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Is All Your Effort Making You Better?

If you are exhausted from trying so hard to be a better dancer yet feel stagnant in terms of your're gonna want to read this. Ready for a tough question?

How much of the work you do is actually productive...versus making you feel productive? 

Sounds the same, but there's a big difference. In order for work to be productive, it has to push the needle forward, meaning it causes you to make real progress. Otherwise, you're just spinning your wheels going in circles. A.K.A. wasting energy & time. At the end of the day, you may feel exhausted and get to tap yourself on the back for "working so hard." But did all that effort actually get you somewhere?

Most dancers (myself included!) are really good work horses. We take a lot of pride in being able to work harder and longer than anyone else. It becomes part of your identity. The traditional bunhead mindset is notorious for this – making you feel the need to take multiple classes & squeeze in your long list of extra exercises every day to feel worthy. 

But how many of those classes really count? How much are you really getting out of them? Are you able to show up fully & put in 100% of your effort? Or, are you just going through the motions because you’re already exhausted from the day before and the day before that. Plus, you know you have to wake up and go through the whole process all over again tomorrow…so there’s some part of you (whether it’s conscious or not) conserving your energy for the slog ahead. 

All that work means nothing if it’s not making you better. In fact, it could be making you worse. You may have the best of intentions with your diligent, hardcore work ethic, but at some point you have to face the reality that your efforts are not taking you where you want to go.

Let’s look at how this works with exercise. You think you need to get it in every day to feel like you are doing everything you can to improve your body & fitness. Check that box on your To-Do list. Feel accomplished. But if you work out every day, you most likely won’t have the ability, physically or mentally, to work out hard enough to create the positive stimulation for your body to improve. 

If you’re exercising as a means of cross-training for your dance career, you have to be even more strategic with how you work out. As a dancer who already spends so much time and energy in rehearsals and performing, you can’t afford to waste energy on non-productive exercise. It's much better to work out 1 or 2 times per week with hardcore focus. Then, use the other days of the week to give your body what it really needs.

How do you determine that? Tune into your body on a daily basis. Some days might call for some light stretching or mobility work. Other days you can break out your foam roller and self-massage tools. Another day could involve some yoga flow to energize or meditation to calm anxiety. The point is that if you work out the right way once or twice a week with proper focus & intent…that frees you up to listen to your body the rest of the time.

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PC: Noel Valero Photography

Choose quality over quantity. Trust me. I learned the hard way and wasted a lot of time and energy getting nowhere working out like a maniac every day. Now, I do one Bulletproof Ballerina workout to build strength and one Dance Conditioning Class for stamina & coordination. Then, I do what my body needs the other days. I no longer feel that nagging guilt to exercise every single day because I know I’m taking care of my body in other ways rather than imposing an arbitrary routine on it to appease my workaholic mindset. And guess what – I feel so much better physically & mentally.

Not only will your body thank you for this change in mindset, but you’ll add longevity to your ballet career since you’ll be less likely to get burned out and bored with your exhaustive efforts. Plus it’s never a bad thing to deepen your relationship with your body. Checking in with yourself on a daily basis to determine what you actually need to feel optimized allows you to do that. It’s respecting and understanding your body versus stuffing it into a fixed set of requirements. You already do enough of that with your dancing. Don't do it with your fitness as well.