Many of your fall shows are coming to a close or did last weekend. It’s the time of year in which opening shows conclude and Nutcracker season begins. Today I share my tips on how to recover fully from weekends packed with shows and then transitioning quickly into a new rehearsal period, often without a break.
What It Means to Reset
Most student dancers only have Sundays off. Professional company dancers may have regular performances on the weekends, so they usually have Mondays off to rest and regenerate their bodies. So, if students don’t have regular performances, Sundays become their day off. Yet sometimes our performances may be scheduled on Sundays, in which case we don’t get a break. The Nutcracker show of my school and company has performances either two or three weekends in a row, both days, with rehearsals and classes in between. That means that I go 21 straight days of intense dancing without a break. It is difficult and exhausting.
When we don’t have performances we take Sundays to “reset,” replenish in the sense of restoring our bodies to a balanced condition, and organize ourselves for the week ahead. That is an opportunity, for example, to take epsom salt baths, not use our dance muscles for a while, focus our minds on the activities of the new week and sew up pointe shoes. These are the kinds of activities that help us prepare for the time ahead.
Without that break, many dancers find that they struggle to remember combinations, retain their technique, and dance their best.
Right now, I’m going through a period without a reset. We had Peter Pan shows all of last weekend and now we are going straight into our first Nutcracker rehearsals. There has been no break. It is especially an issue with Nutcracker for me. I find it such as stressful ballet at the moment, because my role is so challenging. I am struggling to keep myself aware and awake.
But, regardless of my current difficulties, I have learned from both personal experience and tips from older dancers that there are ways to survive these tough times. Here are some of my tips.
Finding Time to Reset
Don’t Let Stress Collect
Without Sundays to recuperate, you have to find time throughout the week. My recommendation is to be proactive and immediate with your actions. For example, I always plan to do my laundry on Sunday afternoons. However, I often find myself doing laundry throughout the week to provide myself with clean clothes. Either way, the first thing I have to do after finishing a load is to put it away and fold it. If I don’t do this, it will end up piling on the laundry room counter and I’ll have to spend time in the morning searching through this pile to find an outfit for the day. This wastes lots of time and stresses me out.
Spread Out Your Tasks
Also make sure that you plan out what you will do and spread tasks over multiple days and time periods. Because these are odd tasks that you tend to leave to the weekend, it’s important to organize and think about them in advance to avoid stress. I always make a little Google Doc or write out a sticky note with everything I have to do. I then make another one and write all of the free time I have. Then I determine which tasks I will do in what time. For example, I can read for my English class on the bus while going to ballet, so that I can do laundry when I’m at home.
How To Be Smart About Your Schedule
Be a problem solver with your schedule. Plan your tasks efficiently. If you can be at home and do home-only tasks, go for it. Remember that it’s not always best to do the easiest, or the hardest, task first. You should aim to do things that will make your life easier and quicker in the future. It may be difficult to develop a system, because each task and day is different. However, you can increase your skills at doing this if you take a moment to think and plan according to the situation. Don’t fall into an overly strict routine that isn’t necessarily the most efficient. Be spontaneous and instantaneous in your decision making.
Dancing Well in Future Classes and Rehearsals
It’s difficult to dance well if you haven’t had a break. It can make you stressed out and you have other things on your mind, which in turn doesn’t bode well for picking up choreography and concentrating on your technique. Additionally, doing all of the “housekeeping” tasks that you missed over the weekend can eliminate time from your schedule for useful dance activities like stretching, strengthening, cross training and rolling out. Physical therapy or massage therapy appointments are often sacrificed during performance periods due to a lack of time as well.
My biggest piece of advice is to be efficient with the time that you have, but also to multitask. My favorite thing to do after dinner is to lay in the frog position by the fireplace doing homework: unconscious hip opening and homework completion, all at once!
Finding Time to Rest
I talked extensively in my post “So, You Have Time Off?” about the importance of taking breaks for your physical and mental health. However, you don’t have time off in this situation. The best thing to do is not to overwork yourself and to listen to your body.
Dancing extensively without a significant restorative break puts a lot of stress on your body and muscles and increases your risk of injury. According to http://www.healthychildren.org, “Athletes should take at least 1 day off per week from organized activity to recover physically and mentally.” While this may not be possible during a performance period, listening to your body during activity can be almost as effective. Below are some different ways you can incorporate rest into your busy schedule:
- Take time off after Sunday performances and don’t do any extra conditioning on Sundays when you already have to go to the theater.
- Take a few minutes in the morning to meditate.
- Take an epsom salt bath instead of a shower in the morning or at night, whenever you typically bathe. This way your muscles have a short time to relax.
- If you are having trouble sleeping at night, try putting some lavender essential oils on a cotton ball and tucking them into your pillowcase.
I hope you find this advice on restorative activities helpful! Make sure to follow my blog’s Instagram @gouletballet and my personal Instagram @ellagoulet. I also have Facebook (Goulet Ballet) and Twitter (@gouletballet) on which I post regularly to help you stay up to date on the contents of this blog. Have a great day, and keep stretching!