A freelance writer in New York City, Alison Feller contributes to Women's Health, Self, Shape, Allure, Well+Good, and Daily Burn, and is the creator of the blog Ali on the Run and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast.
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At the end of Act I in Broadway's Mean Girls, the entire ensemble performs high-energy choreography while belting what Kamille Upshaw says is "a million notes at once." Though Upshaw is a Juilliard-trained dancer who made her Broadway debut in Hamilton, nothing, she says, could prepare her for this moment. "Singing while dancing is just hard," Upshaw says. "It takes patience, focus and compromise."
Raise your hand if you've ever walked out of the studio with just one thought on your mind: a big, juicy cheeseburger. But raise your other hand if instead of getting that burger, you opted for a hearty salad or stir-fry.
While dancers need to fuel their bodies with nutrient-dense meals and snacks, plenty of foods get an unfair bad rap. "The diet culture in this country vilifies various food groups as being bad while championing others as good," says Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, CDN, clinical nutrition and wellness manager at the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "But black-and-white thinking like that has no place when it comes to food."
Some foods have less nutrition than others, admits Hogan, but if you're eating what you crave and honoring your hunger and fullness cues, she says you'll probably get the variety of nutrients your body needs. Here are seven foods that can have a place on your plate—guilt-free.
They say your life can change in a moment. For JaQuel Knight, it took precisely three minutes and 18 seconds. That's how long three leotard-and-high-heel-clad women spent on-screen, strutting in perfect unison and becoming an instant video sensation, one that would go on to garner more than 600 million views on YouTube.
In the '90s, low-fat diets were as popular as boy bands. But by the early 2000s, the high-fat, high-protein Atkins and South Beach diets had people stocking up on steak and eggs. Now, avocado toast is arguably trendier than *NSYNC ever was, and fat is no longer thought of as a naughty f-word.
But there's still some skepticism around how necessary fats are in a well-rounded diet, particularly among dancers. Before you reach for that grass-fed double bacon cheeseburger, make sure you know the difference between rumors and reality.
In a perfect world, we would get all the nutrients we need from hearty, healthy (and delicious!) meals. "Food is where vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are in their most natural form and can be best used by the body," says Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, CDN, clinical nutrition and wellness manager at the Dubin Breast Center of the Mount Sinai Hospital.
But for dancers—who are asking so much of their bodies but might be watching calories—even a relatively healthy diet doesn't necessarily mean you're fueling your body for optimal performance. Adding a supplement or vitamin to your regimen could give you the boost you've been missing.
Which should you consider?
Photo by Joe Toreno
Her YouTube channel has more than 1 million subscribers. MTV has hired her to produce and star in her own reality show, "Going Off." More than a hundred and fifty eager dancers will line up just to get into one of her classes.
But why is everyone so obsessed with Tricia Miranda?
The 37-year-old baggy-pants-wearing, giant-hoop-earrings-loving choreographer from Yuma, Arizona, is a master of the viral video.
She uploaded her first class-combination video—to Nicki Minaj's “Anaconda"—in 2014 to promote her upcoming classes at The PULSE On Tour. It "accidentally" got more than 30 million views.
The former Beyoncé and Britney Spears dancer already had serious industry credits to her name, but clips from her classes at Millennium Dance Complex in North Hollywood are what have made her a star. They have even boosted the fame and professional careers of many young dancers in her class, like Jade Chynoweth, Gabe De Guzman, Aidan Prince and Kaycee Rice.
When asked what makes her videos go viral, Miranda lists four things:
- Her students: “The dancers are mind-blowing."
- Her music: She normally teaches to Top 40 songs, which people are searching for online.
- The film quality: The cinematography is professionally done.
- That party vibe: “We're all screaming and telling jokes, laughing, being silly," Miranda says. “I like to create a safe, supportive environment. I want my dancers to feel comfortable enough to ask questions and not feel intimidated. They can mess up, they can be themselves."
A version of this story appears in Dance Magazine's March 2017 issue.
Sometimes, it takes more than dancing to become a better dancer. Whether you struggle with tense shoulders or weak jumps, adding in the right forms of cross-training can fast-track your improvement. We asked the experts for exercises you can do on your own to fix six of the most common technique problems.
Whether you're attending your first convention or your 20th, spending a weekend in a crowded ballroom with hundreds of other dancers can be equal parts exciting, intimidating and overwhelming. Conventions are a chance to learn new styles, take classes from top teachers and network with the people who may someday hire you. So how do you take advantage of this opportunity and stand out from the crowd?
