In light of my birthday this past weekend, I want to talk about a topic that is a bit taboo in the dance world – age. We lie about it on audition forms. We omit it from our resumes. We avoid conversations about it. We are embarrassed to admit it for fear we will be booted out to make room for the young ingénues to take our place.
So, you hide it. You pretend you are no different from your 18-year-old self who could take class after class and never tire. But, as a seasoned dancer, you do tire. Sooner or later, not only do you have to fight the never-ending exhaustion, but you have to nurse more aches and pains than usual. Little niggling injuries that used to resolve in a couple days linger for months. You start to feel fragile in your body – fearful that any wrong move could have catastrophic effects on your dance career. But, you push on, attempting to keep pace with your younger self.
A gnawing suspicion starts growing inside you – What’s wrong with me? Why do I feel like I’m constantly sliding down hill? I’m working just as hard if not harder than I used to…so why am I not getting better? Why are my tried-and-true methods not working? And, why do I feel so awful in my body?
It’s not a matter of losing your edge or your drive, or being weak, less motivated, or past your prime…it’s simply science. If you look at the workout routine of any top athlete as he or she ages, it has to adjust to account for the additional rest and recovery time needed for the body to “heal” from the sport. Cell turnover is rampant when you are young. But, once you pass a certain age, your biological processes slow down. It’s not a bad thing. It just is what it is. You can either choose to accept it and work with it...or fight it and fall apart.
Does this mean your dance career has to take a downturn, too? Hell no! You just have to learn how to adjust to the new formula your body requires to continue making progress and remain vibrant. This involves A LOT more rest than you are used to. And, things like nutrition, stress management, injury prevention exercises, cross-training, and sleep become much more vital, too.
Most dancers have trouble making the switch because their mental demons berate them for “slacking off.” The thought process goes something like this: You used to be able to take 3 classes a day, then do an hour on the elliptical, followed by Zumba and a Bikram yoga class…and finish everything off with 1000 crunches and a stretching routine before you went to bed. So, why are you not able to handle it now? What’s wrong with you? You are sliding backwards. You must not be trying hard enough. Lazy loser.
And of course, you answer to all that by pushing yourself harder despite your exhaustion. You keep dragging yourself through the routine, miserably, disparately, until finally, you get a career-ending injury. Or, you quit dancing all together because you can’t endure the misery you feel every day as you "fail" to live up to your potential in your art - an art that you used to be so passionate about but find yourself hating due to how depressed and inadequate it makes you feel now.
So, how do you continue to get better as a seasoned ballerina if you can’t do as much as you used to? This is where you have to get smarter with your training. Train differently. There needs to be a shift from quantity to quality. This is where cross-training becomes vital. And, not just any kind of cross-training, but a specific style that is intense enough to stimulate your body to get stronger without putting excess wear and tear on your joints. And, a system that doesn't take precious energy away from your dancing itself.
It doesn't take much to feel a difference in your body. And, it will be tough to embrace the extra rest required to let your body recover. In fact, it will horrify you at first. But, after you start to feel how much more energy you have to put into your dancing and how much less fragile you feel in your body…you’ll soon grow to appreciate this concept of training differently.
I know it is super scary to let go of the old mindset and cut back (gasp!) on your usual routine. But, as you emerge from the fog of burnout that you’ve been trapped under and stop fearing injuries around every corner as your body becomes more Bulletproof…not only will your dancing start progressing again, but your quality of life will improve greatly. Trust me, I’ve been there. I’m still in the game playing for the win…but I’m playing with a very different game plan now at 36 than when I was a teenager.😉
We should be proud of our age. It is what gives our dancing experience, nuance, refinement, poise, maturity, and depth that can only be earned by experiencing real heartache, love, and life through the passage of time. So, here’s to extending our careers and continuing to grow in our art!
If you are interested in how to make this different game plan work for you, contact me for individual coaching. We’ll go over a specific blueprint for your situation so you can be confident in the changes you are about to make.
Also, to celebrate my birthday with you all, I’m offering a special discount of 15% off my Bulletproof Ballerina On Demand – Career Extender home program through Friday, May 19. This program is designed to be intense enough to get you results while incorporating the right amount of rest for recovery. It’s a great place to start cross-training, no matter how old or young you are. Just enter the code: “BIRTHDAY” in the Coupon Code box when you check out of the store.