Balancing time off as a dancer is difficult for all of us. As I am writing this, we are beginning to see the impacts of Covid-19 in the United States. In an abundance of caution, schools are closing, ballet studios are shutting their doors, and performances are being cancelled left and right. So, what can we do as dancers to make the best out of this extended break, take care of our bodies and minds, and prepare for when we can go back to dance?
It is important to recognize that this is not a time to try and replicate the hours of work and effort you put in during a normal week in the studio. It’s more than okay to feel like you maybe took a step back from where you were when taking class and rehearsing for hours each day, but trying to stay in the same “shape” can cause physical stress and burnout, but also mental and emotional stress as well.
These lifestyle factors that we will go over are simple and pretty straight forward. They may seem like no-brainers, but living a well-rounded, healthy lifestyle on and off stage doesn’t have to be complicated.
Focus on balance. Mostly whole foods full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, while not restricting calories or foods that you regularly enjoy. Nutrient dense foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, plant and animal proteins, and healthy fats hold key micronutrients that are important for our body’s many functions and systems – think immunity, strength, growth, recovery, regulation, and so much more.
Sometimes, dancers turn to dieting when balancing time off. Now more than ever is a time to make sure you are nourishing and not depriving your body. Cutting calories impedes our recovery and growth, which can affect us through nutritional deficiencies, mood swings, muscle loss, unstable energy levels, subpar hormone levels, and unhealthy relationships with food and with our body. When our bodies do not have enough fuel to thrive, they focus only on the bare minimum necessary to keep us functioning. So enjoy roasted veggies, smoothies, and nourish bowls, but don’t forget about having some of your favorite foods as well.
Water plays a huge role in our bodies basic needs and functions. We need water to maintain our body temperature, remove waste, and lubricate joints. Looking into when our body goes into repair and recovery mode during extended periods of time off, water is necessary for the muscle recovery process, for digesting and absorbing our food, and reducing fatigue. Some practical ways to get enough water throughout the day are: carrying water around with you, flavoring water with fresh fruit and/or herbs, and setting a timer as a reminder to drink a few sips.
During time off from the studio, it is important to maintain some level of activity so that your body can acclimate to a heavy dance load when the time comes for classes and rehearsals to resume, but we also want to be mindful that working out in excess can cause injury and fatigue when heading back to a normal dance schedule. Light exercise helps to keep our blood circulating, our joints lubricated, and our muscles active and flexible. When looking at our immune system, exercise helps to mobilize our T-cells, which are a type of white blood cell that fight the infections that our bodies face. Active recovery through dynamic stretching and foam rolling also aid our bodies in recovery and rebuilding.
Balancing time off as a dancer does not mean that you have to do away with exercise all together. It is just smart to change it up, try something new, and take on a lighter load. There are so many amazing resources for free ballet barre classes, yoga flows, pilates sequences and bodyweight workouts on Youtube or Instagram. Some of my favorite creators include Kathryn Morgan, Claudia Dean, Yoga with Tim, Yoga with Adriene, MadFit, and so many others.
During times of forced rest, it’s easy to stay hunkered down indoors, but 10-15 minutes outside (using safe sun practices) can help provide a change of scenery and much needed fresh air. Vitamin D from the sun’s rays and oxygen from the air can boost our immune system by producing antibodies that fight germs and bacteria. Oxygen from fresh air can also help our digestive system effectively break down and absorb nutrients while improving our brain functioning, concentration, and energy. Take time to put down your computer or phone and enjoy a few minutes walking or sitting outside!
Sleep is essential for our bodies to rest and recover. Human growth hormone is released during times of deep sleep, which helps our muscle repair and our bones build. Sleep also improves our mood, concentration, and performance, replenishes our energy levels, and allows our bodies to secrete necessary hormones. In fact, lack of sleep can cause an inflammatory immune response to activate in our body, reducing our T-cell activity. While it is tempting to stay up late when we don’t have a set schedule, healthy sleep patterns are necessary for our overall health.
Some great sleep habits include, setting a nighttime routine, going to bed and waking up around the same time from day to day, minimizing screen time several hours before bed, and reducing caffeine intake in the afternoon and evening.
Stress, whether physical, mental, or emotional, heavily affects our body’s ability to function optimally. The list of negative health effects from chronic stress is quite comprehensive, but I wanted to focus on a few. Chronic stress suppresses our immune system response by releasing cortisol. Elevated levels of cortisol interfere with our T-cells and also reduce antibodies needed by our gut and respiratory tract, which is our first line of defense when germs or viruses enter our system. Stress also makes it harder for our body to recover and repair from an injury or overuse that is common in dance.
Several helpful ways to combat stress are through mindful meditation, deep breathing exercises, journaling, and engaging in activities that you enjoy. It is important to also acqknowledge when your body needs days of total rest from activity and really honor that.
Lastly, creativity helps keep our brains active and inspired when we are not able to get into the studio. This is a great time to explore activities like writing, drawing, organization, cooking, photography, a musical instrument, and improv movement. It is a way to channel our self expression and emotions, and provides a new sense of motivation when life and dance return back to normal. Creativity also helps us reduce stress and grow our confidence in ourselves.
Over the next few months, we will face a lot of uncertainty and disappointment, and so it is so important for us to take care of ourselves and uplift those around us. It is so important for those of us in the dance community to band together and support our organizations and artists. Balancing time off as a dancer can be difficult, and I am currently giving any dancer a free one-on-one nutrition consultation with me over the next month. Please reach out to me on any social media avenue, my website, or email! I also have videos posted on my YouTube channel talking about nutrition for dancers!