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The 4 Pillars of Wellness-- A Dancer's Guide to a Strong Foundation

In the whirlwind that is life, we often find ourselves juggling countless responsibilities, racing against the clock, and striving for success in everything we do. As a dancer, I know you struggle with this on a daily basis. Trying to get school work done, get all your weekly dance rehearsals in (maybe sneak that one extra private session in..), find time to eat, or sleep…. Sometimes, all this running can make it pretty easy to lose sight of what truly matters – your wellness.


As a Dance Medicine PT, I am obviously really passionate about helping my dancers move freely, be strong, and pain-free, but in reality, this is such a small piece of a bigger puzzle. Your wellness isn’t just about the absence of physical injuries or sickness, it’s a much more holistic approach that encompasses many aspects. We have to take ALL these pieces into consideration whether we are rehabbing an injury or just trying to live an active, healthy lifestyle. So today, let’s dive a little deeper into what makes up the foundations of a healthy dancer, and something I call the PILLARS OF PHYSICAL WELLNESS.


MOVEMENT

Again, the obvious pillar for a PT to be talking about ;-) As a dancer, I don’t need to explain to you the importance of regular movement in our lives. Dance is clearly a wonderful way to accomplish this, but what that title should really say is: Well-Rounded Movement. Having a solid strength & conditioning program to help address any weaknesses or imbalances you may have can really help improve your overall level of fitness and therefore, your performance.


NUTRITION

Food is your fuel, so eating a healthy, well balanced diet is crucial for dancers. I know that you are running through that Chick-Fil-A drive through in the 15 minutes you have between school and dance, or shoving a granola bar in your mouth during the 5 minute break you have at convention…. But you have to ask yourself, “is this really fueling me?” Spoiler alert… it’s probably not. Especially if you are dealing with an injury, properly fueling yourself for the large amounts of energy you are about to burn when dancing is SO important. Your body cannot heal and recover without it. In a sport where disordered eating runs rampant, staying on top of this and really understanding what your body needs will help you stay strong and at the top of your game.


REST & RECOVERY

Yup, get some sleep!! I know it isn’t easy, but really making the effort to prioritize sleep will pay off in big ways. Your body recovers and repairs itself while you are sleeping, and running on “E” doesn’t get you anywhere.


Same goes for rest days. They don’t make you lazy or not dedicated– they make you better! Your body requires rest days when you are working at such high levels all the time, and believe it or not, but you will notice significant improvements in performance when you are well rested. Plus, we know that injuries are way more likely to happen when you are fatigued. If you already have an injury, too much volume and not enough rest is the perfect environment for inflammation to persist. I always tell my dancers they need to be getting AT LEAST 1 full day off from activity. You don’t even have to call it a “rest” day if you don’t want to. Call it “recovery,” because that’s exactly what it is!


MINDSET

Have you ever noticed the way your neck or back might ache a little more when you are having a crazy stressful week at school or dance? That’s because stress and pain are best friends. They feed off each other and create this terrible cycle of more stress, more pain, more stress because you're in pain, more pain because you're more stressed, and round and round we go. If you are trying to heal an injury, it will take SO much longer when you are stuck in this stress/pain cycle. That doesn’t mean getting out of it is easy, but being just aware of it will help.


Same goes for where your energy is at. It may sound corny, but a positive mindset truly can make all the difference in how your entire body feels. All that negative energy that gets built up inside of you over time is exactly what leads to fatigue, loss of interest, and eventually burnout. Not only does that take your joy away from dancing, but it is exactly when we see injuries start to happen.


THE REAL TAKE HOME MESSAGE:

As you can see, wellness for dancers expands much beyond just the physical element, but rather a combination of you as a whole. Together, these pillars of wellness will help you build a much stronger foundation to stay healthy, injury free, and have a long, successful dance career.


Keep in mind that these pillars are fluid. It’s about embracing the natural ebb and flow that will occur during different times of the year and being able to adapt and change as you go. I would never want you to try and make changes in every one of these areas at the same time. It would only lead to more stress and it’s just not realistic. Instead, what I encourage you to do is pick ONE, maybe an area that you can identify as being most out-of-whack for yourself, and start there. Make small changes and stay consistent. It may feel like you are getting nowhere at first, but all those really tiny steps add up to an entire marathon eventually. Once you feel like you have gotten that pillar in a better place, focus on something different. It’s never about perfection, but more about finding a natural balance between each pillar.





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