Life After Retiring From Dance

There was a great article in the Washington Post last week about what dancers do when they retire. Gone are the days when “retiring” signaled the end of your career. Instead, dancers are doing pretty much everything after retiring, including microbiology, bioengineering, surgery, geophysics…you get the idea. No profession is too much for these former professionals who kept their minds open to the possibilities after dance. It’s pretty inspiring stuff!

In my teachers’ days, after retiring, most dancers became dance teachers or worked for a dance school. A few became choreographers; many of the women got married and started families. When I was retiring, almost all of my colleagues went on to colleges and universities and had second careers, far from the dance world they had lived in for so many years. In my cohort at Boston Ballet, we have psychologists, teachers and lawyers, among other professions.

Today, the thinking has evolved even further. Many professionals companies have developed relationships with local colleges and universities to offer dancers the ability to earn a degree while dancing.

Opportunities like this are all around you, so if you’re worried about having to choose between dance and everything else, stop! There are so many ways to stay educated while doing what you love, and in so doing, be prepared for the next phase of your life.

This article is only one piece of evidence showing that dancers do incredibly well with their “after dance” lives. Determination, hard work, and self-discipline are just a few of the qualities that dancers have in abundance and that they carry into their lives beyond the studio.

Do you ever think about what you’d like to do when you stop dancing? Is there something you are passionate about that peaks your curiosity?

 

Grace Under Stress: Your Average Dancer

 

A diamond is just a piece of charcoal that handled stress exceptionally well. 

Among the many things dancers are gifted at, hiding stress is one of them. How many times have you been nervous or scared, and someone has said to you afterwards that you looked relaxed and nonplussed? This still happens to me now, years after my dance career ended, and I attribute it to my dance training.

Unlike athletes, dancers can’t show exertion or pain on their faces. Remember the Olympics last summer? The fierce determination, the anguish in the faces of the athletes- it really struck me that as an observer, I could almost read their minds because of how much showed on their faces.

Dance isn’t like that: dancers are trained to minimize natural expressions of pain or exertion so that they do not distract the audience from the art form. Keeping stress under the radar does not, however, mean that dancers handle it effectively. I have found that most dancers either ignore their stress, hoping it will go away on its own, or they are completely consumed by it.

Here are some tips for dealing with your stress so that you can respond like the diamond pictures above: clear-minded and beautiful!

  1. First, start paying attention to it: how does it manifest in your body? (i.e. no appetite, shaking, extremely tense muscles, dry mouth?) How does it manifest in your mind? (i.e. replaying mistakes in your head, self-criticism, obsessively checking things like your hair or your text messages?) Often, just noticing what is happening to us is a strong step towards managing the stress and preventing it in the future.
  2. Don’t wait until you’re stressed to practice self-care. Think of one thing that calms you down when you feel stressed, and add it to your daily routine to stop stress before it starts.
  3. Breathe. Deep, mindful breathing has been shown to lower the heart rate and slow down the release of stress hormones. Try counting your inhales and exhales, “inhale 1, exhale 2; inhale 3, exhale 4.” Count up to 10, and then start over. Doing this 2-3 times should help you feel calmer and more in control.

Understand that everyone experiences anxiety and those who come out the other end looking shiny and bright probably spent some time “in the wings” dealing with it. So, the real secret to handling stress is to not keep it a secret: acknowledge that you will have stress at some point, and make a plan to deal with it that involves prevention as well as treating the symptoms.

Meditate, Breathe: Summoning My Inner Tibetan

This morning I escaped to my Ashtanga yoga practice. I needed to meditate and breathe, and not just in the usual sense.

Since last Friday’s horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I have been on a roller coaster of emotions: pain for the victims’ families, friends, and teachers; immense sadness at the loss of so many innocent little children; horror at the  senselessness of such a devastating act.

I have also been angry at our country, our leaders, our health care system- all people and institutions which should be capable of working together in  a manner which could have prevented this from ever happening. These feelings and a sense of helplessness in the face of it all have kept me slightly nervy and emotional all weekend.

So this morning, I really needed to get out of my head and into my body and breath. I thought it would help me, and it did, but in a way I hadn’t anticipated.

