Are These 4 Everyday Habits Slowing You Down In The Studio?
Your body's inner chemist knows exactly what to do to make you a slightly better version of yourself onstage. The excitement of performing gets your adrenal glands to release epinephrine, a hormone that makes your heart work harder and your senses get sharper. It also yields endorphins, boosting your confidence and artistry.
But what if something you did yesterday cancels out that natural bump?
The basics of proper food, rest and exercise seem straightforward, but for dancers, there are biochemical loopholes that come with the irregular schedules and intense demands of the job.
1. You Relax By Drinking After Dancing
On night of binge drinking can decrease athletic performance significantly. Photo via Unsplash
Alcohol can put a dance career in danger. “I've seen how dancers escape through parties and alcohol," says Jorie Janzen, a registered dietician specializing in sports nutrition who has worked with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. But this habit leads to a downward spiral.
Even one night of binge drinking can decrease subsequent athletic performance by 11 to 30 percent. That's because while metabolizing alcohol, the liver is unable to refuel the muscles with glucose. Additionally, even one drink can interrupt the production of human growth hormone, important to muscle recovery. It can also dehydrate you, impairing balance.
“The next day or week in the studio," says Janzen, “you can see dancers' heart rates are up because their muscles are flagging. They're struggling."
How To Imbibe The Smart Way: If you do have a glass of wine or beer now and then, eat a good meal first and begin rehydrating immediately. A combination of carbohydrates and fats—quinoa or pasta with vegetables and an oily fish like salmon—will aid your muscle recovery from the day's training while slowing the absorption of alcohol to your bloodstream. Natural fruit juices are also better mixers than diet drinks, which can speed the absorption.
Beat The Hangover: If you're struggling the next day, a 2013 study suggests that Sprite speeds the breakdown of alcohol faster than other drinks. Soda water also works. Eating a breakfast that includes eggs, toast, a banana and fruit juice will help stabilize and reenergize you, as would an electrolyte-enhancing drink like coconut water sipped throughout the day.
2. You Never Make Time To Get Outside
Experts recommend taking a D3 supplement. Photo by Jonathan Perez/Unsplash
Trainers at some UK soccer teams hand out monthly vitamin D supplements. And those players train outdoors, where their bodies are exposed to sunlight, the best source of vitamin D available.
Among dancers, who train inside, low blood levels of vitamin D are rampant. A UK-based team of physicians and researchers has shown that elite dancers who supplement their vitamin D in winter months retain greater isometric strength and vertical jump capacity, and lower their risk of soft tissue injury.
Participating researcher Dr. Roger Wolman, a rheumatologist at the Royal National Orthopedic Hospital in London, says, “It could be an indirect effect, with vitamin D helping our muscles use the calcium and phosphates delivered in our foods. Without enough D, these nutrients are partially lost."
What You Should Do: Since it's hard to overdose on D—not a true vitamin, but a hormone—most dancers can safely take 1,000 IUs of D3 a day, especially from September through March.
3. You Dance On Insufficient Calories
Eating hearty meals will give you more power onstage. Photo by Lily Banse/Unsplash
Because of dance's intense athletic demands and lean aesthetic, dancers are at a high risk for “relative energy deficiency," says Janzen. And it's not just women: male athletes diet, overtrain and suffer the consequences in significant numbers.
Performing without adequate energy—in simplest terms, food—comes with serious health dangers. It can mess with your stress response, causing anxiety or depression, and leave you susceptible to illness. It fouls up your appetite and can lead to binge-eating urges when the body cries “starvation" to the brain. The metabolic changes decrease muscle strength and endurance as your glycogen stores—the energy saved in the muscles and liver that fuels movement—remain consistently low. The brain is also affected, causing low concentration and impaired judgment.
The Smart Solution: The International Olympic Committee recommends two ways to treat relative energy deficiency: adding a nutrient-rich liquid meal to daily food intake and building a day of rest into the weekly training. Ideally, dancers struggling with this problem should also turn to an interdisciplinary support team, including a sports dietician, exercise physiologist and psychologist with sports training experience.
4. Sleep Becomes Your Last Priority On Busy Days
Daytime learning gets converted to memory when we sleep. Photo by Vladislav Muslakov/Unsplash
The quality of your slumber makes a difference onstage. Dr. Michael Grandner, a sleep researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, cites a study in major league baseball players: “The sleepier they were at the beginning of the season, the more likely they were to be demoted to the minor leagues before the next season."
Why does sleep make such a difference? The genes that control the manufacture and transit of macromolecules to our cells are turned on while we sleep. “It's like restocking the shelves in the supermarket at night," says Grandner. These macromolecules—proteins, lipids, carbohydrates and nucleic acids—repair our cells (including muscles and bones) and recharge our immune systems.
The less sleep you get, the longer it takes to recover from minor aches and pains. Inadequate sleep also results in poor regulation of hormones that control appetite, and promotes weight gain. Researchers even compare lack of sleep to the way alcohol impairs coordination, mental acuity and stamina.
