How to get back into​ the studio (if it’s been a while)

There are so many issues that come into play after an injury or a break from training.  Whatever the reason for the break – school, work, family – whether the reason was positive or negative, after a long break, it can be super hard to get back to the barre. Weight gain, fear of lost skills, calendars that quickly fill up and over those hours that we once spent dancing, muscles tighten, and injuries that still hurt.

But muscles do have memory, more than we give them credit. Weight will come back off over time. Our schedule will open up to fit a class and then another and then another. We learn to work with the changes after an injury, and sometimes it even makes us better if we give it enough room and effort. But we do have to figure out how to self-motivate and self-inspire a grand return.

Calendar, calendar, calendar. Schedule the class and put it on your calendar. It’s truly half the battle because once you’ve booked the class, everything else is just follow through. I like to pay for a package, schedule my classes, write it on my calendar a month or more ahead. Once I’ve paid for it and made the commitment, even when I’m not feeling it, I’m much more likely to follow through. Especially if I book classes with a friend, you never want to let a ballet pal down.

Go shopping! New dance gear inspires and encourages. I do love a new leotard, dance skirt, maybe some new warmers to make me excited to get to class. Something pretty drives me right to the barre. I also love to shop for ballet gear when I travel so having a dance-related souvenir is not only special in class but brings back all those great vacation feels.

Be real and realistic. If you’ve been out of class for a length of time, especially for an injury, it’s a really good idea to let your teacher know. When I first went back after my foot injury, I had to be really careful and couldn’t do everything every class. It was important for my teacher to know so that he could keep an eye on me and adjust the exercises here and there. Also just letting him know that I hadn’t really worked out much so I was feeling tight and slow and chubby helped him help me set the pace wisely and move back well and not push too much or too hard. Discouragement from expecting too much too soon isn’t a good thing.

Set a good and reasonable (reachable) pace. When I went out due to injury, I was taking multiple classes almost every day of the week. It was great. But I was out for years and a lot changed during that time. Even though I wanted to jump back in with both feet and start signing up classes left and right, I couldn’t. That was HARD. I wanted to dance, but it was really important that I paced myself carefully at first and then increased the pace slowly but surely so that I can keep dancing… forever.

Depending on the injury, go back to the basics. I had a foot injury so even though I could almost start back where I had left off in terms of the level of difficulty of my classes, I started over. From the beginning. It worked for the best because I had to learn how to dance on the damaged foot in a new way and since you use both feet for ballet, I had to learn how to deal with both feet in a new way.  Sometimes starting over is a great opportunity to work deeper and develop stronger.

Call in your people. There is nothing like your ballet gang whether it’s there in class or on social media, ballet peeps are the best. Let them know what you’re going through, and you can bet that you will get some serious and much-needed encouragement and accountability. A great come back will almost always be accompanied by a great group of friends. Let your people be there for you, it will mean the world to you.

“Even if you did nothing for months, you can return to peak fitness eventually. It might take longer, but that’s okay.  Your sanity and life enjoyment are more important than a couple of weeks of missed training here or there.”

~Laura Fleshman

All will be well. Let’s dance!

Injured, Tired, Trying to Make A Come Back? You Can Still Make It To Dance Camp!!

Still got questions about dance camp for grown ups? Worried because you’ve recently had an injury? Here is what the folks at Sun King Dance Camp have to say about it.

How do I make it to dance camp when injuries keep interrupting my training:

Part 1 – When Ballet Is Painful
Learning dance often means experiencing some injuries. I don’t mean that this is inevitable, but it is often part of the learning process, especially for adults. Our bodies are usually easier to injure and slower to recover. When you are injured it’s best to stop the movement that hurts and address it immediately.

Part 2 – Prevention
How do you avoid getting sidelined? It’s really important to pay attention to the body’s pain signals. The kind of injury that starts as a twinge in class often goes ignored. Pain when you move is a sign that there is something funky going on in the system. It might be a muscle imbalance or it might mean there is a problem with your technique. The sooner you address it, the more quickly you will be back doing what you love. If the injury is ignored, the pain may progress and linger after class. Eventually, you can develop chronic pain. Then your recovery may take months. So when you feel those first twinges, take a moment to check in with the pain and allow it to tell you the story and seek the advice of teachers, doctors or therapists to clear up the issue.

Ballet doesn’t have to hurt. When it’s done technically well, at appropriate levels and for reasonable periods of time, fewer injuries usually occur. Great teachers are very careful not to give students more than they are ready for. Often though, with adult classes, the teachers hands are tied pretty tight. Mixed levels are thrown in together, students are deciding when they are ready to progress, the pacing of the class is prioritized over the substance, and there is not enough time in class to talk about the technical issues of one individual. It’s like giving the student the cake without a fork with which to eat it! It’s quite a mess.

