A Mom's Guide to Surviving the Nutcracker
One of the biggest challenges during this season is time management plus feeling like you’ve got all your bases covered. Let’s be honest, moms are juggling A LOT right now. Here’s how to attack this season with a plan to feel organized and rested, to enjoy this holiday season and make the most of it ❤︎.
1. Prioritize family time - Try to make family time a top priority no matter how busy you are. Feeling connected as a family by spending quality time together is important. This will bring a sense of balance and rest to your dancer's life as well as to the rest of the family. Don't allow let the busyness of the holiday season to detract from spending time together. Making memories as a family is irreplaceable. You can prioritize this by getting your dancer’s rehearsal schedule ahead of time so that you can carve out time for special family outings, holiday themed activities together and a weekly family dinner. Once you have these penciled in, protect them and prioritize everything else around them.
2. Frozen meals are your friend - If you have frozen meals and snacks on hand, you will gain time as well as some relaxation. You’ll also make healthier choices instead of settling for quick take out when you’re in a crunch. Take a day to food prep a bunch of meals and healthy snacks for your dancer. I love keeping frozen energy balls and other goodies in my freezer that I can just grab when I’m on the go, hitting the gym, or too tired to make dinner.
3. Honor your own desires for this holiday season - What’s important to YOU this holiday season? Moms can get so busy serving everyone else that we forget to think about what we want this holiday season. Self care is not selfish. You are the backbone of your family so it's important to care for yourself too. Ask yourself, “what’s important to me this holiday season?” Give it some thought then write down what you envision that brings you joy and excitement. For me, spending time doing silly, holiday activities as a family is priority, as is being really PRESENT. So I make time to do these activities and I don't over commit myself. If I'm not spread too thin then I feel more rested and relaxed. This helps me be more present :).
4. Can you carpool? - It is SO helpful to have rides taken care of to/from the studio as well as rehearsals. Find out who has a similar schedule to your dancer and see if other moms are willing to carpool with you. You could even tag team with 2 other moms and possibly cut down your driving time by more than half per week! If parents need to stay at rehearsals, see if you can take turns watching and being in charge of several dancers at a time.
5. Food delivery apps - If you or another mom is “on deck” during rehearsals and you need to feed your dancers, save time by using a food delivery app! This saves you from having to pack them full meals or having to run back out to get something.
6. Christmas shop while you wait - Nowadays, it’s almost easier to get all your holiday shopping done online. So while you wait during those long rehearsals, why not sip on a cinnamon latte while getting your shopping done? Mmmm.
7. Start getting Nutcracker gifts now - If your company is big on Nutcracker gifts, start planning and ordering these now. If you’re on a budget, look up some DIY gifts that you can make with your dancer! This could be a great time for the two of you to connect and for you to hear how Nutcracker is going for them.
8. Clear your schedule for tech week - Planning ahead for tech week can alleviate a lot of stress. Try to clear your and your family’s schedule as much as you can for this week. Encourage your dancer to develop a plan for that week: when will they study, when will they rest, and what do they need from you? It’s good for dancers to develop their own time management skills and to be responsible for stuff too so it doesn't always fall on mom :).
9. Make a packing list for your dancer - Remember what it’s like running out the door to get to rehearsal on time with every item in the bag? Not to mention performance time when your grabbing at hair nets, hair spray, and makeup galore. This year, why not make a check list? If your dancer is old enough, ask them to be responsible for packing their own items using the list! Then you can be sure you head out the door with each item they need and no shoe left behind! If you don't know what you need, ask more seasoned moms for a list of "performance essentials" so you aren't running around last minute trying to gather stuff.
10. Practice that stage makeup - New dance moms may want to practice their stage makeup skills ahead of time so you know what to do when the time comes! Ask your artistic director what their preferences so you don't have to redo anything last minute, backstage :).
11. Help where you can - Part of enjoying the Nutcracker is by getting your hands dirty in the production process. You can do this by helping wherever you're needed. The artistic process is collaborative and takes many hands. Take this time to make friends with other moms and support your dancers together as an artistic community. I loved seeing moms bring in holiday treats for our costume staff and sew tutus by their side as they reminisced about past shows.
We know, the struggle is real.
Here's a few ways parents can help:
CAPITALIZE ON FREE TIME
"What free time?" I know I know. It can be hard. However, encourage your dancer to make use of any spare time during the day including lunch, study hall, carpooling to/fro places, in between classes/rehearsals, and even weekends. This can mean sacrificing fun for the sake of productivity, but if it alleviates stress it might be worth it!
One dancer mentioned that Sundays were a great day for her to get ahead for the week. Working ahead can help them feel "on top of it" from the get-go and make the rest of the week much less stressful.
You can facilitate studying on the go by suggesting they carry their book bag with them wherever they go. Try sneaking some healthy snacks in their backpack :) such as "brain fuel" i.e. healthy fats and some extra water.
As far as studying after classes goes: I always found that getting up early to study rather than staying up late was much more productive. Your brain is fresher after a few hours of sleep and you are more likely to retain information!
