I love my BFA program, except for one class where the teacher only has eyes for the men—and even seems to flirt with them in class. The women, myself included, get zero attention, while the guys get loads of personal feedback. I know teachers have favorites, but this seems unfair. How can I stay motivated?

—Sara, New York, NY

Dance class is not a place for flirtation, especially from teachers. I suggest you speak to the director about your concerns. Appropriate behavior between faculty and students is usually spelled out in the school's guidelines. Meanwhile, each of you young women can set your own goals for class, such as focusing on phrasing or musicality, and being your own cheerleaders. You'll have a better class and may even catch your teacher's attention. Remember: Improving in dance is a personal journey. Even if the instructor isn't doing his job, you don't have to give up your power to stay motivated and progress.

Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at advicefordancers@dancemedia.com.

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Pacific Northwest Ballet's Swan Lake. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB.

After being stuck in the corps for the last seven years, I long to perform solo roles. My director says to be patient, but my friends tell me I'm wasting my talent and could easily be a soloist in a smaller company. Is it worth leaving a national company to dance better roles in a regional group? I'm afraid I'd feel like a loser. I'm 26 years old.

—Frustrated Corps Dancer, New York, NY

While it's difficult to switch to a smaller troupe after making it into a major company, it's obvious that the lack of opportunities at your current job is taking a toll on you. Rather than jump ahead and label yourself a loser if you leave, why not see what's out there first? It's fine to audition for both large and small companies. Just see if you like the repertoire, feel comfortable in class and can speak to the director about your prospects. Only then do you need to weigh the pros and cons of changing your place of employment. As long as you respect the quality of the work, performing solo roles may help you reach your full artistic potential. If possible, leave the door open, so you can return to your original job if things don't work out.

Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at advicefordancers@dancemedia.com.

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NYCB's Maria Kowroski, with Dylan, and Abi Stafford, with Colin. Photo by Kyle Froman.

I feel torn about taking time off from dance to have a child. I'm married and my biological clock is ticking. I just don't know what age to take the leap for the health of the child.

—Would-Be Mother, San Francisco, CA

In addition to the baby's health, there's also your health to consider when contemplating motherhood. For example, the risks of high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and cesarean sections are higher for women who get pregnant after 35. Your baby's chance of having Down syndrome or another chromosomal disorder begins to rise significantly starting in your mid-30s, so your doctor may recommend prenatal screening. You can reduce chromosomal risks by freezing your eggs in your 20s or early 30s. Doing so could also help you avoid problems with fertility that develop with age. The timing is up to you, but it's easier to get back in shape for dance if you don't wait too long. For example, New York City Ballet principal dancer Ashley Bouder had a baby at 32 and returned to performing in less than five months.

Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at advicefordancers@dancemedia.com.

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How do I deal with a jealous clique of dancers who resent my success at competitions and talk behind my back? The negativity takes away my joy of dancing.

—J.C., New York, NY

Insecurity often brings out the worst in people, especially if they feel less accomplished than you. But no one can rob you of your joy of dance unless you choose to give that person the power to do so. My advice is to ignore the negative vibes. You can be courteous, but keep the focus on what's most important—your work! Newcomers who look up to you, or more established dancers who are not competing for the same roles, may be more open to friendship. It's also useful to have a life outside of dance with a different group of people and other interests to create a better work/life balance.

Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at advicefordancers@dancemedia.com.

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Photo by Kyle Froman

Auditions are coming up soon and I want to be mentally prepared to wow directors. Any tips?

—Sasha, New York, NY

You're already ahead of the game by considering the mental aspects involved. For starters, be aware that tremors, muscle tension or short, choppy breaths are physical signs that you need to calm your mind. Learning to do so can help you focus and exercise fine motor control. To take the edge off before and during an audition, try a few slow, deep, rhythmic breaths. This will reduce stress hormones, calm your nerves and increase your sense of control. It also helps to smile, which alters the blood flow to the brain and releases neurochemicals that relax you.