There are a number of important ways in which we at Sun King Dance deal with this problem. We have a meeting and informal placement with each new student to identify the most appropriate technique level for them at camp. We also address alignment immediately on the first day of classes. Daily EBAS class helps to reeducate the musculature so the body can perform movement more effectively and with greater ease. In the workshops we dissect anatomy and technique. It’s also an opportunity to work with students individually.

Part 3 – When You Are Injured
Trust me, as someone with the experience of a recurring injury, it’s best to take your time and fix it properly the first time. This process can be insanely hard to have patience with unless you take a new approach. Here is what I mean.
Move your focus to what you can do. Learn dance through other means and find other activities that don’t hurt. For example, you can learn terminology and history through books and videos. There’s so much to learn from just watching and listening to teachers and classmates. You can immerse yourself in the world of dance by watching videos, live performances or creating choreography in your head. You can cross train in Pilates, yoga or Gyrotonics and Elemental Body Alignment working the parts of your body that aren’t injured. Even just walking can be very beneficial to maintaining muscle tone.

Part 4 – Getting Back to Dance
Your body cannot just pick up where it left off pre-injury. An injured muscle is weaker than an out of shape muscle. You need to start back slowly – more slowly than you think! Your body will feel good long before you are ready to return to full activity. Start by doing just part of the barre the first time and work up to all of the barre exercises over a period of days or weeks. Then do barre and half of center floor. Even if you feel really good at this point in class, don’t jump yet! Your endorphins are kicking in and you will not feel pain until later. Use this slow time as an opportunity to clean up your technique. When the muscles are weak, that is the best time to correct the way you work.

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Need some more personal advice about Dance Camp? Here is a great feature written by my good friend and fellow adult ballet class student, Jasmine Flanagan.

Jasmine Flanagan

Jasmine Flanagan

Three years ago I attended my first dance camp as an adult. I had only been dancing for about a year when a friend of mine, came to class all excited about an adult camp she found online. Immediately it peaked my interest and I sent off an application, and to my surprise after a few more questions and a quick chat with my teacher I was accepted. Now came the scary part, train as hard as I could in order to be able to dance 8-10 hours a day for a week and also prepare myself to meet and take class with dancers from all over the country who most likely would be much more talented than me. I also had another burden of being a transgendered woman recently starting to discover my true identity, and had no idea how I would be treated. My fear was real and palpable as I slowly walked to the dance studio with my friend from back home. At first everyone I encountered was friendly but most were off chatting with friends they had made from prior camps. Not too long after that we had a complete group meeting where everyone stood up and talked about themselves, and soon after we were divided up into groups and started taking class.

Jasmine at Sun King Dance Camp.

Jasmine at Sun King Dance Camp.

Class was hard, really hard, and as I was struggling to figure out the combination or remember the new correction I could see that the person next to me was equally struggling in her own way. Then there is a break in class and in the hallways, these perfect strangers a few moments ago have become your biggest supporters as class is dissected and reassembled into ways that makes it more understandable.

This goes on for many days and the struggles only get worse for me as we start learning choreography to not one but 3 different pieces. I become so overwhelmed that I have to leave class crying because I just can’t do it. Amazingly people start coming over and comforting me, and building me up, saying how hard it all is at your first camp, and that everyone has noticed how hard I am trying and how brave I am for coming to camp and before I know it the first day is over, … except that it isn’t. I get invited to the “party” down the street at the Mexican restaurant. A couple more introductions and a few adult beverages and everyone is laughing and joking and just having a great time.

Jasmine at Sun King Dance Camp in class.

Jasmine at Sun King Dance Camp in class.

As the week progresses there is more crying and frustration in class, but more hugs and support from everyone and then nights filled with good cheer. Friday afternoon arrives, everyone performs and after all of us are filled with joy and laughter, the pressures of performing gone. and l That night we have a large feast where both teachers and students celebrate the fruits of a very hard week of both personal and physical growth and endurance.

Here at camp people saw me at my most vulnerable moments, but they also saw me persevere and come out on top. These are the types of bonds can never be broken. Although we are all scattered across the country, we continue to reach out and touch each other’s lives. I can’t imagine a year going by that I don’t attend camp, and I know I have built friendships that will endure. As an adult we have so few opportunities to create these types of relationships, I am extremely thankful that I found the courage to attend, a highly recommend everyone try to find a similar situation.

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