Dance teachers are some of the greatest multi-taskers in the human race. Has anyone told you you’re doing a great job today?
Let me introduce myself. I’m you. I spend hours in front of a mirror every day in spandex, doing my best not to screw up the next generation. I watch my words and also forget to filter myself altogether. I sometimes pop my hip out of place to kick a little higher when I’m demonstrating as to not show my age. I smell so bad at the end of the night that I want to cry yet also think about framing my clothes because their stench is a sign of a successful work day.
I’m here to talk about how people like you and me can take care of ourselves.
Self-care. What a concept that we are able to sometimes insert into our life and/or feel obligated to accept as a term that is important.
Anyone else have those weeks where you’re Mayor of Meal Prep City, running the world on your well-rested body, without ache and pain, feeling like you are the best thing to happen to children since the glitter farts in Trolls?
Every once and awhile yes?
And then there are the other weeks.
Mayor of Grab and Go, running on empty and an old banana, waking up
each morning sore and rusty, desperately wishing for a day off. Maybe it’s right before a big performance. Maybe it’s just a Thursday.
I am you. I have a lot of advice for you on how to be the CEO of your own body, and I am also here to tell you that I do not always take charge of mine. I have some tricks, I have some tools, I do the best I can to implement them. I figure I’m exhausted from not implementing them, so what do I have to lose for trying to make changes? I share them with you because when one of us heals, we all feel it. We all heal in numerous ways. So by helping you, I also help your students. I help our profession. I help our artistry as a whole.
And I’m here for that.
This week, we address the Nighttime Blues. Three strategies I’ve implemented to sleep better and alleviate morning pain after a night of hardcore teaching.
Number One. Give yourself some credit for what you do for a living, and take my many thanks for your dedication to this profession.
Okay that wasn’t number one, it was a bonus. Here’s the real Number One.
Nighttime Blues #1- Waking up in the middle of the night singing and choreographing
BUT YOU KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT RIGHT?
You’re tossing and turning all night long, half-choreographing Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in your head even though it’s a piece you did last year. Or you’re deciding between two costumes for Katie’s solo and for some reason it becomes a 3am issue that simply MUST be solved as you attempt to keep your eyes closed and hug your pillow tighter, begging your mind to let you rest.
- After work, on your drive home, try listening to comedy instead of music. Getting any and all beats out of your head and listening to something else that you really have to LISTEN to in order to follow, is a total 180 for your brain. Plus, who doesn’t need all the laughs after a long day with the children? I love Aziz Ansari, Jim Gaffigan, and Whitney Cummings for a lighthearted drive home and release from my day.
- As dance teachers and choreographers our jobs are never really done, so we are always going to bed with projects unfinished. Accepting that is a huge step in self-care. Let me say that again. Accepting that part of our job will always be unfinished, is a GIGANTIC step in self-care. Some of us have second jobs during the day so we can continue to teach dance at night, so picking costumes, music, and emailing parents may happen after we’re done teaching - while trying to feed our families dinner and get everyone to bed. How do we sleep with our mind still spinning? Again, it comes down to that 180. At some point, decide that the costume book has to be put away and the music has to be turned off a certain amount of time before bed and you have to switch to reading a book, listening to that comedian, or something that takes your mind off work. TV can be triggering - as sometimes I’ll be watching a Marvel movie and decide I must do a Superhero number this year, and then my brain is off to the races again. It might take a while until you find what works. When you do find it, don’t fight it. Let your family and friends help you. Maybe for a few weeks, a partner takes that costume book out of your hands and hides it until the next day. Maybe you don’t sing Moana in the bathtub with your kids tonight - maybe instead we go for a bedtime story. When you rest, everyone around you benefits, which means inviting them to help you do so is a wonderful idea.
- Write it down. All the things that may keep you up - write them down. “Pick Katie’s costume, edit Johnny’s music, call back Maria’s mom, get more safety pins, pay the electric bill, get more snacks for the studio, pay competition fees”, etc. etc. etc. Try to get it all out at the end of the day in an effort to create a new list for the following day, leaving off all of the things you accomplished today. Think of it as a journey from your brain down through your arm down through your fingers and out of your body onto the paper. The paper can do a wonderful job of holding space for you just as your brain did, and is a healthier solution than storing it up there with everything else that matters to you. If you know you cannot do it once you get home because you have a family waiting for you, take five to ten minutes while you are stretching to do it at the studio - did I mention how amazing of a multi-tasker you are? Sometimes this route may overwhelm you as you quantify your to do list visually. I totally totally understand. Most importantly, all of us have to go back to the acceptance part from the second bullet point above. Part of our job will always be unfinished. Own that. Embrace that. You are doing the best you can. Let that always give you some relief before you rest up for the next day of fierceness.
Nighttime Blues #2 - falling asleep in the first place
This one is totally related to #1 but my suggested solution here is ingested.
Minerals and supplements* that aid with sleep but also with everyday athletic function. Note that I hyperlinked each recommended product to the website of the manufacturer so you could read more on their ingredients and recommended use, but you can find all on Amazon as well. I am not an affiliate of any of these companies, I simply went through a lot of trial and error and paid for a lot of naturopathic doctor’s appointments to find the formulas that work best for me and I am sharing them with you.
*I am not a health professional and this content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or before adding a new substance into your health regimen.