It's two hours until showtime, and you want a quick bite to give you a boost. So you run into your local smoothie shop and order the Strawberry Surprise. Perfect plan, right? Not necessarily. The word “smoothie" doesn't automatically translate to superfood. But done right, it can be a dancer's secret weapon, leaving you satisfied without the bloat, and energized without the sugar crash. The trick is to avoid these six common mistakes.
Mistake: Overdoing Fruit
Fruit is healthy—in moderation. “You don't need three servings of it to start your day," says dietitian Lauren Slayton, founder of Foodtrainers in New York City. Keep your drink heavy on the veggies, and stick to just one serving of fruit. Vegetables have very little to no sugar, and pack a greater nutritional punch.
Mistake: Adding Juice
“One of the great things about blended smoothies (as opposed to juicing) is that you retain the fiber and other nutrients in the skins of the fruit," says Emily C. Harrison, dietitian at the Centre for Dance Nutrition at Atlanta Ballet. “Adding juice is more like adding sweetener." Instead, Harrison recommends using almond or soy milk for a boost in calcium and vitamin D, or simply water.
Mistake: Over Sweetening
It may be tempting to add a sweetener, but you really don't need it. “Smoothies are naturally sweet," says Harrison. Try your favorite smoothie without extra sweetener and see if you can taste the difference. If you insist on adding something, Slayton suggests just a few drops of liquid stevia or other natural sweeteners. “Agave, maple syrup or honey are okay if you truly stick to a few drops," she says. “But never go for Splenda. That puts the 'ugly' in the good, bad and ugly of smoothies." The chlorinated artificial sweetener is made primarily of sucralose, which comes with a whole host of negative side effects.
If you're ordering a premade smoothie, beware: “Most are full of sugar," warns Harrison. For example, even Smoothie King's small Hulk Vanilla drink packs a whopping 88 grams of sugar—about as much as two bags of Skittles. According to the American Heart Association, women shouldn't be consuming more than 25 grams per day of added sugar (not including the naturally occurring sugars in fruit).
Mistake: Adding Protein
Mixing in protein powder is usually unnecessary. “Most dancers get enough protein through their diets," says Harrison. “So adding extra protein is basically just adding extra calories—and it doesn't magically make your muscles bigger." If you do want to pump up your protein intake, Harrison suggests sticking to pea or hemp protein: “They come from plant-based sources, which have been shown to be healthier in the long term."
Mistake: Skipping Fat
Repeat after us: Fat is not a dirty word! “Fat provides staying power," says Slayton. Adding a tablespoon of healthy fats is an easy way to keep yourself satisfied through long performances. Slayton's favorites are coconut oil (“great for burning fat," she says), hemp seeds and almond butter.
Mistake: Creating A Calorie Bomb
That aforementioned Hulk Vanilla smoothie boasts 801 calories—essentially making it a glorified milkshake. Harrison suggests keeping your smoothie to 8 to 16 ounces, depending on whether you're drinking it as a snack or a meal.
The contemporary queen is taking on the most famous kickline in the world.
Michaels working with the Rockettes. Photo by Rebecca Taylor, Courtesy MSG Photos.
When you’ve launched your own company, become a three-time Emmy Award winner from your work on “So You Think You Can Dance” and choreographed a hit Broadway musical, what would you pursue next? Most people would think “A vacation.” But this summer, Mia Michaels will make her directorial debut as the director and choreographer of the New York Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes, a revamped version of last year’s New York Spring Spectacular.The show runs June 15–August 7 at Radio City Music Hall.
You choreographed the opening number of the Spring Spectacular. Now you’re running the whole show.
I’m getting my first official director credit—it’s really exciting! I’ve wanted to direct for a long time, and it’s happening. This show is huge. It’s a beast. But that’s perfect for me. I don’t start small, apparently.
What is your vision for this show?
The Rockettes have been around for more than 85 years and now they’re putting themselves into my hands. That’s golden. We’re creating this spectacle and making beautiful eye candy for the viewers. There will absolutely still be kicklines—that will never go away! But I’m excited to breathe fresh energy into it. My goal is to bring a Mia vocabulary into the Rockette world, and really marry the two. When a brand is this iconic, you don’t want to change it—it’s iconic for a reason. I’m protecting this little nugget while playing around with all the gravy that surrounds it.
What is the new story about?
It’s a magical journey through New York City, told through the eyes of a child, so it brings that fantastical quality of what New York can be. There’s a lot of dance, a lot of leg and a lot of original music. I’m bringing on a group of male ensemble dancers, so that’s a big change. The movement is all over the map, from the classic Rockette rep to more contemporary flavors. Not only do the dancers have to do Rockette material, they also have to do the physical and technical Mia work.
