Echoes from the field | Janelle Hacault
As I geared up for Dancer Transition Resource Centre’s (DTRC) annual event “Industry Connect, ” for which I was a guest speaker this past weekend, I found myself reflecting on what I’ve learned throughout my dance career to ensure it is sustainable. Although I could write a book on what I have discovered throughout my career, one of the things to keep in mind when one is an emerging dancer is not what you might expect. And that is, rest. It seems counter-intuitive to tell emerging dancers to make time for rest, but I believe it is essential to their physical and mental well-being.
On a physical level, rest provides our body the precious time necessary to rebuild micro-tears we’ve made during training. After rest, we come back stronger than before and therefore have a strong corporeal foundation to meet the physical demands of our craft. Rest in the form of sleep is crucial for our brain’s capacity to retain information, process our experiences, and (in terms of dance) consolidate movement that at first may be complex, but after a night’s rest, will be easier to execute than before.
But sleep isn’t the only form of rest that we ought to take into consideration. In my experience, the times I took even for a few minutes during my lunch break to tap into my breath, had a positive ripple effect in my day. The practice of self-regulation, be it meditation, mindful breathing techniques, yoga, somatic movement, or even prayer, significantly serves our ability to be resilient. Resilience is one of the most important qualities a dance artist can have for their longevity in this rewarding yet challenging line of work. We need to call upon our resilience in times of disappointment, loss, rejection, and stress. Yes, the world of dance is a magical place where humanity is celebrated and explored. But the business world of dance is not for the faint of heart. So, what do we do when seasons of financial uncertainty are upon us, when we don’t receive the grant we had our hearts set on, when the company we auditioned for does not choose us for the project? We don’t quit, we rest. We take a moment to tap into our body’s intelligence and we breathe. We self-regulate. Coming back to the basics of breath, grounds us in the present moment. This makes way for better clarity. Instead of “trying to figure it all out” with our minds, we dial into “what is” here and now through our body. In this space, we will see the blessings in disguise, we will notice opportunity, we will have the grace to surrender and trust the process. Oh, I know this is WAY easier said than done. But, as author Glennon Doyle declares over and again, “we can do hard things’, and in this industry, we will be asked to do hard things.
Dance artists are generous. We are asked to be vulnerable, open, and give everything we’ve got. But we also need to be tough, resilient and discerning. This balance of softness and strength is what will sustain us in this career path. When we are constantly giving, opening and delivering, how do we refresh, refuel and give back to ourselves? We rest. We have daily rituals or habits that ground us.
Growing up, my family did not know the meaning of rest. Purpose and value were defined on how productive we were, how much we accomplished and what we earned. Thankfully, a new wave of being is emerging. As the world’s “machine” continues in vain, with the message of “produce, produce, produce”, it is important as artists to stop, rest, and reflect on what we are creating and why. It’s all too easy to use the same worldly value of “product over progress” and apply it to the world of dance, but we must resist this temptation. Taking time to not only rest, but give space to what we create will only enrich it. Forcing our muscles to grow or our art piece to emerge before they are ready will only create more problems. The key is to tap into the rhythm and life force of your own body and our craft. What does the work/our body/this choreography need right now? Maybe it is a push, time to percolate, or maybe it is a good night’s sleep.
Below is an exercise for the next time you feel overwhelmed, confused, stressed or emotionally triggered:
- Stop everything and find a safe quiet place to sit. Sometimes the bathroom works wonders for this.
- Close your eyes and take 3 deep slow breaths. Having your exhale longer than your inhale will help activate your parasympathetic nervous system to bring more calm.
- Ask, “what do I need right now?” And without doubting or overthinking, do that. If you can’t do the thing right there, make an agreement with yourself that you will do it at a specific time later that day.
Other forms of support include journaling 3 pages without thinking, calling on a trusted friend, talking with a counselor or professional mental health specialist (DTRC offers free counselling programs), sharing with a mentor or elder.
Janelle Hacault is a professional Filipino/French-Canadian contemporary dance artist, choreographer, teacher, actor and coach based in Montreal, QC. She is a graduate of the School of Contemporary Dancers Senior Professional Program in Winnipeg, an actress by training, and holds an Honours B.A. from the University of Winnipeg. She was co-founder of Nova Dance Collective, 6 Ricochet and co-creator of thedancepost.org. She has had the privilege of working with Nafro Dance Productions, Ming Hon, Compagnie Entitey/Jason Martin, Trip The Light Fantastic (Kyra Jean Green), Charles-Alexis Desgagnés, Morgane LeTiec, Andrea Peña, Sylvain Émard Danse, Les 7 Doigts de la Main, Wynn Holmes, Ani Taj, and Sam Pinkleton have all been nominated for Tony Awards. In 2021, she participated in the 3rd season of Revolution, created her new work at the Festival Quartiers Danses entitled Ce Moment Où… broadcast on MaTV and co-created an original musical with collaborator/musician Jeremy Walmsley entitled, Ships. In 2022, Janelle worked with Sylvain Émard Danse (SED) and 19 other dancers on the show Rhapsodie, presented by Danse Danse, performed Les Préludes (SED) in Trois-Rivières, and toured Annie : la comédie musicale (directed by Serge Denoncourt and choreographed by Wynn Holmes) in Montreal and Quebec City for Just for Laughs. In addition to performing, Janelle has a coaching practice and an online embodiment session that blends dance and meditation.