What It Takes to Return to Dance After Recovering from an Eating Disorder
After spending a year away from the studio to recover from anorexia at age 12, Jillian Verzwyvelt admits that she was extremely nervous to return to class. "I was terrified I would be far behind not only technically but socially," she says. Fortunately, she encountered strong support from both teachers and peers, who treated her the same as they always had, even though she was only strong enough to take part of class.
Returning to the studio after recovering from an eating disorder is not unlike coming back from injury, except that the challenge is deeply stigmatized. For most dancers who suffer from eating disorders, the impulse to control their physical appearance and their passion for dance are closely linked.
So fighting the urge to fall into bad habits can be extra-challenging as dancers confront the same environment where their disorder manifested. But with the right approach, it's possible to find a way back into a loving relationship with dance and your body.
Get the Support You Need
Do not try to navigate this alone. Experts recommend scheduling regular visits with a dietitian, a therapist, a physical therapist and a doctor for at least the first few months that you are coming back. Emily Harrison, founder of Nutrition for Great Performances, adds that finding a support group can be helpful—you can even take virtual classes sponsored by treatment centers like Renfrew or Alsana.
Define Your Weight Goals
Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who works with dancers at Atlanta Ballet, warns that your health team may have different expectations than the leadership at your dance institution. While your doctor may want your weight to be more "normal" by traditional standards, your director may not agree because of the aesthetic of dance. "I usually think that there needs to be a negotiation for a weight range that is lower than the outpatient medical people think it should be, and higher than the dance people want," she says.
Develop a Meal Plan
Your dietitian should help you craft an evolving meal plan. "There can be significant changes in energy needs when dancers get back to a full schedule," says Harrison. That energy comes from calories. "You might have higher-than-average needs of certain key nutrients because your body was not getting enough," she adds. Dancers recovering from an eating disorder often need to have the importance of eating carbohydrates emphasized. Harrison cites oats, whole grains, sweet potatoes, fruits, vegetables and legumes as excellent sources of energy for dance.
A dietitian can help make sure you're getting the fuel you need to dance again. Photo via Thinkstock.
Take It Slowly to Avoid Injury
Know that your risk of injury is higher after an eating disorder because the lack of proper nutrition has depleted the vitamins and minerals needed to keep your bones and muscles strong. Michelle Rodriguez, director of Manhattan Physio Group, emphasizes the need to come back slowly. "You really need to reestablish your stamina and your strength," she says. She might suggest, for example, that a dancer start with barre only for one or two weeks and then add more of class gradually as their strength increases. Because of the impact eating disorders can have on bone density, she warns about the risk of stress fractures in particular.
Get Out of the Mirror
Old habits die hard, and an eating disorder is often rooted in a distorted body image. This means you may need to avoid the mirror for a while. Upon her return, Verzwyvelt intentionally changed her barre spot. "I had to move to a place where I couldn't see the mirror to be able to dance without constantly criticizing myself," she says.
Avoid Online Triggers
Tone down your social media use during this time. "Instagram and other social media platforms are full of photos that could be triggering to dancers in a vulnerable place," warns Harrison.
Talk About Your Experience
After returning to dance, Verzwyvelt publicly shared her story in a high school assembly. "Aside from feeling near-faint while delivering my talk, it was as though this huge weight was lifted from my shoulders," she says. Being open about what you have been through may alleviate the social awkwardness of your return, and may even help others by changing the culture of your studio.
Opening up could help your friends, too. Photo by Greg Raines/Unsplash
Make Sure You're Not Coming Back Too Soon
Returning to dance too quickly may increase the likelihood of relapse, according to Kaslow. While you may want to jump straight into the deep end, look out for these red flags:
You're glued to the mirror. If you find yourself repeatedly returning to the mirror not to check your line but to examine your thigh gap or how the band of your tights is cutting at your waist, you may need more time away.
You're obsessed with cross-training. Avoid trying to burn an excessive amount of calories by doing cardiovascular training outside of dance right away. Physical therapist Michelle Rodriguez says that while cardio is great for dancers, in the early months, she suggests focusing on more dance-specific strengthening exercises.
You refuse to take your time. Kaslow says that one of the clearest signs that a dancer is not fully recovered is resistance to returning gradually. She suggests that dancers approach this transition the same way they would returning from an injury. "You can maybe dance every day, but not all day every day at first," she says. "You shouldn't be in the back doing the combination with both groups."
If you love Michael Jackson, you'll love this news: A pre-Broadway run of the MJ jukebox musical will hit Chicago this fall.
Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough boasts more than 25 MJ hits and has set its premiere for October 29. As previously reported, Christopher Wheeldon will direct and choreograph the new musical, while Lynn Nottage pens the book.
Gallim will honor Frederic M. Seegal and Limor Tomer at its February 12 Force of Nature gala. Both honorees have a close relationship with the Brooklyn-based contemporary dance troupe, so it's fitting that they'll be recognized at Gallim's first-ever gala.
Seegal, Dance Media's CEO, previously served as Gallim's board chairman. He fondly recalls his first encounter with the company: After Gallim brought down the house at its 2010 Fall For Dance performance, Seegal was immediately convinced that he had to support the company and connected with artistic director Andrea Miller that night.
These days, you don't have to be in the circus to learn how to fly. Aerial dance has grown in popularity in recent years, blending modern dance and circus traditions and enlisting the help of trapeze, silks, hammocks, lyra and cube for shows that push both viewers and performers past their comfort zones.
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I'm terrified of performing choreography that changes directions. I messed up last year when the stage lights caused me to become disoriented. What can I do to prevent this from happening again? I can perform the combination just fine in the studio with the mirror.
—Scared, San Francisco, CA
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From the angles of your feet to the size of your head, it can sometimes seem like there is no part of a dancer's body that is not under scrutiny. It's easy to get obsessed when you are constantly in front of a mirror, trying to fit a mold.
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Unfortunately, Brooklyn Studios for Dance hasn't had heat since mid-November, making it impossible for classes or performances to take place in the community-oriented center.
So what's a studio to do? Throw a massive dance party, of course.
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From the outside, it seemed like the worst of New York City Ballet's problems were behind them last winter, when ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired amid accusations of abuse and sexual harassment, and an internal investigation did not substantiate those claims.
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If you've ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at Dance Magazine, now's your chance to find out. Dance Magazine is seeking an editorial intern who's equally passionate about dance and journalism.
Through March 1, we are accepting applications for a summer intern to assist our staff onsite in New York City from June to August. The internship includes an hourly stipend and requires a minimum two-day-a-week commitment. (We do not provide assistance securing housing.)
What's next for the dance world? Our annual list of the dancers, choreographers and companies that are on the verge of skyrocketing has a pretty excellent track record of answering that question.
Here they are: the 25 up-and-coming artists we believe represent the future of our field.
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Getting in your skin—and getting comfortable wearing only your skin onstage—requires a particular alchemy of vulnerability, agency, preparation and practice.
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Since retiring from The Royal Ballet in 2015, Acosta has focused much of his attention on his native Cuba, where he's proven his directorial abilities at the helm of Acosta Danza, the contemporary company that he founded in 2016. In 2017 Acosta also opened his first Dance Academy through his foundation, which provides free training to students. We don't yet know how Acosta will balance his time between his projects in Cuba and his new role at BRB.