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Just a Drink?
How alcohol can affect your dancing the next day—and over time.
After a long week of rehearsal and performances, sometimes all you want is to blow off steam with a few drinks. You may even feel like you’ve earned a night out after all of the hard work you’ve put in. As long as you’re not dealing with an obvious hangover in class the next day (and are of legal age), it’s a guilty pleasure that seems relatively harmless.
But you might want to think twice before you reach for that bottle. Obviously, an excessive habit is going to have negative consequences, and an alcohol addiction could lead to serious problems like cancer, cirrhosis and pancreatitis. But even moderate drinking after a day in the studio takes a toll on your body, affecting your dancing in a variety of ways—and, if you’re not careful, possibly hurting your success in the long run.
Less Sleep, Less Energy
After having a few drinks, you’ll be more likely to feel sluggish in the studio the next day. That’s because alcohol consumption may reduce sleep time and quality, explains Rachel Fine, a dietitian who founded To The Pointe Nutrition. Although a nightcap might increase deep sleep in the first part of the night, once you metabolize the alcohol several hours later, your body switches to a lighter stage and is easily woken up. Without adequate rest, your energy levels and mental clarity will be lower, hampering your ability to pick up and perform movement. Fine also points out that excessive alcohol consumption can displace muscle-building protein, muscle-repairing unsaturated fats and certain micronutrients (mainly B vitamins) from your diet. One study suggests this nutrient displacement causes overall energy stores to be as much as 50 percent lower than normal even eight hours after drinking.
Since alcohol is a diuretic, it can cause dehydration, which can last into the next day. And by the time you start to feel thirsty, athletic performance can decrease by up to 10 to 20 percent, according to sports dietitian Dawn Weatherwax. “Hydration is critical to preventing injuries, creating an optimal environment for building muscle, maximizing energy levels and absorbing nutrients,”she says. Keep yourself hydrated by having at least one glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you consume.
Drinking also affects how your body bounces back after a challenging day of dancing. Research published in PLoS One last year found that when you have several drinks after exercising, the signals that would normally tell your muscles to grow stronger are suppressed. And an earlier study from Massey University in New Zealand showed that excessive drinking delays recovery from muscles soreness. That means you’ll be negating the strength gains you could have been making in class—and hurting from it for longer.
Time off due to injury doesn’t give you a free pass. In fact, it’s even more reason to avoid drinking. “Alcohol can cause increased swelling of an injury because it causes the blood vessels to dilate,” Weatherwax says. The more swelling in an injured area, the longer it could take to heal.
Regular drinking can also take a toll on a healthy diet. A gram of alcohol provides 7 calories while offering few nutrients. In comparison, the 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate or protein or 9 calories per gram of fat can be used by the body to fuel a dancer’s active lifestyle. “This is where I argue a calorie is not just a calorie!” says Fine. Some dancers try to avoid excess calories before a night out by cutting back on food, but this habit can mean they don’t refuel properly.
Even if you do eat a healthy meal, alcohol makes it harder to reap the benefits. “Alcohol can irritate our stomach lining, reducing our capacity to absorb nutrients from foods, many of which play a large role in energy metabolism,” Fine says. While drinking, your body also prioritizes metabolizing alcohol over fat or carbs, and stores amino acids from protein as fat.
Benefits in Moderation
Alcohol can be helpful in reducing stress levels. But the key is moderation. “If you’re really feeling the need, I suggest wine,” says Fine, “especially red for the added heart-healthy benefits from antioxidants and resveratrol. While research remains limited, resveratrol might help to prevent damage to blood vessels, reducing LDL (or ‘bad’) cholesterol and preventing blood clots.” Beer is also relatively rich in B vitamins, and has silicon, which can help strengthen your bones by increasing bone-mineral density. In general, if you stick to the recommended guidelines (no more than one drink—5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of liquor—per day for women and two for men), the negative effects of drinking are unlikely to get in the way of your dance goals.
One of the biggest myths about ballet dancers is that they don't eat. While we all know that, yes, there are those who do struggle with body image issues and eating disorders, most healthy dancers love food—and eat plenty of it to fuel their busy schedules.
Luckily for us, they're not afraid to show it:
Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!
When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:
"Dance isn't for everyone."
This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.
Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.
"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "
What does a superstar like Carlos Acosta do after bidding farewell to his career in classical ballet? In Acosta's case, he returns to his native country, Cuba, to funnel his fame, connections and prodigious energies back into the dance scene that formed him. Because of its top-notch, state-supported training programs and popular embrace of the art of dance, Cuba is brimming with talented dancers. What it has been short on, until recently, are opportunities outside of the mainstream companies, as well as access to a more international repertoire. That is changing now, and, with the creation of Acosta Danza, launched in 2016, Acosta is determined to open the doors even wider to new ideas and audiences.
There's so much more to the dance world than making and performing dances. Arts administrators do everything from raising money to managing companies to building new audiences. With the growing number of arts administration programs in colleges, dancers have an opportunity to position themselves for a multifaceted career on- or offstage—and to bring their unique perspective as artists to administrative work.
While Solange was busy helping big sis Beyoncé give Coachella its best performances of all time, an equally compelling project was quietly circulating on Instagram:
New York City Ballet continues its first year without Peter Martins at the helm as our spring season opens tonight.
When he retired at the start of the new year, we plunged headfirst into unknown, murky waters. Who would the new director be? When would we know? Would we dancers get some say in the decision? Who would oversee the Balanchine ballets? Who would be in charge of casting? Would a new director bring along huge upheaval? Could some of us be out of a job?
In the world of ballet, Arcadian Broad is a one-stop shop: He'll come up with a story, compose its music, choreograph the movement and dance it himself. But then Broad has always been a master of versatility. As a teenager he juggled school, dance and—after the departure of his father—financial responsibility. It was Broad's income from dancing that kept his family afloat. Fast-forward six years and things are far more stable. Broad now lives on his own in an apartment, but you can usually find him in the studio.
Bales of hay, black umbrellas, bicycles—this Midsummer Night's Dream would be unrecognizable to the Bard. Alexander Ekman's full-length, inspired by Scandinavian solstice traditions and set to music by Mikael Karlsson, is a madcap celebration of the longest day of the year, when the veil between our world and that of the supernatural is said to be at its thinnest. The Joffrey Ballet's performances mark the seductively surreal work's North American premiere. April 25–May 6. joffrey.org.