Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
In Ohad Naharin's Minus 16, dancers on chairs perform a quick series of emphatic gestures, flinging back their heads and limbs, with the last dancer eventually throwing their body to the floor. The first time Atlanta Ballet performed the piece, the company saw a number of injuries to the neck and low back. So when it returned last year, the artistic staff wanted to find a method to prevent injuries.
"It is such a stressful piece on the body, and the dancers are not always prepared because it is very outside of the box for the classical and neoclassical repertoire they're used to," says Emma Faulkner, physical therapist with Atlanta Ballet. To help prepare them, Faulkner and her colleague Amanda Blackmon, along with former ballet master Sarah Hillmer, created a workout designed specifically for the movements of Minus 16.
With Halloween behind us, it's officially that time of year. No, we don't mean the holidays. People who say the holidays are the busiest season don't know what it's like to be a ballet dancer. Because nothing beats the craziness of Nutcracker time.
Fortunately, Dance Magazine has gathered all kinds of tips over the years from pros who tackle ballet's Everest year in and year out. We gathered six to keep in mind as rehearsals begin to seriously ramp up.
As a dancer working with your toes to the marley day in and day out, it is easy to feel like no one but your immediate colleagues understands your challenges.
Yet there are countless medical professionals working to improve the lives of dancers. Last week the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science gathered more than 500 professionals, all of whom have dedicated their careers to supporting dancers, at its 29th annual conference in Montreal.
Have you heard the story about the dancer who needed a double hip replacement…at age 16?
It's not an urban legend—just ask iconic choreographer Mia Michaels. In a video series about dance injuries, produced by Apolla Performance Footwear, Michaels tells the tale of a teenage comp kid who pushed so hard she ended up in surgery.
That dancer's harrowing story was one of the inspirations for the Bridge Dance Project. The new initiative—brainchild of Jan Dunn, co-director of Denver Dance Medicine Associates, and Kaycee Cope Jones, COO of Apolla—aims to connect members of the competition and commercial dance communities with dance science experts. While many academic and professional concert dancers have benefited from recent advances in dance medicine, that information hasn't made its way to most of the young students in convention ballrooms. And as the technical demands on those students increase, so does the number of injuries.
We talked to Dunn and Jones about how the Bridge Dance Project was born, the initiative's long-term goals, and why young competition and commercial dancers should make injury prevention a priority.
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New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.
It's hour three of an intense rehearsal, you're feeling mentally foggy and exhausted, and your stomach hurts. Did you know the culprit could be something as simple as dehydration?
Proper hydration helps maintain physical and mental function while you're dancing, and keeps your energy levels high. But with so many products on the market promising to help you rehydrate more effectively, how do you know when it's time to reach for more than water?
Today, dancers are cross-training more than ever. And though there are some recommendations about what types of cross-training might be best for dancers' bodies, ultimately it comes down to what works for you.
We asked 13 pros about their go-to cross-training routines as part of our "Spotlight" series—and each one of them has a totally different approach:
We all know that dancers are typically perfectionistic, highly-motivated, driven and capable of enduring physical pain. These same qualities that lead to success can also drive stress that eventually leads to burnout.
But did you know that diet can play a role in taking care of your mental health?
It's a cycle familiar to many: First, a striking image of a lithe, impossibly fit dancer executing a gravity-defying développé catches your eye on Instagram. You pause your scrolling to marvel, over and over again, at her textbook physique.
Inevitably, you take a moment to consider your own body, in comparison. Doubt and negative self-talk first creep, and then flood, in. "I'll never look like that," the voice inside your head whispers. You continue scrolling, but the image has done its dirty work—a gnawing sensation has taken hold, continually reminding you that your own body is inferior, less-than, unworthy.
It's no stretch to say that social media has a huge effect on body image. For dancers—most of whom already have a laser-focus on their appearance—the images they see on Instagram can seem to exacerbate ever-present issues. "Social media is just another trigger," says Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who works with the dancers of Atlanta Ballet. "And dancers don't need another trigger." In the age of Photoshop and filters, how can dancers keep body dysmorphia at bay?
For busy dancers on the go, it's easy to grab a premade salad on the way to class or scroll through delivery options as rehearsal comes to a close. But bringing homemade meals and snacks to the studio or theater has real payoffs. And making it happen doesn't have to be as difficult as you might think.
Snap, crackle, pop, crack, thunk, click.
Dancer hips can make an impressive variety of noises. Sometime these are painful, sometimes not; sometimes they're intentional, sometimes they just happen when dancing, cross-training or walking.
But what's actually making those noises—and should you be worried about them?
When it comes to our bodies, dancers have a bad habit of focusing on the negative. We often wish we were taller, or shorter, or stronger, or slimmer.
But as dancers our bodies give us so much, and negative body talk doesn't do anything to help us become better artists.
So we thought it'd be a nice change of pace to instead ask dancers what they love about their bodies:
If you forget about that lasagna you just reheated for even 10 minutes, it may get too cold for your liking. Your body isn't much different. After class, we lose most of our warmth within 15 minutes. So we need to warm up again if we have a longer break before rehearsal or performance. But do we have to repeat an entire class? Not necessarily.
The definition of "warm" in dance goes beyond heat. According to the International Association for Dance Medicine & Science, it's not only an increase in body temperature, but also an increase in the flow of synovial fluid (which helps joints move freely), faster breathing and focused concentration. All these changes get us ready to dance.
Ah, stretching. It seems so simple, and is yet so complicated.
For example: You don't want to overstretch, but you're not going to see results if you don't stretch enough. You want to focus on areas where you're tight, but you also can't neglect other areas or else you'll be imbalanced. You were taught to hold static stretches growing up, but now everyone is telling you never to hold a stretch longer than a few seconds?
Considering how important stretching correctly is for dancers, it's easy to get confused or overwhelmed. So we came up with 10 common stretching scenarios, and gave you the expert low-down.
The Australian Ballet's artistic health team has become a reference worldwide, and not just because they got David Hallberg back onstage after his two-year struggle with injuries. Their results speak for themselves: While foot stress fractures and hip arthroscopies are common elsewhere in the ballet world, The Australian Ballet hasn't had any in over a decade.
Dr. Sue Mayes, the company's principal physiotherapist since 1997 and director of the team, has developed a research-based approach that is now being emulated by other companies. In The Australian Ballet's state-of-the-art Melbourne health and fitness facility, she shared some of her best tips.
Chiara Valle is just one of many dancers heading back to the studio this fall as companies ramp up for the season. But her journey back has been far more difficult than most.
Valle has been a trainee at The Washington Ballet since 2016, starting at the same time as artistic director Julie Kent. But only a few months into her first season there, she started experiencing excruciating pain high up in her femur. "It felt like someone was stabbing me 24/7," she says. Sometimes at night, the pain got so bad that her roommates would bring her dinner to the bathtub.
What does cycling have to do with dancing?
For Purelements: An Evolution in Dance co-founder Kevin Joseph, it's all about freedom: "That freedom of moving through space on a bike is the same freedom I feel when I'm dancing," he says. And that sense of freedom—whether it's in the studio or in the streets—is something that Purelements is determined to give to its East Brooklyn community.