And don't forget that the brain converts daytime learning to memory while we sleep. "Those skills that you learned during the day are being refined and improved while you sleep," says Robert Stickgold, PhD, of Harvard Medical School's Division of Sleep Medicine. "That's why you have to get sleep the first night after you learn them."
How Much Do You Need? Seven to eight hours of sleep is considered good for most adults, although 9 to 10 hours is optimal until early adulthood (age 22 to 25). A 2011 study found that extending sleep even by one hour in college basketball players resulted in faster sprints and more accurate shots.
Naps can help, too. Just try to keep them to under an hour, and not too late in the day.
Alicia Alonso's famed ballet company in Cuba has a new leader: the beloved hometown prima ballerina Viengsay Valdés.
Ballet Nacional of Cuba just named Valdés deputy artistic director, which means she will immediately assume the daily responsibilities of running the company. Alonso, 98, will retain the title of general director, but in practice, Valdés will be the one making all the artistic decisions.
I'm terrified of performing choreography that changes directions. I messed up last year when the stage lights caused me to become disoriented. What can I do to prevent this from happening again? I can perform the combination just fine in the studio with the mirror.
—Scared, San Francisco, CA
From the angles of your feet to the size of your head, it can sometimes seem like there is no part of a dancer's body that is not under scrutiny. It's easy to get obsessed when you are constantly in front of a mirror, trying to fit a mold.
Yet the traditional ideals seem to be exploding every day. "The days of carbon-copy dancers are over," says BalletX dancer Caili Quan. "Only when you're confident in your own body can you start truly working with what you have."
While the striving may never end, there can be unexpected benefits to what you may think of as your "imperfections."
It's the second week of Miami City Ballet School's Choreographic Intensive, and the students stand in a light-drenched studio watching as choreographer Durante Verzola sets a pas de trois. "Don't be afraid to look at the ceiling—look that high," Verzola shows one student as she holds an arabesque. "That gives so much more dimension to your dancing." Other students try the same movement from the sidelines.
When Arantxa Ochoa took over as MCB School's director of faculty and curriculum two years ago, she decided to add a second part to the summer intensive: five weeks focused on technique would be followed by a new two-week choreography session. The technique intensive is not a requirement, but students audition for both at the same time and many attend the two back-to-back.
On a summer afternoon at The Ailey School's studios, a group of students go through a sequence of Horton exercises, radiating concentration and strength as they tilt to one side, arms outstretched and leg parallel to the ground. Later, in a studio down the hall, a theater dance class rehearses a lively medley of Broadway show tunes. With giant smiles and bouncy energy, students run through steps to "The Nicest Kids in Town" from Hairspray.
"You gotta really scream!" teacher Judine Somerville calls out as they mime their excitement. "This is live theater!" They segue into the audition number from A Chorus Line, "I Hope I Get It," their expressions becoming purposeful and slightly nervous. "Center stage is wherever I am," Somerville tells them when the music stops, making them repeat the words back to her. "Take that wherever you go."
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Dance artists, as a rule, are a resilient bunch. But working in a studio in New York City without heat or electricity in the middle of winter? That's not just crazy; it's unhealthy, and too much to ask of anyone.
Unfortunately, Brooklyn Studios for Dance hasn't had heat since mid-November, making it impossible for classes or performances to take place in the community-oriented center.
So what's a studio to do? Throw a massive dance party, of course.
As winter sets in, your muscles may feel tighter than they did in warmer weather. You're not imagining it: Cold weather can cause muscles to lose heat and contract, resulting in a more limited range of motion and muscle soreness or stiffness.
But dancers need their muscles to be supple and fresh, no matter the weather outside. Here's how to maintain your mobility during the colder months so your dancing isn't affected:
A newly launched initiative hopes to change the face of ballet, both onstage and behind the scenes. Called "The Equity Project: Increasing the Presence of Blacks in Ballet," the three-year initiative, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, is a partnership between Dance Theatre of Harlem, the International Association of Blacks in Dance and Dance/USA.
"We've seen huge amounts of change in the years since 1969, when Dance Theatre of Harlem was founded," says Virginia Johnson, artistic director of DTH. "But change is happening much too slowly, and it will continue to be too slow until we come to a little bit more of an awareness of what the underlying issues are and what needs to be done to address them."
From the outside, it seemed like the worst of New York City Ballet's problems were behind them last winter, when ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired amid accusations of abuse and sexual harassment, and an internal investigation did not substantiate those claims.
But further troubles were revealed in August when a scandal broke that led to dancer Chase Finlay's abrupt resignation and the firing of fellow principals Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro. All three were accused of "inappropriate communications" and violating "norms of conduct."
The artistic director sets the tone for a dance company and leads by example. But regardless of whether Martins, and George Balanchine before him, established a healthy organization, the issues at NYCB bespeak an industry-wide problem, says Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, founding artistic director of Urban Bush Women. "From New York City Ballet to emerging artists, we've just done what's been handed down," she observes. "That has not necessarily led to great practices."
If you've ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at Dance Magazine, now's your chance to find out. Dance Magazine is seeking an editorial intern who's equally passionate about dance and journalism.
Through March 1, we are accepting applications for a summer intern to assist our staff onsite in New York City from June to August. The internship includes an hourly stipend and requires a minimum two-day-a-week commitment. (We do not provide assistance securing housing.)
