Advice for Dancers

March 21, 2011

For the past few years I’ve had this really irritating problem—my ankles pop! My right ankle started constantly popping after I added more dance classes to my schedule. My left ankle pops too when it’s stiff. I’m getting worried. Could this lead to arthritis or something else?  

Woodbridge, CA


It’s normal for joints to pop. The surfaces of joints are uneven, and when you move, this causes the nitrogen bubbles that naturally form inside to collapse and pop—like bubble wrap used for packaging. Painless popping is rarely a problem, unless it is associated with loose ligaments common in hypermobility. (In that case, you’ll need to stabilize the joints with physical therapy and avoid popping that may be pulling open the joints.) But if the popping hurts, visit a dance medicine orthopedist who specializes in the foot and ankle. Painful popping could be due to osteochondritis dissecans, where part of the bone dies like a cavity in a tooth. This often shows up on an MRI. Another possibility involves subluxing tendons that move in and out of place, which can be diagnosed with a sonogram. If you need an evaluation and don’t have an orthopedist, contact the American Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Society for a referral (



A few months ago I decided to become a vegan. I love animals and cannot stand the idea of eating them. My mother is concerned that I won’t get all the nutrients I need for dancing. I want to prove her wrong! Any suggestions?

Animal Lover
Louisville, KY  


You can be a healthy vegan. You’ll just need to work harder to get all the essential amino acids from protein that your body doesn’t make. This is important because protein forms the building blocks of almost every part of your body. When you cut out animal products (meat, fish, poultry, dairy, and eggs), the only complete source of protein left is soybeans. However, soy products contain a natural chemical that mimics estrogen so they are not recommended for anyone at risk for breast cancer. Soy also may block the absorption of certain minerals like calcium, magnesium, iron, and zinc, and have a negative effect on thyroid function. Fortunately, you can still get the full complement of amino acids through some soy in addition to combining different foods, such as rice and beans. Legumes, seeds, nuts, and fake meats like seitan (pronounced SAY-tan) from wheat gluten provide additional protein.


Obviously, it helps to know what you are doing. Vegetarian Sports Nutrition by D. Enette Larson-Meyer is a small book that provides clear, direct information about food choices and their health consequences, along with how to put together vegetarian meals. And see DM’s “Your Body,” Feb. 2008, on dancing vegan. You can also seek nutritional counseling from a registered dietician from the American Dietetic Association (



My friend who follows some kind of Eastern philosophy thinks the road to a better life is to be happy all the time. Well, guess what: I’m not. Certain things make me angry, like riding the subway every day from Brooklyn to Manhattan for dance class. I’m looking for a new living situation closer to my studio, but am I messing up my karma by getting angry?

Brooklyn, NY


It’s often hard to understand certain philosophies without extensive study. The concept may not be as simple as always being happy. While I’m glad your friend has found a belief system that works for her, it sounds like you need to find one that helps you. For the record, research shows that the right balance of positive and negative feelings contributes to resiliency, which is defined as reacting appropriately to difficult situations, being comfortable with uncertainty, shaking off threats that don’t materialize, and making the most of opportunities that come your way.


Positive emotions can give us a sense of purpose and satisfaction. Yet negative feelings can help people flourish as well, especially when the feelings are suitable to the setting or galvanize you into action. Yes, you’re annoyed during your commute, but this is motivating you to look for an apartment closer to the city, which should lead to a happy resolution. Instead of rejecting all anger, try to find a balance where positive emotions outnumber negative ones.


Cognitive-behavioral therapy and its newer offshoot, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, reduce negative feelings by correcting distortions in how you interpret a situation. (The latter approach involves learning not to judge negative thoughts, so you don’t push them away without correcting them.) A classic case of a cognitive distortion is when a dancer interprets a rejection from one summer program as a sign that she lacks talent—even though three other excellent programs accepted her.


Until you move to a new location, try reframing how you look at your subway commute as time out to read, listen to music, or simply daydream. For more help in addressing negative feelings, contact your local state psychological association for a referral to a specialist near you. I’ll leave it to others to discuss the complexities of karma.



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