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By Linda Hamilton
My director has given me some nice roles and I need the stamina to perform them on our coming tour. I’ve been trying to be extra healthy by drinking energy drinks with B vitamins in between eating nutritious meals. Do you recommend any other vitamin drinks?
Actually, some dietitians don’t recommend any vitamin drinks for dancers. Manhattan-based dietitian Laura Pumillo says they can create an imbalance of nutrients. Other than taking a daily multivitamin and an additional 500 mg of calcium with 800 mg of vitamin D for insurance, you should get everything you need from a balanced meal plan. Megadoses of some vitamins and minerals can be toxic and lead to health problems, such as liver disease from too much niacin. Even lower amounts found in energy drinks with B vitamins may result in numbness, tingling hands and feet, and a rapid heart beat. And the added caffeine, when taken in excess, can make you feel anxious and jittery. Plus, large amounts of carbonated drinks and fruit juices may cause you to bloat. It would be better to simply stay hydrated by drinking at least eight cups of water throughout the day. After rehearsal, refuel with more water and even low-fat plain or chocolate milk, both of which give you a magic combination of carbohydrates and protein—the carbs increase the circulating glucose levels needed for energy, and the protein enhances muscle growth and recovery. Also, before and after dancing, eat light snacks that combine both food groups to stabilize blood sugar so you don’t crash and burn. Examples include grapes with almonds, a banana or apple with peanut butter, or trail mix.
Last year I developed a stress fracture in my metatarsal after taking classes at a studio with a very hard floor. Jumping was a killer. Now I’m back after rehab and I’ve switched studios. How else can I protect myself from injuring my foot again?
Did you know that landing from a jump can subject your lower extremities to forces up to 14 times your body weight? Fortunately, you’ve already taken a smart first step to preventing another injury by dancing on a resilient floor that will absorb more force. Other strategies include proper training and strengthening exercises. Also, use the correct technique to land: Move through your foot from the initial contact of your toes to the ball, and then touch your heel to the ground. In addition, researchers from Indiana University have discovered that the multiple layers of padding from the shank of pointe shoes help disperse forces away from the body better than the canvas or soft leather of ballet slippers. So slip on your old toe shoes for technique class and jump away.
I made a big mistake in my early 20s when I turned my back on dance because I was fed up with the politics of finding a job. (It seemed to me that it was who you knew that counted, not your talent—at least in my situation.) My question is, can I go back and try again? I’m 26 now and have stayed in shape by working out at the gym. Or is it too late?
Regret is always painful, particularly when you’ve prematurely given up on a cherished dream before you’re emotionally ready to let go. It leaves you in turmoil about your decision. On the one hand, I can understand why you were fed up. Yet you have unfinished business. Many former dancers who seek out my services find themselves wondering, “What if I’d stayed for a few more years and auditioned for other companies?” At least you would know that you had given it your all, making it easier to live with the outcome. As it is, you’re stuck in limbo wishing you could beam yourself back in time. Is it too late to go back to dancing? No, as long as you play it smart by first getting screened by a dance medicine specialist to assess your physical status (see my book The Dancer’s Way for a simple fitness and orthopedic evaluation). You can use this input to create an individual training program. It might involve easing back into an adult beginner’s dance class, along with regular Pilates or Gyrotonic sessions, and low-impact aerobics at the gym. It also helps to set realistic goals, starting with one dance class a day until you get back into shape. Decide what you intend to achieve and set a reasonable timeline based on your teacher’s feedback. If you’re looking for a dance job, I suggest you train in several different techniques to prepare for every possible performing opportunity. Keep in mind that Dance Magazine publishes an auditions issue every February and a jobs issue every March. These and other resources like Backstage or www.answers4dancers.com can help you locate auditions when the time is right. In the meantime, enjoy the small victories along the way and please don’t rush the process.
Former New York City Ballet dancer Linda Hamilton, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice, the author of Advice for Dancers (Jossey-Bass), and co-author of The Dancer's Way: The New York City Ballet Guide to Mind, Body and Nutrition (St. Martin’s Griffin). Her website is www.wellness4performers.com.