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4 Ways to Keep Your Summer Intensive from Leading to Disordered Eating

Summer intensives can be incredible experiences, but they also bring challenges. As a former dancer and current nutritionist for dancers, I recall a common scenario: Mornings of classes and afternoons of rehearsals increase the demands on your energy, but with little time for breaks, food becomes less of a priority than new combinations and new repertory.

Busy schedules make it easy for students to unintentionally under-eat. If a dancer loses weight in the process and teachers or directors positively affirm this weight loss, it can increase the risk of developing disordered eating habits. These restrictive dieting behaviors, as a dancer attempts to follow strict rules regarding food choices or daily calorie intake, can stem from a drive to be "healthy" or from a desire to control one's weight. Yet obsessive tendencies can turn harmless intentions into unhealthy habits.


Students strive more than ever to achieve high levels of success in these physically demanding programs. According to Terry Hyde, a psychotherapist at Counselling for Dancers, says, "Eating disorders are about control. The intense pressure to be 'perfect' can lead to feelings of frustration and disappointment."

Though the intense and sometimes competitive nature of a summer program can improve a student's technique, Hyde says, "Any underlying mental health issues relating to eating disorders will be exacerbated."

Making decisions around food while managing a hectic schedule is a lot to coordinate. Dancers may attend programs away from home—often for the first time without a parent's guidance at meals. Meeting peers who have disordered eating habits can also spark the development of such behaviors.

Teachers and directors can provide helpful resources to prevent these learning experiences from turning into breeding grounds of eating disorders. And students can take proactive steps to fuel a healthy experience.

Fuel Your Movement

closeup of trail mix

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Focus on a balanced diet that includes enough to sustain both your energy levels and your metabolism. You may need an extra snack to stay fueled throughout long mornings and long afternoons. Create a homemade trail mix using nuts, seeds, pretzels and dried fruit. This is a quick, nutritious option that is easily accessible during short breaks. It also keeps for safe storage in your dance bag!

Utilize Appropriate Resources

A woman sits with her legs crossed, notebook on her lap

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Turn to health professionals for information. Registered dietitian nutritionists are licensed practitioners that offer evidence-based advice to educate you about a balanced meal plan. Mental health professionals such as psychotherapists and psychologists help dancers manage the mental weight of an intense environment.

Reach out beforehand if you're nervous. Online resources and training courses make this help attainable and convenient for your schedule. Also, inquire about the services offered at your intensive. If you're feeling overwhelmed, ask teachers to connect you with a professional.

Make Friends, Not Competitors

A group of kids on stage dancing

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Create a positive experience with your peers. Look around and remember that you're all at the intensive for the same reasons: to learn and achieve. This is an opportunity to progress in both your technique and in your art as a whole. Sharing this experience with those who embrace your passion will allow you to grow as a dancer.

Keep a Watchful Eye

a woman eating soup

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We live in a diet-obsessed society and disordered eating habits are amongst us. When combined with a perfectionist-type mindset, these habits can turn into harmful behaviors. If you identify with restrictive eating habits, or know a friend who may have an eating disorder, consider seeking a professional's help and check out the helpful tips supplied at the National Eating Disorders Association.

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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