Rest and Recovery in Dance

This month’s blog article comes from long-time company member, teacher and choreographer, Kenzie Gannaway. Before you make yourself a long list of vigorous and ambitious New Years dance goals, make sure to give Kenzie’s article a read. She knows that rest and recovery are an essential element in a dance career and gives examples of how this vital part of her own routine has helped her achieve sustainability in her career goals. Wasatch Contemporary Dance Company works hard to give dancers the proper warm up, cool down, and off-season periods to maintain good health and performance. Make sure you are taking care of your body in the new year as well!

Kenzie Gannaway, photographed by Heather Young

Why are rest and recovery important in dance?

Dancing is a physically demanding art form that requires discipline, skill, and endurance. It is vital to prioritize rest and recovery to ensure optimal performance and prevent injuries. Rest and recovery are often used too late. A dancer will typically be experiencing an injury or burnout long before they seek out care. Rest and recovery are essential components of any dance training program. They allow the body to repair and rebuild itself, preventing overuse injuries and improving overall performance. As physical movers we need to utilize active rest and preventative measures.

What is active rest?

Active rest refers to engaging in low-intensity activities to promote recovery. While it may seem counterintuitive to stay active on rest days, it is crucial to keep blood flowing and to prevent muscle stiffness. On days off low-impact activities may look like swimming, yoga, or gentle stretching to improve recovery by promoting circulation and flexibility. Active rest also aids in reducing muscle soreness and preventing joint stiffness. Examples of activities that can be done on days you dance are small movements, stretching, or foam rolling. These activities should be done at a low intensity during the lulls of class and rehearsal.

The impact of proper sleep

Sleep is a fundamental aspect of rest and recovery. As a dancer, it is essential to prioritize getting enough sleep to allow the body to repair and recharge. Lack of sleep can lead to decreased cognitive function, impaired physical performance, and increased risk of injury. Ideally, dancers should aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night. Establishing a consistent sleep schedule and creating a conducive sleep environment, free from distractions, can greatly enhance the restorative benefits of sleep. Sleep helps to restore energy levels, improve concentration, focus, and mental alertness. It also helps to repair and grow muscle tissue, reduce injuries, and improve overall performance. Adequate sleep also helps to regulate hormones, such as testosterone and human growth hormone, which are essential for optimal muscle growth and repair. Poor sleep can lead to physical and mental fatigue, poor concentration, and reduced performance.

Don’t skip the cool down!

We get so caught up in getting to our next thing in our busy schedule that we skip the extra 10 minutes of giving our body that very important wind down. Stretching and releasing the muscles that have been firing and working hard for you will create a gentle ease in your joints when you walk off the floor. A proper cool down after dance sessions is crucial for aiding muscle recovery and preventing injury.

Cool down exercises should involve gentle movements that gradually bring the heart rate and breathing back to normal. These exercises may include low-intensity stretches and range-of-motion exercises targeting the major muscle groups used during the dance session. Cooling down allows for the removal of metabolic waste products, such as lactic acid, from the muscles and reduces the risk of muscle soreness.

We ALL need a warm up

When rehearsing in a shared space we often do not have room to do a full and proper warm up before we begin rehearsal. It’s important for each dancer to understand their body’s needs and injuries so a specific and consistent warmup can be made and used on these days. Just as the cool down is essential, so is the warm up. The warm-up phase before dance sessions prepares the body physically and mentally for the
demands of dance. It increases blood flow, raises body temperature, and enhances muscle elasticity. A good warm up should include cardiovascular exercises, as well as dynamic stretches that mimic the movements performed during dance. Performing a
comprehensive warm-up routine helps prevent muscle strains, joint injuries, and overall performance during class, rehearsal, and performances.

Photography by Greg Baird

The role of good nutrition

Proper nutrition is a critical component of rest and recovery for dancers. Consuming a balanced diet rich in essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals is key to maintaining energy levels and supporting muscle repair. Dancers should focus on consuming adequate amounts of carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Carbohydrates provide the necessary energy for intense dance training sessions, while proteins are essential for muscle repair and recovery. It is also vital to stay hydrated by drinking enough water throughout the day, as dehydration can lead to muscle cramps and fatigue.

The perfect recipe for success

Incorporating active rest, prioritizing proper sleep, conducting cool-down and warm-up routines, and following a nutritious diet are crucial steps in ensuring dancers’ physical well-being. By implementing these practices into their daily lives, dancers can not only improve their overall performance but also safeguard their long-term health and achieve their fullest potential.

“There’s Been a Study” choreographed by Hayley Stoddard, photographed by Katie Bruce Sorenson, featuring dancers Kenzie Gannaway and Lily Farrar

If you do make yourself some conditioning or strengthening dance goals in the new year, make sure to check out Kaitlyn Rogers’ article, 3 Tips for Strength Training as a Dancer!