Health & Body

The Surprising Ways Menstruation Could Affect Your Dancing

Learning to harness your hormones can help you use them to your advantage. Photo by David Beatz/Unsplash

For dancers, the ups and downs of a menstrual cycle can be inconvenient, to say the least. But learning how the monthly hormone fluctuations affect you can help you understand your mood, energy and appetite, and even your focus, coordination and confidence in the studio. It also makes your cycle that much easier to manage—and even embrace.


Week 1: Menses—Purge & Restart

You may feel unusually tired. Photo via Unsplash

What's Happening: Your period lasts three to seven days, during which time you will lose 50 to 100ml of menstrual fluid. The uterus contracts to expel the broken-down uterine lining; estrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest ebb. After a couple of days, estrogen levels start rising.

How It Affects Dancers: At first you might have some abdominal cramping from the uterine contractions. Some women experience fluid retention, bloating, constipation or diarrhea. You may feel unusually tired, especially if you have low iron.

What You Can Do: Dr. Selina Shah, a physician and former professional dancer, recommends taking a low dose of anti-
inflammatories for the cramps and avoiding caffeine, which may exacerbate the pain. The old heat-pack remedy on the stomach or lower back can ease discomfort when you're not dancing. A few small studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce period pain—but check with your doctor first.

Luckily for dancers, exercise can help fight fluid retention, digestion and mood issues, says Shah.

Week 2: Ovulation—Power Days

You may see a surge in your competitive side. Photo by Stephan Valentin/Unsplash

What's Happening: Estrogen levels rise as an egg in one ovary slowly matures. As estrogen peaks at the end of week two, it triggers ovulation—the release of the mature egg into the fallopian tube. If unfertilized, the egg lasts 6 to 24 hours before it disintegrates. There's a small spike in testosterone. The uterine wall thickens.

How It Affects Dancers: When estrogen levels are up, so is your mood. It also buoys your energy, confidence, coordination and focus. You may be less hungry as estrogen can suppress appetite. With that testosterone spike, you might notice a surge in your competitive side.

What You Can Do: Around ovulation, women often feel at their best both physically and creatively, so this might be the time to schedule an audition or start a creative project. Your verbal skills also peak, so engage with people you want to influence.

However, high estrogen can cause some women anxiety and shortness of breath. Shah recommends trying breathing techniques and meditation to help relax.

Week 3: Postovulation—Quieting Phase

Exercise can perk up your system. Photo via Thinkstock

What's Happening: Progesterone begins to rise and estrogen starts to drop. The uterine wall continues to thicken.

How It Affects Dancers: This is when the first PMS symptoms, such as feeling down and teary, begin to appear. You may also notice you have less energy.

What You Can Do: Luckily for dancers, exercise is one of the best PMS remedies, perking up the whole system. Plenty of sleep helps with mood, says Shah, and meditation is a helpful practice to find calm and balance.

She advises eating small meals and snacks often to deal with fatigue, since processing a little food stimulates the metabolism and gives you an energy boost. Healthy complex carbohydrates and lean protein can help you feel satiated.

Week 4: Premenstrual—The Reflective Stage

You may feel more reflective during this stage. Photo by Nsey Benajah/Unsplash

What's Happening: Estrogen levels briefly plateau, then keep falling; progesterone starts to drop. At their lowest levels, they trigger the wall of the uterus to start breaking down and the cycle begins again.

How It Affects Dancers: PMS symptoms such as tender, enlarged breasts, backache, headache, and fatigue may increase along with food cravings. These are all signs that your body is functioning exactly as it should.

What You Can Do: Shah suggests wearing a more supportive bra for these few days, taking an anti-inflammatory for aches and pains, and getting plenty of sleep. It's fine to satisfy food cravings in moderation, but the secret to lasting energy is making sure you have a well-balanced diet.

Career Advice
Peter Smith, courtesy of University Musical Society

What happens during a performance is the product of the painstaking process of realizing an artistic vision. Whether held beforehand, afterward, offsite or online, audience discussions tend not to be so preordained, easily thrown off track without a skilled moderator at the helm.

"I'm someone who dreaded talkbacks and Q&As," admits Bill Bragin, former director of public programming at Lincoln Center. "While I was in New York, a lot of the time it was just audience members trying to show off how smart they were."

These events present a pile of difficult questions: How much do you reveal about a piece before it's shown? How can a conversation designed to hit key points feel casual and spontaneous? How do you cater to the needs of diverse attendees, from novice dancegoers to lifelong fans to scholars and critics? And how do you avoid smothering dance with language, flattening all its complexity?

Keep reading... Show less
UA Dance Ensemble members Candice Barth and Gregory Taylor in Jessica Lang's "Among the Stars." Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy University of Arizona

If you think becoming a trainee or apprentice is the only path to gaining experience in a dance company environment, think again.

The University of Arizona, located in the heart of Tucson, acclimates dancers to the pace and rigor of company life while offering all the academic opportunities of a globally-ranked university. If you're looking to get a head-start on your professional dance career—or to just have a college experience that balances company-level training and repertory with rigorous academics—the University of Arizona's undergraduate and graduate programs have myriad opportunites to offer:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
Alice Sheppard/Kinetic Light in DESCENT, which our readers chose as last year's "Most Moving Performance." Photo by Jay Newman, courtesy Kinetic Light

Yes, we realize it's only August. But we can't help but to already be musing about all the incredible dance happenings of 2019.

We're getting ready for our annual Readers' Choice feature, and we want to hear from you about the shows you can't stop thinking about, the dance videos that blew your mind and the artists you discovered this year who everyone should know about.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Voices
Silas Farley in his Songs from the Spirit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Farley

I dance to encourage others. The longer I dance, the more I see that much of my real work is to speak life-giving words to my fellow artists. This is a multidimensionally grueling profession. I count it a privilege to remind my colleagues of how they are bringing beauty into the world through their craft. I recently noticed significant artistic growth in a fellow dancer, and when I verbalized what I saw, he beamed. The impact of positive feedback is deeper than we realize.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox