School, dance classes, rehearsals, homework, family activities—a million things can push your daily wake-up time earlier and your bedtime later. You might feel like getting a good night’s sleep is an impossible dream. But you shouldn’t just accept sleep deprivation as a fact of life. Sleep is one of the things that keeps your body at its best.
“Over time, poor sleep can limit your ability to learn and concentrate,” says Lauri Leadley, a sleep technologist and president of Valley Sleep Center in Arizona. “You can forget important information, like homework or choreography. Lack of sleep can lead to aggressive or inappropriate behavior, like yelling at friends or family. It can also cause you to eat too much, contribute to acne problems and even lead to illness.”
It takes conscious effort to improve your sleep habits, but if you decide to sleep smart, you’ll find yourself not only feeling better, but also performing better.
Most sleep experts agree that teens need eight to nine hours of sleep a night. The busier your schedule, the harder it can be to get those hours. But that’s not the only factor conspiring against you getting the sleep you need. According to Dr. Alon Avidan, director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, your circadian clock—the timekeeper in your brain that determines when you want to naturally wake up and fall asleep—shifts forward by about two hours during your teen years. That means you might not feel tired until after midnight, and you definitely won’t want to get up for school at 6 am.
Unfortunately, you can’t “make up” lost sleep—an eight-hour night is not the same as a six-hour night plus a two-hour nap later in the day. “For every hour of lost sleep per night, you need a full 24-hour period that includes good sleep to recover,” Avidan says. So how are you supposed to fit sleep into your busy life?
Set a schedule. Do your best to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day—even on the weekends. Sleeping until noon on Saturday will only confuse your body and make it harder to get up on Monday morning.
Strengthen your routine. Do the same activities, such as taking a shower or reading, before bed every night. “A nightly routine signals to your body and your brain that it’s time to sleep,” Leadley says.
Stop snoozing. “The more you press the snooze button, the more your brain falls back asleep,” Leadley says. “To feel more awake in the mornings, get moving right away.”
Stick to power naps. If you feel sleepy by mid-afternoon, it’s OK to take a nap—but keep it short. “With power naps, you get a burst of energy and alleviate sleepiness,” Avidan says. “If you go beyond 15 or 20 minutes, you’re more likely to fall into deep sleep and wake up groggy.”
Does the position you sleep in affect the quality of your sleep? It can—especially if you tend to snore when you sleep on your back. But for dancers, the proper sleep position can also set your body up to perform at its best, pain-free. “Sleeping in the right position can aid in recovery from injury and fatigue,” says Dr. Jamie Blau of Upper Westside Chiropractic in NYC.
“Dancers should try to sleep either on their sides or on their backs, with one pillow under their necks,” Blau says. “This encourages proper spinal and muscular alignment, which means less stress on the body overall.” Blau strongly discourages stomach sleeping. “When you sleep on your stomach, your neck is very rotated,” she says. “You can develop neck and shoulder pain that can eventually radiate down the arm. If you sleep half on your stomach with one leg up, you might also see lower back problems.”
If you’re a lifelong stomach sleeper, fear not: Bad sleep habits can be broken. “Use
pillows to prop yourself in the right position,” Blau advises. “For side sleep, put a pillow between your knees to keep yourself from rolling over. If you wake up on your stomach, shift onto your side or back again.” Your body will thank you in the morning.
Good sleep isn’t just about timing and position. Leadley recommends making your bedroom a “sleep haven”—cool, dark and quiet during sleep hours. “Avoid too much light and noise at bedtime, because those things stimulate the brain,” she says. “Even your computer or cell phone can make your brain think it’s time to wake up.” (So save the iPad and Kindle reading for daytime, and opt for easy-on-the-eyes books and magazines at bedtime.) Meanwhile, maximizing light exposure in the morning can make it easier to get out of bed.
“In general, don’t watch TV, talk on the phone, play video games or do homework in bed,” Avidan adds. “Use the bed only for sleep.” It’s crucial to teach your brain that your bed—and the bedroom environment as a whole—is a calm, restful place.
Despite all of these guidelines, sleep needs can vary from person to person. If you’re not sure what sleep strategies work best for you, try keeping a sleep diary. Jot down what time you go to bed, when you wake up and how (by alarm clock or naturally), your sleep position and how rested you feel. When you find a set of variables that work well together, stick with them. Better nights mean better days.
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.