summer stamina Featured

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.

Cross Training for Dancers

Cross training is just what is sounds like: crossing over to train in difference disciplines.  Cross training is often attributed to athletes, but it’s just as important for dancers.  “In dance, fatigue is a factor in 90% of injuries and overuse contributes to 65% of dance injuries. Fatigue and overuse injuries can become chronic problems that trouble the dancer daily. Cross training can help reduce risk of these types of injuries by balancing out the muscles of the body and providing relief to the muscles that are constantly worked.” – Leigh Heflin (MSc Dance Science).

Here are some popular aerobic and anaerobic exercises, but feel free to share how you cross train, too!

Aerobic – develop stamina

  Running: Running is a great cardiovascular exercise that is cheap (all you need are some sneakers!).  Running strengthens completely different muscles than those used in ballet (this can be good to an extent, but over-development of the quads and calves may cause stress on a dancer’s hamstrings).  Since running on concrete can cause wear and tear on a dancer’s knees, especially if you run with turned-out feet, dance science specialists recommend cross-training on an elliptical machine to avoid stress on the joints.

Cycling/spinning:  Cycling is also a popular cardiovascular exercise, especially because many gyms now provide personal televisions on the bike machines!  In moderation, cycling can greatly increase a dancer’s endurance, but try to “seated” bike machines so that you can prevent curving your lumbar spine for a long period of time.

  Swimming:  Swimming is probably the #1 recommended form of cross-training for any athlete.  Swimming is a zero-impact sport and is great for dancers recovering from injuries.  The variety of swimming strokes strengthen muscles of the entire body, and requires the athlete to focus on his/her breathing pattern.  The only issue? You’re going to need a pool, so find a friend with a pool or join your local gym.

Anaerobic – develop muscle strength and power

Weight-training:  If you have access to gym machines or free weights, don’t be afraid to take advantage of them!  If not, go for “isometric exercises” (ones that utilize your own body weight) such as push-ups, planks, lunges, and sit-ups.  Weight training will not make you bulk up unless you’re deliberately trying to by drinking protein shakes and taking supplements.  Low-resistence, high-repetition exercises will rev up your metabolism and tone up your muscles.

  Yoga: No matter what area you’re looking to strengthen (balance, flexibility, lung capacity, stamina, strength, or stress relief), there is probably a form of yoga for you!  In yoga, there is a special focus on the relationship between the body and the mind, which is sure to benefit you in your dance classes as well.  Types of yoga.

  Pilates: Pilates was specifically created to strengthen muscles and improve flexibility without building bulk.  Pilates is often the “cross-training of choice” for dance companies and schools across the globe.  While dancers often take mat classes which utilize one’s own body weight, Pilates also employs use of special machines such as the “reformer” and the “chair” to help strengthen long, lean muscles.

  Gyrotonic:  Gyrotonic is similar to Pilates in that it utilizes special equipment to develop one’s strength, flexibility, and breath.  The main difference between the two forms is that Pilates is very “linear” while Gyrotonic is more “circular” (it was actually developed by a swimmer).


Bar Method:  This new craze actually focuses on dance-training.  In a bar method class, you’ll strengthen your “dancer” muscles through a series of physical therapy and ballet-inspired exercises.

