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Dancing With Asthma
It starts with a tight feeling in your chest. Your breaths become shallow and high, like your lungs are sitting at the back of your throat. Then, panic sets in. You're gasping for air, and the anxiety is only making it worse. I was diagnosed with asthma in my early teens, and it would act up whenever I was rehearsing something extra-strenuous. While it rarely put me in immediate medical danger, it certainly changed the way I danced. I approached difficult phrases with less confidence, and tried to save so much energy in the early minutes of pieces that I moved too cautiously.
Dancing, and other physical activity, can trigger an asthma attack. But that doesn't mean you have to let it impact your work. Instead, you can learn how to prevent and control your breathing problems. It will help you feel more secure onstage, give more power to your dancing and, most importantly, keep you out of a dangerous medical situation.
Why It Happens
When you have an asthma attack, it's because your airway has narrowed and become inflamed, limiting the air that can get to your lungs. Asthma, which usually develops by age 30, can have many different triggers, says Atlanta Ballet primary care physician Kara Pepper. It could be environmental, like cold air or dust; allergy-related, like pollen or pet dander; or because of exercise itself.
What to Do
If you're having trouble breathing, see your primary care doctor, who may refer you to a lung doctor or allergist, depending on your symptoms. You'll probably be given a physical exam, as well as a series of breathing tests that measure the power and capacity of your lungs. Most people diagnosed with asthma are prescribed a rescue inhaler. These are used to help open up airways in the lungs, but only relieve symptoms temporarily. If you are experiencing symptoms weekly, you would be given a daily prescription to lessen the need for a rescue inhaler, says Pepper.
Keeping your asthma under control means always having your inhaler within reach, whether that's in your dance bag or safely hidden in the wings during a performance. If you know you'll be dancing something extra-aerobic, take a puff from the inhaler 30 minutes prior. Many rescue inhalers contain a short-acting medication, which can make some people feel shaky and have a racing heartbeat, but it usually isn't enough to throw off your performance.
Learn what triggers your breathing problem. For instance, you could avoid allergens by using your air conditioner during high pollen seasons. Clean your living space regularly, since dust—even if you're not allergic—can be a key player. And invest in a dehumidifier if you live in a particularly damp climate. Pepper's biggest advice is to find a lung doctor to monitor the severity of your symptoms. Lastly, get a flu shot every year and a pneumonia shot sometime after you turn 18, as both illnesses greatly impact lung capacity.
Asthma is a manageable problem, and very rarely will it impact your health so much that a doctor would suggest abandoning dance altogether. You just have to take command of your health, like you would with any tricky piece of choreography that comes your way.
Tips and Tricks
- If you're having difficulty breathing while dancing, put your hands on your hips or on your head to give your ribs room to expand and help you recover.
- Keep a diary detailing your attacks to discover what your triggers are.
- Choreograph your breathing throughout a piece. Knowing exactly where you need to concentrate on your lungs can calm anxiety.
- Try to relax. The more anxious you feel about your asthma acting up, the worse it can make an attack.
- Always give yourself a good warm-up. No one should take their body from zero to 100 immediately, especially if your lungs need a little extra help.
Eating for Better Breathing
According to the Mayo Clinic, people with asthma may have low levels of vitamin D—something many dancers often lack because they spend so much time indoors. Get your fix through salmon, milk, eggs and some sun. Fruits, vegetables and other antioxidant-packed foods have been found to decrease lung inflammation. And, of course, avoid any foods that may trigger an allergic reaction.
One of the biggest myths about ballet dancers is that they don't eat. While we all know that, yes, there are those who do struggle with body image issues and eating disorders, most healthy dancers love food—and eat plenty of it to fuel their busy schedules.
Luckily for us, they're not afraid to show it:
Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
What does a superstar like Carlos Acosta do after bidding farewell to his career in classical ballet? In Acosta's case, he returns to his native country, Cuba, to funnel his fame, connections and prodigious energies back into the dance scene that formed him. Because of its top-notch, state-supported training programs and popular embrace of the art of dance, Cuba is brimming with talented dancers. What it has been short on, until recently, are opportunities outside of the mainstream companies, as well as access to a more international repertoire. That is changing now, and, with the creation of Acosta Danza, launched in 2016, Acosta is determined to open the doors even wider to new ideas and audiences.
There's so much more to the dance world than making and performing dances. Arts administrators do everything from raising money to managing companies to building new audiences. With the growing number of arts administration programs in colleges, dancers have an opportunity to position themselves for a multifaceted career on- or offstage—and to bring their unique perspective as artists to administrative work.
While Solange was busy helping big sis Beyoncé give Coachella its best performances of all time, an equally compelling project was quietly circulating on Instagram:
New York City Ballet continues its first year without Peter Martins at the helm as our spring season opens tonight.
When he retired at the start of the new year, we plunged headfirst into unknown, murky waters. Who would the new director be? When would we know? Would we dancers get some say in the decision? Who would oversee the Balanchine ballets? Who would be in charge of casting? Would a new director bring along huge upheaval? Could some of us be out of a job?
In the world of ballet, Arcadian Broad is a one-stop shop: He'll come up with a story, compose its music, choreograph the movement and dance it himself. But then Broad has always been a master of versatility. As a teenager he juggled school, dance and—after the departure of his father—financial responsibility. It was Broad's income from dancing that kept his family afloat. Fast-forward six years and things are far more stable. Broad now lives on his own in an apartment, but you can usually find him in the studio.
Bales of hay, black umbrellas, bicycles—this Midsummer Night's Dream would be unrecognizable to the Bard. Alexander Ekman's full-length, inspired by Scandinavian solstice traditions and set to music by Mikael Karlsson, is a madcap celebration of the longest day of the year, when the veil between our world and that of the supernatural is said to be at its thinnest. The Joffrey Ballet's performances mark the seductively surreal work's North American premiere. April 25–May 6. joffrey.org.