Written by Janelle Holmes
Being a highly-trained dancer, I know that our “M.O.” as dancers is to spread ourselves way too thin, which will inevitably lead to fatigue, burnout, and even sports injuries. Although it feels like there are never enough hours in the day, it is important to take care of your physical and mental well being in order to limit, and preferably prevent, the occurrence of these negative consequences.
The most common symptom of burnout as a dancer is “consistent fatigue,” which I will address in this blog. I’ll cover some causes, and offer some solutions that have worked for me, and may work for you. Two key elements that play a major role in preventing burnout are time management, and physical fitness.
Causes of “dancer burnout”
Factors leading to “dancer burnout” include increased performance demands coupled with year-round vigorous training. An uptick in performances and related training equates to a greater demand on your time, dancing on unsprung surfaces (stages, grass, concrete, etc.), commuting, and generally put, very long, draining days. The closer you get to a performance, the greater the imbalance between activity and recovery becomes. And let’s keep in mind that your year-round training, regardless of your number of performance opportunities, is a core contributor to dancer fatigue; even more so if you are carrying an academic workload. The efforts required to balance a technical and artistic career, compounded by scholastic endeavors, will inevitably take a toll on your body, mind, and spirit. It is therefore paramount that you create a sustainable balance between the two. I strongly encourage you, based on my own hands-on experiences, to adopt an overarching paradigm in your mind to hold these concepts in your thinking at all times, above all else. To navigate not succumbing to injuries and fatigue leading to burnout you need to take precautions.
Solutions worth considering
There are a few excellent tips to help you battle burnout, including getting sufficient sleep, a few weeks’ rest after performance season, top-notch nutrition, and increased fitness levels. Adequate sleep is imperative to your body’s recovery process (see Dr. Robichaud’s blog post, The Importance of Sleep for Dancers ). Personally, I try to wind down at the end of the night with some reading and a cup of caffeine-free tea. Catching enough zzz’s and carving out time for rest and recovery, no matter how small, after the performance/training season is necessary to rebuild, relax, and prepare yourself to do it all over again. Studies suggest allotting 3-5 weeks after a season to enable your body and mind to recuperate. Since brevity of a dancer’s career does not always allow for a 3-5 week stoppage, you may need to find ways to tweak the recovery process to suit your own unique situation. At a minimum, I would suggest making it your top priority to give your body at least 1-2 weeks away from strenuous rehearsing/dancing to allow nature to do its work. For myself, through trial and error, I’ve found that a 1-2 week renewal period is most realistic. However you will need to evaluate your unique situation, and determine what works best for you. .
Another challenge dancers face with regard to fatigue is meeting proper nutrition requirements to sustain a healthy mind and body. Getting enough complex carbohydrates into your body to support healthy brain and body function is easy to lose sight of when you are juggling such a hectic schedule. But, there is no getting around this - you must care for your body so it in turn takes good care of you. Dietary goals can easily slide toward the bottom of your list of priorities, and can seem difficult to manage, but I’ve found a bit of meal planning during the weekend truly sets me up for a great week! Be kind to your future self, by planning ahead.
My final note on combating and preventing dangerous levels of burnout is increasing your level of fitness, and doing so in a way that addresses the entire body. It is important to understand and embrace that idea that increasing your physical fitness as a dancer differs from elevating your dance technique. Cross training is an excellent way to accomplish this. For me, it has proven to enable me to forge ahead and achieve success. It bolsters my level of strength, flexibility, and aerobic capacity. I would like to note here, while on the subject of physical fitness and injury prevention, that I’ve found the number one practice, and my preferred method of enhancing physical fitness as a dancer is dedicated time and commitment to my personalized dance fitness program designed by the Dance Medicine Team at Magna Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine Center. If you want to join me in beating dancer burnout, please reach out to our incredible staff at Magna PT, here.
In conclusion, while there is no tried and true “fix all” solution, I am hopeful that a combination of these suggestions and examples can work for you and your specific needs...and success!
Yours always in dancing, fitness, and wellness.
The information contained in this post is solely a sharing of my personal experiences and results, and in no way is meant to represent or take the place of professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of a medical professional before committing to an exercise and/or nutrition plan.