Winter: A good time to start your dance journal

Winter is a time when nature becomes dormant. Although the human world buzzes on, in alignment with the nature all around us, we are drawn to rest and reflect. How might this apply to artists, with reflection (on both inner and outer) fruitful for creative output and personal growth?

Might winter be a good time to begin journaling as a dancer? How, practically, are some ways to start doing that? Here, we speak with Betsy Miller, adjunct professor of dance at Salem State University, and Boston-based dance artist; and Karen Klein, founder and artistic director of teXtmoVes, to learn more about beginning to journal for creative processes in winter.

Eating well on a dancer's budget

Tips, tricks and hacks for eating well on a dancer’s budget

We all know how integral healthy eating plays into our overall well-being and performance, but for many dancers, spending $7-11 on a pound of supposedly “grass fed” beef is just not feasible.

The common misconception is that eating healthy has to be expensive, and while some healthy foods can be expensive (especially pre-prepared foods), in reality it’s easy to eat well on a tight budget if you know what to do. Here is a list of five hacks from nutrition experts to eat well for less.

How can you be a ‘mindful’ dancer?

Have you ever thought about being a more “mindful” dancer? How might one go about doing that? Why might one want to do so, in the first place? Being mindful involves staying attuned to the present moment, and remaining fully engaged in the task at hand. Given dance’s real-time physical and mental demands, it seems evident enough as to why remaining mindful would be advantageous for dancers.

Here, we speak with Stephen Ursprung, assistant professor of Dance Studies at Dean College; and Danielle Davidson, dance artist and assistant professor in Dance at The Boston Conservatory at Berklee, to learn more about the what, why and how of mindfulness and dance training.

Foods to Fight Inflammation

5 foods for recovery and inflammation

It’s no surprise that some of our top inflammation fighting foods are all plants. While there are individual nutrients we could add to this list like vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids and protein from beans, the synergistic effects of antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin A, folate and beta-carotene with phytonutrients like flavonoids, anthocyanins and lentinan work like a team of support for overworked muscles and the cardiovascular system, and they’re easily available at your grocery store.

Food is a powerful ally in a dancer’s recovery toolbox. Make sure you eat a veggie-heavy meal with a protein source within one hour after dance, and don’t forget to hydrate. You don’t have to break the bank with expensive superfoods or supplements to feel results. Simple foods like sweet potatoes, greens and black beans are cheap and nutritious. These five listed below are only a starting point but have the research to back up some of the health claims. The bottom line is: eat more plants. 

summer stamina

Summer stamina: Advice for your summer dancing at BDC

During your summer dancing at Broadway Dance Center, you’ll be sweating a lot and dancing more than you maybe do normally. Here’s how to have stamina, lower injury risk and reduce muscle soreness.

Timing is everything.

Energy balance is the secret for dancing stronger, improving body composition, building muscle, having more endurance and improving performance. Backed by sound science, the concept of energy balance is all about timing healthy meals and snacks to work for you. Plus, managing your energy balance intelligently can play an important role in injury prevention. This means fueling the activity you are about to do in the next 1-3 hours. When you provide fuel for working muscles (and brain), you improve jump height, stamina and strength. You also actually keep your body from struggling to produce its own fuel from inside the body. That could mean breaking down hard earned muscle tissue to be converted to fuel.

Tap into your bone density!

Bones are dynamic! Even though they are hard, bones are living and continually changing parts of your body that have cells working on them that are designed specifically to either make new bone or break it down. While it may sound strange that our body would want to break down our own bones, it’s a really important process for keeping the whole entire body healthy! There are a couple of reasons for this, and one is that minerals such as calcium are stored in your bones. Of course, you’ve probably heard this a lot, and heard that calcium is really important for healthy bones. What you may not have heard is that calcium is critically important for many functions taking place in the body, including nervous system activity and muscle contractions, and when your body needs calcium for all of these important things, it is going to have to get it from somewhere. That somewhere is your bones.

“Developing peak bone mass (the most bone mineral possible) in the teenage years through the 30s is the cornerstone of optimal bone health,” says Dr. Dorothy Fink, an endocrinologist and internist at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, where she often treats dancers. “There are cells in the body that build bone (osteoblasts) and cells that break it down (osteoclasts). These cells work together every day to keep your bones in the best shape possible.” 

