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Dead Time or Incubation Period?

Dead Time or Incubation Period?


How taking a break can make you a better dancer

(And how to make sure it does)
I’ve been laid up several times with injuries. Every single time, I’ve come out it a better dancer.


At first I thought it was just about the better body awareness

i.e., being injured and having to find workarounds forced me to refine my understanding of movement. (And it did!)

But since then, I’ve heard accounts from “old timers” that make me think it may have been the downtime itself.

And more specifically, how I used that downtime…

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Or Read the Transcript

This was professionally transcribed, but it probably still has some errors. If you catch any, drop me a line at I’d love to hear from you!

I’ve been laid up several times with injuries. Every single time, I’ve come out of this experience a better dancer. At first I thought it was just about the better body awareness, that being injured and having to find workarounds gave me. But as I’ve heard accounts from more and more long term dancers, now I’m thinking that a lot of it must have been due to the downtime.

If you dance for months and years, eventually you are going to end up taking a break from the dance. Sometimes it’s not a choice, like when you’re injured, but sometimes you might choose to take a vacation or a break. Now, why do some dancers choose to take a break voluntarily? Well, if you teach or perform for any length of time, eventually you’re going to get burned up. This can also happen to non professional dancers, who are part of very active troops or organizing events.

Sometimes you might have other passions that you want to explore, a really big opportunity, like moving to another city for a few months, or maybe you’re just feeling uninspired. But taking a break doesn’t have to derail your progress, if you decide what you want to get out of that break, and you can decide even if it is involuntary, you can make sure that that helps to support your goals and help you grow as a dancer.

The trick is to decide what type of break is going to get you what you’re looking for. Do you need to take a total break, a total detox, where you don’t do any belly dance at all? Do you need some time to let yourself off the hook and just play instead of worrying about making official progress? Or, do you want to let go of all your usual priorities and focus on a specific set of different goals instead?

I’ve done all of these. For example, when I was planning my wedding I needed time and so I took a total break. When I was injured and didn’t have a choice, my goal was not to stall my progress and so I decided to focus on things very intensely and seriously, I spent a lot of time on them, but I focused on things that were safe for my body to do. They were naturally a different set of activities.

A few years ago, I gave myself a five months break from the online dancing world. I didn’t take a complete break, I did continue dancing and I did continue teaching, but I let myself off the hook for all the business aspects. In that case what I needed was joy. I needed to bring the joy back into my dancing, and do during that time I focused on just playing.

Once you have a sense of what you want to get out of it, then you need to make a point to spend the time that you free up in ways that are going to support that. So if you’re taking a total break, enjoy your downtime. Make sure that you’re getting plenty of rest or do some other activities that are really fun and interesting for you. For some people enjoying the downtime may look like getting through their to-do list in the rest of their life, and that’s okay too as long as it gives you a sense of rest it’s the right choice.

Now if you’re not taking a total break, make sure that you’re doing things. If your goal is to build a different skill set, choose activities that are going to help you build those skills. If your goal is to play, make sure that you’re mixing it up and filling your creative well.

There are also a few other things to think about that will help make sure that this stays on track. One thing is that you need to tell people. If you’re part of an active community and you suddenly drop out, people are going to be worried about you, or if you stay in touch but aren’t participating they may keep tempting you with opportunities to participate. You also need to give yourself unconditional permission to let go of your usual habits, whether you typically go to class on a regular basis or you set normal monthly goals for yourself. You have to have permission to let go of all of those and only focus on the break that you’ve decided on.

It’s also important to decide how you’re going to know when your break is over. Some people set a deadline, for example my online break was done at the end of May, period, that was it. Some people will set a rolling deadline, say, “I’m going to take a three months break and then at the end of that I’m going to revisit and then I can give myself another three months.” Some people may choose criteria or quality instead. For example, if you’re injured a good time to start again is when your physical therapist clears you to start dancing. Or if you’re letting of your usual routine to build a particular skill, then maybe you resume when you feel comfortable with that skill. Let’s say your goal is to add zils to your dancing, maybe you resume your normal routine once you can play zils with average dancing at an average speed.

Regardless, the reason that a deadline is important is that you don’t want a break to turn into fading away from the dance. Some people will get to the end of a break and decide that their time in the dance is over. It is 100% okay to quit dancing if that’s the right choice for you, but what you don’t want to do is just fade away out of inertia. If the dance is still important to you we want to make sure it gets back into your life.

We’re all going to take a break from the dance at some point, so decide what you want to get out of that break, even if it’s just to rest. Decide on the general types of things that you can do to support that goal and make sure that you’re spending your time in ways that are consistent with that plan. Absolutely make sure that you communicate your plans and that you’re clear on when it’s done. That’s what turns dead time into an incubation period that can help you hatch into a more beautiful and creative dancer.


Your Turn

Have you ever taken a break from dancing? If so, why?

How did you spend your downtime? What did you get out of it?

Do you have any tips for other dancers who are taking a break?

I would love to hear from you.

Leave a comment below, or better yet, leave me a short voice message. Maybe I’ll even play it on the air!


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