A decorated dance educator and mental skills trainer, Lauren Ritchie, is one of those dance community heroes we need right now; and she has a powerful message for hope and personal resilience: it’s time to go inward.

On March 16, after carefully assessing her role amid global fear, lifestyle changes, and the cancellation of almost everything dancers hold dear, Lauren reached out via Facebook video, offering free training resources and mental skills worksheets to any dancer or dance educator who needed support. That day alone, she received 500 emails. 

Lauren gave herself 48 hours to send back all the love and valuable resources she had, and somehow still found time to Facetime with me, offering guidance and optimism to the DancePlug community.

Dance educator and mental skills trainer Lauren Ritchie
 Photo: Rob Gilbert

Introducing, Lauren Ritchie

Lauren has shaped over a decade-long career out of helping dancers train physically and mentally. As a dance coach and workshop facilitator, she helps competitive dancers navigate vulnerability and failure and opens them up to exploring their personal values and bravery. She assists dance educators in leading courageously and mindfully exploring their impact on students. 

In 2016, Lauren founded ‘The Dance Podcast’, dedicated to helping emerging dancers take on the challenges of the industry. She explores every facet of the dancer’s experience, including their less talked about psychological needs, interviewing successful performers from ballet companies, Broadway, film, and television, as well as choreographers, directors, studio owners, authors, therapists, and sports psychologists. Lauren has quickly become known for uncovering the hidden mental battles and unexpected skills, beyond dance training, necessary for a fulfilling artistic career. With a storied teaching practice and major studios all over Canada implementing her coaching, Lauren is helping to lead the profoundly impactful mental skills training movement in Canadian dance. On top of so many thriving exploits, Ms. Ritchie continues to expand her own education to take on the swiftly evolving needs of today’s dancers and teachers, and just this month, completed her Masters in Education in Coaching Studies at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Her online course and accompanying book: ‘Mental Skills Training For Competitive Dancers’ is set for release in late 2020.

When asked what drew her to all this important work, she responded: “My own messiness.” Everything Lauren herself had to work through became what she now teaches and prioritizes: mismanaged expectations, mixing self worth in with her career, comparative mind, and the “entangled relationship between our athleticism and artistry”. Lauren dealt with severe depression and an eating disorder early on in her professional dance journey, and began to search for tools and answers in therapy, yoga, sports psychology, and personal development.

The answers she continues to find and eloquently share are not only changing the game for dancers; they are helping Lauren understand and cope with the global crisis of now.

This is not a time to numb out. This is a time to go in and get clear

Changing, Uncertain Times & The Tools To Cope With Them

It is no exaggeration to say the entire world has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and these are very uncertain, fearful times for all humans. Professional dancers, students, and educators have been hit hard by the closures of schools and indefinite postponement of major events, and Lauren is no different. In two days, she lost five different jobs teaching, facilitating workshops, keynote speaking, and adjudicating. She witnessed dancers losing their security as contracts folded and studios shut their doors so early in the competition season. “We've been working on routines and personal excellence all season and we don't know if we’ll ever get to show all or any of our work,” she observes. On top of that, many are dealing with a “relationship crisis” over graduating students they may never see in the same capacity. Not to mention, Lauren adds, “We’re managing all of that alongside grief”: grief over the loss of gatherings, experiences, and opportunities; grief in the face of growing deaths, crowded hospitals, and concern for our loved ones.

“We’re in a stage of uncertainty because for so long we looked to others for answers and plans and it now feels like the world’s moms and dads don’t have answers,” she says, something I certainly empathize with.

Yet, as artists and human beings, we are not helplessly confined to 24-hour statistics, speculation, and worry. Lauren argues that this is a time to be more conscious, more aware of thoughts popping up and the meaning we create from them. She encourages us to ask what personal values we want to be living: “So few people value fear, yet we're making choices from that place.” The pandemic is a “giant pause button” for us to get very present with ourselves and with others.

“Reset. Don’t overwhelm yourself with information media. Give yourself golden hours without your phone if you can. Read. Journal. Move. Connect with another human being.”

In regards to social media, she cautions: “Be very discerning with who you’re following and what you’re consuming.” We all have different psychological needs, and we may have to mute certain voices, posts, or platforms for our mental well being and clarity. “This is not a time to numb out. This is a time to go in and get clear,” she states. “If you’re going online, learn something new. Try something new.”  

Lauren was inspired by community leaders who took initiative to continue teaching online when dance studios and competitions were forced to shut down. Despite being what she calls “an ultimate do-er”, she took time to consciously marinate before adding her voice to the fray: “I woke up (on Monday) with a voice saying: ‘how can I help?’ and saw that I already had emails and DM's from fellow dance leaders, asking for resources.” She is now working with hundreds of educators, making short videos and helpful worksheets on resilience in the face of stress and lifestyle changes. The primary focus of these worksheets is developing an awareness of the thoughts, emotions, and sensations swirling around us. Lauren calls awareness to “being versus doing” so we can act from our true values:

“We’re being invited into simply being, when we want to fall into action-oriented behaviors. We’re asking: who are we and how are we choosing to move through this?”

Based on her careful observations, self compassion, and kind actions, it quickly became apparent to me… Lauren chooses to ‘move through this’ with a genuine desire and ability to help her artistic community.

Adjusting to Dance Enrichment From Home

Lauren’s dance coaching and website manifesto embodies an opportunity, however restricted, to grow, and to explore mind, body, and craft. In losing the gatherings we depended on for safe artistic growth, the need to nurture healthy home spaces and self-supportive mentalities became crucial. In adjusting to home practice, Ms. Ritchie says, “Offer yourself a lot of compassion as you navigate experiencing dance in a new way and figure out how you work. Write yourself permission slips. Flail and fail. Try something new and suck boldly at it.” She adds that working hard and dancing big is harder in small spaces, “Use what you have. There are no rules in this online experience that’s changing every day. Focus on a space of play and fun. Be gentle and forgiving.”

Who are we and how are we choosing to move through this?

‘Gentle and forgiving’ might be words to live by, in these times of rapidly developing tragedy and lifestyle changes. I am utterly grateful for Lauren’s heroic perspective and continuing work in spreading healthier self talk among the dance community. So many of us already struggle with self worth and resilience, and our uncertain, isolating times call for even deeper self awareness and compassion. As we learn to navigate the challenges of these new waters, people like Lauren are providing the tools and support we need to adapt and overcome.

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