The Ultimate Self-Care Guide for Dance Teachers
Congrats, dance teacher! You made it through 2021! That special time at the beginning of each new year has a bright and shiny quality to it; it beckons to us - full of promises, hope, fresh ideas, and motivation. After the past two years, most of us are craving inspiration and motivation again. The uncertainties of 2020 and 2021 have made it difficult to plan for anything, much less feel excited about any future plans.
If dance teachers and studio owners have learned anything over the past few years, it’s to expect the unexpected, to roll with the punches, and even when we thought our studios would never be the same, we learned to adapt like crazy. But doing that can take its toll.
Dance teachers and studio owners always wear a ton of hats; not only are they educators, but they’re also entrepreneurs, managers, mentors, psychologists, choreographers, administrative assistants, social media managers, and so much more. In recent years, they’ve had to take on even more jobs, just to keep their classes and studios open and running. A hallmark of a dance teacher is that we’re always striving for success, but the overwhelm and exhaustion that come with our jobs are real. And we might know the importance of self-care and dabble in it occasionally by buying a face mask, extra bottle of wine, or by taking an extra-long bath. But those things rarely do the trick.
The popular notions of self-care that we see on social media, magazines, or Netflix, almost seem offensive to most of us. Tired? Just get away for a weekend with the girls and book 14 spa treatments! Overwhelmed and overworked? Good news, your partner just booked you a solo trip to the mountains, where you can spend the day communing with nature and spend all evening in a hot tub! Sure, all of those things would be amazing, but they don’t even come close to falling within our sphere of reality. These renditions of “self-care” are so out of touch, they leave many dance teachers feeling bypassed and overlooked.
So what’s a dance teacher, or studio owner to do? If self-care isn’t accessible to us, is our only alternative to burn ourselves out? Is our only choice to stay on the hamster wheel of work and teaching? Luckily, no!
There is a way that teachers and studio owners can use self-care, in a way that works for them, so you can actually get some R&R, stop feeling like every day is Groundhog Day, and finally reconnect to your love of dance.
Consider this the ultimate self-care guide for dance teachers and studio owners! Use these 5 tips to create your own self-care practices for 2022; they’re simple, effective, and totally customizable to your life - with all its ups and downs. There are no lofty, unrealistic self-care suggestions here. Just realistic and sustainable ideas to get you started with self-care, so 2022 can be your happiest and healthiest!
1. Start a Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness is defined as, “a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.” This might sound simple enough, but in today’s nonstop world, full of quick scrolling and instant gratification, mindfulness can be a challenge. But its benefits are astounding. The American Psychological Association has conducted research that shows mindfulness improves metacognitive awareness, decreases rumination on negative thoughts and feelings, enhances focus and memory, reduces stress, and overall helps individuals with regulating their emotions.
You might hear the term “mindfulness”, and immediately imagine sitting on a cushion, legs folded, breathing in and out in total silence. And that can be one form of mindfulness practice, but if the idea of meditating in silence makes you feel uncomfortable, fear not; there are many other easy and effective ways to start practicing mindfulness. Here are a few:
- Walking outdoors - practice being mindful of your surroundings, the sights, smells, and sounds
- Cooking - engage all your senses to stay present in the moment while you cook or bake
- Gardening - be aware of each action you take as you plant, water, and tend to your plants
These are just a few options! Truly, you can practice mindfulness with any activity, which makes it ultra-accessible, and easily sustainable. This blog post also gives some great pointers on how wellness skills like mindfulness can not only benefit you but your dancers as well.
2. Get Better Sleep
All of us know the importance of sleep. How many times have you heard yourself encouraging your students to get a good nights’ rest, or reminding them that getting enough sleep is a crucial element to their training? And yet, many of us aren’t taking our own advice. R&R can play an important part in keeping dancers injury-free, so it stands to reason that R&R for teachers and studio owners can also play an important part in feeling our best.
There’s an important question to ask yourself when you consider how to get more good quality sleep in your life: what wind-down rituals do I have that actually help me relax and prepare for a good night’s rest? Here are some things that DON’T count:
- Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime
- Choreographing or lesson planning
- Online shopping
- Scrolling Facebook and Instagram
I’m just as guilty as you are of doing these things at the end of my day, but the honest truth is that these things are not going to help your body and mind calm down so that you can rest well. In fact, these activities are the opposite of mindfulness and will hype your nervous system up, rather than calming you down. (Yet another good reason to practice mindfulness.) So it’s worthwhile to get real about what nighttime habits you have that aren’t positively contributing to you getting the proper sleep you need. If you’re looking to feel calmer, consider changing up your end of day routines with some of the activities below:
- Journal - get your thoughts down on paper to help you process the day
- Meditate - 5 or 10 minutes of mindful breathing can instantly calm your nervous system
- Yoga - stretch out those aches and pains so you’ll sleep more deeply
- Drink tea - engage your senses with a calming cup of (decaffeinated) tea to calm your mind
Start with just one of these practices each evening for a week, then see how you feel. You might notice a change in your sleep and mood right away, or you might need to tweak your ritual a bit until you find just the right fit. But once you find that sweet spot, your mind and body will thank you for that high-quality sleep!