Since being overly tense as a result of anxiety can interfere with your motor coordination, you may want to add a progressive muscle relaxation exercise to your routine. Making it a habit can help cut down on anxiety, so you're less likely to feel nervous once you reach an audition. Try it when you're cooling down or falling sleep—not before you dance or you'll be too relaxed. First, take a slow, deep breath, then tense the muscles in your back and chest for five seconds as hard as you can before exhaling and letting yourself relax. Repeat and notice the difference between the tension and relaxation. Continue the same exercise twice with your legs and buttocks, arms and shoulders, face and neck, and then your entire body. I once gave this exercise to a group of dancers at the end of a long, hard day of audition classes, and one girl fell asleep and started snoring. While a bit embarrassing, she was much more prepared to get a good night's sleep. Nevertheless, you might want to practice the exercise reclining in a chair—the goal is to learn how to be relaxed and alert so you can perform at your peak.


Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at advicefordancers@dancemedia.com.

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After years of dieting and menstrual irregularity, I lost bone density and had three stress fractures in my early 20s. My doctor increased my food intake (with extra vitamin D and calcium), so the nutrients I take in match my exercise level. My hormones are finally normal too. My question is, How do I strengthen my bones? I feel like I'm another injury waiting to happen.

—Amy, Los Angeles, CA

As you've learned, lifestyle plays a big role in dancers' bone density. But you can take steps to prevent further bone loss. Apart from maintaining a balanced diet and estrogen levels, new research indicates that probiotics increase bone density—at least in female mice. While more studies are needed, researchers say the type of bacteria is important. Check the ingredients list of your yogurt for Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG). According to the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science, habits like high caffeine consumption (more than two cups of coffee per day), high alcohol intake and smoking can put you at a greater risk of losing bone density. Oxalates, which bind to calcium and may prevent its absorption, should also be eaten in moderation. Foods that fall into this category are night-shade vegetables like eggplants, tomatoes, peppers and potatoes. Tea, sweet potatoes, okra, collards, berries and chard also have varying amounts of oxalates. Keep these in mind as you plan your meals.

Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at advicefordancers@dancemedia.com.


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My director has informed me that I have two years at most before he wants me to retire. I'm a ballerina in my late 30s. What can I do? I don't want another career apart from performing. Dance is it!

—Lost in Transition, Midwest

That's tough. Ballet tends to favor young adults because the technique takes a toll on the body over time. Economic concerns have added to the strain, resulting in fewer company dancers who perform more often. Still, that doesn't mean you have to give up dancing altogether after you retire from your company. You might guest with smaller troupes or experiment with other dance techniques, like contemporary, which allow your body to move in a different way. Wendy Whelan and Mikhail Baryshnikov are two glowing examples of ballet luminaries who found success in modern dance in their 40s. Some choreographers actually prefer to work with more-experienced older dancers. For instance, Beth Corning's The Glue Factory Projects creates professional productions specifically for performers over 45. Also remember that no matter what limitations your body develops, you can usually take dance class forever.

Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at advicefordancers@dancemedia.com.


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Help! I was never a big eater until I got an apartment without a roommate. Landing a wonderful, well-paying role in a musical made it possible to move to a spacious studio with an open kitchen. So what's with my sudden need to keep eating?

—Food Junky, Queens, NY

After ruling out any metabolic disorders associated with changes in your eating habits, you might consider the layout of your apartment. While open kitchens are trendy, a recent study in Environment & Behavior shows that people who see extra food get more refills and end up eating a greater amount of calories. Unless you want to remove everything edible from your countertops, a strategically placed screen between you and the kitchen can help solve this problem.

It also sounds like you're under considerable stress, due to all the life changes that have happened recently. Landing a new role is a major professional achievement, but with it can come different responsibilities, job conditions or hours. Plus, you've had a change in your living situation and have altered your social habits, since you left your roommate. According to the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, an inventory of common stressors used in psychology, the more changes you have within a year, the higher your chance of developing a stress-related disorder, such as overeating. Although the impact of a particular stressor will vary from one dancer to another, you can regain a greater sense of stability by practicing good health habits, such as getting rid of any junk food, and scheduling regular meet-ups with friends.


Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at advicefordancers@dancemedia.com.

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