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Helen Read: 5 tips for sustaining a dance career

Helen Read Helen Read
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Helen Read began her professional career at the National Theatre being directed by Sir Trevor Nunn and Susan Stroman. She then worked as a principal dancer for Matthew Bourne’s multi-award-winning dance company. Sadly, it wasn’t long before her performing career was cut short by a chronic knee injury. Later she co-founded Read College where she now mentors and trains young people who are passionate about working in the performing arts industry. The college’s foundation courses prepares students for the next level of training and for the career ahead of them. Here are her tips for sustaining a long and successful dance career.

1. Remember you are both athlete and artist

As dancers we are creative artists but we are also athletes. The stamina, strength and flexibility required to perform demanding roles for eight or more shows a week means we must approach our training as athletes do. In my opinion, cardiovascular and weight training should be incorporated alongside regular technique classes and stretching. Whether we are at college or out in the industry, we must adopt an athlete’s attitude to our training. Technique classes alone are not enough.

2. Separate ‘you, the person’ from ‘you, the product’

You take your product to an audition. Your product may be well trained with excellent technique, a beautiful sense of musicality and quality but it’s too small, blonde, young, old… you get the picture. Your product might be turned away, but you are not being personally rejected. The product you are offering is not quite right. Remember, your product is unique. Protect your self esteem. You are not being rejected. Your product is. A positive mind helps to maintain a healthy body and a healthy attitude to work and life.

3. Sleep and rest

Sleep and rest should be valued as part of your daily routine to avoid injury and illness. Sometimes it is tempting to go out with your company members or your college friends during the week or after an intense day of rehearsing. it feels like the perfect remedy to a stressful day at the time. However training or rehearsing on a tired and malnourished body will lead to a lack of concentration and will inevitably lead to injury. Of course it’s important to have a life and find time to go out and have fun! Just be aware that you are an athlete in training, so find the right time to let your hair down and relax when it won’t impact on your performance at college, in the rehearsal room or onstage.

4. Eat well

Nourish and look after your body inside and out. It’s easy to get caught up in the pressures of wanting to have a perfect dancer’s body. Eat a balanced diet, making sure your body gets all the nutrients it needs to sustain your energy levels and support muscle growth and repair. As dancers we put our bodies under a lot of strain. If we are to avoid injury and health problems later in life, we must respect and nurture the body.

5. Listen to your body

Your body is your tool and you get only one. If you are experiencing pain, stop as soon as possible. Ask for advice and get treatment straight away. A niggle can be treated in a few sessions and you can be back on your feet in a week or just a few days. An ignored niggle can turn into a long-term injury which can cost you a contract and sometimes even your career.

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