Are you headed back to dance classes soon, after time away from the studio over the summer? Feeling nervous and underprepared, even if you might be excited to be dancing hard again? First things first: those feelings are real and valid. Take a few deep breaths and simply acknowledge what you’re experiencing. Then, turn your attention towards ways that you can set yourself up to dance at your best – to give it your all in class and on stage, and slay (as they say)!

Indeed, there are concrete steps and actions that you can take to come back to dance with more ease, clarity, and fortitude. These actions come from a holistic mindset – supporting mind, body, and spirit, so that all of you can make the best out of the precious time that you have in the studio. Let’s jump in!

1. Organize yourself: Tips for students

Fall is a time of new opportunities, new commitments, and new responsibilities; chances are that you’re not taking the same classes that you did last year (in both dance and academics), and those new classes are asking new things of you. There’s a buzz of fresh activity in the air. Add that in with obligations to family and friends, maybe also a job, and it’s a lot – more than one brain can easily keep straight.

Well, do you know how to manage your time as a student? Everyone is different, because all of our brains are wired in somewhat unique ways, but a few tips for students and focused approaches can typically help the majority of people organize their obligations. If you’re a visually-inclined person, clearly-laid out lists and calendars – with color coding – can be helpful. You could even make a fun art project out of bringing your new fall schedule into 2D (or even 3D!) creative form. If you’ve found that writing things out helps you to encode information most effectively, a calendar is also helpful here – what you write and how you write it (digitally or by hand) can also make a difference.

You may even journal about your new year: your fears, what you’re excited about, what the first days back are like, cool new things you’re learning, et cetera. That could be helpful for anyone, but might be especially beneficial for those who learn well by writing. The point is to actively encode the new information of what’s going on in your new year (in dance, academics, and other things you have going on) in ways that work best for you.

The more you can feel like you have a handle on all of your different responsibilities, […], the more calm, collected, and focused you’ll be.

What can also be helpful with getting your head around scheduling and to-do’s – particularly when that’s all new – is writing out your day the night before (for example, your Tuesday on Monday night), or in the morning the day of. That can even include time-blocks: for example, school 8 AM – 3 PM; homework 3 PM – 6 PM; dance 6 PM – 9 PM; dinner, other personal care, and winding down 9 PM – 11 PM; bed by 11 PM.  

It might seem like you don’t have the time or mental energy to do such organization, and that’s an understandable feeling. Yet making mistakes in your schedule, and then having to address them, can take a whole lot more time and mental energy – not to mention the impact on your peace of mind.

Speaking of peace of mind (and doing your best more generally), it’s also important to keep in mind the dangers of overcommitting. A new training year can come with eagerness to dive into a variety of new things, and that can be great. Yet remember that there are only so many hours in a day, and you’re only human with so much bandwidth. You also have non-negotiable needs (such as getting enough sleep!). The more you can feel like you have a handle on all of your different responsibilities, while also taking care of yourself, the more calm, collected, and focused you’ll be – and your dancing will be stronger as a result!  

2. Ease yourself back into dance classes with smart conditioning  

You know the feeling – even if you appear physically fit, you come back to dance classes and feel anything but that (“ugh, I’m so out of shape!”, you might whisper to a dance friend through a huff). Getting back to exercise after a long break can not only feel a little demoralizing, it can lead to injury. That applies not only to coming back from summer break, but also from spring and winter breaks – and any time you take a good amount of time not regularly in class.

So, on multiple levels, it’s important to prepare yourself physically for having a full load of classes and rehearsals again. If you’re conditioning on your own, you can make it whatever it needs to be to serve you best. Even if you’re taking public classes, there’s nothing wrong with modifying – in fact, that could be very wise!'

What’s most important is to listen to your body, challenge yourself within reason, and use your breath to help you meet the physical demands at hand.

With cross training for dancers, also note that physical fitness includes four main components: muscular endurance, muscular strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness. You can calibrate the demands on your body, adding on as your body acclimates in all of those areas: as examples, more time running, more weight lifted, going deeper into a stretch (careful not to push too far, too fast on that last one especially!).

You can increase the number of times per week that you condition as the beginning of your season and school year draws closer, as well. Again, that can also apply to any time of year that there’s a break in your dance calendar and you’re not in class as regularly. On the other hand, it’s never too late to start cross-training for getting your conditioning back to your best; even doing so in the first weeks back to classes and rehearsals could make a helpful difference.

What’s most important is to listen to your body, challenge yourself within reason, and use your breath to help you meet the physical demands at hand – all things that we also do in dance! Your body knows what to do. You just have to give it what it needs to perform at its best.

3. Get yourself back into choreography brain for dance classes with online dance tutorials

Dance challenges the brain as well as the body – and one key mental challenge of dance is learning choreography. That can be particularly true for younger student dancers; building the skill of choreography retention takes time and experience! Just like with stamina, flexibility, and strength, the skill of choreography retention can fade over time if not exercised – like an unused muscle atrophying. So, if you’ve danced little or not at all over the summer, perhaps try out a few choreography tutorials before going back to class.

Space for dancing at home can be a challenge, but there are ways to get creative there: move furniture, modify choreography, and even try dancing outside if you have a yard or deck! If you're not dancing on a sprung floor, do be conscious of how you do jumps and leaps – perhaps something else to modify, such as marking some, most, or all of those.  

Where can you find these tutorials? DancePlug, for one, has tutorials in a range of styles and at various levels – so you can find something that piques your interest and is appropriate for where you are in your dance journey. Want to challenge your choreography brain even more? Try a style that you’re less familiar with! You’re still working on your ability to retain choreography, but adding into the mix the extra challenge of movement vocabulary and physical qualities that you’re less accustomed to.

4. Be gentle on yourself and take it one day at a time!

Yoga practitioners and instructors will sometimes say “it’s a practice, not a perfect.” That can feel a little clichè, but clichès are clichès because they hold truth enough to be repeated. Dance is a practice, and it’s a journey. Perfection is what we might reach for, in order to grow and reach closer to our potentials, but it’s illusory.

So, if you head back to a full dance schedule and feel a bit off for a couple of weeks or so, take a deep breath and remind yourself that it’s okay. Struggling a bit when you come back to dance after time away is totally normal, and does not mean – in any way, shape, or form – that you’re a “bad dancer” (whatever that even means!). Try to be gentle on yourself. For one, because that feels better. For two, it’ll keep your mind on advancing your technique and artistry, as well as doing all you can in school and all else you do – rather than on beating yourself up. Most likely, you’ll only dance better, and do better in all areas of your life, from there.

The point is to actively encode the new information of what’s going on in your new year […] in ways that work best for you.

Social support through challenges, like coming back to dance, can also be incredibly helpful. Your dance and school friends are likely facing many of the same obstacles. Talking with them about how they’re doing and how they’re juggling it all might just lead to some meaningful insights. If nothing else, all involved will feel better simply by seeing how they’re not alone in what they’re experiencing. It’s a clear and constant reminder that you’re in a supportive learning space! Remember also that your teachers and coaches are there to guide and help you. In ways that are appropriate and which you feel comfortable with, seek their wisdom!

Just keep showing up and working hard, and you’ll be back to your strongest as a dancer before too long. Take it one day at a time, and try to have patience with whatever your rate of progress is. If you take approaches such as those detailed above, you’ve done what you can do, and then the process will simply be what it is.

Yes, coming back to dance after time away can be stressful and difficult – physically, mentally, and emotionally – but that’s all temporary. Who knows, it could be your best season yet! Wherever you are on your path towards progress, smile and let yourself love dancing – because you know that you do.

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