Why dancers need creative rest

 

If there is one thing that seems to define the dance industry, I would say it is hustle. The dance life is not easy, by any means. Dancers have to work hard to achieve success, whether it is as a performer, choreographer, dance teacher, or dance business owner. There are no shortcuts, and while a little luck and the right connections never hurt, they alone won’t get you very far. Dancers have to train hard, study hard, rehearse hard, and give it their all – no doubt about that.

But as much as I believe in the value of hard work in the dance studio, I also believe in the important role of rest for all involved in the dance industry. Too often, dancers place too much emphasis on the work, and not enough on the other aspects of life that are crucial for success (not to mention happiness!). This can lead to frustration, burnout, injury, mental health concerns, and other issues for all of us in the dance industry: dance students, choreographers, dance teacher, or dance business owners.

 

What is creative rest?

 

The kind of rest I advocate for in particular is what I like to call “creative rest.” It’s more than just zoning out in front of our Netflix playlist or scrolling aimlessly through Instagram on the couch. (Although, both of those can have their benefits, too!) Rather, creative rest consists of purposeful and thoughtful exercises and activities designed to give us the time, space, and intention to:

  • Reconnect with our bodies, restoring our physical well-being and refreshing our energy levels;
  • Refine our teaching, learning, creating, and performing practice;
  • Reignite our creativity and artistry;
  • Reflect on where we’ve been and where we want to go, in our careers and in our lives;
  • Restore our enthusiasm, passion, and love for the art of dance.

 

The benefits of creative rest for dancers

 

Taking time for rest in and out of the dance studio can have many benefits. It can help our bodies recover physically from overuse and help prevent injuries. It provides a much-needed brain break, giving our minds time to process information we have received and prepare to receive more. It can help us overcome creative blocks that keep us from working at our full potential. It can encourage new ideas and fresh perspectives, fostering creativity and improving our artistry. It can help us reignite our passion for this beautiful and moving art form that we call our own.

 

How can we embrace creative rest in our teaching practice?

 

There are many ways to embrace creative rest individually, in our self-care practices, habits in the studio, and how we balance our careers and personals lives. We can examine how our routines, schedules, habits, values, and social/support structures influence our ability to engage in creative rest. We can adopt mindfulness practices, such as meditation, journaling, and breathing exercises. We can make time for non-dance activities that bring us joy and help us feel both refreshed and fulfilled.

There are also many ways we can bring a spirt of rest into our studios, both in our individual creative and movement practices and in the dance classes and rehearsal we lead as teachers and choreographers. We can:

  • Encourage our dancers and students to be mindful of how their bodies and minds feel when they enter and leave the classroom;
  • Educate our dance students and their parents about the dangers of overtraining. To learn more, check out this blog post: Are We Training the “Art” Out of the Art of Dance?;
  • Help prevent overuse injuries through our teaching methods;
  • Inspire a joyful creative and artistic spirit in our choreographic methods and the choreography we create for our dancers of all ages and skill levels. Check out The Holistic Dance Teacher Choreography Planner to help you create inspired pieces for any occasion;
  • Encourage students to rest outside the studio, to use their break time wisely, and to limit their schedules so that they are not overwhelmed. To learn more, check out this blog post: Letting Kids Be Kids in the Dance Studio;
  • Use play, dance games, and creative explorations in our lesson plans, to provide a respite from the usual routine and inspire curiosity, self-expression, and collaboration. Check out The Dance Games Bundle for educational and fun dance activities you can use to create more joy in your classes all year long!

 

How can we model creative rest for our students?

 

Most importantly, we work against the industry standard that says “more is always better,” that you always have to be “on” and “go for it,” and that you are going to be left behind if you aren’t hustling 110 percent 24/7. We can do this by:

  • Modeling a good work-life balance in our own lives and setting boundaries for ourselves;
  • Helping our dancers set appropriate training schedules and balance their outside interests and goals with their dance life;
  • Discussing the physical, mental, emotional, and social dangers of overworking and burnout with our students, parents, and colleagues
  • Encouraging our dancers to enjoy life milestones and meaningful activities like birthday parties, family celebrations and activities, homecoming, prom, graduation;
  • Planning time in our dance lesson plans for activities that encourage creative rest, such as dance games, creative exploration, somatic practices, journaling, goal-setting, visualization and mindset work, and social conversations.

 

Some of my favorite creative rest dance activities

 

Here are two dance activities for creative rest that you can use in class or rehearsal with your dancers. The first focuses on physical rest and body awareness, which is an important component of creative rest in dance since it helps restore the body and energy levels. The second focuses on creative exploration and the role that informal creative exploration can play in combating burnout and inspiring our love of dance. These dance activities for creative rest can also be used by dance students, professionals, dance teachers, choreographers, or dance business owners as a personal practice before or after dance class or rehearsal, or whenever they feel like they need some creative rest!

 

Breathe and Connect

Lie on your back on the floor with your legs extended and your arms by your side. Take a few moments to breathe deeply and feel your body’s connection to the floor. Scan your body and ask yourself, without judgment: 

  • What parts of your body are touching the floor? 
  • What parts are not? 
  • Am I using tension to keep parts of my body from connecting to the floor?
  • Am I applying pressure to force parts of my body into a deeper connection with the floor?

