What is meaningful self-care for dance teachers?
Okay, I’ll admit it: the term “self-care” kind of makes me cringe these days. So often, I find it gets applied to practices that aren’t really that meaningful, or don’t have a long term impact. I mean, I love the occasional pedicure, but I don’t find getting one to be a truly transformative experience. In my opinion, meaningful self-care practices do have the power to transform our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Meaningful self-care can help reduce our risk for career-ending injuries, prevent the stress and frustration that lead to burn out, and allow us find more joy in what we do for a living. These meaningful self-care practices may not be as glamorous as a spa day, but they are important and impactful! When we practice meaningful self-care, we are better able to turn around and care for our dance students, our families, and our communities.
How can dance teachers practice meaningful self-care in the studio?
We often think of self-care as something extra to do: a massage, a hot bath, or an afternoon with a good book. But I believe that the most meaningful self-care can be done in the studio, while we’re teaching (or right before or after). By making simple changes to how we teach, we can practice meaningful self-care without adding to our already hectic schedules! Here are a few simple ways that we can practice meaningful self-care as dance teachers in the studio. (Head’s up: This post contains affiliate links. When you purchase a product through one of these links, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. This support helps me provide free content on my blog and keep my resources priced affordably. Thank you!)
Warm-up before you teach
This one can be tricky for some us, if we are running to the studio from a 9-5 job, have a long commute, or need to catch up with other teachers before class. For me, personally, by the time my husband gets home from work and we do the kid hand-off, I’m often running into the studio with just a few minutes to spare. But a good warm-up is an essential part of dance teacher self-care. It can help us keep our bodies strong and supple, reduce our risk for injury, and help us focus our minds as well. You can try this quick 5-minute dance teacher warm-up before class starts. If time doesn’t allow for your own warm-up in the studio, consider warming up at home before your classes or doing your students’ class warm-up with them.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
I hope by now we all know how important hydration is for both our physical and mental health – it can help prevent sore muscles, headaches, and even anxiety! Drinking your water can be an easy and impactful form of self-care. But it can also be tricky to accomplish when you are teaching dance classes! How many of us use our students’ water breaks to take notes, change the music, get out props … basically everything except drink water ourselves! Or, how often do we find ourselves distracted by students, parents, or other teacher who need to chat while we are trying to refill our water bottles between classes? To help make your own hydration a priority, you can try setting a reminder alert on your phone, putting a post-it reminder on the stereo, or even having your students remind you to drink water when they do! I personally find my 48 ounce Nalgene water bottle to be crucial in my efforts to stay hydrated while teaching dance! It’s lightweight, virtually indestructible, American made with 50% recycled plastic, and guarantees that I’ll get all the water in that I need to drink while teaching. I’ve tried other bottles but this one is definitely my favorite.
Demonstrate on both sides
Have you ever woken up the morning after a long day night of teaching and find yourself limping around the house thinking, “What did I do last night?” Chances are, you might be feeling funky not because of something that you did, but because of what you didn’t do – demonstrate on your “other” side! I would bet most dance teachers have a preference for which side they demonstrate on, based on where they stand at the barre, whether or not they face the mirror when teaching, or which they think is their “good” side. But these lopsided demonstration tendencies can lead to over use injuries, physical imbalances, and bad technique due to compensation patterns. Demonstrating on both sides can be a super simple and highly effective form of self-care for dance teachers.
Take care of your body between classes
The switch over between dance classes can be a bit hectic, especially when we have young dancers who need to be escorted in and out of the studio. But taking a moment to engage in some simple self-care during this time can make a real difference in how we feel at the end of the night. Consider stretching your calves and hamstrings while one class packs up to leave, or keeping a foot roller in your bag and showing your feet some love while you take attendance for the next class. This cute foot roller by Theraband is lightweight but effective, and can even be frozen for cryotherapy pain relief.
Invest in the right footwear
Speaking of feet, investing in the right footwear can help you prevent or manage pain related to being on your feet for long hours as a dance teacher. Investing in the “right for you” footwear is a worthwhile form of self-care for all dance teachers. Of course, the right footwear for you will depend on what dance genres you teach, the size and shape of your foot, pre-existing injuries or conditions, and what level of investment you are able to make. When I teach jazz, pointe, or even upper-level ballet classes, I like a sturdy and supportive split-sole dance sneaker. My favorite brand is Bloch, and I’ve found their dance sneakers to be pretty durable and long lasting. For modern and contemporary dance, I am more comfortable teaching barefoot, but I have been known to rock my Apolla Shocks when I’m having a flare up of plantar fasciitis.
Fuel your body
I used to be so weirded out when I had to eat in front of other dancers, even my students. But as time goes on (and I’ve recovered from some of the more damaging aspects of my intensive ballet training as as a teenager), I’ve learned to realize just how critical it is to fuel our bodies as dancers and dance teachers. I think it is okay – even important – for our students to see us nourishing our bodies with healthy food during a long night of teaching. After all, we want them to be doing the same thing when they have back to back classes or big rehearsal days, right? Not eating enough while teaching can lead to dizziness, light-headedness, lack of concentration, and HANGER! I like to power up for class with a protein smoothie made with plant-based protein powder, a cup of frozen fruit, a cup of spinach, unsweetened almond milk, and chia seeds, all whipped up in my Ninja blender – that thing is a beast and makes a killer smoothie in just seconds! Between classes, I’ll take some bites of a banana or mandarin orange, or snack on an Autumn’s Gold Grain-Free Granola Bar or Luna Bar.
