If you’re not dancing up a storm with weekly classes and weekend rehearsals, the idea of needing rest from dance might not be on your radar. But if you’re reading this article, chances are you’ve wanted to take healthy breaks from dancing and might not know where to start.
“Rest” doesn’t mean taking a day off once you’re already tired. There are different types of physical processes that go on in our bodies depending on the type of recovery that we are experiencing, and rest can be as short as a few minutes to as long as a few months.
From low-intensity cross-training to mindful meditations and a good night’s rest, the ways in which we can recover are numerous. So, what is the best recovery method for a dancer, and just why is resting so beneficial? We’re glad you asked!
The Difference Between Active and Passive Rest
Before we get into our tips and tricks, let’s clarify what we mean when we say ‘rest.’
When we think of rest, we are often picturing passive rest. Passive rest is exactly what it sounds like—engaging in normal to lower-than-normal levels of activity, typically measured by your heart rate. Passive rest is one of the best ways to prevent long-term burnout and overuse, but engaging in active rest leads to the most benefits in the short term and the long term.
Active rest comes in many different forms. In the short term, you can actively rest in between full-out dances you’re rehearsing by staying standing, dynamically stretching, or marking the dance. At the ballet barre, you can keep your feet moving in between exercises, rolling through your feet and
These small chunks of time may seem negligible, but recent studies show that taking active rest periods in between high-intensity exercises, even for just 15 minutes, boosts stamina and endurance better than passive or no rest.
Don’t Skip the Cooldown!
Cooldowns, or gentle movement following a high-intensity workout (or dance class!), are extremely beneficial to the body. Yoga classes often have cooldowns built-in by saving the peak energy poses for the middle of class, ending in more restful Yin poses, and finishing in a restful Shavasana to bring your heart rate down while your muscles safely cool and relax. Not only does including this restful end pose feel great, but it also increases cardio health in the long run!
Tip: Try your own yoga-inspired cooldown after your next dance class by making a point to engage in light stretching. To get the most out of your cooldown, add a mindful meditation to increase circulation and oxygen to your muscles as your heart rate returns to normal. This gives your body a chance to go into a more default mode of functioning, where it can more easily repair small muscle tears or strains of overuse.
Even if the dance class you take doesn’t reach levels of high intensity and increased heart rate, engaging in gentle exercises and stretching after you dance can help you to repair and cool muscles quicker! After a dance class, you’re warm and primed for mobility, so it is one of the most efficient times to do some stretching. Stretching and foam rolling after class reduces soreness the next day by increasing blood flow and recovering from the buildup of lactic acid in your muscles.
What To Do on Rest Days:
Cross-training at a lower intensity on ‘rest days’ is a great way to include injury prevention in your active recovery. You can “cross-train” even within dance if you want to! If you’re a hip-hop dancer, maybe you take a beginner jazz class to work on rhythms and clarity while having fun. If you’re a ballet dancer, maybe you take a beginner tap class on your rest days to work on ankle mobility and unrestrained movement of the lower limbs.
Pilates and yoga are some of the most popular ways for dancers to train outside of the dance studio. Pilates strengthens many muscle groups that are instrumental in stabilization and the safe use of force in dance class. Yoga is extremely beneficial for strengthening the mind-body connection, controlling your breathing (deep belly breathing), and increasing your range of motion safely and gently.
Meditate to Increase Mindfulness
Meditation is like active rest for your mind.
Those who meditate experience an increase in the health of their central nervous system, and an increase in feelings of mindfulness. Meditation allows your brain to rest, often by focusing on your breath. This ‘return to the senses,’ as it is often described, can help your body find the reset switch much faster when faced with overwhelming situations or even a lack of rest! In this way, it is a way to maximize your ability to find moments of rest and recovery in the future, as well.
CLI Instructor Kathryn McCormick is a supporter of Neurosculpting meditations. Neurosculpting is a type of meditation that promotes rest, recollection, and a healthy body-mind connection. There are also guided meditations that focus on sports recovery that can be very beneficial to dancers looking to level up mentally in the dance studio. There are many apps with specialized meditations for beginner to advanced meditators.
Increase Body Awareness with Somatic Practices
Somatic means relating to the body, and somatic practices emphasize the mind-body connection in a variety of ways, often to create a deeper awareness and release of dysfunctional patterns. These types of methods are based on the knowledge that gentle movement can be just as beneficial to performance, endurance, and even quality of life. While not technically meditation, they employ similar techniques like freeing yourself of other distractions, practicing acceptance, and focusing on breathing.
In the somatic practice called Alexander Technique, you practice sensing parts of your body, noting things like the temperature of the body part, the sensation of it on the floor, and the flow of energy or tension in that body part. In the Feldenkrais Method, repeated gentle gesticulation patterns are used to bring awareness to habitual movement patterns and allow the body to experience its full range of motion without the force or strain that might be acting upon the body while performing exercises standing upright (like gravity!).
Tip: Try your own meditative body scans before bed! Doing a body scan before you go to sleep can lead to a more restful and revitalizing snooze. It can also help you fall asleep quicker! If during your body scan you feel a part of your body that needs some TLC, you can gently stretch it to increase circulation before bed.
Sleep is one of our most important bodily functions, and scientists learn more each day about just how crucial it is to our muscle recovery and well-being.
When we sleep, our muscles get a chance to repair themselves, which has obvious benefits for dancers. But, muscle repair isn’t the only benefit: our brain also gets time to rest and reset. Studies have shown that memory and recall skills are linked to the amount of quality sleep we get. Getting proper shut-eye will help you be more present as you’re learning choreography and when you’re trying to remember it as the music comes on.
Long-Term Rest and Recovery
Most of the above examples are relatively short-term. Long-term recovery, especially after an injury, might include taking a few days or weeks off of dance in order for you to come back to the studio feeling refreshed. There’s no shame in letting your body recover, and many professional dancers can attest to taking time off of dance completely at some point in their careers.
However, just like in short-term recovery, active recovery will most often be the healthiest route unless you’re dealing with injuries that requires a full rest, and much needed break for your body. Students have a break built into their schedules in the summer, so that can be a great time to change up your schedule and cross-train in different styles of dance or sports.