New Year new me? Bollocks.

So today is “Blue Monday”. The “most depressing” day of the year. The day we supposedly give up on our New Year’s resolutions.

Bollocks.

“Blue Monday” is a phrase coined by marketers to get you to treat yourself to something you don’t need. The third Monday of January isn’t making you blue. But the entire concept of New Year’s resolutions might be.

Trying to radically change yourself, and realising soon after that it’s not that easy to transform the person you’ve spent all of your life becoming? That might do it.

For some people, New Year really is the catalyst for change, and that’s amazing. If you can genuinely make a decision to better yourself or your life on a given day, and stick to it, then great. But it’s not for me, nor the vast majority of people.

If I really want to do something – genuinely, with all my heart – I won’t wait until January 1st. I’ll start right away.

If I really want to make a change, it won’t come from a big public statement and setting myself a new standard – one which is probably either completely unattainable in the first place, or completely unsustainable in the long term.

Now you’re probably thinking I’m hypocritical, as I started this blog early in the New Year, and have been writing quite a lot since doing so. But the change came from the experiences of my holiday, not because of an arbitrary point in the calendar year. I could have taken the same holiday in spring or autumn and started writing as a result. The frequency of my writing is just as and when I think of stuff to write about – I was churning out posts at first as I wanted to document my Sleep No More visits before I forgot them, but I imagine now there will be weeks where I write daily, and weeks where I don’t write at all. And both are fine.

The main thing for me, is not setting myself up for failure. And promising myself that I’m going to lose 2 stone, or write a post every day, or stop drinking for a month, or give up chocolate, would be doing exactly that.

Whatever I say about “Blue Monday”, January isn’t the easiest month for a lot of people. Bank accounts are rather closer to empty than we’d all like after Christmas, and thanks to most people getting paid early in December it seems like forever until your next payday. It’s cold and damp – in the UK at least. After the Christmas festivities, January can seem dull and empty. So surely it’s the absolute worst time to deprive yourself and set yourself difficult goals?

In January, I’m happy if I just manage to get through the month without catching a horrible cold. I try to plan evenings with friends, or meals out (screw January diets) or theatre trips to make sure I’ve got plenty to look forward to. And I’m certainly not doing dry January. I can’t think of a month when I’d rather be sat in front of a film with a glass of Malbec, or curled up with a good book and a wee dram. Or out painting the town red for that matter – sometimes a couple of drinks and a boogie is exactly what you need to fight off the January blues. Grilled chicken, brown rice and broccoli washed down with 2 litres of still, room temperature water probably won’t have the same effect as a night out letting your hair down. I’ll be working out and eating healthily too, but give yourself a break and do whatever it is that makes you happy.

If you are one of those people who can capitalise on the fresh start a new year brings, then good for you – crack on! I’ll be here, cheering you on. But I’ll be doing it with a glass of wine in my hand.

 

Things dancing taught me

I danced several times a week from the age of 3 until I was about 20. After that I could still be found tapping at the occasional jam session or with the jazz band at Dartington each summer, but after time it kind of ground to a halt. But even now, many years later, I still regularly realise ways in which dancing has made my life better. I’m going to try to find a way to get back into dancing – I’m currently trying to find a class or two I can fit into my schedule – but in the meantime, here are a few things it taught me.

  • The human body is amazing. It can make the most beautiful shapes. And ugly ones. It can move in a million ways. And once you’ve danced and done some of these things yourself, you’ll untap a whole level of appreciation of the theatre as you’ll realise quite how impressive it is when a pro does it.
  • Muscle memory is incredible. Even now, when certain tracks play, I can remember choreography I learned 12 or 15 years ago – if Usher’s Yeah plays in a club, you can bet I’ll be tapping along. And it applies to flexibility too. If I don’t workout for a week or two, it will hurt more, but I’ve never lost the ability to touch my toes or do the splits.
  • I like pain. The kind you get the day after a really tough workout. It’s your reminder that you did something good for yourself and your body – your gold star or smiley face sticker. Sure it hurts, and I might moan about it, but it’s also kind of delicious.
  • You can’t out-exercise a bad diet. It’s a cliche, but it’s true. At the peak of my training I was doing about 10 hours of classes a week – quite a lot given that was part time on top of regular school hours –  and I played tennis a couple of times a week too. But I didn’t really start to shape up until I started eating better.
  • Good posture makes everything look better. I have a pretty weak lower back (thanks boobs) and a tendency to round my shoulders and try to “hide” (thanks brain) but when I notice I’m doing it, in my head I go right back into my dance class and can still see my teacher, Sheridan, prodding bits of me til I straighten up and stand correctly, and instantly I look about 3 inches taller and 7 pounds lighter.
  • Discipline, discipline, discipline. Hard work isn’t the only key to success. Sometimes it takes a huge dose of good luck and fortunate timing. But disciplined and considered study and practice will certainly tip the odds in your favour. I was not made for ballet – certainly too tall and broad to ever consider doing it professionally – but with a load of hard work I still passed all my exams with merit or distinction.
  • You need to give yourself a break. From studying, from your career, from other people. Dedicating some time to doing something you love – whether it’s dancing, painting or knitting – will make you better at whatever it is you do. And fully engage with it. Don’t do it while you watch telly or listen to someone offload about their terrible day. Revel in it.
  • Sometimes, just doing it is a victory. Not every performance or every workout or every painting will be your best work. Sometimes there’s no good reason for it – it just sucks. On those days, just get through it. You might learn something, you might not, but at least you’ve completed it rather than given up.
  • Never stop working on your technique. Whether it’s spending hours at the barre or practicing scales, get to know your instrument, and keep checking in with it so you know if it’s changing. You need to know what it can do before you can start to push it.
  • If you love anything enough, you can make time for it. There were always girls in my classes that disappeared for weeks during school exams, or skipped a lesson to go on a date, but I never missed a class unless I was really ill. I’d cram all my homework in as soon as I got home so I could get to class. I’d stay up super late after a class, or get up at 4am to cram for an exam. I passed up part-time jobs that would require me to miss class, as I’d rather be poor. My priorities changed over time and I stopped dancing, so maybe, like the leading man in a terrible romantic comedy, I didn’t realise how much I loved it, or was scared to open myself up to the possibility of that kind of relationship. But now I’m realising the error of my ways, and this resolve to write, make music and dance again, is my big gesture to win it back.

I should add the most enormous shout out to my teachers here. Bette Clark and her daughter Sheridan Nicol taught me several times a week for about 18 years between them, and there were some fab ballet classes with Raymond and musical theatre with Joanne. I’ll be forever grateful for them giving me not only the joy of the performing arts, but also the life lessons that came along with it.