Dance is incredibly demanding, especially at a serious level. As dancers, we not only give an incredible amount of mental and physical energy to what we do, but what we do also informs the rest of our lives. You can’t keep dance and life separate, because when you dance, it IS your life. When every decision is dictated by dancing, it’s too easy to forget about what you need as an individual. Spending even a little time nurturing yourself will, in turn, nurture you as a dancer.
Traditional self-care activities (like ordering loads of takeaway or getting a pedicure) aren’t necessarily suited to dancers, so I decided to make a list of my top self-care tips that address dancers’ unique needs.
If you’re BURNT OUT:
- Have a “muscle pampering” session: start with a hot bath or shower, then stick a film and some warm clothes on and spend a good couple of hours rolling out your muscles with a foam roller and a tennis ball. Then have a really thorough stretching session and apply arnica gel all over once you’re done.
- Drop a few things from your to-do list (tip: housework can always wait and no one can tell if you didn’t wash your hair once it’s in a bun, especially if you dry shampoo it first!) and get a proper early night!
- Have a meal full of your favourite, most nutritionally-dense foods and fuel up on everything your body needs (what are you craving? your body will usually tell you what it wants. Sometimes I’m low on healthy fats and desperate for salmon and avocado, other times I want to tuck into a colourful tray of all different fruits, a cry out for vitamins!)
- Book an appointment with your physiotherapist to work out any niggles before they become injuries
- Grab a friend, get a take-out coffee or smoothie and take a leisurely stroll around the park. Spending time in nature has energising effects (so does coffee!). Just try to keep the conversation light- complaining or gossiping will only leave you more drained.
- Get a sports or deep-tissue massage from someone with experience treating dancers- they’ll know exactly where to focus their attention to leave you feeling brand new.
- Take care of your feet! If your feet are feeling a bit beaten-up, try reducing inflammation with an ice bath, trimming the nail straight across (not too low down), applying a strengthening treatment to your nails and massaging the feet thoroughly.
- If you have painful trigger points that massage doesn’t seem to cure, try a new treatment such as cupping or acupuncture.
- Use your body in a different way. Although doing MORE exercise can seem counter-intuitive, if you’re doing a lot of ballet and using your turnout muscles all the time, sometimes you can feel better by going for a swim, doing yoga or even taking a contemporary class, because it helps to counterbalance all that stress.
- Look on YouTube for a guided meditation session that appeals to you and have a longer meditation session. There are versions for energy, for healing, all sorts.
- Go to see a nutritionist with experience working with dancers. Assessing your nutrition and setting goals can help you to fuel the work you’re doing, improving your energy levels.
- Go and buy a magazine and a delicious scented candle and spend an hour or two getting comfy, reading and basking in lovely scented goodness.
- Have a warm, pampering bath, light some candles, use some epsom salts or magnesium flakes for aching muscles, and treat yourself to a nice face mask to de-stress.
If you’re LOW ON CONFIDENCE:
- Read this open letter!
- Make a list of all of your achievements so far in dance. Put it up somewhere you can see it.
- Set some goals. Looking forwards, instead of dwelling on where you’re at now and feeling discontent, will help you to get out of the rut.
- Go shopping! Get a new leotard/ dance outfit that you feel AMAZING in. Also invest in a new pair of tights, because what’s better than a fresh pair of tights?
- Go to an open dance class at a different studio that’s a slightly easier level. It will enable you to enjoy the class without comparing yourself to others. Then go back into your usual class knowing it’s just the next step in your technique progression, and assured that you’ll get there.
- Try a new fancy hairstyle for class and make sure you look your best. It will give your confidence a little boost.
- Take a day off class and do something else that you enjoy. Remember that you need to be objective about your progress, and that your self-worth doesn’t depend on how many pirouettes you can do!
- Set aside some time for self-reflection: my mum recently sent me this journal in the post when I was feeling quite low and unmotivated. Taking a step back and reflecting through its questions and exercises really helped me (and it’s so pretty!)
If you’re IN NEED OF INSPIRATION:
- Watch a film that you find inspiring, even if it’s really bad! (I love Ice Princess, judge me all you like!)
- Make a vision board.
- Set some new goals and look at them every day.
- Go to a gallery, museum or concert: dance is an art. It can and should be influenced by other art forms.
- Go to a new class, especially if it’s in a different dance style you haven’t tried before. I recently started going to flamenco classes and I love them!
- Dance for fun! Whether you go to a social dance, go on a night out with friends or just put some music on and dance around at home, spend some time dancing for the joy of it.
- If you’re someone who likes planning and journaling, treat yourself to some new inspirational stationery.
- Get tickets to the ballet or a dance show, and remind yourself why you’re doing this!
- Make a list of all the things you love about dance, why you do it and the things about it that you’re grateful for. You’ll feel uplifted afterwards.
Just some everyday self-care tips…
- Have a little food treat. When you’re so focused on nourishing your body to fuel your performance, it can be easy to start to blow things out of proportion and feel like giving in to one thing will affect your progress. In reality, a piece of cake or even a brunch with friends isn’t going to damage your dancing as long as it’s only once in a while. So choose something you really want and enjoy it without feeling guilty!
- Start going to bed earlier and getting up earlier. Getting more sleep will make you feel so much better overall, and getting up earlier will make your mornings less stressful.
- Download the calm app and start meditating just 10 minutes a day.
- Set aside a space that’s just for you: a room or just a chair or a corner, and fill it with cushions, blankets and candles. Go there whenever you need a bit of me-time! (I have a tent!)
- Choose some healthy habits that you want to make part of your every day life. Set little rewards for doing them consistently, like giving yourself a manicure or buying a magazine.
- Buy a really nice notebook and pen and start keeping a journal. Write about everything that’s on your mind each night. You will feel better once your thoughts are down on paper, and it will help you to identify what’s really going on and think of more objective solutions.
- Get in touch with the friends you never see and set actual dates to meet up and see them, instead of perpetually saying “we should hang out” and feeling guilty when you don’t have time!
- Don’t have time to read as much as you’d like? Download the Audible app so you can listen to audiobooks on the way to class or while you’re stretching.
- Spend some time in nature. It’s important to get away sometimes and reconnect with the wider world. Go for a walk in the woods or along the beach and be present in where you are.
I really hope that you find these tips useful. As dancers, it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in constantly working and forget that it really is okay to spend some time just focusing on yourself and your needs. Pick a couple of your favourites and spend some time on you!!