Ballet dancers are constantly working, and constantly striving for perfection. This requires consistent thought, practice, and body conditioning to achieve the right aesthetic and movement quality to be successful in this art. This also means…very, very minimal time off.
I know a lot of you have just returned from your summer intensive (me included!), or you will be returning next week back to home. The goal of this blog post is to inspire you, motivate you, and inform you on how to make the most of your break, and how to take advantage of it.
First up…take a BREAK!
You are given breaks for a reason. If your teachers wanted you to be worn out and continue your training every day of the year, non-stop, you wouldn’t be given time off. But guess what? You are on break right now. Your teachers want you to take advantage of it. I went through a period last year, during summer intensive – in which I never took a day off. My parents were getting angry because I refused to go anywhere or do anything besides ballet, and it was taking over my life. They had my teacher discuss it with me, and I realized that I would actually be able to dance better upon my return if I actually took time off. When I accepted this advice and listened to my teachers and parents, I saw a major spike in my technique.
I actually just recently saw evidence of this in my own dancing. I had the hardest Russian teacher every day last week, the final week of my summer intensive, and I felt my muscles starting to become very fatigued, and I was extremely sore. I felt even weaker by the end of the week – my hips cramped during a retiré below my kneecap. Yikes! But, I took Saturday completely off (it was mostly spent driving, anyways). After just one day off, I did pliés, tendus, and dégagés at the barre to check in with my technique, and I felt 10 times stronger than I did before my day off! You would think it would be backwards, but it is actually the other way around.
This is because your muscles need time to heal and re-develop their strength. When you exercise your muscles a lot, they break down. When you give them time off after a really hard workout period, it is their chance to re-build (this is the soreness you feel). That is what actually makes you stronger. So, even during the year, I now always take Sundays completely off to give my muscles a chance to re-build their fibers and make me feel stronger the next day. If you don’t ever take time off, your muscles will just break themselves down, rather than building themselves up. It’s so important!
The importance of cross training
For those of you who aren’t familiar, cross training is doing other sports or exercise mehtods to build your strength as a ballet dancer in a different way. It can be very beneficial, as it builds up different muscles that can support your dance muscles in the background, and it builds your health as a person, not just as a dancer. It’s very, very important.
Good examples of cross training would be yoga, pilates, biking, swimming, walking, running, paddleboarding, etc. A lot of dancers also enjoy FloorBarre and gyrotonics. My personal favorites are yoga (I have problems with my breathing and tension, and I’ve already seen a big difference), and biking. Both of these methods work on things you can’t necessarily work on while training by dancing. Biking is another personal favorite because it builds my quads and glutes, muscles I need to jump higher. I just always make sure to stretch out afterwards to avoid bulking up.
Cross training is the perfect tool to stay in shape over break because you can give your ballet muscles a chance to rebuild and a well-deserved break, while still keeping your cardio and overall endurance in check. Again, it is also another great opportunity to build healthy muscles you need as a person, not just as a ballet dancer.
I try to do cross training once a day, and go to a class for cross training once a week. This could mean a yoga or pilates class, or even a swimming lesson. Plus, it’s an efficient way to get outside and enjoy life, which brings me to my next point.
Taking an emotional break
Ballet is super, super hard. A lot of pressure is put on dancers to be perfect and to succeed, and that pressure can really damage you emotionally. A lot of us spend little or no time outside because we are constantly training. Breaks are an opportunity to enjoy life as a person, not just as a dancer. Do something that makes you happy, besides dancing.
For a lot of us, one of the things we enjoy about dance most is the workout and the physicality of the art. Taking an emotional break doesn’t mean you have to stay away from that! Things like hiking, taking a bike ride, or playing your favorite sport (I like basketball!), will still give you that physical vigor that you crave, while not thinking about dance at all.
Find something to do that you love and enjoy, and don’t do it for ballet-related reasons. For example, don’t cook healthy food because you want to stay in shape for ballet classes you’re taking next week – cook healthy food because it makes you feel great and you like to cook!
But…you’re still a dancer.
And finally, you are still a dancer. As I said at the very beginning of this post, classical dance is hard and it requires intense traning, and repetition.
So, sadly, we can’t always get a full and complete break from all things ballet. Your class time at your ballet school is very, very valuable, and you don’t want to spend the first few weeks of class trying to get back into ballet shape. You should already be in shape when class starts! This is also important for Nutcracker or junior company auditions, which are often at the beginning of the fall season.
So, you need to make sure that you are still working your ballet muscles by doing barre and center. Here is my summer training schedule:
First week of break: Barre every other day
Second week: Barre every day (except Sunday)
Third week: Alternate barre, barre en pointe, barre/center (Sunday off)
Remaining weeks: To studio for class 4x a week, barre at home twice (Sunday off)
I hope this is a super helpful blog post, and it both inspires you to stay in shape with cross training and ballet training, and to take some well-deserved time off. See you on Friday!
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