Professional athletes have physical jobs. That means we are active a lot of our working day. This is an amazing part of the job. It keeps us in shape. When we are done at “the office” we don’t have to worry about hitting the gym.
The downside is making sure that we don’t burn ourselves out physically. It can be easy to say yes to every interesting project that is offered. It can be easy to want to keep pushing through even though our body is saying stop. The hard thing about being a dancer is that we have to usually keep working even if we are not feeling 100%. If you are sick and have to miss a day of learning choreography in a group setting, it can feel like letting the group down because you know you will be behind the next time a session is held. Sick can mean injury, physical ailment like the flu, or even just battling the need for a personal day.
There has to be leeway built into our schedules so that we have time to let our bodies recover from the joyous activity we put it through. This means building our performance, rehearsal, and teaching time into a schedule where we give ourselves recovery days. The normal workforce gets two days off in a row. This is important for a mental and physical break from the desk. For dancers, it is important for allowing healing time and catchup time in the non-work part of our life.
Sometimes we feel the need to be martyrs in our dance careers. Be the one who never lets anyone down. Who sacrifices for the greater good. This is all dandy until you have a physical breakdown as a result. The more experienced you are in your career, the more this is mandatory. An aging body (really anything past 25 years old) is going to need increased care to maintain a professional athletic career. Making choices of the types of choreography and partnering we do with students is important. At the end of the day, our body is our money maker and has to function well not just today, but for the foreseeable future.
It can be daunting when students ask for tricks that can put your body at risk. They may have seen you do amazing things with a professional partner and want to have you do the same with their body. The difference is that professional partners really take care of each other’s bodies because there is an unspoken rule to that effect. If one professional hurts another, there is huge guilt that goes with it because we know that any injury can be a career ender. Also, the professional partners are usually well educated in the tricks they do which reduces the injury risk.
Overall, athletes need to put their bodies first. When it asks for rest, give it rest. When it asks for a push, give it a push. Make sure that you are providing for your body in the most careful way possible – engineer your nutrition to support your activity level, engineer your schedule to allow for non-athletic time, engineer your social life to give you balance, engineer your students to allow for reduced injury risk. Your career will thank-you 🙂