As a ballet dancer, one of the last things you ever want to hear is a doctor or physical therapist tell you to take time off from dancing. You think, “There’s no way I’m doing that. I’ll be so out of shape!” However, sometimes it’s unavoidable. You just can’t dance, and you need to take a break to get better.
A few years ago, I had to take about a month off from dancing. Not only did this dreaded month come just as I was feeling strong and on top of my game, but it was also just in time to count me out of performing at an upcoming dance festival. I was frustrated and worried. I thought I would “lose” my pirouettes, which were always my biggest source of anxiety. Then, I had myself thinking I would basically “lose” everything. I was convinced my feet would get worse, my extension would get lower, my jumps would lose height and that this time off would be a huge setback to my technique.
Throughout my weeks off, I watched some rehearsals and attended the festival in which I was supposed to perform. While this might sound like it would have been depressing, I actually found that this time watching rather than dancing increased my appreciation for ballet. I learned a lot through observation, and watching made me really excited to get back to class in a few weeks. Towards the end of the month, itching to dance, I started taking barre. I began treating the exercises as discovery processes rather than chances punish myself for my technical imperfections. My fifth position was perhaps slightly less closed than it was before the time off, but I realized that getting back in shape was not the insurmountable goal I had thought it would be.
When I came back to class in full swing, I felt happier and more enthusiastic about dancing. My time outside the studio made me really recognize why I love to dance. The constant self-criticism that used to stream through my head was diluted by time, and I came back with a newfound awareness of how lucky I am to dance. After a week or two, I felt back on top of my game, pirouettes and all, but this time with a more positive energy and appreciation for what I do.