There is a special beauty in turning your hobby into your career. Dance played a big role in my childhood. After school, I couldn't wait to get my tights on and head over to the studio. I practiced at home, stretched in front of the TV, and read every dance book out there. Dance was a huge part of my identity, and I loved it so much I decided to share my passion with others and become a dance teacher.
The first step on my journey to becoming a dance educator was to dance at the collegiate level. I enrolled at Bridgewater State University as a dance major in 2015. I was so excited to receive academic credit for my art. During my freshman year, I took multiple classes in my major during the day, participated in dance extracurriculars at night, hung out with dancers, and continued to feed my obsession for my field.
Being a dance major is one of the opportunities I am most grateful for. I grew as an artist, a dancer, a teacher, and a friend. However, it was at BSU that I experienced my first bout of burnout. According to Dancing Opportunities, "burnout is a state of consistent or unexplained tiredness, poor performance in spite of normal training, negative mood state and increased incident of illness or injury; burnout is often seen in dancers where training, rehearsing and performing schedules do not give them sufficient time to rest and recover". Being a dance major isn't as glamorous as my fifteen-year-old self expected it to be. Dance is physically demanding. Movement classes were fun and fulfilling, but were often hard to drag myself to after sitting in lecture-based classes all day and staying up with my friends all night. There was one semester I had three movement classes back to back, then a four hour rehearsal immediately after. Although I had danced my whole life, I wasn't used to this much movement all at once.
Dance can also be creatively and emotionally draining. In composition classes, I would often be working on emotional pieces and bringing up thoughts and feelings through movement that I otherwise wouldn't. Bearing my soul, testing my confidence, and growing in a competitive environment challenged me. There wasn't a single class I could sit in the back of class and blend into if I was having a bad day. I had to be on and active at all times, something students in other fields may not be going through.
Not to mention the outside of class components. I had performances, observation hours, volunteer days...you name it, I had to do it. Even when I wasn't physically moving, I was writing about dance or talking about dance and working in dance 24/7. There were many "breaking points" for me during this time. There were many tears, a few failures, and lots of heartache as a result. Somehow I found myself trapped in the love of my life.
It's very difficult for me to talk about the burnout I experienced in college. For one thing, I worked so hard to chase my dreams that I felt so ungrateful complaining about it. I also worry that others would tell me I wasn't cut out for it or I should try to do something else.
My burnout did not get any better until I made a change. After a 24 credit (at a school where the average student takes 12-15) semester including two shows, 20 observation hours, a research project, and much more, I decided I needed to take a step back and figure things out. One of the best decisions I made was getting involved in non-dance activities on campus. I became a Resident Assistant (RA) my junior year and got involved in other clubs. I loved the girls I danced with at BSU, but having friends outside of dance gave me a chance to explore other interests. I became more involved with the theatre department and lightened my course load.
I am not saying all of this now to complain about my experience or scare anyone out of becoming a dance major. My time at BSU were some of the best years of my life, and I could talk endlessly about how much I love the Dance Department there. However, it's important for me to acknowledge the dark side of turning my hobby into my career so that I don't end up completely burnt out and turned away from the dance world too young. I want to dance and teach for a very long time, but that involves some self care and strategic planning.
Now that I am in graduate school and still studying dance (thank God), I have come up with strategies to avoid spreading myself too thin and burning back out. Here are some of the ways I take care of myself and avoid burnout...
Practice Self Care
I try to eat healthy, balanced meals at as normal of times as my busy schedule allows. When I have to be at school for long periods of time, I try to keep snacks with me so get me going before each class. This semester, my goal is to meal prep and plan ahead to make sure I'm eating well and taking care of myself. If my body doesn't have an energy to dance, my mind certainly won't!
Know Your Limits
Your body has limits, both mentally and physically. If you've suffered an injury, give your body some love and know when it's time to back off in class. The world will not end if you don't do the floor work this one time. Your life doesn't depend on how many relevés you can do at the barre. Be kind to your body, and it will be kind right back.
Know what you can handle mentally and emotionally, too. If you thrive off a good challenge, push yourself to be creative during improv. If you're feeling self conscious spending the day in front of the mirror, it's okay to sit out and cheer your friends on when the teacher says "anyone who wants to- one more time". You are the only one that can decide what you need, and the decisions you make in class should best reflect those needs.
