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It's Time to Dispel the Myth of "Ideal" Dancer Weight

As a dietitian specializing in dance nutrition, the most common DM flooding my inbox is "How can I drop pounds (specifically from body fat) and gain muscle?"

The short answer? Not happening.


The more we attempt to control the number on the scale, the more we risk developing physiological, biological and psychological deterrents that can drive us away from the passion we love: dance.

Striving for an unrealistically low weight while trying to increase muscle mass is utterly impossible, given the simple fact that muscle weighs more than fat. When you engage in a strength-training activity (like dancing), your weight is naturally higher.

As a society, we've developed an overwhelming fear of fat. However, whether it's on our body or in our food, fat is a key player in a healthy lifestyle and strong performance. Body fat regulates hormones, which support brain health, skin elasticity, reproduction and bone strength (helping you avoid stress fractures). In our food, fat promotes satisfaction, a commonly missing feeling in our "eat less," diet-ridden culture. When food is used solely for achieving weight goals, dancers are led down a restrictive tunnel without room for the positive experiences associated with a delicious meal.

Despite these realities, dancers still turn to weight as a predictor of achievement. Yes, the scale offers an objective measurable outcome. But this doesn't mean that controlling body weight is a positive solution—or a healthy practice. When control is placed upon our body weight or food choices, we're working against basic biology: The body is wired to survive famine, meaning it will use cravings to fight a self-imposed calorie restriction in order to protect a genetically predetermined weight.

But what exactly is the "right" weight for a dancer? For starters, it's not the weight that requires restrictive meal plans, calorie counting and obsessive exercise routines. A healthy weight is one that can be maintained without dieting. It fuels performance and makes room for all foods.

The reality of this industry is that antiquated slim "ideals" are still the unfortunate standard at many companies. Dancers are often asked to lose weight by their directors, or mentors advise them that dropping a few pounds may help them get a job.

If you're struggling with pressure to lose weight or maintain a low weight, make sure that you're seeking help from qualified sources, like a registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in working with dancers. Online resources from RDNs are also available to help dancers make more balanced choices. If the pressure continues, realize that shedding those five pounds may not be worth the restrictive lifestyle—and you may need to consider other companies that foster a healthier aesthetic.

As far as the dance world goes, it's time to adjust old standards. Though body shape and size are very much apparent in this visual art form, neither needs to dictate it. Today's demanding choreography requires strength and endurance, both of which are products of a strong body and a healthy mind. An under-fueled artist, on the other hand, is mentally drained, physically fatigued and at risk for injury. Directors and teachers must shift the focus from weight to performance, because the number on the scale has no connection with a dancer's talent or drive.

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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