Aaah summer, the season of ice cream trucks, the beach, and lazy hammock afternoons – or, if you’re a dancer, you might still be in the studio. Many dancers get a little time off after recitals or spring seasons, but then it’s right back to summer training – through intensives and other studio time. If you are getting time off this summer, enjoy it! Rest is important for athletic artists: physically, mentally, spiritually, and creatively.
At the same time, dance science research has begun to demonstrate that “active downtime” is most beneficial: maintaining strength, flexibility, and technique while you take more time than usual for rest. Let’s look at how you can create such “active downtime” for yourself: with respect to conditioning, technically, and creatively.
Nurturing athleticism: cross-training for dancers
Comprehensive dance training includes cross training. Period. It’s something that dance science and pedagogy is acknowledging, and subsequently acting upon, more and more. From Pilates to yoga to running to weight-lifting, there are more cross training options out there than any one dancer could ever engage in. How can one know what’s right for them? For one, what do you enjoy? If you actually enjoy yourself while doing it, you’re more likely to be consistent with it.
For two, remember that dancers need holistic fitness in order to train and perform at their best. One framework of comprehensive fitness describes it in four components: flexibility, muscular endurance, muscular strength, and cardiovascular endurance. Like a four-legged stool, we need all parts in order to stand steady while we reach towards our technique and artistry potential.
So, what might a summer training program that addresses these four components look like? Here are some ideas, in a sample weekly cross training schedule.
- Monday: Vinyasa yoga or Pilates (for flexibility, muscular strength, and muscular endurance)
- Tuesday: weight lifting (for muscular strength and muscular endurance)
- Wednesday: jogging, vigorous walking, or cycling/Spin (for cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance)
- Thursday: jogging, vigorous walking, or cycling/Spin (for cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance)
- Friday: Vinyasa yoga or Pilates (for flexibility, muscular strength, and muscular endurance)
- Saturday: swimming (for cardiovascular endurance and muscular endurance)
- Sunday: Restorative yoga, or take the day fully off (periodic physical rest is actually necessary for advancing our holistic fitness!)
Of course, find what works best for you; we’re all different with varied abilities, growth areas, needs, practical obstacles, and inclinations. Key in that, as something important to also remember, is that our individual work is different according to where we currently are. For example, if you’re naturally flexible but could use more muscular strength, it serves you better to spend more time on strength training than doing deep stretching.
Additionally, if you might not have access to a gym or classes (for cross-training forms that might require those things), check out Dr. David Odom’s DancePlug tutorials!
[YouTube and social media platforms have many free resources to guide you. Just be sure to check for credentials of the individuals offering these resources, to know that they’re leading you from a fully-informed place.]
It’s also summer – the weather might be perfect to take your cross training outside (with proper precautions to prevent overheating, of course!). Lastly, not every week needs to include something like the above weekly schedule – especially if summer is your two to three months each year of time off from dance (or a downsized dance schedule). Don’t be afraid to take a week off here and there. Your body may very well return the favor, coming back refreshed and ready to work at your best!
Nurturing technique: dancing in the summer
Yes, summer could be a great time to rest: instead of the studio opting for the beach, the barbecue, or the backyard with a good book. Yet it could also be a great time to take class! It’s all about balance; dancing on some days (or weeks) and resting on others could be a great summer recipe for both maintaining (and maybe even advancing) your technique and getting more rest than you typically get.
In support of the “getting into class” part of the above, the heat of summer can make muscles more pliable: allowing for expanded flexibility and expanded kinetic learning. You may even achieve greater athleticism in your dancing, your body accomplishing things that you might otherwise find unattainable. Dancing in the summer can simply feel great. Again, just be sure to follow safety guidelines for physical activity on hot days.
Find what works best for you; we’re all different with varied abilities, growth areas, needs, practical obstacles, and inclinations.
Scheduling realities may even work in your favor in the summer, as well; busy studio schedules might mean that you usually can’t get to a certain teacher’s class or try out a particular style – yet with a different schedule in the summer, you can make it! You might also have time for online tutorials that you usually can’t get to, like those on DancePlug.
You might even have more time for independent work at home: working on technique at your own pace and focusing on the things that it benefits you to focus on. Working on your own, thoughtfully and mindfully, could spark some of those “lightbulb” moments that can make a world of difference in your technique and artistry. Independent work, online tutorials, new (to you) classes: that could be a summer training mix that hones your technique and brings you joy.
Here’s an example of technique-related work in a certain week. Again, it’s just that, an example – so adjust content and timing as is best for you. Make your own training program, and enjoy it!
- Monday: contemporary class that you couldn’t get to during the regular season
- Tuesday: DancePlug online hip-hop class
- Wednesday: personal technique work at home – ballet barre
- Thursday: personal technique work at home – floorwork investigation
- Friday: day off from technique work, relaxing in the park instead
- Saturday: DancePlug online jazz class
- Sunday: back to the beach instead of technique work!
Nurturing creativity: exploring artistry in and beyond dance
We know that being an artist involves a lot more than technique: from life experience to artistic exposure to personal growth (mind, heart, and spirit). With that additional time out of the studio, you can be intentional about growing as an artist: journaling, reading, experiencing various artistic outputs (dance and more), trying your hand at other creative things that you do.
Perhaps you learn more about dance history and dance artists who’ve had a meaningful impact on the field (and maybe even on you!). Community also matters – maybe you catch up with friends you haven’t seen in a while, for dance related things or not. Again, it’s all about balance: some rest, some technique, some artistic and personal development.
That development could include going to a dance concert with a friend, reading (and maybe even writing your own) poetry, and dreaming up concepts for your own dance works. Here’s another sample week of artistic development. Take it as a template, find what serves you, and have an amazing summer: resting, dancing, and growing as an artist.
- Monday: poetry reading and writing
- Tuesday: personal journaling
- Wednesday: journaling about a concept of a work that you’re envisioning
- Thursday: reading a biography of a celebrated dance artist
- Friday: going to a dance concert with friends
- Saturday: playing with movement vocabulary to a song that you like
- Sunday: beach time instead, perhaps some reading