Getty Images

Yes, It's OK to Take a Break from Dancing Right Now

When the world began isolating as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the dance community sprang into action. Social media was flooded with virtual classes, and at any given moment you could easily find a dozen free options on Instagram. But the novelty of our Zoom-based reality is beginning to wear off—and dancers are feeling physically and mentally exhausted trying to keep up with this new normal. "We need social interaction and direct feedback," says Dr. Brian Goonan, a psychologist who works with dancers in Houston, Texas. "Most people can't self-sustain for two months in the absence of feedback."

It's okay to struggle with feeling motivated or joyful about dancing in the current circumstances. That's not an indication that you don't love dancing, but instead a clear sign that you need a break. In fact, experts agree that one of the best things a dancer can do right now is stop dancing for a while.

The Benefits of Taking a Break

Many dancers don't have much time off. Between a full school year of classes and summer intensives and competitions, there's rarely a moment to recharge. "I think young dancers in particular are in a chronic state of being overworked. They aren't getting enough rest," says Jason Harrison, a strength and conditioning coach who works with dancers in Dayton, OH. He says that many dancers have a mentality that more means better—add a dance class or 20 more minutes on the elliptical—which can lead to exhaustion. "If you look at how sprinters train, you don't get faster when you're tired," he says. Instead, he advises that dancers should be deliberate in their training and schedule in rest periods. "Ask yourself, 'Am I doing this class or workout because I'm anxious and insecure? Or am I doing this because I think it's going to help me?'" he says. "I think that too often the dancer is operating from a place of insecurity."

Catherine Vargo, a physical therapist who works with dancers at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, says that dancers tend to have a lot of physical imbalances that can lead to injury, like when you spend several months working on a piece of choreography you may be lifting one leg ten times and the other only once in that piece. Rest is one of the only ways to fix those imbalances. "Consider using this time to get things properly evaluated by a physical therapist, whether it is virtually or in person," she suggests. Vargo also points out that many dance injuries, including tendinitis and stress fractures, are overuse injuries. "This is an opportunity to slow down and really allow some of those chronic overuse injuries the time to truly heal," she says.

Getty Images

Don't Stress About Falling Behind

Many dancers are competitive and perfectionistic, but it is important to remember that this is an extraordinary situation, and everyone is struggling. "Dancers think that every minute that they aren't in the studio is a minute that they will lose to their competitors, and in this environment that is just not true," says Goonan.

From a physical standpoint, your hard-earned conditioning is tougher than you think, according to Harrison. "Cardiovascular and physical strength are both incredibly resilient attributes. You can take time off and still come back and get strong." Harrison recommends keeping up with conditioning at home by sprinting and jumping (with sneakers on if you don't have a sprung floor). And in terms of reps, both Harrison and Vargo agree that it is the quality of the jump that matters, rather than the number you do.

As dancers in some parts of the world and the country are re-entering the studios, they are likely finding that some of their skills may feel more difficult than before. But Vargo urges dancers to understand that some of those setbacks may have come with or without the pandemic. "Younger dancers are always transitioning, so a skill that was easy two weeks ago can suddenly become a challenge," she says. She adds that these challenges come as a natural part of development from hormonal changes, growth, changes in center of gravity and balance as well as others. "Dancers need to give themselves a little bit of grace, and say, 'This is hard for me now, and it may be because of growth and change, and not just time away."

Expand Your Interests

In the same way that this time out of the studio is an opportunity to address the balance in your body, Goonan encourages dancers to address the balance of their interests as well. Mental health professionals who work with dancers repeatedly cite many dancers' association with a fixed identity of "a dancer" as a psychological hurdle they need to overcome. If your sense of self is completely tied to dance, injuries, rejections, or, say, a global pandemic will leave you at higher risk for mental health challenges. Goonan asks dancers to finish the following sentence: "I am a person who..." He says the first answer is predictably, "dances," to which he replies, "Great, now what are the other 11 things?" He advises dancers to actually write these multifaceted elements of their identities down, look at their lists every day, and ask themselves how they're honoring each of those things.

"If I had a 14-year-old or 15-year-old dancer and their choice was between taking a lot of random Zoom classes that may or may not be appropriate, or learning how to cook, I would want them to learn how to cook ten out of ten times," Harrison says.

Latest Posts

Photo by Joe Toreno. Hair by Marina Migliaccio and makeup by Lisa Chamberlain, both for the Rex Agency.

Sienna Lalau: The Dynamite Dancer and Choreographer Helping BTS Make Magic

At just 20 years old, Sienna Lalau is the living definition of "dynamite dancer": bold, confident, almost addicting to watch, and, at her core, overflowing with pure passion. From her work with The Lab Studios to Video Music Award–winning choreography for BTS, there's no stopping this starlet from bringing her love of dance to the global stage.

"Dance is something that can truly connect people," Sienna tells Dance Spirit. "It's a universal language. We may not speak the same language physically, but when we dance, there's a connection where we understand each other on another level."

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Evolve Photo and Video

Olivia Wang is Your April Cover Model Search Editors' Choice Winner

Congratulations to the April Cover Model Search Editors' Choice video winner, Olivia Wang! Catch her solo below, and make sure to enter the Cover Model Search here.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Houston Ballet Demi Soloist Natalie Varnum shows off her signature style (Claire McAdams, courtesy Houston Ballet)

Fashion Forward: 3 Pros Share What Goes into Their Dancewear Choices

When it comes to in-studio dancewear, the pros know that the right look, piece, or material can mean the difference between a day feeling confident and comfortable, or just plain out of sorts. With so much time spent honing their craft in dance clothes, choosing those items takes equal parts strategy, creativity and a healthy dose of fun.

Here, professional dancers Ian Eastwood, Karilyn Ashley Surratt, and Natlie Varnum share what goes into their fashion choices that enables them to look good, feel great, and turn heads in the studio.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

Enter the Cover Model Search