Take 4 deep breaths and try to ease any areas of tension or pressure in your body. Try not to engage any muscles unnecessarily. Just relax as much as you are able and lie easily on the floor.

Scan your body again and deliberately notice the parts that are connected to the floor. Likely, these include the back of your skull, your shoulder blades, your thoracic spine and the back of your ribs, the back of your pelvis, the back of your arms and thighs, your calves, and your heels. As each person’s body is different, you might notice that other parts of your body are connected, and that is just fine!

Then, scan your body again and deliberately deliberately notice the parts that are not connected to the floor. Likely, these include your cervical spine, lumbar spine, back of the ankle, soles of the feet, and possibly back of the knee and wrist. Again, each person’s body is different, and if you might notice that other parts of your body are connected, that is just fine!

Take 4 more deep breaths, continuing to relax as much as you are able. Focus on releasing any tension in your muscles creating the sensation that you are “sinking into” the floor at all connection points between your body and the floor. Do not force the “sinking in” sensation at places where there is not a natural connection between your body and the floor. The goal is to honor your body’s natural alignment and the curvature of your skeleton, while finding ease in your joints and muscles. 

On your 5th deep breath, initiate the following pattern: 

  • On the inhale, move slowly and easily to a new position on the floor. You can roll on your side, belly, or anywhere in between. The goal is not to make a “pretty” shape, but to find different connection points between your body and the floor.
  • On the exhale, feel your body reconnect and “sink into” the floor at your new connection points. 
  • Repeat this pattern (inhale, change position; exhale, relax and sink into the floor) many times, finding a variety of positions, with different parts of your body connecting to the floor each time. 

On the last round, return to your first position, and take 4 more deep breaths. Notice if anything has changed for you, physically, emotionally, or mentally.  

Reflect on the exercise with the following questions:  

  • Do you feel that you were fully able to relax and “sink into” the floor on each exhale? 
  • What areas of tension prevented you from being able to fully and deeply relax? 
  • Are these habitual areas of tension (ones you routinely deal with), or novel ones (related to a recent injury, etc.)? 
  • What can you do to ease this tension and allow for more release through the muscles? 
  • How would easing this tension affect your dancing?

 

Inspired Words, Inspired Movement

Find a quiet space with room to move. Come to a comfortable position, either sitting or lying on the floor. Close your eyes if you are comfortable doing so. Take 4 deep breaths, trying to relax as much as you are able and find ease in your muscles and joints.

Think of some words that you find particularly inspirational or meaningful. It could be a poem, quote, prayer, excerpt from a book, hymn, song lyrics, something you remember from a conversation with a loved one, or other passage that inspires or comforts you. It does not need to be long; in fact, shorter is probably better. Make sure that you have committed the passage to memory. 

With your body in the comfortable position and your eyes still closed, repeat the passage several times in your head. Let the words sink in and settle into your mind and body. Breathe deeply as you silently repeat the passage. Find a rhythm and cadence that feel natural and good to you. Reflect briefly on how this experience:

  • What is the meaning or intention of this passage, in your mind?
  • How do you feel about the passage? 
  • How does it make you feel physically, emotionally, or mentally?

If you are comfortable doing so, say the passage out loud several times. Notice if anything changes for you when you say your passage out loud as opposed to silently: 

  • Does the rhythm and cadence you use change? 
  • Does the meaning or intention of the passage change? 
  • Does how you feel about the passage change?
  • Does how you feel in general change, either physically, emotionally, or mentally? 

Next, begin to improvise as you continue to repeat the passage either silently or out loud. You will complete several rounds of improvisation, each lasting anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes. There will be a moment of reflection between each.

  • Start with organic, free movement inspired in any way by the passage or your relationship to it. Reflect on that movement experience and choose a moment to hold on to
  • Next, let your movement reflect the rhythm and cadence of the words themselves, without regard for the meaning. Reflect on that movement experience and choose a moment to hold on to. 
  • Then, let your movement be inspired by words’ literal meaning. Focus on what the words are actually saying, not your interpretation of or relationship to it. Reflect on that movement experience and choose a moment to hold on to. 
  • Finally, move based on how the words make you feel. Let your movement be guided by the emotions that the words bring up for you when you hear or say them. Reflect on that movement experience and choose a moment to hold on to.  

When you have finished, review each of the moments that you chose to hold on to from the different rounds of improvisation. Combine each of these movement moments into one short dance. Repeat this new dance, either in silence or while saying the phrase silently or out loud.

 

More resources to help dancers embrace creative rest

Find 13 more great dance activities for creative rest, designed to help develop a meaningful creative rest practice for yourself or your students. This is a perfect resource for dancers, dance teachers, choreographers, dance business owners, or anyone who wants to explore the rejuvenating power of creative rest through gentle movement explorations, guided meditations, and simple improvisation prompts. Find it here: The Holistic Collection of Dance Activities for Creative Rest.

 

More resources for social and emotional learning through dance

 

 

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