Especially When You Have to Perform But Don’t Want To
When I danced with Richmond Ballet, Nutcracker season was our busiest time. It was our longest-running performance of the season, with about 25 shows, 10 of which were on tour. That meant that sometimes, we would be performing two shows a day, multiple times a week. I was a Snowflake and Flower, so I was dancing quite a bit! It Needless to say though, it was an exhausting time period, filled with a lot of late nights. Dancing everyday in a gorgeous theater with a live orchestra was a lot of fun, but also one of the most tiring experiences I’ve ever had. After about 5 performances, I felt a little burnt out. My energy and motivation were draining. My body was achy. I was getting bored of repeating the same choreography every night. I found myself not even wanting to do any more performances at all!
I think every dancer, whether you’re dancing ballet, musical theater, contemporary, or anything else, goes through this from time to time. We hit a wall that sucks out all our energy and passion, and lose the desire to perform. Don’t worry, though, because there are ways we can keep our energy up when we get stuck like this! Here’s a few mental and physical ways to motivate yourself when you’re caught in a rut.
When I find myself unmotivated, a lot of the time it’s just because my body and brain are in need of some extra fuel. If you’re lacking the desire to dance, reach for healthy snacks that also perk up energy. The natural sugars in fruits like apples, mangos, and grapes make them a great choice. Complex carbohydrates also do wonders to boost my mojo, so I often go for snack like pretzels and hummus, or even Goldfish! In moderation, drinks like Gatorade with some extra electrolytes and a little sugar are perfect beverage options to get going.
On days when you’re drained of all drive and desire to perform, often the best thing to do is really give your body a short break! Whether it be for five minutes or twenty, find somewhere quiet, take deep breaths, close your eyes and focus mentally on letting go of everything! Don’t let yourself doze off, really take time to think about releasing the tension in your face, limbs, core, and your brain too! Tell your body to let go! Active rest like this is perfect for getting your mind and body to do a quick reset. I always walk away from a period of active rest feeling completely refreshed.
Sometimes, the only way to get yourself going is by reminding yourself why you love to do this! Grab a pen and without thinking, list all the reasons you do what you do.
It’s a way I express myself, it’s my favorite way to escape, I like the physical challenge it gives me…
Seeing a list of the values you find in dance will fill your mind with optimism and revive that passion you have for this art.
If I’m feeling burnt out and my brain isn’t in the game, I like to spend a minute or two visualizing my goals in my mind. Paint the picture in your head of you on any stage, giving the performance of your life. Or, if you need a little more of a push to get your fire going again, imagine yourself on an even bigger stage, maybe as the lead in a huge show, with the audience packed to capacity. Visualize one of those big dreams you think about every now and then. Close your eyes and really see it, like you’re watching a movie of yourself, and you’ll walk away encouraged and inspired. Studies have shown that visualization exercises like this often result in better performance in a number of physical activities, as well as a higher level of self confidence.
Go for a quick run! Do some jumping-jacks! Go into an empty studio and do a crazy, un-choreographed, improvised, wild dance! Sometimes all your body and brain need to get back on track is to release all the pent up angry energy you have inside you. With all the physical and mental effort that goes into dancing, we sometimes work so hard that we build up a load of stress in our bodies. That stress gets too hard to handle sometimes, and then we feel burnt out. Getting all that bad juju out of our systems with some other physical activity will do the trick. In fact, my absolute favorite way to refuel my passion when it’s lacking is to throw some punches into the air!
Of course, I hope no one has seen me clumsily hitting the air backstage like I’m beating up my imaginary friend, but it works for me!
Emily Strickland is a professional ballet dancer and writer from Fredericksburg, Virginia. She is currently dancing with Nevada Ballet Theatre in Las Vegas, where she’s had the opportunity to perform ballets like The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, and Swan Lake, as well as in a collaborative performance with Cirque du Soleil. Previously she was an artist at Columbia Classical Ballet and a trainee at Richmond Ballet, where she was the featured soloist in Connor Frain’s premiere piece “Inertia”. She has trained with Richmond Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Festival Ballet Providence, Nashville Ballet, and the Royal Danish Ballet in Copenhagen, Denmark. In addition, she is a ballet instructor at Avery Ballet.
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