The Cafeteria Challenge
Smart strategies to navigate your school's dining hall.
My first year of college, I subsisted mostly on cereal. Tired and hungry after class and rehearsal, and faced with unappetizing dining hall options, I ate bowl after bowl. It was far from the most nutritious way to fuel my dancing.
College students are responsible for planning all their own meals, often for the first time in their lives. But without kitchens in most dorm rooms, the main dining option is typically the campus cafeteria. Fortunately, most offer everything you need to meet the physical and mental demands of a degree program—if you avoid a few common pitfalls.
Do: Choose smart portions.
In buffet-style food halls, it can be tempting to try a taste of everything, or keep returning for seconds of your favorite dishes. Instead, build a plate with a balance of nutrients. Dietitian and sports nutrition expert Lisa Moskovitz recommends that at any given meal you should fill half your plate with vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables. Then, one-quarter of the plate should consist of lean protein, which helps with muscle recovery and repair, and the remaining quarter should be a high-fiber starch or carbs, which will give you the energy to make it through long, hard hours of dancing.
Don’t: Always reach for packaged foods.
Cafeterias often provide easy access to heavily processed foods like bagged chips, sugary cereals and candy bars, warns Rachel Fine, a dietitian who works with dancers. If you want to grab a snack for later, granola bars can be a wise option, but check the package: If you can’t pronounce an ingredient, says Fine, your body will probably struggle to digest it.
Do: Control what you can.
Look for stations, like salad and sandwich bars, that allow you to choose the exact ingredients that go into your meal. Simple choices are often the smartest. “Raw fruits, vegetables and nuts are usually the healthiest foods you can eat from most cafeteria menus,” says Moskovitz.
Don’t: Overdo breakfast buffet items.
Just because you see pancakes and sausage at the buffet every morning doesn’t mean you should be eating them for every breakfast. A build-your-own omelet is ideal if it is available, says Fine, because you can decide what to put in, and eggs are a great source of protein and vitamins. Otherwise, have some Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and nuts.
Do: Allow yourself to splurge sometimes.
It can be challenging to pass up indulgences like burgers, mac and cheese, and sugary soft drinks at every single meal. “If you try to restrict or avoid certain foods that you love too often, you will likely only crave it that much more later on,” says Moskovitz. Fine recommends choosing the indulgence you love most—hers is dark chocolate—and enjoying one portion each day. Moskovitz says it is perfectly fine to enjoy one or two “free” meals per week as well, but make some compromises, like sharing your french fries with a friend.
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
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."
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.