You can’t take your mind off the looming mortgage payment or the pile of credit card bills sitting on your desk; and despite your best efforts, that perfect ending you crafted for the advanced tap class’ recital number just isn’t coming together. If those thoughts sound familiar, you are not alone.

While it’s normal to worry, stressing over life’s uncertainties can be both mentally and physically hazardous. Research shows that stress can increase one’s susceptibility to a number of ailments, including heart problems, insomnia, headaches, diarrhea, nausea, anxiety, high blood pressure, diabetes and depression.

But there is no textbook method to dealing with stress. The key is to find what works best for you and stick to it. But beware of those actions that appear to relieve stress, like drinking, overeating, smoking and withdrawing from everyday life—they will ultimately cause more harm than good. Take note of these simple remedies that can help you handle stressful situations in a positive and healthy manner.

Physical Fitness

One easy technique that can relieve anxiety is controlled breathing. “If you place both hands in front of you and clench your fists, it becomes harder to breathe,” explains Dr. Linda Hamilton, a clinical psychologist and author of The Dancer’s Way: The New York City Ballet Guide to Mind, Body and Nutrition. “Stress has this same response, which you can break by closing your eyes and taking five deep breaths.”

Some stresses, though, are too heavy to resolve with simple breathing. It’s best to tackle the more pressing issues after physically clearing your mind by exercising. A study conducted by the Technical University of Munich proved the long-contested fact that aerobic exercise signals the brain to release endorphins—the chemical known to refresh the mind and produce feelings of euphoria. Find a physical activity outside of the studio that makes you feel good. Try playing tennis or volleyball, or find a new type of dance, and commit to doing it a couple of times a week.

Peace of Mind

There’s a reason why Rhonda Byrne’s book The Secret sold 5.3 million copies in the United States alone: The mind is an incredibly powerful tool, and just like over-stressing can cause physical sickness, being optimistic in worrisome times can do the exact opposite.

Maintaining a positive attitude isn’t always an easy task, but it’s crucial to focus energy on your strengths rather than on shortcomings. “The fact is, most dancers are perfectionists who tend to set unrealistic goals,” says Hamilton. Positive self-talk is a technique athletes use to help approach off-days in a more realistic manner. But it’s not just about teaching people to repeat self-affirmations. Instead, think about what you might say to your best friend if posed with the same situation. “It helps to bring a more objective view to a bad day,” says Hamilton. Of course, this strategy isn’t going to solve all problems overnight, but it will give you a fresh perspective. As poet Maya Angelou once said, “If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

You Are Not Alone

You can get by with a little help from your friends. Set aside time to spend with close loved ones. If you feel comfortable, confide in them the struggles you’re facing. Chances are, they have experienced a similar dilemma; listen carefully to how they overcame that point in time. Speak to a professional if you have trouble sharing such personal information. Sometimes an unbiased perspective is what one needs to help them understand the bigger picture, says Hamilton. Bottling up feelings might work for now, but it’s only a matter of time before those emotions take a toll on your health.

Rest Does the Soul Good

According to Hamilton, the adult body needs at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night to recharge. With increasingly demanding work schedules, family obligations and personal commitments, disconnecting from life for that long can be difficult. Even dozing for a few hours will help strengthen the immune system and clear your mind.

If you become restless when trying to fall asleep, take a moment to jot down your thoughts. Transferring worries onto paper will contain the mounting stress until the morning. Revisit the issues after resting, and you’ll be much better equipped to manage them.

You Are What You Eat

A healthy diet rich in fresh fruits, whole grains, protein, vegetables and legumes has been proven to boost the immune system, increase energy and improve mental clarity. While this isn’t groundbreaking news, healthy eating is often the first thing to go when times get tough. So watch the food you consume, as it may have more of an impact on your well-being than you realize.

Enjoy the right foods at the right time, and never eat when you’re not hungry. Cut out large servings of caffeine as well as foods high in fat and sugar—they’ll leave you feeling anxious, jittery and drained. Instead, try healthy alternatives like soy or green tea ice cream if you’re craving something sweet.

Let It Be

Regardless of how well we try to avoid them, unexpected and sometimes unwelcome circumstances occur. “It’s an unavoidable part of life,” says Hamilton. “But it’s not all bad. Short-term stress can actually help motivate you to perform better. If you were always complacent, think of how boring life would be. The problem occurs when the stress becomes chronic and long-term.”

Dwelling on the things we cannot control deprives us of enjoying the good things in our lives. Make a list or keep a journal that details all you’re grateful for—your family, students, health or even a favorite book—and use it as a helpful reminder during any rough patches.

