How Rest and Recovery Can Take Your Dancers to the Next Level

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More studio time = more improvement? Not always, according to Roman Zhurbin, American Ballet Theatre soloist and certified personal trainer. "It's absolutely necessary to take rest days so your body can reset and you stay motivated," says Zhurbin. "Seven days a week of hard training is just unhealthy." What is healthy: letting your body recover from a jam-packed dance schedule so you can give your best possible performance.


Give It a Rest

But lying on the couch is wasted time, you might say. Think again! "When you work hard in class or rehearsal, micro-tears form in the fibers of your muscles," says Michelle Rodriguez, an NYC-based physical therapist who specializes in helping dancers. Sounds scary, but these tiny, tiny tears are what allow your muscles to hypertrophy—i.e., grow—which makes you stronger. You have to give your muscles periodic time off so they can do this repairing and rebuilding.

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A weekly rest day is even more essential if you're still growing or under 15. "Growth plates are the part of your bone that literally lengthen to make you taller," says Dr. Selina Shah, a sports and performing arts medicine specialist and the physician for San Francisco Ballet School and Diablo Ballet. "Time off without the stress of impact allows for normal growth without injuring those growth plates." Even if you're done growing, regular days off help prevent stress fractures and other overuse injuries.

The Rest of the Best

What does a healthy rest-and-recovery regimen look like? Rodriguez, Shah, and Zhurbin agree that, ideally, you won't set foot in a dance studio one or even two days each week. Getting eight hours of uninterrupted, high-quality sleep—more like 9 or 10 if you're training intensely or still growing—is also crucial. Rodriguez recommends stretching, massaging, foam rolling, and wearing thigh-high compression socks during downtime to help hardworking muscles bounce back more quickly.

Oh, and the bathtub should be your BFF. "Muscles contract and relax because of the opening and closing of sodium and calcium channels," says Rodriguez. "When you're going hard, these electrolyte supplies can be depleted. When you lie in a bath containing Epsom salts or magnesium, your skin absorbs some of those minerals."

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Feeling extra-brave? Take a page from Zhurbin's book and opt for a cold shower or ice bath. "Research has proven cold temperatures assist in recovery," explains Shah. "You can put a covered ice pack on sore areas or get in a cold bath for up to 15 minutes." (That said, if a warm bath is what feels most relaxing to you, go for it!)

What to Do When You Literally Can't Even…

…take a rest day, that is. The reality of life as a serious dancer is that you won't always—or even usually!—be able to control your training and performance schedule. That just means it's your responsibility to use the recovery time you do have to your
advantage. On a quick break between rehearsals? "Don't spend it standing up," says Rodriguez. "Sit down, eat a snack, then lie down and put your legs up on the wall. Even brief periods of true rest make a huge difference in recovering on a daily basis."

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"Unlike most athletes, dancers are in season all year," Rodriguez says. "Look at your career as a marathon, not a sprint. You don't want to burn out because you've done too much." The next time you have a week off between an out-of-town intensive and the start of classes at your home studio, don't be afraid to spend that time relaxing. Or do as Shah suggests: "Try a sport you don't have time for during the school year, just to allow your muscles to work in a different way." Your body—and your dancing—will thank you.

What About Active Recovery?

American Ballet Theatre soloist and personal trainer Roman Zhurbin recommends incorporating active recovery into your cross-training plan up to three times a week. Think of active recovery as your regular cross-training workout, but less intense and half as long. "I'll do lifting, pull-ups, body-weight exercises, push-ups, and anything else I'm working on," says Zhurbin. "It's classic strength and conditioning, but shorter and not fatiguing to the point where I'm exhausted."


Personal trainer and American Ballet Theatre soloist Roman Zhurbin working with ABT principal Stella Abrera (courtesy Zhurbin)


You should actually feel more energized at the end of active recovery, as opposed to a regular cross-training session, which might leave you feeling pretty tired. Yoga, biking, walking, or a half-hour of barre are all great active recovery options.


Music
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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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