How to cope with the holidays away from home

My partner at Thanksgiving dinner in Seattle
It's 11 PM and I am sitting at Applebee's sipping a yuengling waiting for my riblet meal to arrive. I just finished dress rehearsal dancing the cavalier in Rochester City Ballet's Nutcracker and I'm starving! Rehearsal went really well and I hope that my partner and I only continue to grow from there. With such great elation after the run, I am feeling surprisingly manic at the moment. I just got a text from my partner (the life kind) and he is sitting at my mom's house amongst family on this Thanksgiving eve, while I sit by myself eating dinner only to return to my hotel room. As I roll across emotional extremes, I am learning how to cope with being away from loved ones during the holidays.

I was having a conversation with my sister via Facebook a few weeks ago right after arriving at my hotel in Rochester. She was asking me about my current gig and was awe-struck that I work the way I do, essentially a self-touring artist. My response to her awe was that my life is glorious and lonely all at the same time. I get to meet amazing artists and dance on great stages, but I also get lonely and homesick at times. Christmas-time is actually the busiest time for most freelance dancers. Since Nutcracker takes over stages, televisions, and the world during this season, there are more opportunities to work, as everybody wants to bank on this annual production. This means that the likelihood of spending Thanksgiving, Christmas, and all of the inbetween festivities with those close to you decreases greatly the more successful you are.

Seeking T-giving my first year in Seattle
When I got my first job with Houston Ballet as a teenager, I spent my first set of holidays away from close friends and family. Im pretty sure, after a failed turkey baking attempt, a handful of friends and I ended up at Bennigans. We claimed it was the best Thanksgiving ever, but I dont really remember it. I assume that we were just trying to be really positive about the whole fiasco. Within a year of leaving, I created my own family in Seattle (after moving to PNB) and started a relationship with my partner, which has been going strong for nearly 7 years. Aside from that year in Houston and the subsequent one in Seattle, I've always been with close friends or family on Thanksgiving. It makes my heart ache a little bit to write this, but this holiday will be my first without my partner since we got together. And although it makes me sad, I am hardly letting this holiday pass without being proactive about enjoying it.

If you find yourself away from friends and family for the holidays, there are ways that you can stay connected. We are so fortunate to live in a day and age where technology can bring us closer together, even when we are hundreds or thousands of miles apart. I have already set up a time tomorrow to Skype with my family. Even if I am not eating green bean casserole and stuffing at the table, I can be there visually and in spirit. A phone call is comforting, but getting to share some face-time can really help you feel thankful and make you a part of the festivities. I always feel more connected when I can see somebody's reaction in a conversation. In my opinion, people often feel badly during the holidays not because they aren't present, but instead because they feel left out.

Another way to avoid sinking into doldrums while you are, perhaps, alone in a hotel room is to get out. I notice that I feel much more lonely when I isolate myself. It is pretty logical, actually. You may feel slightly down or that you are going to take the holiday to rest up for your gig, but staying in a small room by yourself with a television and the shades drawn is only going to make you feel more removed. If you don't have anything to do or anybody to visit, perhaps, find an open restaurant and sit at the counter/bar. Usually people who are working on a holiday have to work and are missing this precious time with their family as well. It is much easier to strike up a warm conversation on a holiday than it is on most other days. If this form of socializing isn't for you, find a local cinema and enjoy a movie with the crowds that pack theatres on the holidays. You won't feel alone and you won't have to socialize with strangers. No matter what, I suggest that you just get out for a period of time.

Often, beyond family, people miss the traditions that go along with certain holidays. Every Thanksgiving, my partner and I wake up, turn on the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, and bake sugar cookies. We mix all of the ingredients, roll the cookies out, use our 30-something cookie cutters, bake them, and decorate them once they are all golden and delicious looking (our secret is that we always underbake them so they remain super soft). I am currently in a hotel with a microwave and a small refrigerator, therefore making this tradition an impossibility. But, I did buy a couple of cookies and I am planning on catching some portion of the parade. So, although this tradition is not fully realized, I am at least holding a part of the tradition for this year and we can continue it in full the next time we spend the holiday together. If you have a tradition, find a way to keep the spirit of the tradition with you. Small things like this can really help to keep away any holiday sadness that might surface.

Lastly, what is a holiday like Thanksgiving without a huge feast? One thing that I have found is that it is almost impossible to spend a holiday by yourself while on a gig. It warms my heart to say that I have found that people will go out of their way to help make an out-of-town guest feel welcome and wanted on these special days. For instance, the network of people at Rochester City Ballet have been more than generous in offering me a place to spend during this day of thanks. I have received offers to join families for dinner from fellow dancers, administration, wardrobe, physical therapists, and beyond. In fact, I found  it difficult to turn down many of the offers. Most of the time, as a guest, people will welcome you with open arms. But if nothing formulates, don't fret. Just plan ahead. Do some research and find a place that is open for the holiday. Maybe you have been working really hard, pinching pennies, and eating in every night. This could be used as the perfect opportunity to really treat yourself for all of the hard work you've been putting in. Consider seeking out a restaurant that serves a few courses, perhaps with a pairing of drinks for each course. If you aren't comfortable eating on your own, bring your phone, a good book, a journal, or any other item that you enjoy using on your own. Make it a memorable experience and treat yourself.

All in all, the holidays can be a difficult time for anybody that is feeling lonely. Working away from home during this season can easily make you feel alone. As always, it is important to be proactive to make sure that you keep a healthy, happy, and fulfilled holiday season. Stay connected with family and friends, keep traditions as alive as you can, find yourself amongst people, and be merry (even if it is all by yourself). If you are able to stay happy while traveling during the holidays, you will find that this is truly the most fulfilling, lucrative, and wonderful time of the year.

Holiday season - Boston, MA

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