For the past few months, the dance world has been holding its collective breath, waiting for New York City Ballet to announce who will take over the helm as artistic director.
Though former ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired over a year ago after accusations of sexual harassment and abuse (an internal investigation did not corroborate the accusations), the search for a new leader didn't begin until last May.
Nine months later, the new director's name could be released any day now. And we have some theories about who it might be:
Some people take this profession as just a chapter of their life. They feel like dance is a job—a fun job, but a job. Other people live their life through dance. I never considered being a ballerina a profession. It's a lifestyle.
If I don't have a performance, I feel like a tiger trapped in a cage. I have so many emotions, I feel I need to give them to somebody, to exhaust myself—I need to cry or laugh, or else it's suffocating. Other people might scream or throw bottles into the wall. We dancers scream onstage through our movement. For me, it's like sweeping off the dust in my soul.
Back in 2011, Yale University's dean of science was thinking about refreshing the program's offerings for non-majors when he happened upon a Pilobolus performance. A light bulb went off: Dance is full of physics.
That realization led to what has become an eight-year collaboration between particle physicist Sarah Demers and former New York City Ballet dancer Emily Coates, both professors at Yale who were brought together to co-teach a course called The Physics of Dance. Their partnership has involved everything from directing a short film to presenting a TedX Talk and performing a piece that Coates created, commissioned by Danspace Project. This month, they're publishing a book about what they've discovered by dialoging across two seemingly disparate disciplines.
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
Though Polunin has long had a reputation for behaving inappropriately, in the last month his posts have been somewhat unhinged. In one, Polunin, who is Ukrainian, shows off his new tattoo of Vladimir Putin:
Just before retiring in 2015, Sylvie Guillem appeared on "HARDtalk with Zeinab Badawi," the BBC's hard-hitting interview program. Badawi told Guillem,
"Clement Crisp of the Financial Times, 14 years ago, described your dancing as vulgar."
"Yeah, well, he said that. But at the same time, when they asked Margot Fonteyn what she thought about lifting the leg like this she said, 'Well, if I could have done it, I would have done it.' "
They were discussing Guillem's signature stroke—her 180-degree leg extension à la seconde. Ballet legs had often flashed about in the higher zones between 135 and 160 degrees before. But it wasn't until the virtuoso French ballerina regularly
extended her leg beside her ear with immaculate poise in the 1980s that leg extensions for ballet dancers in classical roles reached their zenith. Traditionalists like Clement Crisp were not taken with it.
Sebastian Abarbanell remembers being asked as an undergrad at Trinity Laban in London to perform wearing only a dance belt. "I said no," he says, "because I felt uncomfortable." Now a performer with Sidra Bell Dance New York, he's performed partially nude several times, without reservation. The difference? "It comes with more experience and maturing as a dancer," he says. "When you see a dancer living in their skin, you don't need to put anything else on them. When I said no in college, I wasn't in my skin yet."
Getting in your skin—and getting comfortable wearing only your skin onstage—requires a particular alchemy of vulnerability, agency, preparation and practice.
Birmingham Royal Ballet announced today that international star Carlos Acosta will be taking over as director in January of 2020. Current BRB director David Bintley will be stepping down this summer, at the end of the company's 2019 season, after a 24-year tenure. "It is a tremendous honor and privilege to have been appointed to lead Birmingham Royal Ballet," Acosta said in a statement.
Since retiring from The Royal Ballet in 2015, Acosta has focused much of his attention on his native Cuba, where he's proven his directorial abilities at the helm of Acosta Danza, the contemporary company that he founded in 2016. In 2017 Acosta also opened his first Dance Academy through his foundation, which provides free training to students. We don't yet know how Acosta will balance his time between his projects in Cuba and his new role at BRB.
My personal life has taken a nosedive since I broke up with my boyfriend. He's in the same show and is now dating one of my colleagues. It's heartbreaking to see them together, and I'm determined never to date a fellow dancer again. But it's challenging to find someone outside, as I practically live in the theater. Do you have any advice?
—Loveless, New York, NY
The inimitable Carol Channing, best known for her role as the titular Hello, Dolly!, passed away today at 97.
Though she became a three-time Tony winner, Channing was born in Seattle, far from the Great White Way, in 1921. After growing up in San Francisco, she attended the famed Bennington College, studying dance and drama. She later told the university, "What Bennington allows you to do is develop the thing you're going to do anyway, over everybody's dead body." For Channing, that meant decades of fiery, comical performances, bursting with energy.
Something's coming, I don't know when
But it's soon...maybe tonight?
Those iconic lyrics have basically been our #mood ever since we first heard a remake of the West Side Story film, directed by Steven Spielberg and choreographed by Justin Peck, was in the works. THE CASTING. THE CASTING WAS COMING.
Well, last night—after an extensive search process that focused on finding the best actors within the Puerto Rican/Latinx community—the WSS team finally revealed who'll be playing Maria, Anita, Bernardo, and Chino (joining Ansel Elgort, who was cast as Tony last fall). And you guys: It is a truly epic group.