In the middle of my practice, I found myself drifting towards thoughts of the event: things I’d heard on the radio, images I’d seen online. My eyes would well with tears and I caught myself grinding my teeth. “Come back to the breath,” I kept telling my mind. And then, out of nowhere, “Peace.”

Repeating “Peace” brought me to a quieter place emotionally, and I was able to finish my practice.

It also gave me a small personal epiphany about meditative monks, like the Tibetans. I had never been entirely sure how I felt about monks removed from the world, praying and meditating; I confess I have wondered sometimes how those actions could make a difference.

Today, I think I had a tiny glimpse into the power of a meditative practice: I felt active. I felt connected to those families. It is something to experience compassion and pain for someone else’s suffering, to hold it in your own mind and heart, and then release it on the breath. The relief I felt at being able to do something, anything, was powerful; I can see how it could even be healing.

Cook Once ... Eat All Week

Cook Once and Eat All Week

This post was originally published on Beyond the Gold– NY International Ballet Competition’s blog. It’s on how you can cook and eat homemade meals all week without spending your life in the kitchen. It’s easier than you might think….!

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I happen to love the phrase, “Cook once, eat twice.” But in my kitchen, it’s cook once, eat four or five times. I love to eat well, but I am not willing to spend a lot of time cooking during the week unless it’s a family event. So, here are some of my tips for cooking/prepping once and eating many times- these are very simple ideas, but I hope they get you thinking!

I usually pick a day when I cook three or four main ingredients and then have them in the fridge as building blocks for the week. My trick is that I cook them in the simplest way possible, usually steaming for veggies and greens and basic prep (without flavoring) for beans and grains. That way, every time I eat, I can add different flavors to create a whole new dish.

For example: Ingredients:

  • Kale: steamed
  • Wild Rice: boiled
  • Cannellini beans: soaked for 24 hours, then boiled until soft.

Meals

Warm or cold

  • Mix kale, wild rice and cannellini beans
  • Toss with tahini, splash of lemon, ground black pepper, salt

Cold

  • Slice up and add cherry tomatoes, avocado, pine nuts (toast them if you like)
  • Add cold kale
  • Toss with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper

Cold

  • Cannellini beans and wild rice
  • Add feta, cucumber, kalamata olives, tomatoes
  • Toss with olive oil, vinegar, fresh oregano/basil, salt and pepper

Warm

  • Saute cannellini beans and wild rice with sesame oil, salt and pepper
  • As a side, sauté the kale in sesame oil with some sesame seeds

In addition to these simple ideas, you now have a green, a grain and a protein, all ready to be eaten in any other creative way you want.

Some other staples that are great to cook ahead of time and keep on hand as building blocks are:

  • Quinoa (good cold, hot and as a breakfast cereal)
  • Brown Rice
  • Kasha (Buckwheat)
  • Steamed broccoli
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Chard
  • Kale
  • All beans: so good hot or cold and very easy to dress up in different flavors

 

 

 

 

Separating Fact from Opinion

A young dancer’s days are spent listening to other people’s voices. Teachers, mentors, artistic directors, partners, choreographers, and many parents all talk to the young dancer about their dancing. Some feedback they give is work-focused, like corrections on technique and insights to build artistry. Other pieces of feedback are opinions, like comments on your appearance or work ethic.

Factual feedback is golden: it’s the kind of information you can write down in a journal and meditate on on future days. It’s information that you can *act* on and it’s about your dancing. 

Opinion-based feedback is much more personal in nature. It might be about your work ethic or how you look or something innate to you, like your intelligence. It’s information about YOU, not about your dancing. This type of feedback, when negative, can be destructive; it can erode your sense of who you are and your self-worth.

Negative, opinion-based feedback has no place in the studio. Ever. 

But people offer it all the time. Trying to get teachers and artistic directors to not use opinion-based feedback is … well, it’s impossible. So let’s skip that and instead try to shift your perspective. Try thinking about distancing who you are from how you dance.

Dancers often look at me with puzzled expressions when I suggest that it’s important to start to separate themselves from their dancing. “But…I am a dancer. When I dance, it’s me. It’s the same thing.”

I hear you. I felt the same way when I was dancing. But here’s the thing: there IS a difference.

