How to Survive Sedentary Work
Take a break... a Dance Break!
In the earliest days of The Movement Movement, my colleague, friend, and former partner Leslie Zucker, often pitched “Dance Breaks” as a replacement for “Smoke Breaks” in corporate settings.
We included dance breaks in this infographic: The Top 10 Ways to Kick the Sitting Habit.
Click image for printable download
Tip #5 reads: “Dance Breaks” are the new “Smoke Breaks”. Put on headphones and dance for an entire song. Sit for no more than 20 minutes at a time and stand in one position for no more than 8 minutes.
We need mental and physical breaks in the day. According to Alan Hedge, Design and Ergonomics Professor at Cornell University, we should “sit for no more than 20 minutes at a time and stand in one position for no more than 8 minutes.” For those of you curious about the sources for these ideas, here’s the meat.
I use the dance break method below to make sure I don’t sit too long. I find the brief dance break allows my mind to rest, reflect, and generate new ideas - even in a few short minutes. Dance breaks help me regulate my mood, energy levels, and hydration needs.
Before you begin your work flow, set a timer for 20 mins.
When it goes off, turn on a song and dance for the entire song. Noise concerns? Wear headphones. No space? Seated dancing counts.
Get back to work, and re-set your timer. Or, make a new plan.
Repeat each time you work in a sedentary fashion.
Join a group dance break with Alison Waldman! Who's Alison? Keep reading!
A longtime collaborator and friend, Alison Waldman founded Available Wellness. Alison performed in many productions for Contradiction Dance Theatre. As Artistic Director of the company I relied on Alison to ask smart questions, offer thoughtful solutions, and maintain a healthy and positive attitude throughout the creative process. Alison was a talented and gifted performer with the company, forging deep connections with her fellow performers and audiences. She brings those same qualities to her clients through Available Wellness.
Available Wellness facilitates movement and mindfulness experiences to support an embodied response to your curiosities, celebrations, and challenges. Our specially designed sessions demystify and democratize wellness practices to empower individuals and communities across age, ability, and industry.
Alison works with some incredible partners across industries, sharing dance breaks with all kinds of people in all kinds of work environments. I reached out to her for some wisdom from the field.
What do you do?
AW: We teach people how to befriend their bodies by seeing movement practices not as formulas but as a toolbox for agency and creativity, and therefore, empowerment. I can’t think of a more important skillset to have. We are working to shift the big w – “wellness” – from a colonized hobby of privilege to a celebrated human right.
How do you do it? Through the framework of creativity and self-expression we lead stretch breaks, organizational mindfulness workshops, yoga classes, creative movement sessions, dance breaks, and meditations. Every session is different because accessibility and adaptability is essential to what we do. Our sessions must be user-friendly, so we first find out who the user is and make sure they are seen and heard (even if they don’t know why they are there).
Who do you do it with? We work most often with nurses and doctors, hospital inpatients, people with chronic illness, desk jockeys, rabbis, janitors, and golden aged (50+) movers. When we can, we do it in their space and on their terms. This is essential. Taking away obstacles is the first step in re-contextualizing a wellness practice as something that is already a part of you – not something that must happen in a specific place, with a specific outfit on, as an expensive and exclusive event.
What led you to start this practice?
In 2013 my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 31. She told me one of the hardest parts of illness was the sense of losing control over her body. Her experience got me thinking long and hard about the universal human condition of negotiating moments of lost agency, and as a movement artist and community builder I started to see a crux emerge between wellness, choice, and creativity. I reframed wellness as an artistic experience – taking what you have and making something that dynamically fits and shifts with condition and circumstance. Simultaneously I was getting tired of seeing people who looked like me (I’m an able-bodied white woman) disproportionately having the safe spaces and permission to explore this experience while others were left out.
Dance Breaks - I swear by them. I notice you offer them to your clients. Tell us more about your experience with them and how they help your clients on a busy work day.
Dance breaks, at their most basic, are play. We are so conditioned to separating work from play that when we have an opportunity to be boundless for even a few minutes our bodies literally release – endorphins, dopamine, and breath – we reset, and usher our best selves forward. I see them as a bit of a rebellion against capitalistic grind culture. When we dance break with others – family, friends, colleagues – we see the silly, unabashed parts of them that maybe shine in other corners of their world. When we can see each other more fully like that we can do better together.
My favorite way to introduce dance breaks is to sneak them in. I’ll just put on the song and say, “okay, dance break!” as if it were the most obvious next item. It’s not on the agenda, there’s no ado, it just happens. It takes most people by surprise but almost always it breaks down walls you (or they) didn’t know were there.
Are dance breaks easier for people working from home? If your stomach churned at the idea of dancing in front of your colleagues, yes! What I love about the work-from-home dance breaks in particular during this time is they are short and family friendly. It gives everyone – parents, grandparents, neighbors, kids and pets included – an opportunity to gather, even virtually! It doesn’t have to be a big thing. Meet, press play, boogie, hydrate, and then get back to your day.
That said, if you have no problem getting jiggy in a public space, I highly encourage you to take your dance breaks outside (at a safe distance, obviously) and back into your workplaces, gatherings, etc. when it is time. Let’s normalize the dance break!
How has the pandemic affected your life and work?
As a people person in work and leisure the pandemic forced me into uncomfortable places. It took me a solid two months to get past my grief for loss of personal interactions and get to a place where I could respond productively both as a wellness professional and as a citizen of the world. Shifting my business model to one of content creation required a good hard look at my values – access, creativity, and community – and how they fit into what I could offer virtually. A bright side has begun to emerge, though. I’ve seen that what people crave at their visceral core is connection, self-expression, and compassion. Those all coalesce, to me, in wellness.
How do we join your tribe and follow your work?
I’m active on Instagram at @alisoninmotion, where I lead 15 minute dance, stretch, and breath breaks live weekly. Instagram is also where I highlight the body positivity movement and raise the voices and profiles of underrepresented communities in the wellness industry.