Dance burnout sucks, and we should talk about it

Posted On Nov 02, 2021 |

What do you do when your passion feels like a crappy obligation? Your stress-reliever becomes a stress-inducer? Well, you're certainly not alone.

Nothing contained in this post should be used as a replacement for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. We encourage readers to seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional with any questions regarding mental health concerns.


I want to share a little about a topic that's unfortunately quite familiar to me:


And more specifically, dance burnout.

AKA when something you normally love becomes something you kinda dread.

I think burnout is something that most of us will experience to some degree, at some point in our lives. Whether it's in the realm of dance, work, or other parts of life... it happens. And I think it's been especially common in the last year and a half (eek, going on two years) of absolute weirdness.

And we need to talk about it. Because it can feel really crappy, and even isolating (especially in this era of "share everything fun you ever do on the internet for everyone to see").

Specifically on the topic of dance burnout, I am here to tell you that it happens to a lot of us.

Maybe you've seen this: A dancer you know suddenly announces they're selling all of their costuming and quitting, seemingly out of nowhere, and oftentimes after a stint of doing a lot in the dance realm.

And maybe you've felt it, too.

Maybe you kept showing up for your fellow dancers in spite of being absolutely exhausted. Things stopped being fun.

You're far from alone.

I wasn't ready to talk about it because I wasn't ready to admit it.

And what if it made me look like a bad artist? Or like I was just complaining about something I should only express gratitude for?

As a person who has relied solely on dance for income for many years, I have pushed through varying degrees of burnout because my students and bills depend on my ability to show up.

I experienced varying levels of denial about said burnout since I wanted to make things work. But as I tried to keep pushing through, the volume got exponentially louder, making it even harder keep up with everything. A vicious cycle, indeed.

And then the pandemic hit.

Like many dance-studio owners, I shifted into high-gear and we revamped our in-person studio into a virtual one in a matter of a couple weeks. (Hats off to all of you who did the same. I'm handing you a cookie, you badass.)

I watched our performances get canceled. My traveling teaching gigs disappear. Obligations and events just disappearing one-by-one. Every time I took something off of my calendar, it wasn't disappointment I was feeling...

It was relief.

And I felt real freakin' weird about it. But I finally felt like I had some space to be honest with myself about where I was at.

I can pronounce the word "no", but did I really know how to use it?

Freed up from previous obligations, I decided to take an entirely different route when it came to adding things back onto my schedule. I made criteria and promised myself I'd stick to it.

Additions to my schedule had to be something that I wanted to do as my current self, not the me from years ago who wasn't burnt out.

Non-burnt out me loves to perform, create choreographies, go to all the events, and teach in new places. But that wasn't me in the present and I had to make peace with that.

I had to know if there was anything I still found joy in. And that finally became crystal clear once I let those other obligations fall away:

It's dance—and teaching dance—but without all the extraneous expectations, obligations, and baggage that had built up over the course of several years.

Recovery doesn't happen overnight.

As I mentioned, this has been going on for years. And my recovery from burnout is a process I'm still in the trenches of. You may have picked up on it in my last post about quitting Facebook.

I'm still figuring out what I want my dance career to look like, but here are some of my mindset shifts that have been paramount:

  1. Less, but better: Focusing in on the things I enjoy (teaching! making dance!) and cutting out everything else.
  2. My dance path is its own: For years I've followed people online and tried to do it like them. "If I want success, I need to travel and teach everywhere! I need to have new work come out all the time! I need to appeal to a wider audience!" Nope, nope, nope. And if I'm seeking dance longevity, then hell nope.
  3. My health is my priority: It's the foundation from which I function in the world. If I want to take care of my family, my friends, my art, myself... I have to take my mental, physical, and spiritual health seriously. And that means seriously strengthening that saying-no muscle (trust me, like building any muscle, it gets less uncomfortable with practice).

I'm feeling better than I have in years, but I know I'm still in it. I have had some hopeful dreams lately about enjoying projects that I haven't enjoyed in awhile. But I'm taking it day by day and doing my best to be honest with myself about where I'm at.

But I'm just one person with my one experience.

Take it from my friend, Lisa, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and dancer.

This topic is near and dear to my heart, so I brought my much-more-qualified friend, Lisa Allred, here to explain a bit more.

Here's what she said:

What is burnout?

Burnout is physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or chronic stress. We experience it when we are not in control of how we are interacting with our job/hobby/other focus of activity, when we're working toward goals that don't resonate with us, and when we lack social support. We might experience it as cynicism, depression, or lethargy.

Warning signs that you are approaching burnout:

  1. Physical and emotional exhaustion: Chronic fatigue, insomnia, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, physical symptoms (heart racing, stomach aches, etc.), increased illness, changes in appetite, anxiety, depression, anger
  2. Cynicism and detachment: Loss of enjoyment, pessimism, isolation, detachment
  3. Feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment: Feelings of apathy and hopelessness, increased irritability, lack of productivity, and poor performance

Some suggestions for reducing stress and avoiding burnout:

  1. Don't ignore basic maintenance: Sleeping, eating, drinking, health-related appointments, etc.
  2. "Remember when...": Busy schedules have an interesting way of making you forget the things that you once found relaxing.
  3. Just say no: Train yourself to say “let me think on it and get back with you tomorrow” EVERY time someone asks you to do something. Saying “no” frees you up to focus on things that strongly align with your values.
  4. Exercise: We all know the value of exercise in improving our mood, sleep, and overall health. Look for small ways to incorporate it into every day!

You're not alone.

Burnout can make you feel detached and isolated.

And it feels awful when your once-favorite source of artistic expression, community connection, or stress-relief becomes something else entirely.

I wish I had heard more stories from dancers about their own experiences with burnout, but I know it's not always easy to talk about.

But recognizing it is the first step.

Here's to being open about tough stuff, enjoying dance again, and being more aligned with what matters most.

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