When studying in between classes/rehearsals, perhaps your dancer can find a quiet place at the studio to focus? If the studio lacks such a space maybe suggest that one be designated for that purpose? Instructors are often aware of the ballet/school challenge, so they may be more than happy to help!
SIMPLIFY THEIR DANCE SCHEDULE
If applicable, consider dropping any uneccessary classes. I know this can be hard because we LOVE dancing period. Yet at one point it simplified my life to just focus on my ballet classes rather than cramming in other styles that weren't exactly crucial to my training. This is a personal choice of course!
You might also try clumping classes together into the same evening. For me this looked like dancing three nights a week but taking multiple classes on each of those nights. This freed up my other two evenings to catch up on school work, rest, and be with my family.
UTILIZE A PLANNER
A planner is a great tool for many reasons. For one, it gets all that information regarding assignments and due dates out of their head and into one place. It allows them to organize everything according to due dates and deadlines.
Teach your child how to manage their time well by penciling in "study time" for each project. This will help them learn to prioritize tasks and complete things on time rather than procrastinating.
CONSIDER ALTERNATIVE SCHOOLING
For high school dancers training at a pre-professional level, homeschooling or "cyber school" can be great options. It can be hard to train at this level as well as attend school during regular hours. You might consider either of these options depending on where your child is in their aspirations.
It's also important to have realistic expectations for your child'scapacity. For some students, attending a demanding high school and training at a highly advanced level can be draining. This is why dance psychologists remind parents to consider placing their dancer at a less rigorous school if they also expect them to focus onballet and train at a pre-professional level. Of course this decision will depend on each dancer, the school they attend, and their individual capacity.
1. STRETCH DAILY - Make it a pointe to stretch every day, even if only for 30 minutes. Don't have your splits yet? You could get them over the holidays. It's really important to not go days and weeks without stretching your body, especially with the extra sleep we hope you're getting! Hours in bed can cause you feel stiff and tight. Focus on areas that you want to see more flexibility in and choose a couple regimen to repeat daily or twice a day. Repetition and consistency should produce results!
2. CROSS TRAIN - Cross training is important for all kinds of athletes. We recommend this when it comes to any kind of off season. Pilates, gyrotonics and yoga are great options for dancers. Cardio is also great, whether you go on a long brisk walk, a light jog, or use the elliptical. Swimming is also very ideal for dancers as it works your legs, lower back, core, arms, and upper body in a way that puts less stress on your joins (unlike running or other high impact activities).
3. STRENGTHEN WEAK AREAS - A break from the studio is a great time to focus on any problem areas that come to your attention. If you want a better arabesque, then focus just on that. Select a few exercises to repeat daily to strengthen and condition this movement or balance. Here's one just for arabesque.
4. EAT MINDFULLY - We know it's the holidays and that comes with much cheer :) especially in the form of food. Many people overdo it during the holidays and end up regretting it, then hasten their way into unrealistic new year's resolutions. Try finding a balance. every meal should include a healthy fat, a protein, and a complex carb (i.e. good carb). If you have certain things you enjoy and treat yourself to, do so in moderation. Continue to hydrate even though you aren't training, and love your body with what you eat.
5. AVOID CRAZY NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTIONS - What is one thing you'd like to do differently or see change this year? Whether it's in your dance or personal life, the new year often gives vision for something we want to do differently. This isn't a bad thing, but making drastic or too many changes at once is often the cause of failure. Keep it attainable and reasonable. then give yourself some action steps to attain that goal or two. If that's getting more sleep, then great! if it's stretching almost every day or getting your splits this year, more power to you! For some people, not even having a new year's resolution is the best plan. For some interesting thoughts on this topic, check out The Whole Food Diary's post, "Why I gave up New Year's resolutions."
It's Nutcracker season!
You're running from rehearsal to rehearsal, reciting choreography in your sleep, and probably going through one too many pairs of pointe shoes.
I remember this time of year, conveniently situated right around the same time as high school exams. I would get sick by the time Nutcracker week hit (every year). It's easy to become overtired, injured, or simply just feel burned out by the time performance week hits.
So we put together a mini survival guide below!
🖤 ALWAYS WARM UP
This can be an easy step to skip the closer you get to the show especially as you grow tired or are eager to perform. However, a body that hasn’t been warmed up well (especially in a big, drafty theater) will not perform well. You don’t want to be on stage wishing you had taken more time to stretch or to do those jumps. You want to enjoy yourself on stage. Hopefully your company offers company class beforehand, but if not—even if it’s just for a rehearsal—do take the time for a short warm up. Focus on more than stretching: try moving, jumping, and getting that blood flowing.
🖤 EAT WELL
This is also an area that is easy to slack in—I mean “hey, it’s the holidays!” right? And you’re busy, so who has time to meal prep? But consider this: the benefits of nutrient dense foods not only improve your performance, they keeps you from getting sick. Dehydration, junk food, and sugar (with lack of sleep) all make for the perfect storm. So be sure to hydrate, and to eat colorful foods. Include complex carbs for energy, plenty of good fats, and heavy protein since you are recovering constantly. Try not to overdo the caffeine. I once heard a professional dancer at a top company say, “two weeks before the show I quit drinking caffeine completely in order to stay as hydrated as possible for my performances.” And she was playing Odette. So drink plenty of water, and keep yourself well nourished.
