So, you took a summer vacation. You gave yourself a break from the barre. You spent time out in nature rather than cooped up in the studio. You let yourself explore things other than dance. You gave your body a rest from it's daily grind. Good for you! Congrats on breaking the rules and taking this risk. I know it sounds ironic, but it can be incredibly difficult and scary to deviate from your usual routine and fitness regimen to let yourself rest and be "lazy" (believe me, I know!).
But, you've heard that the rest is good for you. You know you need it to avoid burnout and insanity from your unrelenting drive to be better. And, you have this secret, suppressed desire to experience life outside of ballet - whether that's time spent with your family and friends, vacationing to unexplored places, challenging your body with new activities or play, feeding passions seemingly unrelated to dance. And so, you took a month, or two, or three to let yourself break your rules and live free.
Except, now that September is here, you find yourself in a panic, regretting the break you took and wondering how you are going to be "in shape" by the time you hit the studios for your first rehearsals of the season. You start berating yourself for taking time off: Why were you so lazy? Why did you not take class every day? What were you thinking taking that vacation/enjoying that food/having fun? You're going to be a mess when you enter the studio! Everyone will see how lazy you've been/how much weight you've gained/how much technique you've lost! Sound familiar?
I hear you. I struggle with similar mental demons. After a 3-month hiatus from the studio (I maybe took 7 or 8 ballet classes total during that time!), including several vacations where I ate, drank, and played as much as I desired, I'm a little nervous about starting up with 3 companies this week. But, this same cycle happens to me every year around this time. Here's what I've learned and the outline I use to coach myself through this short, uncomfortable period of transition.
How Bad Girl Ballerinas Transition into a New Season:
- Stop the panic. Remind yourself that you chose to take these last few weeks/months off from your usual routine. Remember how burned-out, lifeless, and uninspired you felt at the end of last season? Remember the feeling of exhaustion and the little aches and pains that wouldn't go away? Had you continued on at that pace, you would have surely fallen prey to an injury or ended up despising dance as it sucked every last vital breath from your body and soul. You decided to take a break because you knew you needed it. This rest period was a choice...not something to atone or berate yourself for.
- Realize that progress does not happen on a straight, steady line upward. There are lots of ups and downs along the way. It's similar to driving a car down a straight road - you can't keep the steering wheel fixed in a certain position or you'll eventually veer off the road and crash. No, you must make lots of little micro-adjustments along the way. This rest period is part of your micro-adjustments. In order to keep yourself improving (and prevent a crash-and-burn outcome where your progress stalls, or worse, you sustain a career-ending injury), you needed this slight detour. Not only that, but this rest period is exactly what is going to allow you to surpass your previous peak state. With the physical recovery along with the emotional experience you acquired from taking pleasure in life during this time, you will eventually blow past the limits, physically and artistically, you found yourself stuck at last year.
- Resist the temptation to compare your current state to the peak of your season last year. Accept that you are not going to be in peak condition these first few weeks. When you try to force things and rush the process (I used to be able to get my leg up higher last year...I used to be able to push through this combination before...My flexibility used to be so much better...), you create pain for yourself, mentally and physically. When you push yourself without giving your body the chance to ease back into things and build up gradually, you risk injury and unnecessary mental punishment for not being at your best. Focus on one day at a time, and take comfort in doing the one or two things that are going to lead you towards your goals each day. Baby steps.
- Shut down the voices in your head telling you that everyone is judging you for not being at your best. Chances are that the rest of the company members are worried about their own issues and setbacks and won't even be paying attention to you. And, your directors are going to notice a change in confidence more than your actual physical ability. If you shy away or act apologetic for your dancing, that is going to cause much more reason for concern than your physicality. Don't feed those mental demons and let them dull your shine. Try telling them this: Thank you for trying to protect me by keeping me small and unnoticed, but I'm perfectly comfortable with where I am at in this moment. I am in control of my body and my life...not you. All of this is by design, and I am right where I need to be.
- If you want to take a more proactive approach, this Key to Your Core program works as an effective transition to prepare you for your fall season, amplifying both the strength and muscle coordination needed to prime your body for the dance load ahead. It's only available until Sept. 20, 2017, so get started now to ease your transition into your rehearsal schedule.
Hopefully these tips help give you comfort and confidence as you approach your new season. Whether you are a returning professional with expectations to uphold, or a new company member with the hopes of making a good first impression and working your way up the ranks, remember that finding the confidence in yourself and knowing that you have a unique art to share are vital to your success and fulfillment in your dance career.
Happy Fall Season 2017! Let's make this year explode with creativity, vulnerability, and passion for your art!
I'd love to hear your thoughts, fears, and techniques for transitioning into your dance season after a restful summer or vacation. Share your story below!