2020 will forever be remembered for a range of stressful events, from a global pandemic to a civil rights uprising to a twisted election cycle.
But for dance educators, this year has been marked by on-again, off-again employment, work beyond our job descriptions, and fast and frequent cycles of adaptation.
Back in March, when most of us were scrambling to learn about some app called Zoom, we were just following the age-old mantra: “The show must go on!” There was little time to stop and think about how we were feeling or how our lives and livelihoods would be affected.
Our first thoughts were about our students: How are they feeling? What do they need? Can I offer an emotional escape for just a little while?
On top of our shifting responsibilities and the stresses of the outside world, many of us became emotional sponges absorbing our students’ greatest fears. We persisted through devastating personal and world events to continue training our students from our own homes or empty studios while also offering empathy in the most unusual of circumstances.
We have now been doing this for over eight months, which begs me to ask the questions: Are you okay? What are you doing for your own mental and physical health? Are you connecting with others outside of your virtual classroom? Have you found a healthy way to separate your virtual teaching from your home life? How are you handling that pay cut? What are you doing to take care of your body? Do you have anybody to reach out to for both personal and professional unloading? If so, have you reached out to them?
Dance educators often get so caught up in our work for others that when it comes to taking care of ourselves, we are depleted of time and emotional energy. We know the consequences of not taking a day off, missing our warm-up before class, and saying yes to everything that is asked of us. And the higher we rise in our field, the greater the number of those who seek our support—which can often make it feel like we have fewer options when we need help.
It is okay if you are not okay right now. But it is not okay if you are ignoring your needs.
I urge you to take a day off. Set clear parameters for what you can and can’t do, especially when working within your own personal space at home. If you need someone to talk to, call your friends, email your boss or seek counseling from a mental health professional. You are not going to burden them. You teach your students how to take care of themselves—set a good example by following your own advice.
We dance educators offer so much value to society even beyond our art. We instill in our students fortitude, discipline, teamwork, physical health and so much more. But we can’t keep giving of ourselves if we don’t take some time to ensure that we are okay as well.