3. Declutter Your Social Media
We just touched on the topic of scrolling, and how that mindless activity isn’t doing much for your self-care routine, and this tip takes it an extra step. If you notice that being on social media makes your brain buzz (and not in a good way), then you probably want to consider decluttering your social media, and unfollowing accounts that make you feel bad about yourself, bring up negative comparison thoughts, or just leave you feeling less than warm and fuzzy.
If you want to be more motivated in 2022, it’s vital you lay the proper foundations, as this article points out. Reframing unhelpful thoughts and beliefs is an integral part of caring for your emotional and mental health, and that extends to who and what you follow online. Commit to surrounding yourself as much as possible with people and things who support, understand, and uplift you. Especially when it’s people and things you have control over, like who you follow on social media. And if you spend a lot of time online for your work, consider hiring a social media manager, or getting a work-study dancer involved to help you, so you don’t have to be online all the time.
After you declutter your social media, you might find it feels so good that you don’t even want to be on it anymore! You might find you feel so good being off a screen that you have little desire to spend more time than necessary on it, and just imagine what that could do for your self-care! What would you do with that time you’ve gained back? Spend more time with family? Get to a dance class yourself? Try a new hobby? The possibilities are pretty exciting!
4. Be Body Kind
Unfamiliar with the term “body kindness”? This article explains what it is, and how dance educators can benefit from it. In short, body kindness is being kind to your whole body - your mind and physical body, and engaging in habits that allow you to be kind towards yourself. I can’t think of a better self-care practice than extending kindness to ourselves, can you?
The wonderful thing about body kindness is that it extends to all we do; from what we eat, to how we speak to ourselves, how we move our bodies, and the people we engage with, we can do all of it through the lens of body kindness. Contrary to popular belief, self-care doesn’t have to mean being positive and happy all the time. Realistic self-care and body kindness allow for all thoughts and feelings; even the negative, or not-so-happy ones. Knowing how to navigate the ups and the downs is true resilience, and practicing this will have benefits that extend to your studio as well.
Creating a positive studio culture is something all studio owners strive for, and practicing body kindness, starting with yourself, is setting an excellent example for your dancers. Again, this self-care practice doesn’t have to be complicated or involved. It can be as simple and easy as reciting affirmations, eating a snack when you notice you’re hungry rather than ignoring it, or swapping your afternoon soda for an extra glass of water. And guess what? Starting your own body kind practice goes hand in hand with mindfulness, so you’ll get a double dose of self-care when you devote yourself to body kind practices! To learn more about this topic, check out the Body Kindness book by Rebecca Scritchfield.
5. Invest in Yourself
Traditionally, the term “investing in yourself” conjures up images of 401k’s, bank accounts, and intensive professional education; all things that make most people uncomfortable, but that doesn’t have to be the case. This post has some great ideas to help studio owners get started. And if finances are constantly on your mind, check out this article with its tips on running a profitable dance studio.
But like so much of self-care, there are more layers to uncover here. Investing in yourself isn’t only about money. You can invest in your mental and physical health, in your energy levels, in the support you get from fellow business owners or family and friends, and in many more ways. When you start to think of investment in these terms, a whole new world of possibilities opens up, and you’ll start seeing all the ways you can refill your own cup, so you can better give to the people and work you’re passionate about.
For example, investing in your business can be as simple as adding new tech trends to your studio that are easy to use and will go a long way in freeing up your time. It could also mean pursuing a hobby that you’ve always wanted to try, to re-ignite your curiosity and creativity. Or, it could mean giving yourself a day off to rest and relax, so you’re better able to show up the next day as the teacher you want to be. No matter what you choose, you’ll be choosing to invest in your well-being, which will pay dividends for years to come and is truly sustainable self-care.
There’s your ultimate guide to self-care, dance teachers! Now you have everything you need to build a self-care practice for yourself that fits your busy lifestyle. While the new year is a great time to set some self-care goals and put them into action, remember, there’s no wrong time to start on these habits. Taking care of yourself, even in small ways, and in ways that feel good to you, is always a good idea. Make your self-care practice work for you, and then sit back and watch the transformation unfold! Cheers to a happy and healthy 2022!
Katrena Cohea is the CEO of Different Drummer Dance, a dance studio and online education platform on a mission to bring much-needed mental, emotional, and physical wellness to dancers and dance teachers.
Katrena grew up in California, studying the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus and later completing the RAD’s Certificate in Ballet Teaching Studies. She danced with the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance and professionally with the flamenco group, Brisas de Espana. Katrena graduated from Cal State University East Bay, with a degree in dance and has been teaching in public and private schools for over 15 years.
As the CEO of Different Drummer Dance, she hosts in-person and online dancer wellness courses, memberships, and workshops on topics such as body kindness, mindset, mental training skills and emotional wellness. She’s spoken internationally to audiences about the importance of creating and implementing wellness resources for a new generation of students and educators.
She currently lives in upstate New York with her husband, where she enjoys hiking the Adirondacks and re-creating every possible bake from the Great British Baking Show.