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Eating on Tour: The Biggest Challenges, Solved

As much as dancers might love touring, the road can be a tough place to get the nutrition you need. "A lot of things are out of your control on tour—you won't be able to eat the way you do at home," says Heidi Skolnik, a certified dietitian nutritionist who has worked with dancers at the School of American Ballet. But preparing for common challenges can help you keep up some semblance of your normal routine.


CHALLENGE: Your travel schedule doesn't match up with meal times.

If you don't know when the next rest stop will be, pack foods that will travel well. "Bring tuna in a pouch, nuts, peanut butter and crackers, carrot sticks, or even yogurt, cheese sticks and hard-boiled eggs in an insulated lunch bag," suggests Skolnik. You can stock up on most of these items in gas stations and airports in the U.S.

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CHALLENGE: Lots of downtime means lots of opportunities to snack.

A common slip-up is skipping meals and then munching on chips because you're hungry and bored. "If you opted for a large coffee Coolatta instead of a hamburger because you thought it was the lighter choice, you've actually self-sabotaged," setting yourself up for cravings later, says Skolnik. Fill up on good stuff when you can, buy healthy snacks and limit hard-to-resist foods. "If you're just snacking mindlessly, find something else to fill your time," says Emily C. Harrison, founder of Dancer Nutrition. Knit, draw, take photos, write in a journal or get into a new Netflix series.

Quinn Wharton for Pointe

CHALLENGE: Not enough time to find something healthy.

You might tumble off the bus and go straight into rehearsal, so Harrison suggests carrying energy bars with you. "The best options have less than 15 grams of natural sugar from dates or other dried fruit," she says. And don't forget to stay hydrated. "Twitchy muscles, fatigue and poor balance are symptoms of dehydration—buy a Gatorade, or keep electrolyte drink mixes stashed in your bag."

Shelby Elsbree

CHALLENGE: Limited options.

On a bus tour that features a lot of Taco Bells and Bob Evans, don't overlook coffee shops and grocery stores. "Even rest areas and fast-food chains now offer some healthy options," says Skolnik. It doesn't have to be salad—get a slice of pizza with veggies on it or a burger with lettuce and tomato. When the rest of the cast wants to hit Taco Bell (again), you could run over to the grocery store to grab prepared foods, like a rotisserie chicken, fruit cups, or whole-grain bread and peanut butter .

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CHALLENGE: Opportunities to cook are rare.

If you can, travel with a Crock-Pot, suggests Skolnik. You can prep slow-cooker meals ahead of time and feast on them for a few days, as long as you have access to a refrigerator.


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CHALLENGE: Food overseas can sometimes cause stomach issues.

To avoid food poisoning, don't eat raw or undercooked meat and eggs, or unpasteurized dairy. If the water is unsafe to drink, peel any raw fruits and veggies yourself, and wash them with bottled or disinfected water. If you have serious food allergies, print out a "chef card" from safefare.org to communicate your allergy in the language of the country you're visiting.

Alex Wong

CHALLENGE: Nothing's open after the show.

A lot of eating well is simply time management, says Skolnik. "Think ahead—it shouldn't be a surprise every night that you'll need to find food after the show." Bring a snack, like a 120-calorie yogurt, to eat right after the show, and have something else waiting back in your hotel room. Have a heartier meal at lunch when restaurants are open, so dinner can be light: a salad you bought earlier, an omelet from room service or something that's heat-and-eat. Harrison likes Dr. McDougall's Right Foods soup cups, which have ingredients like lentils, quinoa, sweet potatoes and kale. "Even if you only have oatmeal and almond butter," she says, "at least you're satiated."

Quinn Wharton for Pointe

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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