Creating Dance and Working in the Face of Burnout

Let me tell you a bit about my recent experience with burnout. I will be bluntly honest and say that I am currently struggling with finding the creative energy to burst into the studio beaming about my newest ideas, amazing musical choices, and challenging steps, since all of these things seem to be evading me at the moment.

Creative Burnout

There is a not so silent pressure in the dance industry, and I imagine all creative industries, to constantly produce new and innovative ideas. On the one hand, I sort of understand where this expectation comes from – it is our job to be creative. On the other, I realize how completely insane and unrealistic this expectation is.

For the past few years, I have been teaching full time, which means for at least 25 hours a week I am spewing new warm ups, new progressions, new steps, and new combinations. I genuinely love my job and feel lucky to work in the field that I love, but at some point, your brain needs a time out to rest, refuel, and rejuvenate. You might be reading this suggesting that I take a vacation, or be wondering how I spend the other hours of my days since 25 hours is less than that typical 40-hour workweek.

On a typical day, I am searching for music that contains no curse words and that is age appropriate (a laughable task when I am teaching hip hop and need clean rap music, sorry for the stereotype, but where are clean songs with swagger?). Once I have the coveted music, I listen repeatedly for rhythmic nuance or meaning in the lyrics to help inspire some movement and feelings, or I might be trying to fit a combination of movement to this new music. Once I have a good fit, I write it all down to keep it clear, and then repeat 25 times. Maybe now you see why dance instructors are prone to repeating combinations or have favorite play lists (mine is called ‘Brand New Day’ and has been a go-to for warm-ups for the past year).

So, what’s the problem with repetition?

Several things…the students get tired of music quickly and are hungry for all new movement all the time. They are, after all, a generation that is constantly stimulated by new information. I could go on a rant about the Internet and technology and how it’s ruining the next generations’ ability to tolerate sameness. I could also go on a tangent about technology ruining attention span, but I will restrain myself and say simply that there is pressure to be different everyday, which is truly impossible. Which leads me to the point that after four years of creating 40 plus recital and competition dances a season in addition to my professional choreography, my brain and body are just plain exhausted.

I have made the decision to re-use old choreography and teach it to a new generation. These combos are tried and true and challenge the dancers to reach higher potential, so why do I feel lazy and guilty and fear losing my job? Perhaps it is the fact that my bosses constantly remind the staff that there is always someone waiting in the wing to take your job. Perhaps it is the unattainable industry standard of constant creation. Perhaps it is the innate need to perform above and beyond the standard that was given to me when I was a student. At the end of the day, is it better to teach something older that is still relevant or give a new combination that is admittedly half hearted?

Take a look for yourself at the combination I am reviving and feel free to let me know your thoughts.

LSass on Vimeo.

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