Dancers Need Rest Campaign

English National Ballet dancer Crystal Costa. Photography by ASH

English National Ballet dancer Crystal Costa. Photography by ASH

“Quality of training is more important than hours danced. Optimal learning occurs when dancers are not tired, and therefore rest is a fundamental training strategy” Matt Wyon, Professor of Dance Science, University of Wolverhapton

The Healthier Dancer Programme (under Dance UK) and Dancing Times, the UK’s leading monthly dance magazine, launched a social media campaign to promote the importance of rest for dancers during Summer 2014!

During July and August 2014, dancers were encouraged to share photographs of themselves resting on Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #dancersneedrest. The best photograph, as judged by Erin Sanchez, One Dance UK Healthier Dancer Programme Manager, and Zoe Anderson, Dancing Times News Editor, won a year’s Dance UK membership, a Dancing Times subscription and a selection of books about dancers’ health.

Entry was open to professional and student dancers as well as anyone who simply loves to dance. Dancers were pictured resting in such ways as reading, sunbathing, sightseeing, doing yoga and even catching a quick nap at the airport!

The winning image was announced and printed in the October 2014 issue of Dancing Times. 

The campaign was part of our ongoing work promoting healthier dance practice. Whilst many dancers believe that practising as much as possible results in the best performance, adequate rest is a vital component of a balanced training programme.

What is rest and why is it important?

Rest is anything that gives you a break – either physical or mental. In order to push artistic and technical boundaries, professional dancers work long hours and push their bodies in the studio and onstage, sometimes in addition to training outside of dance.

However, if a dancer does too much and ignores early warning signs, they risk the serious and lasting issue of overtraining or burnout. Characterised by consistent or unexplained tiredness, emotional changes, frequent illness and injury and poor performance in spite of normal training, burnout is a major concern for dancers. Although there are a number of possible causes, dancers’ burnout can be due to emotional and physical stress, poor fitness, and of course, too little rest.  Click here to find out more about burnout.

Busy class, rehearsal and performing schedules (not to mention a dancer’s personal drive for perfection) can also result in overtraining and injury. Artistic and administrative staff can plan training or performing to allow dancers to reach a mental, physical and technical peak in time for performance. This process, called periodisation, involves gradual build up of training and learning.

Reducing training just before performance (called tapering), gives time for dancers to switch from preparation to performance mode. In this method, it’s important to reduce technical training and classes as rehearsals increase and allow for greater rest time.

Although dancers and students are not in control of these schedules directly, it’s important for them to understand how scheduling can affect their performance, health and well-being. Click here and here for more information.

What are the benefits of rest?

  • Rest allows the brain and body time to assimilate and store what has been learned each day, improving both your memory and how well you perform movement*
  • Taking time to review movements and choreography mentally as well as practising physically is more effective than physical rehearsal alone*
  • Dancers working in periodised environments (including rest) perform better and have fewer injuries
  • Rest aids muscle regeneration after dancing and reduces fatigue and injury rates

* Somatic Studies and Dance – Glenna Batson ©2009 IADMS and Glenna Batson, D.Sc., P.T., M.A

How to integrate rest into your training

  • Make sure to spend time eating healthy and nutritious food. Bring lunch and snacks with you so you can rest during breaks rather than spending time finding food. Click here for recipe ideas
  • Prevent burnout by balancing high performance standards with realistic goals, including gradual return to dancing after breaks or injuries.
  • Focus on quality of training, not quantity
  • Spend time mentally reviewing the movements you have learned rather than physically practising
  • Balance dance activities with other interests; rest isn’t just about sleep
  • Don’t wait until your dancing starts to suffer. The longer you wait to address fatigue and overtraining, the longer it takes to recover. If you notice tiredness, illness, pain or niggles, don’t just train through it