Explore Other Interests
Part of the reason I started my blog because I love to write so much. Putting my thoughts into words helps me process my feelings and express myself. I'm also an avid reader, and I self identify as a "young adult realistic fiction junkie". I've spent the last five summers working in an amusement park where there's never a dull moment. I like spending my Saturday mornings watching TLC with my mom.
Although being a dancer is central to my identity, not everything I do every second of the day has to be about dance. One of my favorite high school teachers once got on her soap box and talked about how we are more than what we do for a job. I am my career, but I am more than that. And getting excited about other things isn't something I should feel guilty about, but be proud of.
Admit How You Feel
Be honest with yourself. If you wake up in the morning and are excited to get to that open class in town, pour some coffee and get yourself over there! If you wake up and need a day of retail therapy, head to the mall. If you wake up and regret it, hit the snooze button and give yourself a break. Life is about balance, and it really is okay to choose non-dance related activities in your free time. Some may argue that you're not going to grow if you don't dance every minute you can, but I'm going to challenge that and say that if you continue to do so eventually you won't choose to dance at all.
Keep Dance Fun
You're not going to love every class you take if you study dance at this level. That's just the reality of college in general. But if you've chosen this path, there is something about dance you just can't get enough of. When I'm feeling burnt out, I try to find fun dance activities to do, like taking a pointe class or designing a creative movement unit plan based on Frozen. I try to balance the parts of dance I struggle in with the parts I could do all day long.
Remember Why You Choose This
The best cure for my burnout is to teach. During college, I worked with both a children's and high school theatre company. Even after a stressful week at school, I loved getting to work with those students and I found so much joy in teaching them. Student teaching was also a challenge, but I left school everyday hoping I would get to work in a school with students that I loved just as much. I keep my card from my 4th graders hung up in my room now, so that when I'm starting to feel burnt out I remember that this is what I was put on this earth to do. Even if I'm stressed now, I don't have to be stressed forever. I can find that joy again.
Burnout is a reality many dancers and teachers will face in the course of their career. Burnout doesn't have to mean it's all over for you, though. Keeping your passion alive is going to be challenging at times, especially in a career that is physically and emotionally draining. Taking a little break here and there does not mean you're any less dedicated or you love dance any less than the next person. If you balance your time, your body, and your mind, and you can stay on the path to success and keep your love of dance alive.
Photo from Dance Magazine
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News & Events
9/18 Follow my new Instagram just for my dance things!
12/23 I was one of NDEO's Guest Bloggers this year! Read "Teaching is a Vocation. Not a Fallback" on their Behind the Curtain Blog!
9/27 I will be presenting my research at the National Dance Education Organization National Conference next week! See my research project by clicking the button below!
4/15 While working on PMA's production of The Addams Family, I got to combine my two favorite styles of dance (ballet and musical theatre) for "The Moon and Me"! Watch my talented students dance by clicking the button below!
2/20 I am choreographing PMA Theatre Guild's Production of The Addams Family! Come see these amazing high school students perform at Presentation of Mary Academy in Methuen, MA April 13 & 14! Tickets available at the door.
2/20 I am stage managing BSU's Dance Kaleidoscope this year! Show dates are March 29-31 at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, MA. Come see this student choreography showcase!
11/5 I will once again be dancing in a BSUDC concert! Tickets to WinterDance are now available!
8/24 NDEO's National Honor Society for Dance Arts has published one of my articles in their newsletter! Read an updated version of "Audition Advice" here:
5/16 Interested in learning about movement concepts? Visit Becca's new Educational Dance website!
5/8 BSU Dance Company's Dance Kaleidoscope 2017 is now on Youtube! You can watch my performances by visiting the VIDEOS page!
4/23 I recently performed for the residents of Allerton House in Hingham, MA! You can watch part of my performance here!
Amesbury Children's Theatre presents...James and the Giant Peach Jr, featuring choreography by me! Click for tickets!
2/8 My piece "Barefoot" is now available to watch online! Click to watch!
2/5 Happy to say I have been cast in BSU Dance Company's Spring concert Dance Kaleidoscope! I will be dancing in 3 faculty choreographed pieces, including excerpts from The Sleeping Beauty in which I will be dancing the role of Lilac Fairy! Show dates are March 31-April 1 at Bridgewater State University.
Click the button for more info!
1/15 Ballet with Becca is now on Facebook! Click to visit the page, and be sure to like it while you're there!
1/14 I am happy to say I will be attending artEmotion's summer intensive in June! I will be dancing in the one week artEmotion Adult Program. If anyone would like to join or audition for any other artEmotion program, visit their website!