Allison Miller soars though her Snow Queen performances during Houston Ballet's Nutcracker run. Over the years, she has gotten surviving the company's 34 shows down to a science. “You have to listen to your body and pay careful attention to new aches and pains," says Miller, who was a Dance Magazine 2011 “25 to Watch." Her strategy includes weekly massages, ice baths, a yoga mat in her dressing room for stretching and cat naps, fresh juices, and an occasional tasty treat in honor of the season.
Experienced dancers like Miller know they need a plan. Thanks to the sheer number of shows, repetitive use injuries run rampant during Nutcracker season. Colds are frequent too because dancers come in close contact with the children in the performance, who themselves are exposed to other sniffling kids.
Plus, some of that snow glistening in the light is actually dust. Sensitive dancers need to have allergy meds at the ready for any allergen floating through the party scene. Starting a medicine like Claritin before performances can help minimize allergic symptoms related to dust. Here are some tips for getting through Nutcracker season injury and sniffle free.
Increase your fluids. “The kidneys are the washing machine of the body. If you are well hydrated you are less likely to get sick," says Dr. Rebecca Clearman, MD, a Houston physician who specializes in rehabilitation. Miller agrees. “I rely heavily on juices, Emergen-C packets, and of course lots of water," she says. “Fresh juice with greens, ginger, and lemon are my go-to choices."
Keep your gadgets on hand. Use balls and rollers to undo some of the strain of frequent performances. “I have tennis balls and spiky metatarsal balls in my dressing room," Miller says.
Snowflakes need sleep. Sleep may be your best weapon for avoiding both illness and injury. “Fatigue increases the likelihood of injury," says Dr. Andrew Cooper, MD, a Salt Lake City orthopedist. Clearman agrees that you're more likely to get sick and injured if you are sleep-deprived. “Studies show that getting a good night's rest keeps the immune system and your body functioning optimally, so you are prone to fewer traumatic injuries," she says.
Skip the shopping. You can't expect to do all the holiday running around and dance a double Nutcracker. “Scale back on your social activities," says Clearman. Do your shopping early or online. You only have so much bandwidth.
Fuel up. Double show plus class? It can be a draining schedule, so you need to make sure you have enough calories to get through. “Before a tough performance I like to have an Odwalla juice and some nuts or peanut butter," says Miller. “And afterward, a burger is just right."