🖤 PRIORITIZE SELF CARE
Do you know what your SELF needs? By self care we mean many things…including sleep. Take note: are you tired during rehearsals? Do you need to apply ice/heat to an area afterwards? Do you need an epsom salt bath to recover? Do you need more sleep? There are many ways to prioritize self care and we encourage you to take the time to listen to your body during this season. This might mean making sacrifices, but as an athlete your body and your physical state need to be prioritized during such an intense time.
🖤 TAKE WHAT YOU WANT
What do you want to walk away from this season with? Is it pride in your accomplishments or how well you performed? Is it the joy of newfound relationships and memories that you made? Don’t let stress or the busyness of the season steal from you being present, as well as focused. Performing in the Nutcracker offers so many rewards…try to focus on these things and enjoy the ride. Know how you want this season to look for yourself and protect that. For me, lots of family time, good food, endless parties, self care, and being super present are all defining values of my holiday season. If I know that ahead of time, I don’t get lost in the other things…and I walk away with no regrets.
Nutcracker time is the sweetest. We encourage you to make the most out of it while it’s here 🙂.
With love and gratitude,
ACHILLES TENDINITIS: one of the most common injuries amongst ballet dancers. Act quickly before it threatens your career.
Learn how it starts and how to treat it. Many ballet dancers unknowingly feel the beginning symptoms of AT (Achilles Tendinitis) and do not catch it in time. Treating it early is key to avoiding taking time off, physical therapy, or even surgery.
WHAT IS IT?
Your Achilles tendon connects your calf muscle to your heel bone. And we all know how much we use our calf muscles. When you land a jump, it's what absorbs the force coming down. Every time you plié, relevé, flex or point, you're using it. Now you can imagine the amount of strain on this tendon throughout your career.
Achilles tendinitis (AT) is the inflammation of the Achilles tendon caused by overuse, excessive pronation, extra straining, or tightness. These factors can be the result of many things: sudden increase in one's training such as going to summer camp, developing bad and unknown habits, foot anatomy (abnormally shaped heel bones), or over-training (such as on a professional level). Typically, sufferers develop it from overuse on both a pre-professional and professional level. They key is catching it early.
HOW TO SPOT IT
Depending on the cause, you might feel the symptoms differently. You could feel pain at the base of the heel (where the tendon connects to the bone) or at the back of your ankle, further up. It may start as just a light ache during pliés, or a tender shot of pain when you point your foot. Sometimes it just feels as though that tendon is a little light or as if it's pulling even when you warm up. These are all early signs of tendinitis.
I developed AT twice during my career. The first time was following my summer intensive at age 15. I went from dancing 4-5 times a week, in 90 min classes, to dancing full days with breaks in between. This abrupt shift in levels of training and hours spent dancing caused both my heels to flare up with pain. I took some time off, and let them heel before jumping back into fall classes. I also alternated between heat and ice to flush out the inflammation.
Unfortunately, it came back during my adult years due to a bad habbit I had formed. I would feel pain in the back of my heel whenever I pointed my foot. My instructor pointed out that I was pointing my foot incorrectly in a tendu. Instead of going to the ball of my foot, pressing into the floor, and then pointing, I was going straight to my point and over-pointing my foot, causing heavy strain on the tendon. I started breaking down my tendus with her and for a few weeks, was only allowed to point to the ball of my foot, no further. This trained me to reuse my ankles, toes, and feet in a way that did not strain that tendon.
HOW TO TREAT IT
The good news is that AT will go away with proper treatment. I would start by asking an instructor or an expert if they can diagnose the cause of it. If it is something that can be corrected such as misalignment, incorrect technique, or a bad habbit, I would start there first. If overuse or excessive strain is the cause rather, try resting, icing, and consuming anti-inflammatory foods or drugs if necessary. Compression is also recommended, and certain ointments can help. Rolling out your foot on tennis balls or rollers can also help release the muscles encasing the tendon. Sometimes AT is caused by the dancer's anatomy, in which case surgery can resolve the problem.
HOW TO PREVENT IT
Here are some specific causes of strain and stress on the Achilles tendon that you want to avoid:
1. Forcing your turnout - can cause your feet to pronate
2. Failure to press heels into the ground following jumps - I'm guilty of this one.
3. Failure to rise completely to 3/4 toe in relevé
4. Wearing heeled shoes frequently
Here are some things you WANT to do:
1. Warm up!
2. Increase your flexibility: stretch your calves and your achilles tendons
3. Use "tendinitis ribbon" with elastic over that tendon
4. Pay attention to corrections regarding how you use your foot: how you roll through it onto relev, how you land on it, how you point it, etc.
I enjoyed writing this piece for you! I hope it was informative. Don't hesitate to ask us any questions :)!