There will always be bills to pay, career demands, heartbreak and loss to endure. But if it weren’t for those things, we’d never understand or appreciate all that life has to offer. So let life’s troubles be, and when you find yourself feeling stressed, start with a couple of deep breaths to reconfigure your path.

NYC-based freelance writer Tatiana Munoz holds an MA in journalism from Syracuse University.

The Conversation
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"We think as dancers, 'Oh my gosh, if this thing isn't working hard enough, I have to work it harder.' In order for these muscles to work, they have to have a chance to relax, too." –Kathryn Maykish

As deeply familiar as dancers are with their bodies, there's one muscle group that can remain mysterious. You can't see it, and it can be tough to access, but the pelvic floor serves a major role in your posture and body function. Dancers and other athletes are more prone than the general population to dysfunction of the pelvic floor, and this can have major ramifications in dance and life.

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The holidays are here, and as everyone knows, the real best way to spread Christmas cheer is serving your community and helping those in need. Luckily for dance teachers, dance studios are the perfect backdrop for the start of some seriously awesome service projects. Your dancers will learn the value of helping others, and you will all feel warm and fuzzy inside!

Check out these three service-project ideas, and try implementing them at your studio this season. Let us know over on our Facebook page, or in the comments below, what other projects you do at your studio that make a difference in your community!

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Eva Stone directs The Stone Dance Collective, shown here in Eve, reconsidered. Photo by Rex Tranter, courtesy of The Stone Dance Collective

Unlike the majority of my students and colleagues, my journey in dance has been unorthodox. At age 14, I enrolled in modern dance at my high school, and something about the large open studio with room to move thrilled me (and still does). I immediately set out to impress my dance teacher with my complete repertoire, a solo interpretation of "Bohemian Rhapsody" created in my living room, infused with several badly self-taught ice-skating moves. In that moment, an awareness of the power of movement, music, space and performance aligned, and I instinctively knew I was someplace special.

My high school dance teacher was smart. Knowing that she did not have the time to mold us into technically proficient dancers, she introduced us to the craft and skill of making dances. I spent four years opening the door to my creative voice, becoming a confident choreographer. As a dance major in college, however, I quickly realized I was lacking something very important: actual dance training. So I began an intense regimen of studying, analyzing, copying, stealing and emulating every movement language, quality and nuance with which I could connect. Later, I completed a master's degree in choreography and choreological studies, formed a small dance company and set out to fund my artist's life with teaching.

As a modern dancer, and having come to dance late, communication and imagery were significant in managing the demands of my training. I had to ask a lot of questions, because I had not yet developed a physical vocabulary of answers. I needed a sense of humor, to prevent me from quitting. I had to negotiate, rationalize, moderate and articulate, both verbally and physically, a pathway through much of what I was performing in or choreographing. This allowed me to solve problems more creatively, from a place separate from a perspective of pure technical ability. I now use these same methods for teaching students.

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According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S. In 2017, 47,173 Americans died by suicide, and there were an estimated 1.3 million suicide attempts. While it's a myth that suicide rates are higher in December than any other time of year, the holidays give us an opportunity to consider the health and happiness of those we love. As dance teachers, we spend more time with our students than even their parents do, which means we are in a particular position to notice the pain and distress they're experiencing.

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Q: What do you do with parents who constantly complain about where their daughter is placed in choreography?

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Studio Owners
Photos courtesy of Google

Valentina Bagala and Rafael Savino held their studio's very first registration at a Subway. "We didn't even have an office," says Bagala, who heads the artistic side of Ascendance Studio in Doral, Florida. "This lady called us over the phone, and we said, 'OK, we can take your registration. Would you mind meeting us at the Subway that's downstairs from our studio?'"

Now, five years later, Ascendance is thriving, with a growing competitive team, a 5,000-square-foot space and 300 students—one of whom is the same dancer who was registered in that Subway. Today, registration mostly happens online, as do many of Ascendance's processes—attendance, billing, e-mail marketing campaigns—thanks to Savino, who heads the studio's marketing, finances and administration. To what do Bagala and Savino credit their impressive growth? Digital advertising. Despite working in an industry where many still rely on old-school methods of operation—manual registration, tuition paid in person by cash or check, fliers handed out in parking lots—they took the plunge to modernize their advertising strategy and found it a game changer for their studio.

Slow, but consistent

Bagala and Savino admit Ascendance got off to a rocky start. They rented space from a fitness studio for three months. "We didn't get the best schedule," says Bagala, who could only rent the space by the hour when it wasn't being used. Still, she managed to amass 25 students. Eventually, she found a small, 550-square-foot space of her own in a shopping center. "I remember for our first classes, we would have people who were supposed to show up but didn't," says Savino. "If we had one student in class, we had to teach to that student. That happened multiple times."

