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Over-scheduled and Stressed Out

I just got this question from a dance mom on my website: “What would you suggest for the stressed out high schooler/ dancer? My son has so much on his plate and as a family we don’t get to see each other until Friday night.”

I hear this a lot. Although the specifics differ, the dancers I work with and talk to are living highly scheduled lives. They’re running from school to dance, then eating dinner at 9:00pm and doing homework until the wee hours. It can be hard to feel on top of anything at such a pace.

How do you handle this as a dancer? As a family?

There is no simple fix, but here’s a place to start.

First, determine what you need more of. 

  • Sleep?
  • Sit-down Meals?
  • Family time?
  • Alone time?
  • Time for schoolwork?

Yes, yes, and yes! I hear you, but for purposes of getting started, try to pick only one or two things. Then take a look at your average day and week. Usually, there’s some time in there, often in between two scheduled things, that could be better used.

Here are two concrete examples:

  • Maybe on the train (or car) ride to dance class, you could either do some schoolwork or use the time for self-care, like listening to calming music or doing a breathing exercise.
  • Maybe you’re a person who does homework with your phone next to you, inviting distractions and multi-tasking. Homework can take twice as long when interrupted, so try putting your phone in another room and applying your full mind to the task at hand. Most people find that when they focus completely, they work faster and more efficiently. If that’s true for you, then you’ve just created more time in your day.

More generally though, try these things:

  • Prioritize downtime: When faced with the option of adding another thing to your schedule, resist. Make sure you’re getting some unscheduled downtime every week when you can relax and recharge (in whatever way works best for you).

This includes dancing. It’s important to take at least one day off per week from dancing. Resist the urge to do class on a Sunday!

  • Prioritize self-care: Although we all can use more self-care, dancers need it more than most. The physical, mental, and emotional demands of training alongside an academic schedule can produce faster than normal burnout.

Be sure to make time for sleep (at least 8 hours/night), resting your body (legs up, couch time), and eating healthy meals three times a day. It sounds basic, but cutting any of these corners can make you feel even more stressed.

  • Minimize social media: yeah, yeah, you’ve heard this one before. The thing is, unless you don’t own a smartphone, you probably spend a lot more time on social media than you’re aware of. Start keeping track of how many times a day you pick up your phone to check a text message or Instagram or Snapchat or Facebook. Imagine if you created mini-breaks from media to turn your attention to self-care or family-time? It’s an experiment worth trying. You might find you feel calmer and more on top of things.

I suggest adopting one of the above and committing to it for the next three weeks. See how it goes and if you feel any less stressed. Then move on to the next thing. Slowly, over time, you can build new habits for yourself and your family that offer little pockets of sanity. And hopefully, you’ll feel the difference!

 

Nutrition at the Birmingham Royal Ballet: a Mixed Bag

 

This article about the nutrition of dancers with Birmingham Royal Ballet principal dancers Victoria Marr and Matthew Lawrence, got me thinking. If you haven’t read it, take a peek.  Here’s what it’s got me thinking about…

1. Two-thumbs-up for the shift away from telling “heavier” dancers to stop eating, and instead directing them to company resources like nutritionists.

Even better that “things have gone to the nth degree with nutrition” (Marr) and dancers are even getting their bone density tested. (A wellness advocate’s dream…)

2. Two thumbs down for the ever-rigid ballet aesthetic which turns away beautiful dancers if they “don’t have the right shape.”

“You still have to be quite skinny and you have to have long, lean muscle. There’s no getting away from that. Ballet is all about aesthetics,” says Marr. I know this, but it still pains me.

3. Two half-sies thumbs for both interviewees eating whatever they like, according to the article. It’s great that they do not feel constrained, but it’s a little sad that they confess to eating “rubbish,” including “Kit-Kat bars” and “chips.”

On the one hand, they are professional adults who can eat whatever they want, but with so much access to nutrition and care, how did they end up with such low-quality snacks? I’m all for splurging, but aim high and go for the good stuff. (Like…Mast Brothers chocolate, for example. Why waste your calories on junk?)

4. Two palms up in the “huh?” gesture for Marr’s conflicting comments on food amounts: on the one hand, she says there is a “preconceived idea that dancers have to keep their food intake down in order to keep quite skinny,” which she claims is untrue, but then she confirms it by saying, “I don’t need to eat inordinate amounts of food to get the energy I need. You don’t really. It’s a myth.”

So, dancers don’t have to eat “inordinate amounts” of food to get the energy they need?

Problems: 1) “inordinate” is too subjective: what does that mean, exactly? and 2) everyone is different.

While Marr may not need to eat a lot, that generalization shouldn’t be applied to all dancers. Furthermore, many dancers do lower their overall caloric intake in order to achieve the proper look. By the time they become professionals, they are so used to eating that way it may feel totally normal. It doesn’t change the fact that compared to an average person, dancers eat considerably less food.

5. And, finally, two thumbs up for proper screening. That neither Marr nor Lawrence have faced issues around their weight at BRB made me think about the selection process. Most companies have a rigorous screening process wherein dancers who do not fit the aesthetic of the company are not usually hired. I used to think this was terrible, but I have come around to understanding the potential good of this practice.

If a company has a strict aesthetic, then I think it’s correct that they screen and hire appropriately. Is there anything more disheartening than landing the much-coveted contract, only to be told you must lose weight?

Until the ballet aesthetic changes worldwide, dancers should not be hired at one weight on the condition that they drop to another before they are considered stage-worthy. Surely, this practice leads to a greater number of physical and psychological problems.

Ultimately, I like to think the ballet world will be forced to alter its aesthetic to accept more “normal”-sized dancers. But until then, it seems imperative to not put dancers in the position of having to lose weight in order to keep their jobs, which is why being particular about the aesthetic right out of the gate seems like a better choice to me.

But enough of what I thought. What was your impression of the article?