Taking Care of Yourself as an Adult Dancer

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Alright, I will let you in on a semi-secret. I don't like to broadcast my age, not because I think I am old (I don't, and I'm not), but just because it's something I don't want to be defined by. But today I will tell you that I am 29. No, not old. But, old enough to be feeling like I am not 18. I actually feel a huge difference between now and my early 20's. I am more prone to injury, injuries take longer to heal, it takes longer to warm up, more weeks to feel as "in shape" as I would like, and the list goes on.

I'm the last person in the world that thought I would ever be complaining about feeling "old," since I plan to live to 100 and continue en pointe until I'm at least 70! That's why I am committed to good habits and taking care of myself. Since I have been dancing much more lately, I have also been noticing my habits and the effect they have on how I feel. So, I'm putting together a few tips of things I do to take care of myself, that I believe can benefit others. If you are a teenager, I encourage you to pay attention to this list! Even though you might not feel the effects of these things they way you might when you get older, creating good habits young will help you now and later.

1.) Hydration. This seems like one of those things we hear all the time. Drink enough water! Yet, it can still be a struggle. When I'm not drinking enough water, I find my muscles are much more likely to cramp up in class, sometimes making me take it easy the rest of class (one day it happened with my first plie, so the rest of the class was a huge struggle). Other days I just find that I get home and feel wiped out for several hours because I'm so dehydrated. Once it gets to that point, I can't just drink water and feel better - it takes a while to get back on track. So, I'm dedicated to staying on top of this. I have a 32 ounce/1 quart water bottle, and fill it up 2-3 times a day. Having a water bottle with me and available throughout the day keeps me on track so I'm not stuck chugging 20 ounces right before bed. Also, if you are drinking coffee or especially alcohol of any kind, you should be drinking even MORE water.

2.) Nutrition. Yes, another one we hear about all the time. Now, there are about a million different opinions on what anyone and everyone should be eating these days. Gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian, more meat - it can be overwhelming trying to figure out the "right" way to eat. I'm not going to tell you what not to eat. I will tell you to make sure that you are adding in plenty of produce, especially vegetables. Try to add some vegetables to every meal of the day, and snack on some fresh fruit in between meals. I like the mantra of, "Don't eat less, eat more good things." Personally, I feel like I can no longer afford to diet, as in restricting what I eat. If I do that, then I go into class and feel weak, can't hold my leg up, or don't have the stamina to get through the jump combination. But, I can change what I am eating if I'm trying to get my weight down a little extra, and still give myself plenty of nutrition and energy for class and rehearsals.

3.) Wearing warm ups. I'm not going to tell you to wear extra clothes for warm up if you are part of a studio that doesn't allow that. But, I do find that plastic pants and knitted shorts really help my hips and legs. I try to take this stuff off for center, but if the a/c is on at all, or if it's a large class with more times between groups, my muscles start to rebel. If I'm in a long rehearsal, it's even more essential. Getting warm and staying warm will help prevent injuries. It might even help that leg get a little higher, too!

4.) Extra warm up time. Expanding on the last topic, as adults we might need extra warm up time. This means you might need to get to class earlier so you can start doing at least some little things to get your body moving (refer to our warm up video). Even something like a little jog around the studio can help get you prepared for class, even if it looks a little silly to other people. I know I'm past worrying about what people think when it comes to taking care of myself! Take the time in between combinations, while the teacher is choreographing the next thing, to jog in place or do some extra tendus. (Just make sure you stop once the teacher begins talking again.)

5.) Consider your street shoes. Especially if you are doing pointe work, watch the street shoes you are wearing that day. I know I have heard from adult dancers that they don't wear heels on a pointe day. I rarely wear heels anymore at all, so I can't vouch for it personally, but it makes sense considering how my feet feel when I have worn heels. Also, watch wearing flip flops or other shoes with non-supportive soles. If you are walking around a good deal, this can create some stress on your feet and legs that you'll then be feeling in class. I pretty much live in tennis shoes these days due to my lifestyle, which I know isn't an option for everyone. But, if nothing else, on the days you are going to dance, just try to make sure you are wearing a more supportive street shoe, or consider having some you can change into for any longer walks you need to take.

It's so true that we have to listen to our bodies, especially as we get older. By doing this, we can get in many good dancing years! Does anyone else have anything they do? I know I could think of others, so write in and perhaps we will do a Part 2 of this post sometime, and I'll credit you with your tips on the blog.

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