rest, but weeks of rest can have a beneficial impact on nearly every aspect of your dancing.
You need rest, you need recovery, and if you’ve been in a chronic state of overtraining and under-recovery, some time off from the studio and out of the gym is going to do wonders for your body. Maybe this is the revelation the dance industry needs; less is more in terms of training and more is more in regards to recovery.
So enjoy this break, guilt-free, knowing that you’re likely going to come out ahead and that by slowing down for a few weeks, you could add years to your performance career!
On the flip side, “taking it easy” doesn’t mean halt altogether. There is still a benefit, mentally and physically, to staying active rather than turning into a total couch potato. Now is the time to practice moderation. A moderate-intensity workout each day with the right performance socks, a moderation of foods that are nutrient-dense and foods that are good for your soul, and moderation of staying connected and disconnecting from the media.
By adding in a moderate-intensity workout each day, you’ll continue to boost your circulation, bringing vital nutrients to cells and expediting the recovery process. Dancerswholift.com has a 5-day bodyweight workout plan you can follow, Emily Bufferd shared her class warm-up, there are live-streamed ballet barres, modern classes, tap combos (apologies to your neighbors in advance!), and yoga flows available at nearly every time. Pick one or two things to do each day to keep you moving, blood flowing, and endorphins elevated. But don’t forget, you’re allowed to take a nap, go to bed at 8 pm, or sleep in. Consciously choose to add in rest just as you’re choosing to add in movement.
Similarly, you might find your eating patterns have changed due to food scarcity, emotional coping, or the fact that you can’t remember the last time you had an hour to actually make a meal. That’s okay! You need nutrient-dense foods and you might need some emotionally sustaining foods right now. The key is finding a balance. Use this time to tune in with your body and have food when you’re actually hungry, not just because you have a second between classes. Eat foods you enjoy and foods that will keep your body thriving and immune system boosted, stop eating when you’re full. Now is an excellent time to tune in to what your body needs and what feels best.
However, in order to fully tune in to certain aspects of your life, you’ll need to tune out others. Social media has been doing a wonderful job of keeping the dance community connected, encouraged, and inspired but it can also be draining and anxiety-inducing. Be sure you’re taking regular breaks from scrolling. Going for a walk, reading, drawing, dancing, and doing things away from a screen.
So yes, take it easy these next couple weeks, but find a way to add purpose to your time off. Refill your cup and ask yourself, in the midst of stillness, what do you need in this moment? Use this break to find your breakthrough.
Do so guilt-free, reassured your body will bounce back to tip-top shape (maybe even better!) and that in using this time for yourself you will be helping the dance community.
After all, dance is the most physically demanding job in the country and for the first time, we’re all in an “offseason.” As titans of creation, this break is the perfect time to rest and recover our physical bodies, thus extending our performance careers. It is also the perfect opportunity to reconnect with ourselves and heal or create something beautiful and personal.
How will you use this break to breakthrough?
Author: Amber Tacy