Professional dancer Camilla Sacre-Dallerup had the world at her feet, until mental and physical burnout arrived. By sharing her feelings with her husband, she learned to take a step back – and became an inspiration to others
As I write this, I’m sitting on my balcony in Los Angeles with my feet up, feeling far more relaxed than I used to. Although I still have a busy schedule, the word “success” in my world now equates to having balance in my life, where previously it meant one thing: winning. I’m painting this picture of relaxation for you because this is not something that comes naturally to me. The importance of relaxation is something I’ve learned to appreciate the hard way.
For as long as I can remember, I was the one who my friends would turn to if they were feeling down about something. I always believed in looking at the bright side of life, even as a teenager. I was also hugely ambitious, motivated and extremely driven throughout my life, until one day when I found myself with none of these tools. Instead, I was completely exhausted, lost, and with no drive to do anything. To be frank, it was a rather unpleasant experience and it scared me to not recognise myself at all. Up until this moment, I had known exactly what I wanted to do in my life. I felt inspired and excited. Now I was 34 and burned out.
I am writing about my burnout because there was a time in my life when I thought it would never happen to me. I had everything sorted and under control. I was superwoman. I handled everything thrown at me with strength and a smile. I realise now how ignorant and naïve I was. The athlete in me knew only one way of doing things: to keep going no matter what. I had spent my entire life preparing my mind and body for competitions, never allowing myself more than a week off at a time.
When I was two years old, my mum brought me along to a dance class. She thought it would be fun for me to interact with other children. I don’t know what it was at first that got me hooked, but dancing and performing became my entire life after that.
I was not very old when I resonated with the words, “I’m a dancer.” Because I got into dancing so early, competing, travelling and training hard became part of my life, and daily schedule. I suppose somehow I must have decided that if I’m going to do this I might as well do it to the best of my ability. It wasn’t that it came completely naturally to me; rather I learned that when you work hard at something, it pays off. And I believe that is how my inner drive, laser focus, and determination was created. These skills followed me though life and helped me achieve my goals and dreams. But this kind of ability, to push through everything – even injury and tiredness – also became the reason why I didn’t notice the burnout approaching before it arrived and seriously slapped me in the face.
It was almost easier to keep going than to stop, because when I finally stopped I realised how tired I was
When I turned 30, I actually started to consider retiring as a professional dancer. I felt grateful for my achievements and I was beginning to wonder what the real world looked like outside of the four walls of a rehearsal studio, the airplane, and a hotel room. I suppose looking back, that was the time my body was telling me that it was time to take a long vacation or add in some more rest time. But just like any other sore muscle in the body, that got ignored when word came of a new show called Strictly Come Dancing, at was about to launch. They needed professional dancers to be part of it. Suddenly my thoughts of retiring and opting for a quieter schedule were replaced with the excitement of being part of the original cast of this exciting new show.
I remember friends and family saying to me: “I don’t know how you do your schedule.” The truth is, I was on auto-pilot. It was almost easier to keep going than to stop, because when I finally stopped I realised how tired I was. Dancing is both physically and mentally challenging, and the years of “keep going” were catching up with me. Looking back, I realise that I wasn’t very good at setting boundaries and saying no, mainly because I didn’t want to miss out, and because someone way back once told me that “when you’re self-employed, you take the work when it’s there”. This is true, but at what price to the mind and body? And if you wear yourself out, what’s it all been worth?
I managed to put tiredness to one side and push through six magical seasons of Strictly Come Dancing, which I will treasure forever in my heart. But when I finally walked away and stopped, I was truly burned out. To me, the feeling was beyond tiredness. It’s the kind of tired where you just know it’s going to take more than a few good sleeps to recover. What I found strangest was the lack of drive I now had felt. I had no urge to do any projects at all. I was numb, lost and not myself. I realised I needed to make changes to the way I ran my career.
Over that year I slowed right down. I studied Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), life coaching and hypnosis. I also read so many inspirational books. I immersed myself in doing things that felt good for the soul, like learning new things and enjoying Saturdays at home with my husband – which felt like such a treat, because up until that moment, I hadn’t known what it meant to have a Saturday at home just chilling out. I also worked with a life coach and hypnotherapist.
It can be hard to ask for help when you don’t even know what’s going on within you. Thankfully, I opened up to my husband Kevin about how I felt. He was very supportive and told me to just take my time to figure everything out. These were very healing words to hear. It was amazing. By him giving me permission, I gave myself permission to accept the lost feeling and the uncertainty of the direction of my life. Most importantly, it allowed for the energy to build up over time.
The key word for me here was acceptance. I realise now, after writing my new book, Reinvent Me, that my burnout was a blessing. It taught me so much about myself, and ultimately guided me to this point. I am a life coach who has walked the walk. I take great pride in helping others achieve their goals and I help support them through stress and their own burnout. Everything that has gone before this moment – highs as well as lows – has brought me to this happy point in my life, where I am able to share the learnings in my work.
My burnout was a blessing. It taught me so much about myself
Three years ago, my husband and I decided to move to Los Angeles in the pursuit of creating a more balanced life. I am proud to say we have achieved this. However, being a workaholic is still within me – it’s just that I have learned to spot the warning signs and get myself in check before it’s too late. I am thankful for meditation and mindfulness. These are wonderful tools that keep me (and my clients) on track. The one thing I know for sure is that our body and intuition tell us a lot, including when to rest. Instead of ignoring the signs, I now choose to follow them.
"Camilla’s story is uplifting. It shows us how everything we experience in life, even the tough times like Camilla’s burnout, can be used to create a brighter future.
It was only when Camilla stopped to listen to her body and mind, that she understood what she really needed. Though we may not all be on national TV, many of us will identify with having a busy life so full of expectations that it can leave little time for ourselves. Camilla shows us that whoever we are, there is always the opportunity to reinvent ourselves and move toward an inspiring new future!"