Everyone knows rest is necessary – not least for dancers, whose artistic practice makes physical demands akin to athletes. Yet for many dancers, rest is a stressor. The highly competitive nature of professional dance and the quest for excellence make rest difficult to justify, much less pursue. Rest is usually addressed in relation to injury prevention, for which health professionals encourage dancers to take a physical break from dance one day per week, or in relation to treatment.
Rest from dance is not only physical. It entails a conscious effort to mentally, emotionally and socially dissociate from dance. Rest means engaging with the people, places and activities that are important to you that do not centre around dance.
For some this is an alien idea, as one’s dance practice can become their whole world. It may also be that a dancer’s downtime is filled with stressful, or at least not restful, activities and concerns; many professional dancers face financial precarity which pervades every part of life. Rest is not a fix-all solution, as many dance-related stressors require other dedicated strategies and high-level changes.
It is nonetheless vital. Regularly taking time and space away from one’s dance practice is a basic condition of developing a full sense of self as well as maintaining physical, mental and emotional energy. Rest is crucial to a nurturing and sustainable dance career in which the dancer has more control over, and perspective on, their practice and their life. Avoiding injury, for example, is a matter of having the mental clarity to assess risk and the emotional grounding to self-advocate in risky situations. This capacity to keep things in perspective is built up during rest.
Rest of this kind may not come easy, but it is a skill and habit that dancers can develop. It will look different for different dancers, but here are some ideas to build capacity for rest and discover ways to rest that are meaningful for you:
• Foster relationships with people outside of dance. This can be challenging but worthwhile. Listen for what other people are passionate about and talk to them about it.
• Cultivate relationships with people who are in your dance world about things not related to dance. Talk about your favorite book with your family; watch a cat video with a colleague.
• Take up non-dance interests and hobbies. They don’t have to take up a lot of time, money or energy. You could knit, learn a new language or join a hiking club. Don’t aim for excellence in these activities; just enjoy doing them.
• Keep a rest journal. Log when you rest (including moments of rest during dance-related activities). Write about things you did, noticed, thought about, enjoyed that are not related to dance.
• Practise how you would tell someone that you need to rest. This will help you to get comfortable with the idea of communicating that need.
• Listen to your body. Learn your body’s signals in regard to physical, mental and emotional needs for rest. Learn your body’s signals for when you are feeling good and enjoying yourself, both in and out of dance.
These strategies may help build your capacity to rest, whatever forms it takes. One day a week of physical rest is a good guide, but there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. Each dancer can discover for themselves the what, where, when, who, how and why of rest, and will be the stronger for it.