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Are Dancers at Greater Risk of Disordered Eating During the Shutdown?

As we spend more time at home and less in the studio, many aspects of our routine simply aren't up to us. In the midst of COVID-19–related shutdowns, some dancers may be struggling with their relationship to food, whether they're feeling guilty about stress eating or are developing dangerous disordered eating behaviors, such as restricting or bingeing.

Dance Magazine spoke with Rachel Fine, dietitian and owner of To The Pointe Nutrition, to address dancers' concerns during this time, along with tips for more mindful eating at home.


We're in an extreme situation. 

Dancers with perfectionistic tendencies may be more prone to developing dangerous food habits. "Right now, we're in an extreme situation of so much being out of our control," says Fine. "There is a major impact of isolation and not knowing what the future will hold with summer intensives, auditions, contracts, the financial state of the dance industry. So you definitely have dancers—probably more likely the ones that are more type A perfectionists—using this as an opportunity to control something: their food intake."

If it seems like you're constantly visiting the fridge, you're not the only one, and it doesn't mean you have an eating disorder. Snacking out of boredom, stress or emotions, or simply overeating, are common for anyone regardless of personality type, says Fine. Still, she mentions that during this especially stressful time, a dancer might worry about gaining weight at home and resort to a binge-and-restrict cycle much faster than they would under a normal, jam-packed schedule.

You might gain weight—and that's okay. 

It's a given that you can't precisely replicate the experience of class and rehearsal at home, and overall, you're likely spending less time being active. Accept the fact that you might gain a few pounds.

Fine often sees dancers struggle with their changing bodies, especially if they developed disordered eating during puberty. "It's not fair to compare your prepubescent body to what your body needs to look like as an 18 year old, or as a 30 year old."

During this period of uncertainty, she urges dancers to be patient with themselves, and confident that they can get back to where they were—without resorting to extremes—after this temporary situation. As you return to your normal activity levels, trust that your body will respond.

Keep in mind that dance companies and schools worldwide are being affected by shutdowns. "It's not like you have an injury, you're sitting out and the girl next to you is going further," says Fine. "Everyone's going back to the studio less in shape than they were when they were there."

Use this time to tune in to your body's signals.

"One of the biggest questions that I'm getting asked right now is 'Should I be reducing the amount that I'm eating because I'm not burning as much?' " says Fine, who warns against calorie restriction. Instead of trying to reduce your intake by counting calories, focus on tuning in to your feelings of hunger and fullness.

"If your energy expenditure is not as high, your body is going to adjust and you're generally not going to feel as hungry as usual or you might feel fuller sooner." Without the busyness of cramming in a meal between rehearsals, dancers now have more free time to practice mindful eating behaviors. "Try building more communication and trust with your body so that you can listen to your intuitive feelings of fullness at a meal or at a snack."

White woman eating Chow mein

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Structure your day.

If you feel like you're mindlessly noshing throughout the day, Fine says, "consider giving yourself some type of structure, just as you would with your dance classes or activities at home. Write down a schedule: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, snack."

Make eating a positive experience. 

When you eat, make it intentional. "If you want chips, put them on a plate and pair them with a protein source," says Fine, instead of eating out of the bag. "Food is meant to be happy, enjoyable, comfortable." Tasting and enjoying each bite creates a good experience, whereas mindlessly eating can leave you feeling overstuffed or full to the point of physical discomfort. "That's going to turn it into a bad experience with food."

And if you want ice cream, have it. "We should always embrace our cravings," she says.

If you need help

Usually, if a client is concerned about their relationship with food, Fine helps them identify the source of their stress. "But with COVID-19, we can't fix the source right now," she says. "Our stress is going to be there, so we might need tools to get through this temporarily stressful situation."

If you feel like your eating habits are dangerous, there is virtual help available. Fine's website includes resources for dancers, like recommended books and podcasts about healthy eating. The National Eating Disorders Association has compiled a list of treatment centers currently offering online sessions, and its helpline is available via phone, text or online chat.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021