In my opinion, the hardest part of going back to dancing after a long hiatus is struggling with self-hatred. The more serious of a dancer you were before you quit, the harder it is.
I was set on being a professional dancer before I took lack of support from teachers, multiple instances of body shaming, and a pandemic as signs to quit. I was away from dance for ten months. I lost most of my technique I’d worked so hard to build. Now, dancing makes me sad because I can’t stop thinking about what I lost. It kinda makes me want to quit again, honestly.
If you’re in a similar situation, I’m writing this for you. Here are some of the negative thoughts you might be having, and some advice for getting past them so you can enjoy dancing again.
“I suck, and I don’t want anyone to see me.”
It never would have occurred to me before the pandemic shut studios, but taking class at home is absolutely an option. I find it the perfect way to ease yourself back into dancing, especially when you feel uncomfortable with the idea of people watching you. You can work on what you want to work on, at your own pace, with no one around to see you struggle or judge you. Just pull up a class on YouTube, or write your own lesson plan for yourself. (Or, request a class lesson plan that’s tailored to you!)
I highly recommend writing your own combinations, if you know how. It give you control over what to work on and how much. You know your body better than any teacher, so retraining yourself on your own terms will probably help you improve faster than a traditional class.
Once you’ve gained some confidence, go back to the studio to get a teacher’s feedback. Start with beginner classes and slowly work your way back up. Yeah, maybe you’ll feel bad about not being in an advanced class anymore, but you’ll be way happier in a class you can confidently handle than in one where you’re flailing and everyone else is way better than you.
“I used to be good.”
It sucks when you worked so hard at something, and now it’s all gone. Years of literal blood and sweat and tears, seemingly wasted.
The high degree of perfectionism in dance culture makes it worse. It leads many dancers to, consciously or otherwise, measure their worth by their level of technique. Just remember that this is 1.) a thing that exists, and 2.) a lie, and a problem the dance world needs to work on fixing. It’s hard, but try to remind yourself that you aren’t worth less now because you’re not as good as you used to be.
Effort counts way more than technique. It shouldn’t matter what your adage or whatever looks like, as long as you’re trying your best.
To ease the deep mourning feeling, start your retraining by working on the things you miss the most. Did you used to be proud of your beautifully winged feet? Make getting that back your highest priority. It’s comforting to know you’re working on getting back what you lost. It makes it feel real that you can have that awesome skill again.
And by the way: just like it’s okay to mourn a lost loved one, it’s okay to let yourself mourn your lost technique.
“It’s all my fault I can’t dance well. I can’t believe I let myself get this bad.”
If you quit out of necessity, maybe there’s guilt inside for not practicing on your own when class wasn’t an option.
Remember why you quit. If you loved dance, then you would have had a really good reason to quit, and it likely wasn’t your fault at all. For instance, did you quit because you/your parents couldn’t afford classes anymore? Not your fault. Financial problems happen.
“Yeah,” you might be thinking, “but in my case, it was my choice to quit. It is my fault.” Okay, so why did you make that decision? Did you feel ignored and miserable in class? Did you have a great opportunity in life and you chose to give up dance in exchange? Those are a valid reason for quitting! You did what you believed was best for you, which is an excellent decision! Never feel bad about doing what’s best for you!
“I need to be good, NOW. If I work too hard and get injured, so be it. I deserve it for spending months/years being lazy.”
If you feel guilty about letting your technique go, it’s easy to feel like you’re never doing enough. You feel like you need to make up for lost time. It’s tempting to throw yourself into more classes than your mind and body can handle. Please don’t! Be careful! Stress and injury will just set you back further. Not only that, when retraining becomes self-punishment, classes you used to love become torturous.
It’s hard not to fall into an extremely perfectionistic mindset when you’re in a culture that encourages it. Just be aware that the pressure you feel can be harmful, and you’re under no obligation to give in. Give yourself permission to be patient with your progress.
You weren’t lazy. Your priorities simply changed. Even if the priority change was involuntary, you’re not lazy for not practicing dance in your spare time. You may not have known when or if you were coming back, so it’s natural you would abandon dance for the time being and find something to fill the void.
You found new skills to develop, new hobbies, new things to experience. That’s self-improvement. I wouldn’t call that lazy.
Try listing things you learned during your hiatus, or good things that came out of quitting.
Love you all! -AJ