Dancers are creatures of habit. A busy schedule and routines are adopted early in your dance journey and it tends to feel good when you’re busy. So, when things shift in the summer, it can be a struggle.
Time off can exacerbate body struggles, food relationship issues, and general feelings of stress or unease. However, it’s also really important for dancers to take time to rest and be away from the studio and the busy schedule.
When I was dancing professionally, I was incredibly stressed that the time off would lead to uncontrollable weight gain. This is an unfortunate and unfounded fear for so many dancers. For me, this led to overexercising, big food struggles, and general unhappiness in a time that could have been fun, relaxing, and revitalizing. I want it to be different for you.
Set some summer intentions.
Planning can help you ease some of the anxiety about time off. It will also allow you to recognize weeks when you might benefit from increasing activity level for an intensive or before the start of your season.
When it comes to intentions, my recommendation is always to start with how you’d like to feel. Maybe you’d like to feel relaxed or productive. Perhaps you want to go back to your in-season dance schedule feeling refreshed, inspired, or revitalized.
Once you identify your desired feelings, next ask yourself what actions will support you in achieving those things.
Supportive summer action steps.
In case you’re feeling lost trying to figure out ways to prioritize rest but also feel productive, here are some ideas.
- Reconnect to your why and your goals.
It’s very possible that as the end of the season approached, you struggled. You’re going at a high intensity for months on end and have to be incredibly focused on your dancing. Let your layoff be an opportunity to remember why you love to dance.
What’s the vision for your career and what goals will help you meet that end? You can and should be constantly reassessing these things. Let the summer be an opportunity to truly tune into your intuition and be honest with yourself about your progress and future goals.
- Incorporate activity in fun ways.
Dancers spend a lot of time indoors (I’m convinced it’s part of why we’re able to maintain a youthful appearance — ha!), so allow yourself to get more outside time when you can. Fill your outside time with fun activities and connection.
Go on walks with family, friends, or pets. Give your body some therapeutic movement by swimming and enjoying time in water. Ride bikes or roller blade and generally enjoy movement you might not have the opportunity for when you’re in season.
- Let food be easy.
Dancing for hours a day can disconnect you from your hunger and fullness cues. Time off is an opportunity to reconnect. Resist the temptation to alter your intake — dancers often assume you need less food in the off season, which can lead to undereating.
Enjoy lots of fresh, in-season food and work to stay connected to what your body is telling you. If you struggle to eat 3 meals a day when dancing full-time, let the summer be an opportunity to build that consistency into your eating plan.
Dancing, cross-training, self-care.
- Dance and cross-train with balance and intention.
You may need some time with no dancing. Be aware of how much time you take off and how you plan to build back up. It is worth thinking through your summer plan and dance schedule. You want to take the time you need to reignite your inspiration, but you don’t want to take so much time that you risk getting injured once you return.
To gain more insights on the science behind this balance, I contacted The Dance Scientist, Maria Haralambis. She said:
“This is a really important balance for dancers to find and it can be very hard to fine-tune, which is why relative rest is recommended more than full rest. Even if a short period of time is taken off, this can increase the time it takes to build up your previous fitness levels.
Instead, relative rest is participating in some sort of modified activity so that you can maintain your fitness levels. Then when you return to dance, you’ll be safer and more efficient at your movements because it won’t be as big of a shock to your body systems.¹
- Prioritize self-care, self-love, and body acceptance.
Use your extra free time to really connect to activities that will enhance your life and dancing. Have you wanted to try meditation or dry brushing for a while? Take the time to explore those positive habits.
If you’d like to improve your experience of your body, give this daily body image booster a try. Time away from the mirror can be such a benefit to body image. Implementing additional practices to help you shift your self-perception will allow your return to the studio to be less jarring.
View time off as an opportunity.
Instead of leaning into the fear and uncertainty of time off, try to view it as an opportunity. Let it be a catalyst for personal growth and development. If you struggled throughout your season with food, body image, or balance, seek support in the off season. I’ve heard from so many dancers recently who said they didn’t have time to reach out during the season. If that’s you, let’s connect. Coaching in the summer months is a great way to lay a positive foundation and groundwork for a more balanced, happier, more successful dance experience.
- Thistle, B., Finn, H., & HDC. (2015). The art of rest: Dance your way to wellness.