Advice For Dancers

December 26, 2007

Do you have tips on how to quit smoking? I’m up to a pack of cigarettes a day and it’s killing my stamina onstage. I’ve tried going cold turkey with no luck. Slowly cutting back never lasts for long either. I want to be a healthy dancer, but after five years of smoking, it’s a tough habit to break. Any help you can offer would be great.


Jacksonville, FL

Try switching to your least favorite brand! A 2007 study published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research notes taste plays a big role in smoking (except with menthol cigarettes). Certain foods like caffeinated beverages, alcohol, and meat only enhance the taste of cigarettes. Take away your taste buds’ pleasure and you’re one step closer to quitting. Try to eat foods that for many smokers create an unpleasant taste in their mouths, such as ice water, juice, dairy products (how many times have you seen someone light up with a glass of milk?), fruits, and veggies. Munching on a bag of baby carrots will also give you something to do with your hands. Last but not least, you’ll need to deal with your nicotine addiction. The first three weeks are the worst in terms of withdrawal. Nicotine replacement therapy can help, but speak to your doctor first. For quitting guidelines, check out The National Cancer Institute’s website ( And don’t give up, even if you relapse! Breaking an ingrained habit takes time and persistence.  

Is it safe for a teenager with an eating disorder to leave treatment before she’s completely healthy? There’s a girl at my daughter’s dance school whose mother took her out of therapy because it was stressful for this young dancer to gain weight. The girl no longer looks anorexic but she is still too thin. This move on the mother’s part seems shortsighted to me, but then I’m no professional. Am I wrong?

Concerned Mom

Bronxville, NY

I wish you were. Unfortunately, resisting treatment should signal a red flag in someone with anorexia nervosa. Not only does this dancer need to be in treatment, it can take many months after she has regained weight before she can be on her own. Parents often become confused about the best way to handle an anxious child who promises to eat if only she is allowed to stay below her target weight and end treatment. While giving in may reduce the dancer’s initial stress, it increases the chance of relapse. The Renfrew Center offers nationwide referrals and treatment programs for eating disorders. You can also get advice about how to help a friend or family member by logging on to their website (

My dance teacher hates me! Every class she either ignores me and corrects the dancers around me, or picks on me for tiny mistakes. I try to improve and I get good feedback from my other teachers, but her treatment makes me feel terrible about myself.

Fort Worth, TX

It’s always difficult to feel ignored or underappreciated. However, please do not put your self-esteem on the line. Many factors affect how others respond to you. Your teacher may simply have her favorites, which doesn’t mean that you lack talent, especially since you’ve gotten good feedback from other instructors. Yet it could hurt your confidence if you take her behavior personally. Use her class to set your own goals, such as working on your musicality or placement. It will help you have a good class, regardless. You can also rise above the situation by smiling when this teacher corrects you and thanking her afterwards for class. No one can fault you for being courteous. Finally, set aside 10 minutes a day, three days a week, to mentally rehearse exuding an air of quiet self-assurance in class even when dealing with problems. Use all five senses to make the image vivid. Practice will help you gain mental control.

Are ballerinas retiring earlier these days? I rarely see leading dancers perform into their 50s like Melissa Hayden from New York City Ballet or Margot Fonteyn from The Royal Ballet. Why is this?

Columbus, OH

While the dance world now places greater emphasis on planning a post-dance career, I don’t believe that lead dancers retire earlier. In ballet, it’s most likely due to more technically difficult choreography—extreme technique can be tough on aging bodies. Modern and postmodern dancers often perform into their 50s and beyond (see “Dancing Forever,” p. 98). Dancers can often extend their careers—even in ballet—by developing good work habits. These include allowing the body to recover by getting sufficient sleep (eight hours and up is ideal during intense work periods), taking at least one day off a week, and scheduling several breaks throughout the year rather than taking on extra gigs. It’s tough for all of us when a dancer has to retire early due to work-related problems that taking better care of herself might have eased.


 Former New York City Ballet dancer Linda Hamilton, Ph.D., is a lecturer, a psychologist in private practice, and the author of
Advice for Dancers (Jossey-Bass). She has been offering advice to Dance Magazine readers since 1992.