Journey to a Healthy Body: Daily Self-Care

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I am focusing on what I can do outside the studio for the daily care of my body and mind. 

Dancers are in constant maintenance, and one thing I have learned through the years of my young career is that we need constant oil for our engine for good functionality.

It is important to work hard at the studio attending classes and rehearse daily as well as, like I said in my Conditioning post, do complimentary exercises at the gym or take a Pilates class to support our technique.

However, self-care is a massive topic I will love to get into. Sometimes we get distracted and forget about our physical and mental health, and this affects our careers and personal lives tremendously.

I am working on establishing my complimentary exercises to support my technique (especially at this time of recovery), and I am very happy with how it is turning out: Light cardio sessions three times a week with a good stretching/conditioning gym session, Pilates twice a week, physiotherapy twice a week, and ice every night. (I can talk about this routine/update on a later post).

But yes, I do forget to take care of myself on a bigger scale. I need to understand that because the mind works tirelessly every day, I need to set a time to reset and recover during the week.

That little "time-off" is so necessary.

Reading a good book more often, taking a break from social media, decluttering my space, meditation, journaling, better skin care, maintaining a nourishing food plan, and going to bed earlier are some I would love to integrate into my life more often.

I not only need these as a dancer but also as a human being.

As hard as we work, dancers are humans as well, and we need these times of resetting in order to perform our duties better and better every day.  

I will keep you updated on my routines. For now, let's grab a pen and start writing and setting that self-care routine that your body desperately needs after a good week of sweat at the studio.

GALLERY: My Warm Up Routine before Ballet Class

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When I was 14 years old and changed to a bigger ballet school, I realized that the other students got there before me and were stretching, warming up. Before that, I used to get to ballet just in time, put on my shoes, and rehearse.

Certainly not an ideal thing for a dancer, but when you are young you don't really pay attention to the importance of preparing your body. So there I was, surrounded by my friends chatting while doing theraband exercises, stretchings on the floor, and light core strength repetitions. And me? Nothing.

After this, I established my warm-up routine. I started to get to the studio earlier, and in a few weeks, my new habit became a huge a priority. I realized that I felt better in class and were able to do things easier.

In the beginning, I went to the extreme and established my warm-up time to be one hour long even longer. I have experimented with shorter and longer exercises, as well as different stretches. Of course, now it varies every day according to how I feel. I went then from 45 minutes to 30, and back to an hour, maybe some days even 15 minutes (it also depended on how early I got to the studio).

Now that I am 21 and coming back to class after a huge gap of recovery, I am back with the 45 minutes to an hour routine. I go from the bottom up, starting with my feet and finishing with core and back.

Here are my exercises as for now:

 

1. Waking up the body with rolling the muscles

My foam roller and my little green massage ball have become my best friends. I start by cracking all the bones I can (dancers, you get me). Then, I take my foam roller and roll my back, hips, and legs. This way, I make sure their circulation is flowing. I end this rolling routine with my green ball, first massaging and putting pressure on my hip flexors, any tight areas, and finally the bottom of my feet. Which takes me to the next step.

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2. Feet warm-up

Like Steven McCrae always says: if his feet are not warm, he does not feel ready at all.

Warming up my feet is a crucial part of my warm-up, and I probably take the longest time here (15-20 minutes). With my theraband, I start with my toes and then exercise my ankles in all directions. With my injury, I am focusing on this part much more and make sure I do them correctly, adding some physical therapy here and there.

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3. Calf, hamstring and quad stretches

Oh, legs... It feels good when they are lengthening, and especially before class. I make sure I stretch each and every one of these three parts. Lately, if I don't do these correctly, I feel tight, tired, and with no flexibility, feeling them heavier than they really are. 

*I forgot to take a photo of my quad and hamstring stretches :(

 
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4. Hips and inner thighs

Opening up the hips are also a crucial part of my routine. As turnout becomes harder and harder while I take off my bad habits of dancing turned-in, stretching those inner muscles are such a relief and it will always help you to achieve a better turnout.

