The Motivation Equation

Usually, you can’t wait to get to the dance studio. Classes and rehearsals are the highlight of each week. But today, you just don’t feel like dancing. You’d rather go to the beach. Or be with your boyfriend. Or watch TV. Or take a nap. Is something wrong with you? Should you feel guilty about your lack of dance devotion?

Of course not! It’s completely normal to have days when you feel unmotivated, even toward activities you normally love. But should you push through the “blah” and go to class, or should you give yourself a day off? DS chatted with a handful of experts to get the lowdown.

Find the “Why”

Are you overwhelmed with homework? Are you bummed because your competition team didn’t place last weekend? Are your non-dance friends hanging out without you? There are dozens of reasons you might not feel like going to dance class. Try to figure out what’s bothering you. Once you know the root issue, you can take steps to fix the problem—for instance, planning friend time that doesn’t conflict with dance.

Be honest with yourself about both the situation and how deep your reluctance runs. “Sometimes dance is a good distraction when something’s going on. Other times, you need to do other things to take care of yourself,” says Dr. Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who works with dancers. “If the feeling of not wanting to go is mild, it’s probably worth pushing through and dancing. But if the feeling is significant, it’s OK to say you need a day off.”

Pace Yourself

If you’re struggling with motivation, think about how today’s class or rehearsal fits into your long-term plans. “Ask yourself, ‘Do I want to be in the next show? Do I want to be a dancer?,’ ” Kaslow says. If the answer is “yes,” go to the studio. Not every dance day will be super-inspired—but by simply getting to the barre, you’re progressing.

And don’t just think long-term about your goals for next month or next year—think short-term about how you’ll feel by the end of class. Dancing can help dispel a rotten mood or calm a frazzled mind. “Walking into the classroom can be so refreshing,” says dance instructor Denise Wall of Denise Wall’s Dance Energy. “Whatever’s got you down, you can leave it in the hallway. The dance studio cleans your soul.”

If you’re someone who gets overwhelmed by everything you have to do, use dance as a way to focus. “Once you hear the music and start dancing, try to be in the ‘now,’ ” advises New York City Ballet soloist Rebecca Krohn. “Think about what you have to do in that second, and then move on. Take it hour by hour. Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

Plan a Reward

Sometimes giving yourself a “mental health day” isn’t an option—you may have a mandatory rehearsal or have used up your allowed absences. That’s where a personal reward system can come in. “It really helps to say, ‘I’ve got to do this, but here’s what I can do for myself later,’ ” Kaslow says. “That could be time with a friend, a favorite thing to eat or shopping after dance class.”

You can also think of performing as your reward for all the hard work you’ve done in the studio. “Performing is the reason most of us dance,” Krohn says. “That’s the ultimate moment, when you’re out there doing what you love, and it’s a great reward for working so hard.”

Be Kind to Yourself

Don’t beat yourself up for wanting the occasional free day. Dance training is tough, especially if you’re also juggling school, family, friends and other activities. If you’re not feeling motivated to dance, turn to your peers for support. Your friends can remind you why you love dance and help you get through a low time. Kaslow notes that sometimes just telling a friend “I’m not in the mood to be here today” can help you feel better.

If you’re unmotivated more often than not, especially if you don’t want to perform or compete, tell your teacher. “If you feel sidetracked or discouraged, or if you’ve lost your passion for dance, your teacher can help you evaluate what’s going on,” Wall says. “Maybe you’re under a lot of pressure from your parents. Maybe you’re worried about making mistakes. Maybe you’ve got too much on your plate.” Your teacher can advise you on a course of action—and if your love of dance is fading, that course of action might involve taking some time off to regroup.

But if you’re just suffering from the occasional “I don’t want to dance” day, congratulations: You’re human. “The best dancers in the world have days when they aren’t feeling great,” Krohn says. “Cut yourself some slack and know that tomorrow—or even the end of today—will be better. Don’t let it get you down for too long.”

Signs You Need a Break

There’s a big difference between an off day and actual burnout. According to psychologist Dr. Nadine Kaslow, you may need to consider a break from dance training if:

•You feel depressed or anxious every time you go to the dance studio.

•While dancing, you wish you were somewhere else.

•Dancing leaves you overly exhausted.

•You’re getting injured frequently.

•You’re struggling with eating disorder issues.

•You feel like you’re not dancing for you, but for somebody else.

•You’re questioning your love of dance.

If you’re experiencing any of these issues, talk to your teacher or a trusted adult about taking a break. Stepping back for a week, a month or even a year to gain perspective doesn’t mean you’re a failure. “A lot of people take breaks from dance and come back,” Kaslow says. “A break does not mean you’re done with dance forever.”

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