Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ballet burnout

Burnout can happen to anyone at any level at any time. Even to me after (mumble, mumble) years of dancing!

As an instructor, I have seen burnout countless times, especially among students who begin ballet as adults.  As much as I love seeing passion in new students, the possibility of them flaming out quickly is very high.  This occurs for a number of reasons:

FRUSTRATION - Ballet is not easy.  I mean, not AT ALL. I know the general public thinks it's hard but it's even harder than that.  When a new student starts class, they often learn exponentially in the first couple of weeks and that's because they knew absolutely nothing so they improve monumentally (usually). But after a month or so, things start getting harder and that's when frustration and dropout happen.

PAIN - Ballet is a constant fight against what your body wants to do.  99% of the world's population does not have naturally-gifted turnout. Making your legs do things in a non-parallel position comes with certain discomfort and that discomfort is, well, uncomfortable.  Most people also don't rise up on their toes a lot (unless they wear high heels!) so calves get tight and sometimes painful. There is, admittedly, some pain involved in dance at all levels - and most people who have danced their whole lives have learned to live with it.  If you aren't prepared for that, any pain will send you to the couch instead of class.

LACK OF SUPPORT - Face it, ballet is of real interest to a very small number of people.  Although millions watch the dance shows on television, a fraction of a percentage point actually pursue it on their own and fewer still stick with it.  When you don't have friends who dance, it can be lonely.  You have to be the one to push yourself to get to class.  You have to be the one to pencil in the time.  You have to be the one to encourage yourself to keep going.  Of course I'm there too but I'm not at your house, urging you to dress and hurry to class. It's more likely than not that you don't have lots of friends who take ballet so that puts a lot of pressure on you to be disciplined and get to class, rather than join happy hour after work or a book club on Saturday mornings.

So if you feel yourself on the verge of burnout, what can you do?

1. Recognize that it's probably temporary. Often people reached plateaus in their technique and assume this is as far as they are going to get and that they won't improve at all.  Not true.  NEVER true.  At least not as far as I'm concerned.  A plateau is a temporary thing and if you push through and allow yourself to be patient and find the thing that will get you to the next level, you'll feel a true sense of accomplishment.

2. Create a goal for your dance technique and focus on that for a period of time. Burnout can happen when you feel like you're doing everything over and over again and not progressing (there's that plateau again!).  So choose one thing to work on - pirouettes en dehors, batterie, performance - and that can help you through the down time.

3. Reduce the number of classes you're taking.  If you're dancing every day, you may be expecting a lot from yourself.  Keep in mind that professional dancers take one day off per week! Give yourself a little more time between classes so you can adjust your expectations per class.

4. Take a complete break from dance, from ballet, or from your studio. If you feel like you've exhausted yourself and burnout is inevitable, let it happen.  Don't feel like you've let yourself or your teacher down. It's important to recharge your internal batteries and regain your perspective.  Rediscover your love of ballet when you're away from it and then return newly-energized.

Remember that ballet is different for everyone.  The reasons for keeping it in one's life are as varied as the individuals themselves.  For me, dance has always been a part of my life from the time I was a small child.  Take a moment to understand what place is has in your life before you abandon it.

Happy dancing~

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