Hi there! I’m sorry that this is my first post this month, I’m currently smack-bang in the middle of my audition season, and I’ve never been so busy! I’ve had 3 auditions so far (one earlier today!) and I’m starting to get in the swing of it; I’ve got about 5 left, depending on call-backs.
I’ve realised that when you’re in the middle of a busy time with dance, like auditions or performances, it’s just not possible to undertake any big changes to your routine. It’s all about making small adjustments and improvements to get the most out of your training. So, I thought I’d put together a list of things you can start doing right away to improve your dancing or yourself as a dancer! Here we go!
1. Drink more water! Aim for at least 2 litres a day, or better, push for 3 litres. It seems like loads but once you get in the habit it’s surprisingly easy: the best way is to get a large water bottle you can carry everywhere and know that you need to drink 2 or 3 of them to reach your quota.
2. Write down your corrections! Not just occasionally… do it religiously after every single class, straight away while it’s fresh in your mind. And look back on what you’ve written; you’ll be surprised what you can learn about where you need to improve! I love my dancer’s diary for this!
3. Add magnesium to your bath. I touched on this in my sleep post, because magnesium helps to aid restful sleep. The best way for your body to absorb magnesium is through the skin, and as well as aiding restful sleep, it contributes to bone health and helps ease muscle soreness. I try to have a hot bath with magnesium every night, then I stretch afterwards before getting in to bed, and it really helps to relieve muscle soreness and fatigue. I also sleep like a baby! You can buy them in Holland & Barret in a pinch, but I prefer to get it with my other supplements from amazing health website Victoria Health. (They also have lots of great articles about various health topics, beauty and supplementation: it’s where I discovered the magic of magnesium flakes!
4. Leading on from that… stretch before bed every night! Since making stretching part of my bedtime routine, I stretch so much more often and more consistently! At bedtime there’s no time pressures or stress, I can just relax and focus on my body. I always have a bath first, otherwise I’m not warm enough. Before class, I won’t do any static stretches, only dynamic stretches, as static stretches take the power out of your movements and can be dangerous when you’re not warm enough. After class I like to focus on practicing and writing my corrections, and I might do a quick mini-stretch. But I save my really thorough stretch for bedtime. Consistency is key, so if you prefer to stretch after class then that’s fine as long as you do it every day.
5. Go to bed earlier. The earlier you go to bed, the more restorative your sleep will be. It also makes it easier to get up earlier and get going with working on your goals!
6. Video yourself. I started doing this recently: I’ve always struggled with pirouettes, so I’ve been practicing them every day after class. It’s hard to see your mistakes when you’re spinning around, so I’ve just been videoing myself on my phone by propping it against the wall or mirror on front-facing camera. It makes it SO much easier to see and correct your mistakes.
7. Track deliberate practice. I talk about what deliberate practice is and how I like to record it in this post… make sure you’re getting those hours in! You’ll improve so much quicker.
8. Study. I don’t really know any dancers with free time… as well as dance classes there’s school or work or college/ university work, homework, housework, kids, conditioning, cross-training, whatever it is you have going on in your life. However if you can find a little time to make a study of dance history, anatomy, or sports psychology, you can learn a lot. If you can find a regular slot to do this, you’ll get much more out of it, but if not then whatever you can here and there is fine. I sometimes do it on train journeys, or I download audiobooks with the Audible app and listen on the go!
9. Instead of counting calories, make calories count! It’s easy to focus a lot on maintaining a slim physique and to get fixated on the calorie content of every food. However, dancing is a very athletic activity, and you need to be focused on nutrition more than calories! You could get up and have a bowl of Special K with skimmed milk for breakfast, which would certainly be very low in calories. However, you’d have much more energy to dance if you had something like oats with coconut milk, coconut oil, nuts, seeds, and fruit- or eggs with wholewheat toast, avocado, green veggies and tomatoes… the latter options are way higher in calories but have so much nutritional benefit! They’re also more satisfying, so you’re less likely to end up eating impulsively later down the line when you’re feeling hungry and deprived. If you’re a slave to calories, experiment with how you’re nourishing your body, and see the difference it makes to your energy levels and dancing. I’ve been trying to lose some excess weight for auditions, and at first I was counting calories. But when I switched to more nourishing, higher calorie options, I still continued to lose weight because I wasn’t snacking as much or feeling the need to “cheat” and I had energy to do much more exercise.
