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From Veteran Dancers: 5 Lessons to Help Get You Through This Unplanned Performance Hiatus


"...spoke with three veteran performers, expecting to hear anxieties about missing important opportunities while their performance clocks ticked down time. Instead, each seemed remarkably optimistic, strategic and quite calm about the current situation, offering insight any dancer could learn from."


Nerves and jitters are part of being a performer. Standing on stage before the curtain goes up is an exhilarating feeling that only performing on a regular basis can help to alleviate, even if only a bit. With this seemingly unending hiatus, it can be daunting to think of what our first performance post pandemic will feel like. Dance Magazine spoke with veteran dancers who share their five lessons that have helped them, and hopefully you, get through this unplanned performance hiatus.

Acknowledge the disappointment.

At the outset of 2020, it was impossible to fully comprehend the chaos that this global pandemic would cause amongst the performing arts universe. Maile Okamura, who started her professional career at Boston Ballet II and danced for Mark Morris Dance Group for many years, now performs for Pam Tanowitz Dance and recalls a performance slated for spring at the Barbican Centre in London: "I guess I'm an optimistic person, because I really thought it might still happen! When it was finally canceled in late April, it was really a punch in the gut."

As the saying goes, acknowledgement of a problem is the first step towards a solution. By acknowledging the disappointment, and allowing ourselves to experience it, we will be able to then move on, developing solutions to stay creative.

Don't obsess over what you've missed

Despite the sense of loss, mature dancers are able to draw on years' worth of experience to gain perspective on missed opportunities. Akua Noni Parker was planning to retire from Ailey this season after a career that also included dancing for Dance Theatre of Harlem, Cincinnati Ballet and Ballet San Jose. But she doesn't dwell on missing her last performance. "What about the other 20 years? I missed out on one performance, does that mean that I have not contributed all this time?"

Akua points out that in a long career there are always things you didn't get—a role you love, a job you dreamed of—and if you allow yourself to obsess over that, you won't be able to move forward and enjoy what you do have. Remembering the good and giving yourself credit for all the things you have accomplished will keep you in the right headspace for when that first performance comes around.

Remember: You are resilient.

Having been through many experiences, both good and bad in their careers, these dancers are familiar with a non-linear career with plenty of twists and turns. "I've already tried to retire twice," says Clark. "I thought I was retiring after I danced for Mark Morris and Lar Lubovitch and the Metropolitan Opera. Then, I auditioned for Ailey for the third time and got in."

Everyone has overcome obstacles in their life. Overcoming obstacles, gives you confidence that can get you through stressful times. "When I feel anxious about the uncertainty," Clark goes on, "I can look back on the almost 20 years since I graduated college and I've always been okay. I've found a way to make it work."

Appreciate this time.

While an illustrious career is fulfilling, it doesn't leave much time for other things. So, while it's difficult to let go of opportunities, these accomplished performers are also grateful for new-found time to invest in other facets of their identities.

Give your body what it needs. 

Of course, facing a long hiatus from the studio does come with its own concerns when you're a mature dancer. Rather than feeling rigid about their training, these dancers reflect adaptability. Rehabbing major injuries or simply discovering that their bodies will no longer tolerate certain abuses has required them to constantly evolve their habits, a skill they apply to this current scenario.

And when dancing at home doesn't feel right, there's a self-compassion and acceptance that often takes dancers years to develop: "It feels very difficult to stay motivated, but I understand that if I make sure that I do some sort of a physical practice every day, I will feel better after. I feel like right now, if dancing in my apartment is going to add frustration into my mood and my life, or make me feel worse about myself during this time of uncertainty, then I should listen to myself and maybe be a little bit easier on myself."

As first published on Dance Magazine.

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