Avoiding Dance-Teacher Burnout

Have you ever gotten to a point with your dance classes where everything just sort of feels BLAH? Maybe you’ve been working on the same piece for several weeks or months and the moves have lost their air of newness. Perhaps students are beginning to master some combinations and your classes are running smoothly, but you haven’t brought in anything that excites you or makes you uncomfortable for a while. Maybe the butterflies that you normally get before each class you teach (that happens for you too, right?) haven’t been there for a while. If any of the above is true, you might be experiencing dance-teacher burnout.

I will admit that I’ve been fortunate with my work as a dance teacher. Even when I’ve taught dance at the same school for a year or longer, every class feels fresh for me. Every hour and each different group of students is an experience unto itself, and I am grateful for the feeling of utter exuberance I have felt at some point during every single dance class I’ve taught. While I may not always feel like making the drive or lugging the props, I absolutely love creating lifelong, positive experiences for my students through the art of dance.  I love shaping moments, learning from what works and what doesn’t work in my classes, seeing my choreography performed, feeling the music I’ve chosen change an environment, and more.

However, as a classroom teacher, I know the feeling of teacher burnout very, very well. I’m not sure of the best way to describe it, but I think it would not be inaccurate to say that it feels something like situational depression or acute hopelessness.

So how can that be avoided? My first advice would be, of course, to change things up. Trying something new (One day I’ll tell you about the hip hop curriculum I was working on several years ago, and how I tried to teach popping and locking….) and being open to the experiences that can come with that can often break up the monotony during a spell of boring-ness in teaching. But, my real advice, my from experience advice would be this: Schedule happiness.

In the same way that you make time to go grocery shopping or to shower, you have to schedule time for the things in life that bring you joy. I’ve calendared different things at different times in my life to make sure I get to them. I’m currently working on scheduling in social activities a few times per month.

One of the things that causes me to do a happy dance (Hey blog & creative project title! I knew I’d squeeze you in!) is creating and being part of community. In fact, community is my word for the year. (I don’t really do “New Year Resolutions” — I’m more of a mantra kind of person. And I don’t have space in my brain to remember tons of words, so a single word or phrase works really well for me.) So since I want to create and share moments with an awesome community, I don’t simply hope that it happens. Like everything I truly want in my life, I create it. I go for it. I just do it. (One of my favorite sayings is: “Where you truly wish to go, there your feet will manage to take you.”)

I think that we get to a point in life where we know ourselves well enough to recognize some of our triggers for either sadness or happiness. And I think that in order to break out of sadness or just BLAH-ness, sometimes we have to trigger our own happiness. So, my advice on how to trigger it is to schedule it. Plan time to do the things that will relax you, inspire you, mix it up for you, and bring the joy back into your life so that you can bring all of that goodness back into your dance classes.

We’re artists. We’re creators. We’re the crazy ones. We are the ones who dream in color and with our eyes open. But we’re human too (some days). So we have to remember to nurture the human parts of ourselves. And to do it with the same gusto and flair with which we do everything else in our life. (So yeah, when I schedule happiness, you better believe I do it in gold Sharpie on all 5 of my calendars.)

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