The Harkness Center for Dance Injuries

Albert Einstein wrote that “Dancers are the athletes of the gods.”  Now, whether or not you’d consider dance to be a sport, I’m sure we would all agree that dance is extremely athletic, requiring stamina, strength, balance, and agility.  Still, dance is rarely given the same respect and acknowledgment as athletics.  I spent my freshman and sophomore years working as an assistant athletic trainer for my college’s sports medicine department.  As much as I loved (*sarcasm) taping stinky football players’ ankles, massaging sweaty track runners’ calves, and the like, I really chose this job because I could train with the physical therapy equipment (thera-bands, medicine balls, ultrasound machines) when the room was empty.  I can remember though, those few occasions when a dancer from our school’s nationally-ranked ballroom team would come to the training room.  Other athletes would scoff and even the trainers would not take the student’s injury seriously.
  • Dance Medicine/Science only became a field of study in the late 1970s/early 1980s.
  • The annual frequency of injury among dancers has been reported to range between 23-84% while as many as 95% of professional dancers have ongoing pain.(University Health Network, Toronto)
  • Statistics show that 80% of dancers incur at least one injury a year that affects their ability to perform – compared to a 20% injury rate for rugby or football players. (University of Wolverhampton)
  • 31% of ballet dancers have had, or will have, a stress fracture (Rudolf Nureyev Foundation Medical Website)
  • 24 % of ballet dancers (mainly female dancers) have a scoliosis (Rudolf Nureyev Foundation Medical Website)
  • Over 50% of dancers are uninsured and cannot afford medical treatment for injuries/illness.
When I said goodbye to sunny Southern California to take part in BDC’s Professional Semester, one of the first seminars we had was an orientation at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries. The Harkness Center, associated with NYU’s Lagone Medical Center, provides preventative and restorative care for dancers.   These include physical therapy, sports medicine/athletic training, and injury prevention workshops and assessments.
The Harkness Center for Dance Injuries (HCDI) aims to:
  • provide excellent musculoskeletal healthcare to the dance community at affordable rates through a team of specialized medical professionals.
  • offer free, one-on-one prevention clinics for individual dancers
  • make available free or subsidized preventative and educational outreach programs for dancers, teachers, choreographers and administrators about the occupational, behavioral and mechanical factors associated with dance injuries.
  • assist the dance community with identification and reduction of injury risks
  • conduct ongoing research which advances the quality of dance science and improves the delivery of dance medicine.
  • establish standards of excellence for dance medicine practitioners.
  • interact with the dance community to minimize medical insurance costs.
  • provide continuing education opportunities for the medical community in the specialized area of dance medicine.
  • enhance the visibility of the dance medicine specialist within the dance and medical communities and in the general public.
  • serve on the boards and committees of national and international dance medicine associations and journals.
Injury Prevention Assessments:

“The Harkness Center offers one-hour, free-of-charge injury prevention assessments for dancers. During the injury prevention assessment session each dancer is seen individually for an hour by a therapist who reviews the dancer’s complaints, medical and nutrition histories and performance during a battery of tests. The screening is designed to evaluate the risk the dancer is exposed to and to discuss the dancer’s concerns before an injury occurs. At the conclusion of the assessment the dancer is given an individually tailored injury prevention exercise regime with recommendations for modification of their technique, training strategies, footwear and/or dance environment. The aim of the screening is to maximize each dancer’s potential for wellness.”

Interview with Leigh Heflin, administrative coordinator at the HCDI:
When was the Harkness Center founded? 
The Harkness Center for Dance Injuries (HCDI) was founded in 1989 in partnership with the Harkness Foundation for Dance and the Hospital for Joint Diseases in response to the New York dance community’s critical need for specialized and affordable health care.
Why is the Harkness Center different from a standard doctor’s office or physical therapy clinic?
HCDI caters to the unique treatment needs of the dancer. Our physicians and rehabilitative staff combine their medical and research experience with their expert knowledge of dance and dance science to provide highly specialized care to the dancer patient.
What services do you provide for dancers? 
We have many services including weekly dance clinics, physical therapy, FREE injury prevention assessments, injury prevention workshops, functional capacity screenings, ergonomic evaluations, etc. You can see a full list of our services with descriptions atwww.danceinjury.org.
  • Dance Clinic: The Harkness Center for Dance Injuries holds weekly dance clinics by appointment.  Dancers’ injuries are evaluated and treated by a specially trained team of orthopaedic surgeons, primary care sports medicine physicians, physical therapists and/or athletic trainers.
  • Physical Therapy & Athletic Training Services: The Harkness Center has a staff of physical therapists and athletic trainers specially trained to care for the dance population. These clinicians have had a minimum of two years of orthopaedic, sports medicine and manual therapy training and have participated in in-service training dealing with the occupational and psychological stressors of the dance environment.
  • Free Injury Prevention Assessments: The Harkness Center offers one-hour, free-of-charge injury prevention assessments for dancers. During the injury prevention assessment session each dancer is seen individually for an hour by a therapist who reviews the dancer’s complaints, medical and nutrition histories and performance during a battery of tests. The screening is designed to evaluate the risk the dancer is exposed to and to discuss the dancer’s concerns before an injury occurs. At the conclusion of the assessment the dancer is given an individually tailored injury prevention exercise regime with recommendations for modification of their technique, training strategies, footwear and/or dance environment. The aim of the screening is to maximize each dancer’s potential for wellness.
  • Injury Prevention Workshops: The Harkness Center provides injury-prevention lectures to community groups upon request. These programs are intended for dancers, teachers, parents, and/or management, as requested by the individual organization.  Topics can be chosen from a list of most-often requested, or custom-made to meet the specific needs of the school/company.   Examples of popular topics include: injury prevention, cross training, nutrition & hydration, pointe readiness, anatomy, and environmental safety.
What if a dancer does not have health insurance or the financial means to cover his/her treatment?
The NYU Langone Medical Center’s Hospital for Joint Diseases strives to provide medically necessary care to patients regardless of their ability to pay. The Hospital’s financial assistance program is available to New York State residents and individuals, regardless of residency, who receive emergency services and who formally demonstrate an inability to pay their hospital expenses.
Additionally, the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries offers financial assistance for dancers thanks to the LuEsther T. Mertz Advised Fund of the New York Community Trust who made a challenge gift in 1997 to the Center to create an endowment that would ensure a long-term solution for providing access to healthcare for dancers without insurance or financial means.
Both of these financial assistance programs require the dancer to formally demonstrate financial need by completing an application that includes submission of proof of income, savings and expenses.
What are the most common injuries you see in dancers?  What preventative measures can dancers take to avoid these injuries? You provide free one-on-one injury prevention screenings for dancers.  Why do you do this and what do the appointments consist of?
Injury type and occurrence will vary dependent on the genre of dance; however, most studies show that the foot and ankle are the most common injury site for dancers.  If you would like to prevent injury the best thing to do is to make sure you are taking care of yourself, cross training to properly prepare your body for the demands of dance technique and allowing enough time to rest. To learn more about your body and get exercises that might benefit your health and career longevity call HCDI to make an appointment for a FREE Injury Prevention Assessment at 212-598-6022.
Does the Harkness Center provide educational workshops for dance students and professionals?
Yes, to schedule an Injury Prevention Workshop please call 212-598-6022 and ask to speak to Leigh Heflin. She will help coordinate and plan a workshop specific to your school/companies needs.  (More info above under services).
What would you recommend to a dance that is interested in studying/pursuing a career in Dance Medicine?
Currently, dance medicine and science is only defined by the actions and ideas of various health professionals, dance educators, alternative practitioners, and researchers that practice in the area of dancer health. Each discipline brings a unique perspective and body of knowledge to the health concerns of dancers. This diversity of perspectives is rightly perceived as a strength. However, this diversity prevents a simple answer to the question, “How can I learn about dance medicine and science?” The short answer is, “It depends.” Students should be asked, “What unique skills, abilities, and knowledge do you currently possess and which ones do you want to acquire? Precisely how do you see yourself contributing to dancer health?” Focusing on the students learning objectives will clarify which discipline associated with dance medicine and science they should pursue.

For a listing of possible careers please visit the HCDI website (http://hjd.med.nyu.edu/harkness/dance-medicine-resources/what-dance-medicine-and-science/career-overviews)


To schedule your free injury prevention assessment at the Harkness Center, call 212-598-6022.

Food for Thought

If dance is both an art and a sport, then our bodies are both our instruments and our machines. Therefore, it is vital to fuel our bodies with the proper nutrition and hydration so that we may continue dancing at our fullest potential. But how do we know what “balanced nutrition” means for a dancer? It can be frustrating to research a “diet” plan dancers because we exercise more than the “average Joe” yet do not want to bulk up with muscle. And the fact that the dance industry is often based on one’s physical appearance only complicates matters. To appease my anxiety, I turned to Tiffany Mendell, a registered dietitian at Keri Glassman, Nutritious Life.

Tell us about your experience as a dancer and how you became interested in nutrition.
I started dancing seriously when I was 13 and was a member of a performing and competition company all throughout high school.  I went on to major in dance at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA.  I was a modern major in school and danced with Philadanco II, a modern-based repertory company in Philly.  It was my experience in college that the dancers were the WORST eaters!  We were the ones dancing for 10 hours day and eating raw chocolate chip cookie dough in our dorm rooms at night!  That being said, in my first professional experience with Philadanco my artistic director did suggest that I lose about 10 pounds.  I knew NOTHING about nutrition.  My idea of eating to lose weight was a bowl of rice crispies for breakfast, a pretzel from the cart on Spruce Street for lunch and a bowl of Ramen noodles for dinner.  “Fat-free” was the nutrition trend back then, as there always are trends in the world of nutrition.  Of course, I wasn’t successful losing the weight because I wasn’t fueling my body properly, my metabolism was slow and I was starving, so then I would overeat!
I moved to NYC to pursue a career in dance, taking class at BDC when I could and auditioning for more jazz/musical theater type dance roles.  When I was in my mid-twenties my father (who was raised in the deep South where everything was fried with gravy on it!) was diagnosed with cardiovascular disease.  He was very fortunate that he didn’t have a heart attack, and he ended up having seven bypasses and two stents placed in his heart.  We met with a registered dietitian when he was in the hospital to educate him on eating “heart healthy.”  Heart disease has a very strong genetic component, and I remember saying to my brother at that time that we were going to have to start thinking about our diet then, when we were young, because what we ate in our youth was going to affect our health in our older years.  I subsequently started reading everything I could about proper nutrition and attempting to make healthier changes in my diet.  I made a concerted effort to incorporate fruits and vegetables with every meal and snack, cutting out saturated fat and processed foods and eating sources of lean protein and the right kind of fat.  Consequently, my body just CHANGED.  My dancing improved profoundly, my energy levels were amazing, my skin was clear and I felt satisfied with every meal.  I actually felt that I was eating MORE, and while I wasn’t trying to lose weight I just did.   I was excited about good nutrition!  Then I got my job dancing with the New Jersey Nets dance team, which was a fantastic experience!

I always knew I would pursue another career after dance, and because I was always drawn to the nutrition articles in all my health magazines that I read I decided to go back to grad school for nutrition.  I danced for myself, and I was ready to use my knowledge and passion for nutrition to help others lead healthier lives.The dance industry has a reputation for being “unhealthy.”  Why do you think that is?

Dancers are under pressure to achieve a certain aesthetic.  Sometimes this pressure is from external sources, sometimes it is pressure they impose on themselves.  They tend to be perfectionists, but perfectionistic thinking can sometimes backfire and lead to self-sabotage.  Furthermore, a dancer may go to extremes to achieve this ideal because this is the only way they know how; perhaps they’re getting their nutrition information from unreliable sources on the internet, or they are getting misinformation and pressure from their peers.

For a healthy approach, I think it’s important for dancers to think of themselves as athletesas well as artists.  They need to fuel their bodies as athletes do, and depending on the sport athletes have different nutritional requirements.  Obviously a gymnast is going to eat differently than a linebacker.  But all athletes need to eat right for optimal performance, and dancers are no different.  Additionally, a dancer’s body is his or her instrument.  A violinist with the New York Philharmonic doesn’t just shove his violin in his duffle bag with his gym clothes after rehearsal.  He takes care to wipe it with a soft cloth, place it in its proper case, care for the strings, and tune it to ensure that his instrument sounds the way it’s supposed to.  Dancers need to focus on taking care of their bodies outside of the studio as much as they do in the studio.  This includes eating healthy, staying hydrated, and getting adequate sleep.What exactly is “balanced nutrition” for a dancer?

Balanced nutrition for anyone really just means eating the right proportion of high fiber carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fat.  It’s essential for dancers to understand that they need ALL of these components in their diet.  “Carbs” often have a negative connotation when it comes to weight management, but it’s important to know that carbohydrate provides energy for the body. Healthy carbs are those that our bodies use efficiently and are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals such as fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, and whole grains.  You actually burn fat more efficiently with a little carbohydrate in the diet, and carbs help prevent protein being burned for energy. Lean protein is necessary for muscle growth and repair, which dancers need because vigorous activity breaks down muscle tissue.  Excellent sources are fish, poultry, and low-fat dairy as well as vegetarian sources such as beans and legumes, tofu, and edamame.  Fat is important in the diet because it helps our bodies absorb certain vitamins and provides satiety, meaning you feel satisfied after consuming it.  You’d likely be hungry an hour after eating an apple, but an apple spread with a little all-natural peanut butter will keep you satisfied longer!  Good sources of healthy fat include those from plants sources, such as nuts and nut butters, avocado, hummus, olive and canola oil.  A special type of fat called essential omega-3 fatty acids are especially important to fight inflammation in the body and are excellent for heart health. These fats are categorized as “essential” meaning the body can’t make them and they have to be consumed in the diet.  Excellent sources include fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, and plant sources include ground flaxseed, chia seed, walnuts and canola oil.  Dancers should strive to include healthy fat with each meal and snack, but it’s important to watch your portion size because fat is a concentrated source of calories and it’s easy to go overboard.

In a typical day dancers are not always able to get in 3 traditional meals plus 2-3 snacks with their crazy schedules.  Going from 2 back-to-back classes and then to an audition and then rehearsal can make it difficult to get in a solid lunch, and dancers don’t want to feel “heavy” or full from a big meal when they have to dance right afterwards.  However, it’s important to eat small, frequent, balanced meals or snacks throughout the day.  Eating frequently helps you have a constant stream of energy for the day, keeps your metabolism from slowing down and prevents you from becoming famished and overeating. And EVERY dancer needs to get in a good breakfast before starting the day!