When two more spaces became available in the same shopping center, the couple grabbed them, despite the inconvenience of the units not being connected. "You had to step outside," says Bagala. "It wasn't very comfortable."

"The fliers weren't working."

With more space came more responsibility—to increase enrollment. They had been passing out fliers at nearby schools, but that approach, Savino says, "became unscalable. That's when I started looking at digital advertising." He didn't have much money to spend on it—his budget was $5/day—but he began looking into advertising on Google. He also enrolled in a local digital marketing course at nearby Miami-Dade College. "That gave me strategy," he says.

His most successful venture has been with Google's AdWords. With this advertising strategy, business owners create a search ad. (Search ads appear above Google search results when people look for local services the business offers.) The Ascendance search ad, for example, includes the studio website and phone number, plus: "Dance classes for kids. All ages and styles. Try a free class today." Then, you choose keywords—the words or phrases potential customers might type into their browser—and set a daily budget for how much you'd like to "bid" on each keyword. You're charged only if users click your link. During his first AdWords campaign, Savino often bid less than $1 on keywords like "ballet classes," "hip-hop classes," "jazz" and "dance studio."

How much you bid affects in what order your search ad appears among other businesses. But a business with more money to spend on keywords won't automatically see their ad pop up first. Multiple factors—keyword bidding price, how long a user stays on your website, your click-through rate—determine what's called your quality score. And it's your quality score, ultimately, that decides in what order your ad appears on Google.

"For example, let's say there's a huge competitor who's bidding $10 a keyword, while I'm only bidding $1," says Savino. "Google is tracking everything. If users stay on my website for a while and don't click the back button to get back to the search page, Google knows my website is relevant and a good experience." That increases his quality score and gives his search ad odds a boost.

Experimenting, wisely

Savino ran his initial AdWords campaign for about a month in 2013, starting in mid-September—prime back-to-school time. Each week, he wound up getting 10-plus interested customers. He offered each a free trial class. Of that weekly number, more than 80 percent enrolled in classes. By the time the campaign was over, Ascendance had 45 new students. And it all cost him less than $150. Though he risked spending more than his daily allotted $5, he knew it would pay off in increased enrollment.

As they became more comfortable with AdWords, the couple experimented. Bagala asked her mom what words she would use to search if, for example, she were looking for ballet classes for a 5-year-old. Her responses became part of their strategy: "ballet classes in Doral," "dance classes in Doral," "dance studio in Doral." They also interviewed parents of new students, asking 'How did you hear about us?' "If they said, 'Google,'" says Savino, "we'd ask if they remembered what they typed."

Now his daily budget is $20, though he's careful to time campaigns with high-enrollment periods. "During back-to-school season, August and September, I know a lot of people are going to be looking for classes," he says. "But I also know that January is another high-enrollment period—that's when we see an uptick in our baby program. Those moms are operating on a calendar year, not a studio year."

When Google came to town

Last spring, Google itself took an interest in Ascendance, and it featured Savino and Bagala in a national video campaign as a small-business case study. Of particular interest was the studio's dual advertising campaigns: one in English and one in Spanish. Savino and Bagala are bilingual, and their community is largely Spanish-speaking—so they capitalized on that. "Since we were advertising in Spanish," says Savino, "those people were sure that they were going to come through our door and someone would be here who would speak their language."

Of course, digital advertising can only take a studio so far. You have to follow through with a great product—and that, Savino says, is Valentina's greatest contribution to the business. "At the end of the day, if the product isn't good, people are simply going to leave," he says. "She's the heartbeat of the studio."

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It's a dance teacher's job to prepare students for professional careers. As everyone knows, this means more than just giving them precise technique and exceptional performance capabilities. Perhaps more than ever, it's important that teachers prepare their students to know how to make smart and safe decisions when entering the workplace. It's important that we give them the skills to say "no" when a project doesn't fit with their personal values, puts them in a dangerous or toxic work environment, or is discriminatory to their race, gender, sexual orientation or religion. Teachers need to help their students advocate for themselves in order to create a career they can be proud of.

Here are four tips for helping your dancers make safe and smart professional decisions when they leave the warmth of your caring and supportive studio.

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Q: I've noticed a clicking or popping sound coming from my right hip joint when I raise it to the side, and I tend to be far more flexible on my left leg. Are these two things connected? Should I be worried?

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Genshaft in Ratmansky's From Foreign Lands. Photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy of San Francisco Ballet

Dana Genshaft was a beloved dancer in the San Francisco Ballet for 15 years, rising to the rank of soloist. Some of her SFB career highlights include performing lead roles in Frederick Ashton's Monotones I and Wayne McGregor's Eden/Eden and originating roles in Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House and Mark Morris' Joyride, as well as working with Christopher Wheeldon and William Forsythe.

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