Should Dancers Wear Flip Flops

Should Dancers Wear Flip Flops?

Do race car drivers have to have the best car possible and meticulously take care of it? Do tennis players have to use the best possible racquet? Do professional athletes also need the best possible trainers and medical care? Of course! Well, dancers are no different.

Unfortunately, while dancers often take good care of their body and seek the best doctors they can find, they frequently write off foot pain and chronic conditions as part of the deal. Dreadful feet have become synonymous with the job title “dancer”, especially “ballet dancer”.

Take Care!

“Me time” is important to maintaining a healthy mind and body. Here are a few ideas and ways they can benefit every dancer’s well being. 

Massages

Excerpted from Dance Informa magazine interview with Stefan Karlsson, a former professional dancer and massage therapist. 

images2How does massage improve our health?

A massage improves your health by assisting in the elimination of toxins like lactic acid and it improves circulation to tissues within the body including the skin. It can elongate tight muscles, keeping joints ‘less stressed’ from being compressed by tight/short muscles (like those surrounding the knee for example). A major benefit of massage is that it decreases the pain we feel in our muscles after training, rehearsals and performance through the dispersal of the lactic acid. A good masseur will also give specific stretches to target problem areas. Massage will increase the range of movement through your joints, speed up the recovery after hard training and increase energy flow.

Does massage help our immune systems?

Massage helps the immune system as it increases the number of white blood cells in the body. Research in Florida showed an increase in neutrophils (the most common type of white blood cells) after massage. We know that white blood cells protect the body by eating bacteria, for example, so yes, massage boosts the immune system!

It also helps the release of emotions and stimulates inner organs through nerve stimulation, as in Chinese acupuncture. Some masseurs use a similar system called Trigger Point Therapy, and some, like myself, use a combination to suit the individual body

Can massage help in injury prevention?

Massage is considered to help prevent injuries by assisting the body to stay supple, de-stressed and in better shape. As there is less tension in highly used muscle groups they react better to the ‘stress’ of dancing.

Can massage speed up injury recovery?

Massage is often associated with injury recovery, depending on the type of injury. Always seek advice from a physical therapist first who can check whether there are hairline fractures or spinal alignment problems, a severe inflammation or contusion –  bleeding after an injury to the muscle.

The physical therapist often recommends massage as treatment in recovery from injuries which produce swelling in muscles and joints. But it is important to have a good understanding of the injury before applying massage, because a deep massage to a freshly injured muscle will only increase the problem and damage the muscle fibre further.

Sometimes a dancer may use their ‘turn out’ muscles to such a degree that it prevents them from being able to ‘turn in’, limiting the range of motion in the hip. Recommended stretches and massage to correct the one sidedness of the training can help. (Always think of doing the opposite moves from the normal class movements. And please always stretch after training/rehearsal or performance as it will help prevent soreness the next day and keep your muscles supple).

When should dancers get a massage?

A dancer’s body is highly tuned and sensitive, and a deep massage with strong release techniques can make our body parts sore for a day, until we reap the benefits. It can also give us the feeling of being in a different alignment or ‘place’, so that lifting our leg up or doing a turn could feel completely different than before – we might feel ‘out of sorts’ or ‘out of tune’ so to speak. If that is the type of massage you need, please make sure you get one just before a rest day, but not on a performance day or even a day before as it can ‘throw’ you.  However, shorter massages on local areas such as the calves or thighs, if you are getting cramps or lactic acid build up, are beneficial right there and then even during rehearsal/ performance.

There are special techniques I use with fellow dancers to gain quick recovery during a performance. There are stretches specifically designed for the dancer’s body, and other methods of targeting lactic acid build up which can be extremely helpful when applied at right moment.

How often should a full-time dancer have a massage?

I would seriously recommend a dancer to have a decent massage at least once a month, if not every fortnight, depending on your schedule. A good massage once a month, before a rest day, will keep you free from problems building up over time


Pedicures

images3I did a little research and found mixed reviews about pedicures for dancers.  For the most part, ballet dancers (specifically pointe dancers) are discouraged from getting pedicures because their callouses will be shaved off. Fresh, supple skin is more prone to blister and cause pain. Furthermore, pointe dancers shouldn’t paint their toenails because the polish may infect blistered toes.  On the other hand, many online sources do suggest pedicures for dancers that want to protect their feet, at least aesthetically! It’s safe to get a polish-less pedicure without having the nail technician shave your hard-earned callouses.  And that leaves more time to enjoy the foot massage!

