Getty Images

Holiday TLC: 8 Ways Dancers Can De-Stress and Treat Themselves at Home

If you find yourself with extra downtime this Nutcracker season, but counterintuitively higher stress levels, you're likely not alone. "COVID-19 has been this underlying baseline stress in the back of everybody's lives. Whether you realize it or not, it's affecting everybody," says Dr. Kathleen Bower, director of dance medicine for Miami City Ballet.

You may not need the post-matinee ice baths or power naps that come with a typical holiday performance run, but that doesn't mean you don't deserve—and need—a little extra TLC. Read on for relaxation tips to rejuvenate your mind and body after a long, hard year.


Deep Breathing

A white woman with straight brown hair reclines on a coach with her eyes closed. She is smiling. In the blurred-out background, there is a Christmas tree.

Getty Images

Consider this the gold standard to incorporate into every activity on this list. Whether it's during yoga or in the bath, Bower says, find 10 minutes each day to "get into that nice, deep diaphragm breathing." This actually has a measurable effect on your nervous system, bringing it into its parasympathetic "rest-and-digest" state, rather than its sympathetic "fight-or-flight" state that's so often engaged during a fast-paced performance season.

Mindfulness Walks

An image from the ankles down of someone in jeans and tan boots walking on a bed of pine needles.

Getty Images

Josh Spell, a licensed social worker, therapist and former Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer warns that dancers' overachieving tendencies often creep into what's supposed to be a restorative activity. He loves mindfulness walks where, he says, "the intention is not for exercise. It's more for connecting with nature and mental clarity."

If you need help getting into that mindful place, Bower recommends apps like Calm, Headspace or Ten Percent Happier.

Epsom Salt Baths

A tranquil bathtub scene. A bamboo tray sits atop the tub and holds bath salts and a small, green plant.

Getty Images

"A big part of why we think they work so well is because Epsom salts are high in magnesium, which athletes tend to be deficient in," says Bower. As an extra relaxation hack, she suggests tapping into all of your senses while soaking. Light a scented candle, put on some relaxing music and even eat your favorite treat, like a square of chocolate, in the tub. "Then you're really touching on all of those senses and getting that feeling of warmth within the body," say Bower.

Self-Massage

A woman foam-rolling in an empty studio. She is wearing patterned leggings and a black tank. There is a pink foam rolling positioned under her low back and she is pulling her left knee toward her chest.

Getty Images

A lighter workload is the perfect time to address any chronically tight areas or imbalances. Bower particularly likes using a foam roller for self-massage. Rather than quickly rolling over major muscle groups, she says, pinpoint a specific area by rolling slowly to the point of restriction (where the muscle feels tight and is giving more resistance on the roller), then relaxing and breathing into it for 30 seconds to a minute. This helps open up the fasciae surrounding the muscle fibers.

Sleep and Nutrition Best Practices

A grain bowl with quinoa, grill chicken strips, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kidney beans and spinach.

Getty Images

During a typical Nutcracker run, Miami City Ballet dancers travel a lot between theaters, so Bower is always prioritizing their recovery. This year, it's just as critical. Your body is likely exhausted from the challenges of cramped class space at home and inconsistent schedules, making foundational health as important as ever. Bower recommends that you make time for well-balanced meals and get eight to 10 hours of sleep per night for optimal musculoskeletal recovery.

Anything Routine-Breaking

A woman in activewear, seated on a yoga mat, stretches her arm behind her head. She is seated in a living room and is doing a yoga class on her laptop with others.

Getty Images

Whether it's trying an entirely new dance style or even just a different warm-up before your regular Zoom ballet class, disconnecting your autopilot tendencies will stimulate new neural pathways, which is important for your long-term happiness. "That's what habits are, grooves in your brain," says Spell. "Every December, if the only groove that's really being carved out or traversed is The Nutcracker, that can sort of narrow who you are as a person." The very act of switching up your routine, even in something as simple as eating dessert before dinner, trains your brain to forge new paths in the future.

Get in the Holiday Spirit

A wood table covered in flour and adorned with holiday cookie baking items, including a rolling pin, a star-shaped cookie cutter, a cookie sheet and cookies shaped like stars, reindeer and trees.

Getty Images

Don't let holiday activities fall by the wayside just because you aren't performing. Instead, view this as an opportunity to make space for new ways to celebrate safely. For example, Spell suggests making a pilgrimage to see your neighborhood's best holiday light displays.

Bower notes that connection with family and friends is particularly important. Even if you can't see each other in person due to the pandemic, try something creative, like a Zoom cookie-decorating party.

Journaling

A light-skinned Black young woman, with her hair in a bun, sits thinking at a desk with a smile on her face. She is holding a pen above a notebook.

Getty Images

If you're having difficulty dealing with downtime, you're not alone. Spell encourages dancers to question their relentless quest for self-improvement, using journaling as a way to slow down and find some self-forgiveness: "There are a lot of questions to explore around the discomfort in taking a day off," says Spell. "For example, 'Where did I get the idea that I'm lazy if I do choose to relax?' It's about challenging that perspective that you need to be doing something productive all the time."

Essentially, a less busy Nutcracker season does not negate the need for downtime. In these challenging times, it's as important as ever to prioritize yourself—and to rest and reset.

Latest Posts


Left to right: Dance Theatre of Harlem's Daphne Lee, Amanda Smith, Lindsey Donnell and Alexandra Hutchinson in a scene from Dancing Through Harlem. Derek Brockington, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dancers Share Their Key Takeaways After a Year of Dancing on Film

Creating dances specifically for film has become one of the most effective ways that ballet companies have connected with audiences and kept dancers employed during the pandemic. Around the world, dance organizations are finding opportunities through digital seasons, whether conceiving cinematic, site-specific pieces or filming works within a traditional theater. And while there is a consistent sentiment that nothing will ever substitute the thrill of a live show, dancers are embracing this new way of performing.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Liam Scarlett with Marianela Nuñez and Ryoichi Hirano during a rehearsal of his Swan Lake at The Royal Ballet. Andrej Uspenski, Courtesy ROH

Choreographer Liam Scarlett Has Died

Over the weekend, news broke that 35-year-old choreographer Liam Scarlett, a former artist in residence at The Royal Ballet, died suddenly at his home in England. "It is with great sadness that we announce the tragic, untimely death of our beloved Liam," Scarlett's family said in a brief statement. "At this difficult time for all of our family, we would ask that you respect our privacy to enable us to grieve our loss."

The cause of death was not disclosed.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

#TBT: Mikhail Baryshnikov in "Fancy Free" (1981)

In Jerome Robbins's 1944 ballet Fancy Free, three sailors on leave spend the day at a bar, attempting to woo two young women by out-dancing and out-charming one another. In this clip from 1981, Mikhail Baryshnikov, who was then both the artistic director of American Ballet Theatre and a leading performer with the company, pulls out all the stops to win the ladies' affections.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks