Are You Addicted to Exercise? 9 Telltale Signs
Dancers today are more diligent than ever about cross-training to keep their bodies strong and healthy. But where is the line between a dedication to exercise and a dangerous addiction?
The consequences of compulsively cross-training can be severe. These nine signs mean you might be taking it too far.
Your Muscles Are Getting Weaker:
Every time you exercise, you break down muscle tissues. This breakdown, followed by a rest period, causes the muscles to rebuild and become stronger. But if you do too much exercise and without enough rest periods (or enough nutrition), you won't get that rebuilding, says Megan Richardson, an athletic trainer specializing in dance medicine at New York University's Langone Medical Center and in private practice. “All we get is breakdown." Too much exercise means you'll actually start losing strength.
You're Having Problems Sleeping:
Over-exercising could cause sleep disruption and make you feel overly-fatigued says Dr. Antoine Douaihy, the consulting psychiatrist at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.
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Your Emotions Are All Over The Place:
An exercise addiction can make you more stressed and anxious, says Douaihy. Addicted dancers might also start feeling irritable when they don't get as much exercise as they want. "It starts preoccupying their mind, thinking about when they will get back to it," says Dr. Brian Goonan, a psychologist who works with Houston Ballet Academy.
You Try to Hide it:
When you can't rein in how much you cross-train, you may begin lying about your exercise habits, downplaying how much time and energy you're spending in the gym.
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You Keep Exercising Despite Injury:
Compulsive exercisers will prioritize workouts over their health. They keep doing exercises that involve an injured body part and they don't see the correlation. “Or they just feel that stopping that particular exercise is not an option," says Richardson.
Exercise Always Comes First:
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You think constantly about when, where and how you will get a workout in even if it's detrimental to other parts of your life. Everything becomes organized around exercise. “You have to be late to your sister's rehearsal dinner because the plane lands at 3 and you need to get a 5-mile run in," says Goonan.
Your Heart is Acting Up:
In the most severe cases, Douaihy says that chronic over-exercise can lead to changes in the heart and cause irregular heartbeat. Ultimately, this can put you at risk for heart failure and stroke.
It Never Feels Like Enough:
You keep pushing forward despite having reached your goal. “You think, If running 3 miles was good, then 5 must be better," says Goonan.
You Rely On Exercise As an Escape:
Your reasons for cross-training start to extend beyond simply improving strength and stamina, Goonan says. Exercise becomes a crutch to help you feel better whenever things in the studio aren't going as planned, or you're having personal problems.
If several of these signs sound familiar to you, a psychologist who works with dancers can help you find treatment—without forcing you to stop dancing or cross-training entirely.
For the past 3 years, choreographer Stephen Petronio has been reviving groundbreaking works of postmodern dance through his BLOODLINES project. This season, although his company will be performing a work by Merce Cunningham, his own choreography moves in a more luxurious direction. We stepped into the studio with Petronio and his dancers where they were busy creating a new work, Hardness 10, named for the categorization of diamonds.
'Tis the season to have some fun in the kitchen. If you want to get more creative than simply baking another pumpkin pie, try these Nutcracker-themed treats—created by and for dancers. These recipes from former Boston Ballet and Joffrey Ballet dancers were first published in Dance Magazine's December 1990 issue. Today, they're still guaranteed to turn any holiday party or dressing room into a true Land of the Sweets.
It's no secret that affording college is a challenge for many students. And for dancers, there are added complications, like the relative lack of merit scholarships that take artistic talent into consideration and the improbability of a stable salary to pay off loans post-graduation. But no matter your budget, a smart approach to the application process can help you focus less on money and more on your training.
According to Drexel University performing arts department head Miriam Giguere, figuring out the kind of financial assistance a school offers is just as important as navigating what kind of dance program you want. Here's how to incorporate finances into your decision-making process:
When dancers get injured, they often think they should eat less. The thought process goes something like, Since I'm not able to move as much as I usually do, I'm not burning enough calories to justify the portions I'm used to.
But the truth is, scaling back your meals could actually be detrimental to your healing process.
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
"Women are often presented as soft, fragile little creatures in ballet," says Léonore Baulac. "We're not." The Paris Opéra Ballet's newest female étoile is discussing her unease at some of the 19th-century narratives she portrays. "It was real acting," she says with a laugh of La Sylphide. "James kills her by taking away her wings, yet she tells him not to worry and goes to die elsewhere onstage!"
Sitting in the canteen of the Palais Garnier, Baulac embodies some of ballet's contradictions in the 21st century. With her fair curls and dainty features, she could easily pass for a little girl's fantasy princess. As Juliet, she exuded a girlish ardor that felt entirely natural; her reservations notwithstanding, her Sylphide was committed and carefully Romantic in style.
Yet the 27-year-old is no ingénue. At Garnier that day, her sweater reads "I can't believe I still have to protest this s**t," a feminist slogan; last winter, Baulac proudly wore it over a Kitri tutu on Instagram. And her repertoire is as thoroughly modern as she is offstage. A versatile performer even by Parisian standards, she is equally at home in Nutcracker as she is in the works of Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.
With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.
Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.
As we approach Thanksgiving, there's much to be grateful for. Perhaps one of the most important things on your list is dance. Whether you're a full-time company member, an aspiring professional, an audience member, or you simply delight in dancing in your daydreams, this art form is a creative escape.
That's not to say that being a dancer is easy: Pursuing such a competitive career can be heartbreaking, especially when you're faced with rejection.
La Folía, a short dance film by director Adam Grannick that was recently released online, echoes these sentiments in under 12 minutes.
It took two years of intense nutrition counseling and psychotherapy to pull me out of being anorexic. My problem now is that I've gained too much weight from eating normally. Is there no middle ground? I can't fit into my clothes, but I don't want to go back to being sick.
—Former Anorexic, Weston, CT