What are some of the challenges you’re facing as a director?
It’s so different from just choreographing because you have your eye on every team and every department. You’re looking at everything from the colors to the lights to the videos to the music. As a choreographer, you’re in your own pocket. As a director, you’re in every pocket.
Do you have any other projects in the works?
I wrote a book—an instructional inspirational memoir, if that makes any sense—called A Unicorn in a World of Donkeys. Everyone is always trying to look the same, be the same. This is about challenging yourself to stand out and celebrate it. It has a lot of stories from my life and career, but it’s not just for dancers. I’m also working on “Mia Michaels Live,” which is an online mentorship program for artists, dancers, choreographers and teachers. As I get older, I realize how much I needed a mentor when I was younger. Now it’s my turn to be a mentor—to be Mama Mia.
Any chance we’ll be seeing you on this season of “So You Think You Can Dance”?
Oh, I don’t know! I have no idea! But never say never. That brand is a big part of my life, so if Nigel [Lythgoe] wanted me to come back, I would definitely do it if the time was right.
Making the shift from the concert dance world to the commercial industry? Here’s what you need to know.
Ebony Williams advises dancers to highlight their personal style in auditions. Photo by Christopher Lane for Pointe.
When Ebony Williams goes grocery shopping, people often stop her. “Do the ‘Single Ladies’ dance!” they beg. Seven years after Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” video debuted, Williams—one of just two backup dancers in the video—still gets called out in public. “People have said they recognize my butt cheeks,” Williams says, with a laugh. Although she spent 10 years as a veritable star in Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, it was her performance with Beyoncé that skyrocketed her to household-name fame.
Concert-dancer-turned-commercial-superstar stories like Williams’ are inspiring. But they’re not typical. Making the transition from the concert world to the fast-paced and unpredictable commercial scene requires adaptability, persistence and thick skin.
Why Make the Switch?
Matthew Shaffer started his career with the Giordano Dance Chicago touring company. But he craved variety. “I get bored easily,” he says. “One of the biggest appeals of the commercial world is you’re doing something different every day.” Once you’ve wrapped, it’s on to new choreography, new costumes and a new set.
The same was true for Williams. “I wasn’t doing any hip hop,” she says. So she sought out the style in her spare time. “I would rehearse from 10 to 6 with Cedar Lake, and then I would go to Broadway Dance Center to take hip hop,” she says. “It felt like recess!” Williams booked her first commercial job performing with Rihanna at Fashion Rocks and eventually signed with Clear Talent Group.
Remember that commercial auditions are unlike company auditions. “Your look takes precedence,” says Williams. “A haircut can get you a job.” Know what you’re auditioning for, and outfit yourself accordingly—while maintaining your personal style, so the casting team will remember you. Consider having a signature hairstyle, accessory or shoe to brand yourself.
Typically, the casting team is looking for someone specific: They may need a tall blonde who can vogue, or a short Asian with huge muscles. Typecasting is unavoidable. “They’re looking for the best match, not the best dancer,” says Jessica Lee Keller, a former member of Cedar Lake who has danced on “Dancing with the Stars,” “The Voice” and in Teen Beach Movie.
Whether or not you’re the best match, you’re likely replaceable. “If you can’t make it, they move on to the next person,” says Williams.
Get an Agent
Most agencies hold open calls, but if you have connections, a referral helps. Once you land an agent, they will tell you about upcoming auditions and negotiate your working conditions, salary and other legal items, explains Shaffer. Your agent will also help you navigate the SAG/AFTRA union, which protects dancers.
When you were dancing with a company, you probably had class every day. Now you have to take control of your training. “Take classes that are foreign to you,” says Shaffer. “You’re already great at contemporary—now take jazz, hip hop or whatever class is taught by the choreographer you want to work with.”
While the best way to network is in person, there is tremendous power on social media. Post videos on your channels, interact with your favorite choreographers and share posts you find valuable. The more people in your network—both in real life and on the internet—the better.
It’s also wise to enroll in singing and acting classes. “We’re used to using our bodies to convey emotions,” says Shaffer. “But it’s no longer just about the kick-ball-change.”
“I make four times as much money on commercial jobs as I did when I was in a company,” says Shaffer. The major variable is that with a company contract comes a steady paycheck, plus benefits, while on commercial gigs, you may get one huge check, but you have to make it last until your next job. If you work on a television show or in a movie, however, you can expect residuals. “You can go to the mailbox and have a check for a movie you did two years ago,” says Shaffer. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”