What a very strange time we’re experiencing right now. With many countries experiencing some form of lockdown, most of us are finding ourselves having to work from home.
As dancers, working from home unfortunately isn’t as simple as logging in remotely from our laptops and sitting by the phone. Most people’s home environments are a poor substitute for the studio! With inadequate space, unsuitable floors, and a lack of teachers, audiences and people to dance with, it’s very hard to replicate our working environment during quarantine.
However that’s not to say that we aren’t giving it a good go! Dancers are resilient and hard-working people. It’s been amazing to see people coming together to support one another, and many providing follow-along classes online that people can do from home. And it’s been great seeing people getting their class in from home, replacing the barre with stair rails, kitchen counters, backs of chairs, ironing boards, fence posts, wardrobe handles and bed frames!
However, keeping up with your dance practice in this time is about more than just doing class- and if you’re smart about it, you can turn this quarantine into a great opportunity to work on yourself as a dancer.
One thing I want to say first, though, is don’t feel that you need to work, work, work during this time. You don’t need to dance for the same number of hours as you would be at the studio, and in fact, that might not be wise. This is a great opportunity to give your body some rest, your mind some space, and to enjoy other things in life.
That being said, if you do want to take this time as an opportunity to work on your dancing, you can achieve great things if you approach it in a smart way. This isn’t about quantity- you can do modified ballet classes from home for hours and hours a day and you’ll probably find that you’ll maintain your fitness and technique but you won’t improve at all. Improvement comes from concentrated efforts on certain things that you then measure, monitor and reflect upon. Just doing follow-along classes won’t give you any of that. Here are my tips on approaching dancing from home in a smart way that can give you real improvements by the time you’re back in the studio.
Work on your weaker areas
I think that as dancers, it’s always tempting to fall into the trap of working on the things we’re already good at. I’m already flexible, and I really enjoy spending time stretching. However turns are one of my biggest weaknesses- but before class, the people who are great turners are the ones spinning all over the studio and I’m the one holding back. Even though I know I need to work on my turns, I’m reluctant to do it because I find them hard.
However being really honest with yourself about what you need to work on most and committing to improving that thing is going to be the best way to use this time to really progress your dancing. This isn’t about putting yourself down- just ask yourself “what’s the number one thing that, if I could improve it, would really change my dancing for the better?”. For me, I think it’s got to be pointe work. Here are some other examples of things you might choose to work on:
- Flexibility (either in general or in particular areas)
- Arabesque/ extensions
- Strength (either in general or in particular areas, e.g. core strength)
- Balance/ stability
- Fitness/ endurance/ stamina
- Ports de bras
- Jumps/ petit allegro/ grande allegro
- Floor work (for contemporary dancers)
- Positive mindset/ self-talk in relation to your dancing
- Body image
- Rehabbing a particular injury
- Shaping your feet
- Learning to control your hyperextension
- Pelvis alignment
- Overcoming stage fright
- Audition technique
Of course there are lots more things that might be of particular interest to you and your dancing. You can pick just one thing or a few, but I’d say don’t go after too many different goals at once. You’re better off sticking to one or two areas and really focusing on improving them. Then work out a plan of how you’re going to improve those things, and commit to doing a few things consistently each day. It doesn’t need to be a long, comprehensive exercise programme: picking a few key things and sticking to doing them consistently is what will bring results.
Some things are harder to work on from home than others- for example you might want to work on your grande allegro but live in a small apartment, or you might want to work on your pas de deux technique but you’re in isolation. But you can improve your grande allegro by strengthening your feet, calves, hamstrings, quads and hip flexors, stretching and lengthening your hamstrings, you can do exercises that help to prepare for certain jumps, you can practice co-ordinating your upper and lower body, you can read up on tips online and you can read over old class notes and pick out any corrections that might help you. For pas de deux, you can work on your pointe technique, you can train your balance and stability, or if you’re the one who supports you can work on your strength and practice lifting whatever is to hand, and you can also look for tips, tricks and corrections, and you can watch performances to learn from great artists.
Be Smart about Taking Class
Just because I’ve said taking class at home isn’t enough, doesn’t mean I discourage you from doing it! However there are some things you can do that will help you to get the most out of it. First, set up the space in which you’ll work. Find the best barre-substitute you can, and the best floor you can. Remove any obstacles that you can. If you have space to bring in a mirror, that can be really helpful, too. Then choose discerningly. There is so much choice at the moment for follow-along classes. Choose one that works in the space you have and is suitable for your level. Obviously be really careful about dancing on certain floors, especially if you’re wearing pointe shoes!
