Advice for Dancers: A Sticky Situation

January 31, 2014

Dealing with a locked knee, why extreme dieting adds water weight and how dancers can heal after divorce



Last week my leg got stuck coming out of a position, and my knee popped! My doctor put me on crutches and said I need an MRI. He thinks it’s probably a locked knee. What is that? —James, Brooklyn, NY


A locked knee happens when a torn meniscus (or cartilage) becomes caught in the joint, limiting your range of motion. The most common type is a “bucket handle tear,” where the torn rim of cartilage flips over into the notch in the middle of the knee like the handle of a bucket. Your MRI will confirm the diagnosis. To unlock the knee, a surgeon can flip the rim over and either sew it up or remove it without doing open-knee surgery. Meanwhile, rest your knee by placing a pillow under it to keep it slightly flexed, since you can’t straighten it or bear weight until after the procedure. Depending on your situation, the length of recovery will vary from as little as a month to longer.



I eat 800 calories a day, spend hours at the gym and avoid salty foods. But instead of getting thinner, I feel like a big, fat water balloon. Why am I so swollen? It’s gotten so bad I’ve started purging because my costumes barely fit anymore! —Bloated, Atlanta, GA

Sadly, it sounds like you’re trapped in a vicious cycle of disordered eating. Please seek professional help. A female adult dancer’s diet typically requires 1,800 calories per day, along with 70 grams of protein to prevent water retention. Chronic semi-starvation leads to dehydration (as well as other medical problems) that causes your body to retain fluid. Purging from vomiting or abusing laxatives or diuretics also has the same effect. Normally, the body has a set amount of fluid that regulates itself, so it’s a misconception to think that drinking the water you need for dancing will make you heavy. Eating right will restore the balance of fluids; however, this is difficult to do on your own because it can take two to six weeks to stop bloating. An excellent resource for eating disorders is The Renfrew Center, which provides referrals to health-care specialists and treatment programs ( The Center also requires a physical checkup to rule out other medical problems linked to bloating, such as an underactive thyroid.

I truly believed I’d met the love of my life because he seemed to understand what it’s like to be a professional dancer. He was fascinated with my career, and we married after a whirlwind romance. An equally sudden divorce nine months later has left me heartbroken. He was only attracted to the glamorous performer, not the girl with sore feet who spent long hours in the studio. How could I have been such a fool? —Broken Heart, New York, NY

Choosing a suitable mate can be challenging for dancers. There’s usually little room for socializing outside of training, auditioning and performing unless you date another dancer (which has its own unique challenges). Still, it sounds like you were swept away by the initial honeymoon phase of a relationship before you realized its limitations. It’s normal to grieve the loss of a romantic partner, even if you discover that this person isn’t a good match. Your negative feelings won’t disappear overnight, but you can make the shift from victim to survivor with the support of positive friends, groups for divorced women, religious counseling services or therapy. Taking inventory of your personal goals can also make this period an opportunity to grow and mature. You’ve already learned what you want from a spouse in the future: As a dancer, you have a rewarding career that you love—and that’s something your next partner needs to appreciate.





Send your questions to:

Dr. Linda Hamilton

2000 Broadway, PH2C

New York, NY 10023

e-mail: [email protected]



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