YOU are you. Your dancing is something that you DO. It’s very, very personal, for sure. And yes, your body is you. But imagine this: Imagine someone criticizing your handwriting. How deeply personal would you take that criticism? Is your handwriting YOU?

My guess is it wouldn’t hurt you the way a negative comment about your dancing would. So use that idea as a model for how to start separating your dancing from who you are as a person. It’s a long process, but one that will really help you move past the negative impact of opinion-based feedback.

Also, when you get feedback, try to separate it in your mind into fact-based and opinion-based. Hold onto the fact-based stuff: write it down, meditate on it, use it.

If the opinion-based feedback is negative and/or is not connected to the work (i.e. your dancing), evaluate how helpful that information really is to your progress. Maybe there’s a “fact jewel” in the muck- if so, fish it out and try to use it. If not, let it go.

When you can hear an opinion as an opinion, you can decide how to respond to it.  Opinions that do not move you forward on your path of progress and understanding are not worth much. Give yourself permission to toss them away.

Sing a Song (In Your Head)

Sing a Song (In Your Head)

I’ve been having trouble lately quieting my mind: it’s on replay these days with to-do lists and various other things. It’s been really difficult to find a quiet mental place where I can truly relax and be in the moment. I’ve tried breathing deeply and also repeating a mantra, things that have worked in the past, but no dice.

So, this morning, walking to my office, I tried a new tactic. I tried singing a song in my head. I didn’t invent this, I’m sorry to say. It’s a technique that marathon runners, among others, use to stay in the moment. They memorize playlists and then “play” them in their minds during races. It helps block out the incessant whirring of their brains. (And can you imagine how much whirring could happen during a 25-mile run? Seriously. Anyone would need a strategy.)

It turns out, it is really hard to think about anything else when you are singing the words to a song. (Which is not true when you’re actually listening to music, right? Raise your hand if you have completely missed entire songs in a playlist because you are so distracted by your thoughts. My hand is up.)

Anyway, I sang three songs by the time I got to work and it worked! I didn’t have any random thoughts wander in and pull me away from my being in the moment.  Furthermore, I felt mentally refreshed by the time I arrived at my office. It was refreshing to get off the hamster wheel of my noisy brain.

So, the next time your brain is being annoyingly overactive, pick a song you know the words to and start singing in your head. (This is a great time sing music that other people don’t appreciate: no one will hear it but you!) Make a mental note of how you feel afterwards. If it’s helpful, maybe cue up a little playlist for yourself so you have it at the ready.

Sleep Like Your Success Depends on It

Sleep Like Your Success Depends on It

Did you know that, on average, teenagers need 9.25 hours of sleep every night to function at their highest level?

Only 15% get 8.5 hours, while the rest are way under that. (And I have yet to meet a dancer in high school who sleeps more than 7 hours a night…)

Sleep impacts metabolism

A recent study from the University of Chicago shows that proper sleep may have a positive effect on glucose and insulin levels, namely it helps maintain cells’ sensitivity to insulin. Conversely, the less sleep you get, the less sensitive your cells are to insulin. Because insulin regulates how the body processes sugars and stores fat, it’s important that we not lose that sensitivity through lack of sleep.

So, not getting enough sleep can actually hurt us metabolically. “People think they can function cognitively on little sleep, but our study proves they are not tolerating the metabolic consequences,” said Dr. Matthew Brady of the University of Chicago, author of the study.

Tips to get to bed earlier

So now you have yet another reason to get to bed earlier! Here are 2 tips for doing just that:

  1. Turn off your electronic devices early. Incoming texts, social media, and one more episode of your favorite TV show all keep the brain active and alert. It can take between 30 and 60 minutes for the brain to get into sleep mode after any of these activities.
  2. If you must use electronics before bed, try turning on the “night mode” in the display and brightness settings: this subtracts the blue light from the display, making it easier for your brain to calm down when it’s time to sleep.
  3. Do some deep breathing or a body-scan when you get into bed. Mindful breathing calms the heart rate and quiets the mind, both of which will prepare you for bed.

Check out these resources for more info: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/10/16/lack-of-sleep-linked-to-weight-gain/ https://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1379773