Then what I recommend is writing down some notes after taking class. Anything that strikes you about how your body feels, what was easy and what was difficult, any advice or corrections that helped you out. Every now and then you can even take it a step further and record yourself and then correct your technique.
I would also say that if you really don’t have a suitable space to be able to do a class and you feel you can’t do anything properly, it might be better for you to just do a floor barre, or work on different exercises, rather than doing a full barre or class.
Feed Your Mind
This is the best time ever to learn more about your art form. Really educate yourself about an area of dance you find interesting! Dance is a very diverse subject matter and you’d be amazed at the wealth of information out there.
I especially encourage dancers to learn about dance science, because this can give you lessons that you can take directly into your dance practice to become a better, healthier dancer. That might mean anatomy, nutrition, injury prevention and recovery, dance psychology, dance fitness and loads more. Otherwise, you can learn more about your own dance methodology or different ones- for example I have loads of Vaganova books I’m planning on getting stuck in to. You can read about great dance practitioners and teachers of the past. You can read about the history and stories of different ballets. You can read about the origins of different dance styles and techniques. You can learn about dance criticism, about behind-the-scenes roles in the dance world, and, if you’re more academically-minded there are so many areas of dance academia to explore such as dance and politics, dance and philosophy, dance history, ‘lost’ histories from under-represented narratives in the dance world, dance anthropology and loads more. You can even learn a skill like a notation method! Make the most of any books you have at home, but if you don’t have much and you can’t access a library right now, there are loads and loads of resources available online if you’re willing to dig a little.
This is a really good time to seek out some inspiration. You can find loads of videos online of performances and rehearsals. Watch and learn from your favourite artists. I especially love rehearsal footage because it’s a great insight into people’s working processes. You can pick up some really great tips. Also read/ watch interviews with your favourite dancers, choreographers, company directors, etc. This might also be a good time to try something different- watch performances in other dance styles and explore a bit. It can be easy to feel really down, stuck, and uninspired when you’re stuck inside and you can’t get to the studio or even out and about. Keep seeking out beautiful things that inspire you to keep working hard each day!
Take some time off!
I already mentioned this a little bit above, but seriously, this is a good opportunity to take some downtime. I’m not saying don’t do anything at all, but see this time as a chance to rest your body. Dancers tend to go, go, go all the time and never take any real time off. This is one area where we differ a lot from other athletes, who prioritise rest as an important part of their routine, and studies show that we suffer for that, with much higher injury rates. Rest is great for your body. It is also good to take a mental break from dance. Explore some other interests- get to know yourself a little. Who are you when you’re not a dancer? You might like to try writing and journaling, meditating, practicing mindfulness, colouring, drawing, baking, learning a new skill or a language… follow what brings you joy, because that’s something that we all need more than ever right now! When you get back to dancing, your artistry will be all the richer for spending time with yourself, and your technique will be brighter for having had some rest.
Plan your time effectively
Now, this is where I want to introduce something I’ve been working on that I’m so excited about! If you follow me on social media you will have already seen these. But one of the most important things to do while you’re working from home is to create some kind of routine. You need to take charge of your time and make sure you’re using it in the best way. By keeping track of your day, you can organise your tasks, you can separate your work time and activities from your leisure time and activities, and you can make sure you’re looking after your body and your mind. That’s why I have created ‘Working From Home’ planning sheets for dancers!
Download the PDF file and you can print out a sheet to fill out in the morning. Set your focus and some goals for the day ahead, keep track of your to-do list as well as any classes or workouts you have planned. Use the nutrition section to plan out some meals and snacks, and keep track of your water intake, too. Then there’s space for you to write notes from your classes and workouts, and to make sure you’re including mindfulness, activities that feed your mind, things that you’re doing just for fun, positive self-talk and gratitude.
The sheets also come with a sheet of tips for working from home that you can combine with the advice in this blog post to make sure you’re making the absolute most out of this time! Download your sheet from HERE.
I really hope that these tips are helpful and that you can use them to take control of this time and to use it in the best possible way so you can go back to the studio strong, inspired, and ready to dance.
Stay safe and keep dancing,