By Katherine Moore of Dance Informa.
To many young people, summer means endless days of freedom, ice cream and time to relax. For dancers, however, summer can mean long days, weeks or even months of classes and intensives. Dance companies and schools around the world offer unique summer training programs designed to push young students further in their technique and performance skills. These programs can be both exhilarating and exhausting. So here are some tips to make sure you are getting the most out of your summer program.
1. Warm up properly.
With the higher temperatures of summer, the temptation to skip a thorough warm-up is strong. You feel warm, so your muscles and joints must be ready to go, right? Wrong. Simply feeling hot from the 90-degree weather in 100-percent humidity does not equal giving your body the preparation it needs to dance. Your joints need a thorough warm-up to start releasing the synovial fluid that protects the joint itself during movement. While your muscles may feel more flexible and open than usual, warming up gets your central nervous system in gear and ready to protect yourself from injury.
2. Drink enough water.
It might go without saying, but staying hydrated is one of the most important parts of taking care of yourself during long days of dance. You need to drink plenty of water before, during and especially after a day of rehearsal and class. When in doubt, drink more.
3. Eat well-balanced meals.
Some programs could have you dancing for 8-10 hours a day, maybe more. Depending on your typical training regimen, this may be more hours of exercise per day than you’re used to. Consequently, you’ll need a bit more fuel than usual to get you through the day.
During hot summer days, many people feel that they have less of an appetite, especially in the evening, so make sure you eat a full, balanced breakfast to get you off on the right foot and ready for a day of dancing.
Focus on whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats throughout the day, and keep snacks around like nuts and fruit to eat in between class and rehearsal. At lunch and dinner, be sure to stock up on veggies to replace the nutrients and minerals you’ve been using, and don’t forget to get some healthy carbohydrates in there for extra energy. Trust me, you’ll need it. Remember, you can also rehydrate by eating foods with high water content, such as fruit and leafy greens.
4. Know your limits.
It’s important to know when you need to rest. Most summer programs have fairly strict rules about attendance, but if you have completely exhausted yourself, you won’t be getting as much out of your summer dancing as you should. If you get an option for an afternoon off, take it if you need it. Make sure to establish a good relationship with your teachers and directors so that you can both determine if you need a break.
Injuries are common during summer programs, often because you are dancing more than your body is used to. Pay attention and listen to what your body is telling you. Take time at the end of the day to cool down, stretch and elevate your feet. This can be a great way to check in with how you actually are.
Remember, especially for the hypermobile dancers out there, overstretching can do as much damage as not stretching at all. Particularly if you are really warm and tired, the likelihood of pulling a muscle with vigorous stretching at the end of day increases. Try passive, gentle stretching to decrease soreness and prepare yourself for the next day of dancing.
5. Have fun!
While summer dance intensives and programs are designed to put you in the professional dancer’s mindset, remember that summer (and dancing) is supposed to be fun! Work hard, but also keep in mind the real reasons why you dance.
Make friends with the other students in your program, enjoy the opportunity to learn and take advantage of opportunities to try new things and learn from new teachers! If your summer is full of workshops and intensives, be sure to schedule in some down time with friends and family.
Especially if you’re attending a program in a city far from home, take the chance to explore and get out of the dance studio when you can. You’ll be surprised at how much having a little fun will improve your dancing and summer experience.
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