Light straddle, grand pliés in second position, froggy or butterfly, and a "meditation position" are great to achieve a good hip/inner thigh stretch.

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5. Back and abs

The core is crucial to keep strong, and I have been on an adventure discovering how I can strengthen it. Moreover, my back is probably the weakest part of my body, so I need to make sure I am ready for my hardest positions: arabesques and attitudes. After doing some torso stretches, I do light abs, light back exercises, and planks.

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Well, I think I covered everything. The goal is to target the whole body. I might do more or less depending on the days, and sometimes I vary the stretches. Overall, these are the targets I focus on before ballet class.

But I want to know how is your routine: what do you do differently and how do you target your body before class?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

How I Control Frustration

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For as long as I can remember, I have been a very stressed person. I stress about having everything perfect: During class, I think about the steps twice; in school, I study until I know I memorize everything; in life, I plan everything color-coded.

The majority of these times, I get frustrated because of obvious and human reasons. Nothing is perfect. Nothing, no matter how much effort I put, will be perfect.  

 

Right now, I am planning a whole new schedule. And my mom and I can laugh and laugh about this, because I lost count of how many color-coded schedules I have prepared and none, I repeat, none, have been 100% followed. "Let's start again," "this time I will follow it completely."

Why?

 

In ballet class, I normally remember corrections. But if the teacher mentions it to me one more time, for me, it means I forgot it. It means I did not make a huge effort to practice it and trying to put it on my body.  I also double-think each step, trying to make it as technically correct as possible. Even then, I judge myself with: "that was not it," "my hip was not right," "that was turned-in."

Why?

 

In school, I used to go to bed at 3 am studying for my exams.  But sometimes I was too tired to study just one more concept. I read it a couple of times and went to bed. The next day, that very same concept came up, and I did not know how to respond. I forgot. "I am going to fail."

Why?

 

For the blog, I create and re-create a content calendar with set dates. The day a certain post, opinion, or review is supposed to come out, I forget, ignore it, or I simply did not take the time to write it beforehand and schedule it. "It's ok if I skip one day," "wait, but the audience is not getting consistent content," "I failed again with this side gig."

Why?

 

These are the things that make my blood boil. Why can't I just stick to the schedule? Why can't I just publish all the days I have to publish on the blog? Why can't I just practice and practice my correction until it is on my body? Why can't just I concentrate on studying until the end and have a confident good grade?

This is the frustrated me.


Now, try to take a different turn to this mentality...

Let's go through these few tips I created for you (and of course, for myself as well.)

 

You are human

Yes, you are probably categorized as "not normal" if you are a dancer. But you are a human being, and human beings make mistakes. Every time you "make a mistake," think about all the other people in the world. Are you the only one making a mistake?

 

Don't think you are the worst person

This is something we have to work on with our self-esteem, and it goes along with acknowledging we are humans. No one is better nor worse. We are all unique and different, and instead of thinking we are the worst or comparing ourselves to others in ballet class, work, school, and out in the street, try to think that there is no one like you.

 

It's all about trial and error

If it does not work, make a change. If your body does not get the step, try consulting with your teachers on how you can approach it better. If the study guide did not show all the details, make sure to change your strategy for the next exam. If, during the day, you feel like the routine you have created is not working, try switching some hours up.

 

Don't get angry, acknowledge the mistake and treat it as a lesson

This is by far the hardest for me. I usually beat myself up for making a mistake or not getting a step in class or rehearsal. But at the end, I learn how to not make those mistakes again and automatically grow not only as an artist but as a person and an adult.

Getting angry and frustrated is never of worth. I get angry at myself pretty easily, but lately (for the last weeks or so) when this happens I take deep breaths, think about what went wrong, accept the mistake instead of regretting it, and try to think about how I can improve.

 

We only have one body, one personality, one life. It is never worth it to be frustrated for our everyday activities or routines. Like I said, if it does not work, then change it: change your perspective and start growing as the person you deserve to be.

