Recently, I received an email from a young ballet student seeking advice and thought it might be constructive to share my response with all of you here. See, Caitlin’s inquiries on combatting exhaustion around performance times and pesky interloping negative thoughts about her dancing may feel completely isolating, but they are actually shared by almost all dancers- even professionals!
Today, let’s focus on how we’re spending our time outside of rehearsal, and more specifically, the time we spend with our feet up and our eyes closed. Let me start by saying this: feeling drowsy during a performance weekend is completely normal. Although the hours are often shorter and an adjusted schedule might allow you to sleep in a bit, this slight change to your daily routine may be the real culprit contributing to your sluggish state.
Performance weeks are full of long rehearsals, nerves, excitement, anxiety, preparation…the list of sleep-stifling obstructions goes on. Even if you fell asleep the minute your just de-blushed cheek hits the pillow, you still wake up the next day feeling super groggy, and guess what? There’s a scientific reason for that. When we feel our bodies need extra rest and our work schedules finally shift to allow it, oversleeping seems like the obvious choice, but catching too many zzz’s throws off a group of cells in our brains that are responsible for internal rhythms. These cells are the same ones tasked in controlling hunger, thirst, and sweat, and their pacemaker-like-system is what keeps the body’s energy levels steady throughout the day. Since they rely on a natural rhythm, changing this schedule can break the whole cycle, leaving you feeling less rested, despite the extra shut eye.
Furthermore, the sleep we engage in during performance time may not be as restful as we think. If you’re anything like me, performance time means late nights in the theater, returning home past my bedtime for a zombie-like shower and a night of less-than-stellar sleep. Also- and I’m going to try this in the least corny way possible- after leaving the stage, I have a complete buzz: an electricity running through my entire body that doesn’t seem to have a simple on/off switch. It can be extremely difficult to transition from using your body’s full physical potential to letting it be still for 8 uninterrupted hours. To aid in this shift of energy, I have taken to decompressing a bit before jumping straight into bed: I’ll soak my sore feet in epsom salts, sip a cup of calming chamomile tea, and reflect on the past day and tomorrow’s tasks, so that when it does come time to crawl into bed, I can let my mind be free.
Whew- that was a lot of information- but what to do about it? Well, in my (unofficial) opinion, the best thing you can do for your body during performance time is establish healthy habits in your daily life and simply maintain them throughout the run of a show. This means always getting 8 hours of sleep per night, eating clean foods that provide energy, drinking a lot of water, and finding quiet moments to rest your mind. Find places to rest slightly and breathe during your performance, and conserve energy offstage by taking it easy as much as possible.
I hope this has been helpful for some of you! Next time, I’ll give some insight into fighting off negativity- a huge struggle of my own. If you have any more questions or topics you’d like me to cover, or something to add to the discussion, feel free to comment below.
photo by Cemal Ekin.