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Set Yourself Up for Success: Survival Tips to Start the Dance Season

The smell of freshly sharpened pencils, the crispness of blank notebooks, and the empty pages of a pristine planner waiting to be filled can only mean one thing: it’s time to head back to school! But those sights, scents, and feelings are only part of the fun for dancers. Back to school also means back to dance with a fresh start for a new season. Maybe it isn’t the smell of new pencils, but rather pointe shoes that makes your heart flutter, or the sight of that new leotard in your drawer that you’re excited to sport in your first class back. Perhaps you spent the summer at a six-week long intensive with your favorite company and can’t wait to put your new skills to work, or maybe you saw a performance that inspired your return to the studio…or maybe you took some time away from dance and are itching to get back, which is always a great sign! No matter how you spent your summer, the return to dance, whether to a new studio or your home of over a decade, can stimulate an array of emotions, ranging from excitement to anxiety, and many feelings in between. Whether you’re a seasoned competitive dancer, used to performing twenty plus routines every weekend from February to May, or you’re gearing up to learn your very first solo, the start of the new season is your chance to set the tone for a successful year ahead. While there are many factors that lie beyond our control as dancers, such as rehearsal schedules, the genres of the routines we get to perform, our position in the large group formation, or the colors of our costumes, there are many ways that we can set ourselves up for success. Here are my top three tips to prepare for the new season:

Get Organized!

Whether your style is to create a spreadsheet, use google calendar, or color-code a paper planner, it’s a good idea to have your schedule handy at all times. If you’re in high school, I recommend including school classes as part of this schedule so that you can keep track of all of your subjects. Especially if your school runs on any sort of block schedule, it will be helpful to know which days you have off from which subjects so that you can plan your study schedule accordingly…and be sure that you aren’t lugging around unnecessary weight in the form of textbooks!

Then comes your dance schedule. If you’re feeling fancy, consider color-coding your classes, rehearsals, workouts, and any other activities in which you engage throughout the day. Organizing everything now may seem like a chore, but you will be so thankful come competition season when you can easily track your biology exam., your English essay due date, and your extra competition rehearsals all in one place. It’s also great to start now because if you’re not feeling the google calendar you’ve set up, you have some time to transfer everything to paper or find another method you prefer. For some of us, it’s also important to write in when you plan to eat and reminders to hydrate throughout the day. And, most importantly, don’t forget to factor in sleep! According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average teen needs eight to ten hours of sleep for optimal performance, and the more consistently you can schedule your sleep hours, the better you will feel. As dancers, sleep is especially critical because it’s when our muscles rebuild and recharge, not to mention the resetting of our brains. Improved sleep has been proven to increase memory, which is critical for dancers! Remember: it’s not just about our bodies! We need to be able to think quickly, absorb patterns and pathways of choreography, and apply corrections immediately.

Create good habits!

While it may be tempting to eat a Snickers bar for dinner after four long hours at the studio, or hit your snooze button six times before waking up, it’s important to shut those habits down in favor of better ones, especially at the start of the season. Experts say that it takes 21 days to establish a habit, so if that habit includes popping out of bed when your alarm rings at 6:30am, you’ll be rising and shining less than one month into your dance season! So, resist the urge to hit that snooze button because it will get easier! And you can create multiple good habits at once! Maybe you constantly forget to pack your tap shoes and have to call home in a panic to ask someone to drop them off—get in the habit of packing your dance bag before you leave for school each morning, or even the night before. Each night when you get home from the studio, though, it’s a good idea to take your shoes out of your bag and let them air out, because aside from keeping them smelling sweet, they will also last longer if you let the moisture dry overnight. But maybe you take everything out of your bag and set aside the shoes that you don’t need the next day for class. You will figure out a system that works for you—but you can’t decide what works if you don’t institute the practice in the first place.

You can also establish the habit of setting clear, achievable goals to set yourself up for an awesome year of growth and improvement in dance. In January, I wrote a post entitled New Year, New You: How to Set and Stick to Your 2018 Dance Goals. Take a look for an in-depth tutorial on goal setting, or, in the spirit of ‘Back to School,’ here are my Spark Notes (Please note: I don’t actually condone the use of Sparknotes for required school reading!):

  • Be sure to set both short-term and long-term goals by writing them down…ON PAPER!

  • Write your goals as specifically as possible, and be sure to include deadlines by which to achieve each goal!

  • Create a DETAILED plan that outlines steps you will take to achieve each goal!

  • Set reminders to check in with your goals!

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

  • Be sure to revise your goals as you achieve them!

Shift your perspective on rejection…NOW!

Let’s face it—we are in a tough field that is riddled with competition and, as a result, rejection. But something keeps us coming back, so we obviously love dancing and know that we refuse to spend our time doing anything else. But sometimes the competitive ethos can be toxic and cause us to fill up with feelings of insecurity, failure, and doubt. Maybe you don’t get a solo this season but your best friend does, or the guest choreographer doesn’t select you for the new routine. Or maybe your teacher of twelve years places you in the back in the large group jazz piece when you thought you deserved to be the featured turner. These feelings are all valid and we take everything personally because this art form is our livelihood. We want to be our very best and we work hard to get there. But out of the initial feelings of failure and disappointment, it’s important to use rejection as a tool to further improve. Try to celebrate the achievements of others, as hard as this may be, and to learn and grow when someone says ‘no.’ It’s similar to when you attend multiple competitions each season and one panel of judges awards your trio a platinum and the other a high gold. Remember: our field is subjective and the people watching—teachers, judges, choreographers, agents, directors, etc.—have their own individual preferences, aesthetics, and training histories. Just because one person says ‘no’ doesn’t measure your value as a dancer. Heading into the new season, it’s critical to establish a positive outlook on rejection and an ability to feel happy for others when they achieve greatness. It’s challenging to watch your friends win without you or get cast in parts that you thought belonged to you, but consider the bigger picture. No matter who is featured in the routine, for example, if the piece looks good overall, it will score well. If your friend’s solo wins first place, that’s still a win for your team! Flip your perspective and allow your dance life to fill with positive thinking—I promise you will still feel motivated to work hard and achieve, but you will definitely feel much better about doing so!

Dive into Dance!

Now that you’ve organized your busy life, set your goals, established new, healthy habits, and have shifted to a more positive way of thinking, you’re ready to head into an amazing dance season! You can take time to focus on yourself, while also sharing your energy and talent with your dance family. Back to school is exciting, but if you ask me, heading back to dance is much more thrilling. I know that I can’t wait to get back into the studio, but if you’re like me, you’re probably already asking, “Is it competition season yet?!” Fear not, for before we know it, we’ll be on the road and striving for Platinum trophies. Until then, though, happy dancing and cheers to the beginning of your best dance season yet!


Top Photo: Supernova Dance Company - Forest Hill, MD

Bottom Photo: Linx Dance Studio - Wellesley, MA

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