Power Naps

images4Power naps have been associated with reduced stress, increased alertness and productivity, increased memory and learning, heart health, increased cognitive function, exercise motivation, boosted creativity, and overall improved health.  “The short duration of a power nap (under 30 minutes) is designed to prevent nappers from sleeping so long that they enter a normal sleep cycle without being able to complete it (leaving a person groggy}.”  So don’t be embarrassed to curl up in the corner of the studio for 20 minutes.  Your friends might think you’re “lazy” until you dance circles around them in class!


Getting Fresh Air

images5Get out of the studio.  Yes, I said it! Dancing is obviously a great form of exercise and a way for many people to de-stress, but it can also be the source for stress.  If you’re in a “dance rut” (i.e. not getting seen at auditions, not enjoying yourself in dance class, being too hard on yourself, etc.), step outside and talk a walk outside.  Explore the historical theater district, rent a bike to ride around Central Park, or lay out in Bryant Park to read or just relax.  It’s important to get at least 10-15 minutes of sun exposure each day to boost your body’s Vitamin D (deficiency may actually lead to depression).  So take a break and get outside!



Meditation

images6Meditate every day or every other day at the same time. Just like pliés, making it regular helps it become natural for your body.

Do these practices make us better dancers? I think they do. They certainly make us happier, more satisfied with who we are, and that in turn makes us better at what we do. Meditation is relaxing, and relaxation unbinds a storehouse of energy. It helps us become more integrated. We become more realistic about who we are and what we can do. We develop realistic goals. We know and respect our physical and emotional parameters. We strive in a healthy, integrated fashion.

images7

“We love dance and all its benefits for body and soul. But running a business and teaching a physically demanding activity can be stressful. There’s a lot going on, and most of it requires focusing away from our own bodies and feelings. From my time as a professional dancer, dance professor, and meditation teacher, I know meditation gives us a moment with ourselves, develops our ability to focus, awakens awareness, and opens us to deepening embodiment, sensation, and relaxation. This simple act of rebalancing, tucked into the day, is a worthwhile, sanity-reclaiming skill to cultivate.
Meditation doesn’t require much time or need fancy equipment or gear. It does require your full attention.
I have a saying: Sometimes you have to do the “not doing” in order to undo the overdoing. Dancers are especially good at continuously holding muscles taut. As well, we tuck emotional strain into crevices between fascia, hiding our anxieties until some other time when we imagine we can better handle them. Then, given a moment to relax, we feel restless. We need to relax, but we can’t, and being unable to unwind is stressful.
Because dance people are kinetic creatures, the first step in our meditation work is to consciously let go of tight spots. Fully letting go is more than plopping down on the couch. We need to release not just the big outer muscles but the clenched jaw, gripped neck, the diaphragm, and the pelvic floor as well.”
~Dunya Dianne McPherson on www.dancestudiolife.com

Snack Attacks

As a dancer, your body is your instrument.  Fuel your body with the right foods to get the most out of your dancing.

When you have a long day of dance ahead of you:

  • Bowl of oatmeal with flaxseed and skim milk.
  • Greek yogurt with berries.
  • Poached egg with whole grain toast and an orange.

When you’re running to dance class/rehearsal:

  • 1/4 cup of mixed nuts and dried fruit.
  • Lara bar or Kind bar.

When you’re done with dance class/rehearsal:

  • Small banana with 1 tablespoon peanut butter.
  • Apple with string cheese/baby bell cheese.

When you’re under the weather:

  • 1 cup tea with lemon and honey.
  • Foods high in Vitamin C: oranges, broccoli, and sweet peppers.
  • Chicken and vegetable soup.
When you want to build muscle:
  • 1 cup of cottage cheese with canned fruit (in water).
  • Canned salmon with whole grain crackers.
  • Protein shake with protein powder, raw oats, and flaxseed.

When you’re sore:

  • 1 cup low-fat chocolate milk.
  • Smoothie with blueberries, banana, and low-fat vanilla yogurt.
  • Foods high in potassium: raisins, melons, apricots, avocados, squash, beets, and dairy.

When you have butterflies/are feeling nervous:

  • 1/2 cup blueberries.
  • Small piece of dark chocolate.
  • Cup of herbal, decaffeinated tea.