Trying to Avoid Distractions

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The more I work on the computer writing and creating content, the more I realize that I get easily distracted. Even in ballet class: if I don't look at the teacher for a split second while he/she is marking, I lose the whole combination. 

For these couple of months, I have paid more attention to my actual attention. I am able to memorize stuff only if I am truly concentrated. When you grow as an artist, you not only understand how your body functions but also how quickly and effectively you learn.

Making the most out of our careers involves being in the moment, concentrating on improving our weaknesses. And the sad reality is that sometimes we get distracted by negativity.

This is what I am focusing on here: I know I have talked about negativity a lot, but it is a truth in the dance world. Negativity highly impacts how we perform on a daily basis, and it does not include just the studio or the stage but every other activity we do.

Class is our meditation, our daily vitamin. If we are not in the moment, we might lose the benefit of class. Same in rehearsals: working closely with a choreographer or coach is essential for the performance. 

We concentrate too much on "I am not enough," "why am I here," "she/he is so incredible, how can I be like that," "why am I no like [insert name]?" But why? The beauty of this art form is that every dancer is unique, has individual strength and weaknesses. We do not have to be the same, it's humanly impossible.

In class, these thoughts haunt me while the teacher is marking a combination. Even when I am working on creating content for the blog, sometimes I doubt if what I am writing/recording will have any value at all.

 

So how do we avoid getting distracted?

I invite you to join me on this exercise: as selfish as it sounds, try to put the horse blinders and concentrate on what matters:

  • What am I getting from this class?

  • What am I learning in this rehearsal?

  • What is the best way to approach this step?

  • What would this character do?

  • What is the best routine for my body?

  • How about the best food plan I have had and that I know works?

  • This performance will be successful because...

  • How can I improve this?

These questions will help us understand even more why we do what we do. Concentrating on what we want the most out of our careers is essential, and will guarantee that we have less stressful days, more successful outcomes, and even better relationships with our colleagues. 

Let's not get distracted by our own minds, and instead, work with them to be our best selves in the studio and on the stage.

Can You Learn Stage Presence?

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Have you thought about why people still go to the theatre?

Ballet is, above all, a performing art. Dancers train to be able to do all the movements ballet has established through the years, with all its rules and specific positions. Although, audiences go to enjoy a performance, with the performers not only fulfilling the duty as athletic dancers but most of all, as artists.

One of the things dancers love most about going on stage is the opportunity to be someone else. They get lost in the story and share that story with the audience. Even the pieces that have no plot at all have an intention behind the choreography.

When I was 11, I got a huge challenge: I was chosen to perform Cinderella. This was an opportunity to explore my young stage presence. How I approached the character was a big deal for me at such a young age.

But Cinderella opened my eyes to what is important in ballet. It was more than how I make the steps, how high my arabesque was, or how a certain pirouette went. It is all about what the audience gets from you.

So, can you learn stage presence?

The answer is yes, but maybe you have it naturally. You just need to perfect it.

I remember that for Cinderella, I watched the Disney movie more than twice. I also watched professional dancers perform the role. Since then, I study each character that is assigned to me in order to portray my best interpretation to the audience.

I did the same when I performed the Grand Pas de Quatre variation of Lucile Grahn, the 1st and 3rd Act variations from Aurora, a swan in Swan Lake, a village girl in Don Quixote, one of Swanilda's friends, a Snowflake in The Nutcracker, a town woman in Petrouchka, and even one of the exotic, dramatic tribe members in The Rite of Spring.

Every role, even the smallest one, has a story to tell.

The best way you can learn how to have a great presence is by studying other dancers, studying the plot of the ballet, asking or listening to the choreographer what is the story behind his/her piece, and most of all, enjoying yourself on stage.

Remember that the audience goes to the theatre for us to tell them a story, get lost in the plot, and even to get to watch you dancing a certain role. Next time you are cast to dance a role, really look into it. Even for a competition, the judges will see your artistic elements.

Get lost in your character, be the character, and make your audience believe you are that character.