10. Target lower abs. When people work their core, most people work the larger abdominals in the middle. Some will be more thorough and work their obliques. These are both important… however almost everyone neglects their lower abs! if you have strong lower abs, you can support your turnout with these muscles, meaning you can not only utilise more turnout and be better placed, but it takes some of the strain off your legs, helping to prevent injuries.
11. Take a day off from the mirror. The mirror is an amazing tool for dancers… it allows you to check your alignment and make improvements. However it’s easy to become dependent on it without even realising! Every now and again, take a day off the mirror. Try to feel the alignment in your body without looking, and concentrate on performing out. You won’t have the mirror on stage! And it doesn’t look good if you keep checking it in auditions.
12. Identify your weaknesses. Think about the things you know you don’t do as well, or things your teachers correct you on a lot. It can be a bit depressing, but it’s important to be self-reflective in order to improve! Don’t judge yourself or beat yourself up for your mistakes. Just be very aware of them, and look up ways to correct these issues. Use the internet, and ask your teacher. Then spend time working on those weaknesses, rather than working on the things you are already good at it. No one wants to spend time working on the things they find really hard, but you’d be amazed at how fast improvements come when you do.
13. Find inspiration. Look online, go to the ballet, make a vision board, or seek out art, literature and theatre… whatever it takes for you to feel inspired to move and to work hard towards your goals! Inspiration is so important!
14. Visualise. Visualisation is so powerful… I visualise as part of my morning routine every day. I get up, make a cup of detox tea, and go and sit in a quiet place. Visualise yourself having perfect technique. Visualise yourself at the school or company that you want to get into. Feel how happy you are in that place. Visualise upcoming auditions and performances going perfectly.
15. Take a rest day!! I am astounded when people tell me they dance or work out seven days a week… working hard is only about 60% of your physical progress. The other 40% can only come to you once you rest! The recovery is JUST AS IMPORTANT as the work. You’d never see athletes working through every day like that! It just holds you back from progressing, and increases risk of injury. Take at least one day a week to completely rest. Better yet, spend that day pampering your muscles! Roll them out thoroughly on a foam roller, have a hot bath with magnesium, stretch, and apply arnica gel. You’ll feel brand new the next day.
16. Make a Physiotherapy appointment. I love my physiotherapist… she’s such an invaluable member of my team! It’s important to take care of any excessive tightness or niggles before they become injuries- it just saves yourself the stress of having to take time off to recover once you’re already injured. A good physio can also help you to work through muscle imbalances, identifying where you are weak an helping you to isolate and strengthen those areas. My technique has improved loads since addressing muscle imbalances with my physiotherapist!
17. Take supplements. Spend some time doing research, and work out what you need for your body, your lifestyle and your diet. I’ll do another post soon about supplements that are good for dancers, but look into things like probiotics, glucosamine, multivitamins, vitamin D, calcium. Again, the articles on Victoria Health are amazing for that.
18. Create routines. I have made a morning routine and a bedtime routine in an effort to get certain things into my schedule on a daily basis, as I just wasn’t doing them consistently. Now I do them most days, and I’ve seen improvements in my dancing. If you have a set routine, it makes it so much easier to do the things that are important for you to be doing on a consistent basis. Things like pilates, stretching, foam rolling, bathing, feet exercises, and even breakfast or an extra cup of green tea, are great to work into your daily routines.
BONUS… 3 things to STOP doing!
- Walking in turnout. It’s so bad for your body. Be aware of it, and force yourself to walk normally until it’s natural to you!
- Comparing yourself to others. It’s so easy to compare yourself to the people in your class, or in auditions, at competitions, or on social media. Everyone is so unique as a dancer, both physically and stylistically. People train differently and in different amounts, have different body types and mindsets, start at different ages… it’s just not useful or productive! Focus on knowing yourself inside and out, and trying to better your own performance.
- Worrying about 9 year olds. It’s very easy to go to competitions or go on Instagram and see very young girls en pointe doing difficult variations or fouettes… it can make you feel really panicked about the level you’re at at your age! Do yourself a favour and release that immediately! Just as you shouldn’t compare yourself to others, even more so don’t compare yourself to glimpses of things you see online. You never know how much practice has gone into perfecting that one particular thing. It doesn’t necessarily make them a better dancer than you because they can do that one thing well. They are often too young to be undertaking such ambitious work, which can be really damaging, so be grateful you weren’t exposed to that. Even if they are strong enough and trained well and are just an amazing prodigy, it doesn’t matter! You only have time to focus on bettering yourself, and working on what makes you unique as an artist.