Self Care for Ballet Teachers

Self Care for Ballet Teachers

Ballet Teachers Only

Throbbing feet, bone tired bodies, and exhausted minds.

Being a ballet teacher is not easy. When I first launched my teaching career, my energy levels were sky high. Nothing was going to bring me down.

  • Six straight hours of teaching followed by a short break and then more teaching? No problem. Gimme more!
  • Woke up with flu-like symptoms? No big deal. My students await! Off I fly!
  • Oops. Somehow there’s no food in the house to take with me and I have a very long work day? Whatever. I will eat eventually. I am a ballet teacher and there are so many bad pirouettes that need my help!

This high lasted a few years and then suddenly it slowed.  There was no real reason for the change—well, except for the fact that I was older and the unreasonable pace was catching up to me. Being a stubborn person, I refused to see the signs: the aches, the exhaustion, the lack of inspiration, etc. Ever since discovering ballet, I knew my destiny was to teach it. How could I possibly be slowing down already?

Lessons Learned

Fast forward to present day. I am currently sitting in my bed while someone else teaches my classes this evening because I woke up feeling miserable. I know, from years of experience, that pushing through this type of “blah-ness” only leads to an extended recovery time AND me giving poor classes

My students deserve better than that. I deserve better than that.

Just as dancers require their own unique warm up to feel fully prepared for class or performance, we teachers also have unique needs which should be prioritized. After all, if we can’t show up to teach our students, who will teach them? Good ballet teachers are precious jewels. We absolutely must take care of ourselves.

Here are some things I have found that help me:

  • For inspiration I make large attempts to go see live dance. The internet is an excellent resource, but nothing compares to the immediacy of live theater. I go whenever my time and budget allows and I soak up as much of the experience as I possibly can. From noticing costume choices, to set and lighting design elements, to details in choreography, to nuanced artistic expression. I try to see it all. Of course I can’t see it all, but I give it my best effort. I learn so much through this and I gain invaluable inspiration.  
  • For motivation I read dance teaching articles and blogs by people I respect. Hearing their stories motivates me to continue pushing forward and applying my very best self to every single class and student I teach. I also jumped on the opportunity to write about teaching ballet for The Ballet Source because I knew sitting down each week and thinking about these topics in detail would help keep me on top of my game. It has done just that.
  • For injury prevention I strive to do some sort of warm up before teaching. In the ideal world I would have a solid 30 minutes to prepare my body for teaching, but that is not possible in my world. On the days I have zero time to stretch I am extra careful with how I move.
  • For ongoing stamina I devote myself to meal preparation. This is so hard! Probably my largest challenge. But when I don’t do it I see the negative impact it has on me all around. We simply must eat. And we must eat well. This requires some thought due to the weird schedules we dance teachers can have.
  • For sanity (You know, those times when you are teaching and you feel like you might lose your mind because {insert any number of reasons here}; or when you are ambushed in the lobby by a parent with a slew of questions you have already answered and none of those answers appease said parent because they simply can’t understand why their little Suzy was not moved into the next level with her other classmates even though little Suzy has missed more classes this year than she has attended….you get the idea….SANITY…it is so hard to keep as a dance teacher.) I keep chocolate in my dance bag. GASP!  Yes, I do. No need to worry. I don’t eat while I am teaching. But when I feel myself tensing up and I know I need some intervention, I find a quiet moment and enjoy a calming piece of chocolate. I am sure everyone has one thing that can bring them calm. Maybe a photo of someone special. Or maybe sending off a quick text to someone you know will “get it”. Mine is chocolate.
  • For comfort I always keep these items on hand: breath mints, lotion, deodorant, leg warmers, fuzzy socks, a scarf, and a jacket. I like to smell good and feel cozy so these items are vital to my productivity.
  • For organization I have a small notebook that holds any info I could need for each of my classes. I either bring my laptop or iPod for music and ensure that playlists are set up in an orderly way so I don’t waste time searching for what I need.
  • For health I carry hand sanitizer. I am not a huge advocate of the stuff, personally, but since I am constantly touching people and germ filled barres I do use it while teaching. I also drink tons of water throughout my work day and when I am sick I take the day off. My paycheck doesn’t care for that, but my body thanks me a hundred times over.
  • For my voice I try to not push my volume too high but, instead, I project gently and correctly. I have found this especially important in some schools where sound bleeds from one studio into the next.
  • For stress I am learning to let go. Some students do not wish to learn, some parents do not wish to be educated, some studio owners do not wish to pull their training up. I have chosen to let that go. I give my very best attempt and then I walk away and give my energy to those who desire it.

No doubt any teacher reading this has their own routine for taking care of themselves. I would love to hear yours! Gleaning from one another’s experiences and knowledge is how we keep going and is another form of self care. I am especially interested to know how teachers deal with teaching on very hard surfaces as I am encountering some issues with this and have yet to find a solution for my screaming feet.

At any rate, after writing this I am feeling that much more motivated to take better care of my own self and hope you are feeling so inclined, as well. The world needs us. So let’s stay healthy and sane and inspired.

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Andrea Contos says

Thank you for putting this out there. This is just what I needed to read today. Especially the part in learning to "Let it Go". Something I really need to practice. :)

Gina Permynova says

I am going to cry. My life out there. Tired. Achy body. Not capable of taking a day off when sick. Difficult parents. Thank you

Holly says

Wonderful article. It's soothing to know I am not alone!

Tamara says

Taking care for ourselves - so important! I'm currently adding 10 minutes of stretching after my classes and I do it with yoga breathing, which is very restorative. I also do a headstand for a minute, so the blood flow can finally reverse a little bit. I also like epsom salt baths for the most achey days. Sauna and massage are also needed here and there.
Teachers - we are natural givers. But first we have to give ourselves, so we have enough to share. ;)

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