Getting performance ready: a checklist for returning to the commercial dance industry after a year at home.

With vaccines beginning to lead us into a post-pandemic world, traces of in-person dance classes, auditions, and job opportunities are appearing across the commercial dance industry. After a year of dancing at home, it can be tempting to dive back into your dance career headfirst, but whether you’re filming a self-tape audition, getting back to training in a studio, or finally performing again, make sure your expectations match your reality. For most commercial dancers, regardless of whether you danced at home daily or took an extended break, it’s safe to say you won’t be in the same mental, emotional, or physical state you were in over a year ago.

The state of the commercial dance industry has also shifted over the past year, so it’s crucial to success to recognize those changes and how they will affect returning to work going forward. Dancers will need to prepare both their bodies and spirits to avoid injury and burnout, while also staying ready for and open to the continuation of online auditions, classes, and performances. Use this checklist to get ready for returning to work in the commercial dance industry this year:

Prepare Your Mindset

As you return to dancing, remember that “you are allowed to have changed… it doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad dancer,” as dance psychologist Lucie Clements put it. Giving yourself grace for where you’re at will be so important as you transition back to dancing and all of the emotional and physical pressures that come with it, so that you don’t end up dealing with an injury, anxiety, or burnout from pushing yourself too hard too fast.

It can be helpful if you’re feeling anxious about returning to dance to focus on the positive things you’ve gained in this past year; maybe you feel you grew emotionally and spiritually, and while you think your technique has suffered from dancing at home, you now have the emotional awareness that you can always build back up to where you once were. Also, know you’re not alone if you are feeling self-conscious or have low self-confidence as you dance again. Consider talking to other dancers or qualified professionals about how you’re feeling so you feel more supported as you navigate the post-pandemic dance industry.

As we emerge from isolation, it’s more important than ever to surround ourselves with people who inspire us, who we want to create with, and who make us feel supported as we return to this changing industry.

Safely Get Back Into Your Body

Unless you’ve had your own in-home studio for the past year, it’s likely you aren’t dancing in the same way or the amount you were pre-pandemic, and your body will need time to adjust back to that. Rather than taking every class you can get into as soon as they open up, start slow. According to Monique DeLuca, PT, DPT, OCS from Johns Hopkins, “it can take about 12 weeks for an elite athlete to work back up to their previous level of performance after just eight weeks out of practice.” Trying to pick up where you left off a year ago can therefore increase your risk of injury.

Research on collegiate athletes by the National Strength and Conditioning Association suggests easing into training again by spending 50% or less time training the first week than you did before a break, for instance starting with only three dance classes or less per week if you used to do six per week. From there, you can steadily progress to 30%, then 20%, then 10%, until you feel you can handle the full amount of weekly training or dancing you were doing before. You can also start in classes that are at a lower skill level or exertion level than you were used to doing, the key being to slowly build up to where you were before week to week. DeLuca also suggests incorporating fitness training to help your body prepare for more dancing, including 3-5 days per week of 20-40 min of cardio, two days a week of muscular strengthening, and musculoskeletal flexibility. A weekly example of this could be: two 20 minute runs, one HIIT class, one Pilates class, and 30 minutes of mobility exercises or yoga. Whatever you do, listen to your body, and don’t expect it to be at the same level it was last year. Give yourself time to slowly increase the time you spend dancing and cross-training so you avoid fatigue and stay injury free, and don’t be afraid to reach out to a PT to help you build a training program that’s right for you.

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Update Your Audition Materials (and Your Agents!)

Did you try out a new hair color over quarantine and you’re never going back? It’s new headshot time! You should probably consider getting new headshots regardless of any pandemic hair cuts though, since photos will be a major key to success as online auditions and castings continue to be the new normal.

It’s safe to say that as the dance industry has discovered these more streamlined audition avenues, you can expect to spend less time getting ready and traveling to long audition days, instead swapping that time for making sure your materials stand out in a sea of emails and Dropbox links. Make sure you have these materials updated and on deck:

  • Photos: Contact your agent to see what they think you’re missing in your portfolio and be sure to create mood boards for each look to share with them and your photographer/stylist. Your agents will also have a good idea of what types of photos are drawing the eyes of casting directors and choreographers right now, so be sure to ask!
  • Dance reels: While it’s definitely important to have a 1 minute ‘showreel’ of gigs you’ve done up to date, make sure you also have short dance reels that showcase each style you do e.g. one for hip hop, one for ballet, one for tricks, etc. Having these ready to go (and on social media - more on that below)  will increase your chances of getting more job opportunities and will make your life less chaotic.
  • Resume: This would be a good time to take a quick look over your resume and make sure everything is up to date. Be sure to get your agency’s resume template and share your most updated version with them. Don’t forget to upload to casting websites!

Be sure to decide exactly how you want to use your social media profiles.

Hone Your Social Media Presence

Once you’ve got your photos and videos sent to your agents and uploaded to casting websites, make sure they’re also on social media, where more and more casting directors and choreographers are either sourcing dancers directly or checking when they get sent your self-tapes. Be sure to decide exactly how you want to use your social media profiles, especially media based apps like Instagram and TikTok. You can choose to have a public profile you use mainly as a type of dance resume, two separate profiles to have both a private personal account and a public dance account, or some sort of hybrid of the two.

Remember that in this digital age, social media really can propel your commercial dance career, getting you seen by choreographers and brands or introducing other job opportunities for paid work. In this vein, it can be advantageous to your career to make sure you are sharing your skills, your creativity, and, crucially, who you are, through your content. Pepper your feed with your professional photos and videos to make sure they’re easily seen by casting directors or choreographers who may be coming across your profile (pro tip: categorize your reels and photos in your Instagram highlights!), and don’t be afraid to intersperse those things with content that shows your creativity and your personality - that just might be what actually gets you the gig.

Whatever you do, listen to your body, and don’t expect it to be at the same level it was last year.

Reconnect With Your Network

It’s been a long, lonely year away from our circles of dance friends and colleagues, but as more and more people are getting vaccinated, it’s finally becoming safe to reconnect. Make sure that you follow CDC guidelines as you start to venture out into social circles again, but consider doing so when you safely and responsibly can and feel ready to! You may feel like you lost touch with many people in your network the past year, but know it’s likely that many people feel the same way, and there’s nothing wrong with reaching out to reconnect. As we emerge from isolation, it’s more important than ever to surround ourselves with people who inspire us, who we want to create with, and who make us feel supported as we return to this changing industry. Plus, self-tapes are always more fun to do with your dance friends!