- Magnesium: Did you know that magnesium is a great source of mood stabilization and is often used to treat anxiety, PMS, and has anti-inflammatory properties? Taking one to two capsules in the evening with food will help you sleep through the night and keep you steady the next day. This truly changed my life, and helped me deal a LOT with Nighttime Blues #1.
- Recommended Brand: Vital Nutrients Triple Mag 250 mg
- Iron: For women especially, our iron levels tend to be low. However, iron supplements have a reputation for making people nauseous. I found a formula that does not - at all! It’s paired with vitamin B12 and not only has it brought my iron levels up, but taken with my magnesium each night, it helps me sleep through the night a solid eight to nine hours. It’s a win win.
Recommended Brand: Vitanica Iron Extra
- Lavela WS 1265: Studied next to Xanax for anxiety, this natural supplement is simply clinically studied lavender oil. Seriously. Side effects? Lavender burps. They kind of taste like Christmas. Helps with sleep if taken before bed and have also worked just as well as a benzo in a panic attack. I can’t recommend this product enough.
Recommended Brand: Integrative Therapeutics Lavela WS 1265
- Bioastin (Hawaiian Astaxanthin): You know that feeling when you wake up in the morning and you have to waddle to the bathroom because your achilles is so tight or your hips are non-mobile? Bioastin will be a huge help with alleviating all of that if taken with food one to three times a day. I’m lucky to have this red algae readily available to me in Hawai’i, but it’s truly revolutionized my skin, my joints, and my eyesight. You can find it online in several places, and at some Costco Wholesale stores.
Recommended Brand: Bioastin Hawaiian Astaxanthin 4mg
Nighttime Blues #3 - morning aches and pains
I consider this part of the Nighttime blues category because it’s hard to make time to take precaution at the end of the night so that we feel better the next morning. However, a lot of times, what we do at night, is the fix for the morning. Cooling down after a night of athletic activity is mandatory in many sports practices, however as dancers, somehow it didn’t make it’s way into all of our classes.
- Incorporate cool downs into your classes - I cannot encourage this enough, especially with the older more experienced dancers. They need the cool down just as much as we do. Keep a set of lacrosse balls at the studio and roll out each foot for two minutes per side at the end of class. Incorporate a three minute stretch at the end of class, especially the calves and hamstrings, so they know that their work is done for the day. If dancers want to stick around or are waiting for a ride, they can roll out their glutes with the lacrosse ball up against the wall as well. Injuries can occur when muscles don’t relax between athletic sessions. It’s hard to leave room in the syllabus for cooling down but it is just as important, if not more, as the warm up. Incorporating time into your classes will help create a the habit for dancers and teachers alike, setting everyone up for success and health in the future.
- If you’re feeling up for it, rolling out on a foam roller is ideal - but at the end of the night, it’s hard to want to do that. Second best solution? Stay at the studio for five to ten minutes after everyone from your classes has left and stretch or roll out there. I don’t know about you, but once I get in my vehicle and I get home, I don’t feel like getting back down on the floor. At the studio, our muscles are still warm and truly need the cool down there, not twenty minutes after we’re done.
- Incorporate Bioastin into your daily vitamin regimen as listed above for a sustainable way to lubricate and protect joints.
- Continue to find a sleep regimen that works for you, so that your body is receiving the rest it needs every night to heal and rejuvenate for the next day’s work.
Bonus solutions for the Nighttime Blues: Try using some of these affirmations in your self-care regimen before bed.
- I am doing the best I can.
- Tomorrow is a new day.
- Rest makes me a stronger artist/dancer/teacher and it is a priority.
- I get more done when I am healthy.
- When I feel great, everyone around me benefits.
- When I take care of myself, I am able to take care of my community.
- I put myself first and set an example for those around me.
- When I am healthy and rested, my creativity blossoms.
Whatever affirmation works for you - own it, embrace it, commit to it. Nobody can decide for you, which is the beauty of this exercise. Your self-care is your responsibility, but everyone gets to benefit from it.
Remember that no one can force you into self-care except you. Hence, self. As adults, sometimes I feel like that’s simultaneously the most condescending and the most affectionate thing we can say to one another. If you’re giving me side-eye right now for pointing it out, I support you. I see your side-eye, I understand it, and I will be back next week with more, because what you do is important, and you being healthy and happy is EQUALLY IMPORTANT my friend. I hope if you walk away with nothing else from this series, you walk away believing very whole-heartedly, that.
Stay tuned for tips on setting boundaries, finding community, and managing finances as a dance professional in the rest of this five-part series. And don’t forget to give yourself some credit for all that you do. Mahalo, from one teacher trying to accept the unfinished projects on my desk to another.
Amanda Trusty currently serves as the Artistic Director for Kona Dance and Performing Arts, a nonprofit performing arts center on Hawai'i Island. She studied musical theatre at Shenandoah University and the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, and currently studies tap dance under Gregory Hines' protégé Andrew Nemr. With a decade of professional performance and choreography credits from theaters both inside and outside of New York City, Amanda is passionate about using her artistry as a vehicle for change, with a sharp focus on empowering the next generation. As a freelance writer and activist, Amanda was recognized in 2015 by the Huffington Post as one of nine women bringing body positivity to dance. Follow Amanda on Facebook and Instagram