The title does not mean we are going to start burning ballerinas, it means dancers are already burning – from the inside. Burn out is a serious issue facing our dancers. This is an issue discussed at medical conferences, dance science meetings, and in hushed voices over the dinner table. However, we don’t always talk about enough with the dancers themselves. This is a pervasive problem in all youth sports and has been widely discussed in youth sports medicine. However, it extends beyond youth participants and into teachers, professional dancers, and even parents.
What is Burn Out? It’s overuse. Just like a tendon or bone can be injured with overuse, so the entire system can reach the breaking point. However, unlike a broken bone, a MRI or X-Ray cannot diagnose Burn Out. This also looks different in many people. Some dancers start falling behind, others excel faster but lose their joy, and some start to have other injuries. Many people with burn out will lose interest in dancing, or find dance brings more stress than fun.
What to do if I am worried about Burn Out? First, know you are not alone. Many people burn out at some point in dance as well as in life. This is very common and the most important first step is recognizing you are burned out. The sooner you realize this, the better. Secondly, tell someone. It is more difficult to recover from burn out by yourself. Telling a parent, friend, teacher, or health care professional can help you recover faster. Lastly, burn out may result in finding a new activity outside of dance, but most dancers continue dancing after recovering from burn out. The sooner you recognize and treat burn out, the more likely you will get back to what you love, faster.
So what do you do if you have Burn Out? If you have burn out, the first thing is taking a step back. Burn out often comes from over committing. This may mean decreasing some commitments. While this can be very difficult, saying “no” to something is very important. You cannot be everything to everyone. Dancers tend to be over-achievers and people-pleasers. So it is not uncommon to see dancers over committed before they know it. Take a step back and consider your commitments. Then, ask yourself, “which of these is getting me where I want to go?” If you want to join a professional ballet company, do you need to keep the commitment to a school dance team who meets every night? If you want to dance in college, do you need to go to all the competitions you have on your schedule, or just choose a few important ones? If you are “dancing for fun” are you having fun? Dance takes hard work and dedication, but if you dread every class, taking a step back to reassess you goals may be needed. Making hard choices is never easy, but it is an important skill to learn because hard choices are an inevitable part of life.
How to prevent Burn Out? New recommendations have come out from sports medicine associations. The associations make exceptions for “early specialization sports,” which would include dance, gymnastics, etc. So while these recommendations are not entirely applicable to the dance community, they do give us some guidelines to consider when scheduling. The guidelines include organized activities should equal a child’s age. Additionally, for every organized 2 hours, a child should have unstructured play for 1 hour. For example, with these guidelines, a 12-year-old dancer would be recommended to dance 12 hours a week and also participate in unstructured play for 6 hours a week. I recognize that these recommendations are realistically far from what many dancers schedule. However, they give some idea for consideration, particularly if you are feeling stressed and may be approaching burn out.
Burn out is very common in dancers, athletes, and many high achieving people. There are options for diagnosis, help, and prevention. Meditation, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, and stress management seminars may help in treatment. While discussing burn out is never fun, dance should be. And if it takes discussing an un-fun topic to get dance back to fun, then it’s well worth it. Dance healthy, dance happy!
Author – Dr. Kathleen L. Davenport
Board certified Physiatrist who specializes in Sports, Dance and Performing Arts Medicine.
Preferred Orthopedics of The Palm Beaches, 7593 Boynton Beach, Blvd, suite#280, Boynton Beach, Fl, 33437
Reprinted from World of Dance Magazine