Take care of your voice
As dance teachers, we are hyper-tuned in to how our bodies feel after a long night in the studio. But we may not realize the strain that teaching can put on our voice. It is vital that we give our vocal cords some TLC, too! Taking care of our voices is an easy way for dance teachers to practice self-care in the studio, especially if you are still wearing a mask. Pay attention to the tone and volume of your voice, and try to avoid straining. If you find yourself yelling over students who won’t stop talking, try these easy and fun attention-getters instead. Turn the music down (or off) to give corrections. If the studio space has poor acoustics, consider using a voice-amplifying microphone headset. This is the one I used during Covid, when I was masking and teaching hybrid classes. It was a little clunky to wear for floor work but it did wonders to save my voice! Demonstrate corrections physically, asking students to observe your closely, then articulate and embody what they see, rather than verbalizing what you are looking for all the time. On days when my voice is really shot, I throw some Ricola HoneyLemon with Echinacea throat drops in my bag and fill my favorite travel mug with Good Earth Sweet and Spicy Tea.
Practice good, consistent class management
Those students that I mentioned above, the ones who always need to be yelled over? Getting them to stop talking (so you don’t need to yell in the first place) can be a form of dance teacher self-care all its own! Practicing good, consistent class management can help create a calm, productive environment in which all students can learn – and all dance teachers can maintain their sanity. Good class management can be a healthy form of self-care for dance teachers, and this blog post has everything you need to know about Why Your Dance Students Are Acting Out – and What You Can Do About It!
Be prepared with plan A, B and C
I think that the best dance teachers go into every class with a plan, but that they also know when to abandon said plan to meet their students’ needs. Having a good lesson plan in place, along with several back up strategies, can be a form of self-care for dance teachers because it helps eliminate a lot of the stress, worry, and frustration associated with teaching. A lesson planned in advance can help you stay in the moment when teaching and keeps you focused on your students’ progress. I like to use The Holistic Guide to Dance Lesson Planning to help me lay out my class plans a semester or year at a time. Of course, the best laid plans often go awry, so I make sure I have plenty of other options so that I can easily adjust to what might students might be needing that day:
- For when students are exhausted, stressed out, or in need of some restoration and rejuvenation, I use The Holistic Collection of Creative Rest Activities for Dancers.
- When they just want to improv, The Holistic Collection of Dance Improvisation Prompts and Activities provides plenty of different options that keep our jam sessions both fun and educational.
- For those days when students have all the energy and none of the focus, Dance Games Bundle helps channel all their silliness through educational play.
Know your triggers
Protecting our emotional health is an important form of self-care. It is important to know what triggers feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, or anxiety when you are teaching. Do you compare yourself to the teacher in the next room over? Do you take it really personally when students seem bored? Does technology stress you out? Do encounters with parents or school administrators make you anxious? Identify your triggers, reflect or journal about them, and develop a plan for when you encounter them. Perhaps you could find a motivating mantra you could repeat, a breathing ritual that would calm you down, a way to excuse yourself from a triggering encounter, or a backup plan when the technology or lesson plan doesn’t work out.
Make a plan for recovery after classes
Taking time to recover after class is a great form of self-care for dance teachers, even if it does take a bit of extra work. Tending to our mind, body, and emotional health after a long day of teaching can help prevent injuries and burnout. For physical recovery, take time to cool down before you leave the studio, then spend quality some time with a foam roller when you get home. To keep your organized (and thus prevent stress), make time to jot down notes on how the classes went, feedback to reiterate for the dancers next week, or choreography progress. For your emotional well-being, consider what’s on the radio during your commute home: would quiet ambient music, complete silence, or your favorite 80’s jams help your relax?
Get some sleep
Ok, I know that this one can be tough, for many reasons. Some of us are up late grading, planning, or working on choreography. Those of us who teach late at night can find it tough to wind down after classes. But sleep is perhaps the most important form of self-care for dance teachers; the benefits of getting a good’s rest are innumerable. I’ve found a few things that can help me calm down and settle into sleep, even when I’m amped up after teaching. A gentle yoga flow or one of my creative rest activities help calm my nervous system and prepare my body for bed. I love aromatherapy, so find that my body responds well to diffusing some calming essential oils and spraying my pillow with a linen spray (my favorite is eucalyptus, but I know many people prefer lavender for relaxation). I used to down a big glass of pinot grigio after a hectic night of teaching, but lately I’ve found myself reaching more for tea – and I’m sleeping much better after making that switch!
Am I missing any great self-care practices for dance teachers? Let me know in the comments! Then, visit my Resources page for tools that support a holistic teaching practice. Keep in touch by signing up for my quarterly newsletter, or join me on Facebook at The Holistic Dance Teacher.