How much water should I be drinking each day?
For women the general guideline is 2.7 liters per day, for men it’s 3.7 liters per day, however, some of this comes from water in food.  It’s SO important for dancers to stay hydrated throughout the day…this includes starting the day with water!  Water helps your body absorb certain vitamins and minerals, aids in metabolism and helps to fill you up.  I always encourage my clients to carry a 1 liter BPA-free water bottle with them whenever they can; their goal is to drink two per day for women, three for guys.  Green or herbal tea, seltzer/club soda and sparkling water are also great drink options and can certainly be counted towards your water intake for the day.  I try to discourage people from drinking their calories because they are not as satisfying as real food and may lead to overconsumption of calories.  This includes sodas, sweetened water, tea and coffee drinks, juice and smoothies and energy drinks.  I also recommend staying clear from artificially sweetened drinks as well; research shows that artificial sweetener use is actually associated with weight gain and can increase sugar cravings.
What are the best foods to eat:
-before class/rehearsal?
-before a performance?
It’s best to have a meal about 1 1/2-2 hours prior to dancing, whether it’s class, rehearsal or performance.  This will allow ample time for digestion and won’t cause you to feel too full or experience any gastrointestinal discomfort while dancing.  As mentioned previously, your meal will contain a proper ratio of carbs, protein and fat, but because fat takes a long time to digest it’s especially important not to have a meal that’s too high in fat.  An example of a good breakfast to start your day would be a ½ cup of plain oatmeal made with a cup of skim milk and a tablespoon of chopped walnuts, or lunch could be a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with lettuce, tomato and avocado with an orange on the side.  If you only have an hour or so before dancing, this is when it’s best to go for a smaller balanced snack, still containing some healthy carb and protein and/or fat.  An apple with a little all-natural peanut butter, a non-fat Greek yogurt with a tablespoon of chia seeds or some veggies and 2 tablespoons of  hummus would all be good options.
If you feel the need to “de-bloat” on the day of a performance, try avoiding all carbonated beverages, artificial sweeteners, gum and hard candy as well as sodium (mostly from processed foods).  Also, sipping on chamomile, peppermint, or ginger tea and eating some asparagus, celery, fennel, papaya or pineapple may help with that bloating feeling.
-after dancing?
What you eat after dancing will depend on your day.  If it’s been several hours since your last meal and you have some time before dancing again, this is when getting a good meal will help to refuel your body.  However, if you only have a short time before you have to dance again you still need to get in a little protein and healthy carb.  A half-cup of low-fat cottage cheese with some sliced red peppers or 15 almonds with a handful of grapes would be good choices.
-when overcoming injury/illness?
This is the time when it’s especially important to avoid high fat, high sugar, processed foods (which hopefully you are avoiding at all times!).  These foods can contribute to inflammation in the body, and when recovering from an injury or illness it is necessary to eat foods that help to combat inflammation.  This means getting in those essential omega-3 fatty acids from fish as well as walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds.  And you want to make sure you’re getting in ample amounts of antioxidants from foods, particularly fruits and vegetables.  Berries, apples, artichokes, broccoli rabe, sweet potatoes, pecans, green tea and even dark chocolate are all excellent sources of antioxidants!   But these are foods that should be a regular part of your diet EVERY day, not just at times when you are recovering from illness!
 
Should I be taking vitamins and other supplements?
If you have a healthy, well-rounded diet there’s generally not a need to take a multivitamin/mineral or other supplements.  If you want to take a multi for insurance, it’s important to look for one that has no more than 100% of the Daily Value for each vitamin and mineral, and it can be taken every other day.  Of course, supplements are certainly warranted at times on an individual basis, but it depends on one’s diet and nutritional needs.  For example, it can be very difficult for vegans to get certain nutrients in their diet, such as vitamin B12, calcium, and zinc. Additionally, if someone doesn’t eat fish I would recommend taking a fish oil supplement to get the essential omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, which help to fight inflammation in the body and contribute to heart health.  While you can get certain omega-3s from plant sources (such as flaxseeds or walnuts) these don’t provide the same type of omega-3s that fish provide.
 I ALWAYS recommend whole food over supplements.  You need to start with diet first.  Nutrients in food work synergistically, and individual supplements don’t always contain the proper ratio of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals for optimal absorption that nature provides through food.  Further, supplements that are advertised for weight loss are NEVER recommended.  They can be extremely dangerous or, at best, simply a waste of money.  The only sustainable way to lose weight and keep it off is through proper diet, exercise and good sleep habits, period.
If weight loss is a goal, how can I take a healthy approach?

First: You have to eat!  Skipping meals and snacks is the worst thing you can do for your metabolism, causing it to slow down and making it difficult to lose the weight.  Second: Cut out processed foods.  Often when people focus on getting in whole foods such as fruits and vegetables instead of potato chips they tend to lose weight automatically.  Third: It’s imperative to measure portion sizes, because it’s SO easy to overestimate portions.  I encourage people to get measuring cups, measuring spoons and even a digital scale and USE them!  It’s very eye-opening to see what a half-cup of cooked oatmeal looks like.  If a dancer wants to lose weight I would suggest starting with cutting back on starch servings (1-2 per day) because starch is higher in calories than other foods that are higher in water.  This could mean a piece of whole wheat toast with breakfast and a small sweet potato at lunch.  Additionally, as mentioned before, it’s particularly important to monitor fat servings as well.  A lot of people are surprised when I mention that a healthy serving of peanut butter is 2 teaspoons instead of 2 tablespoons, as what’s listed on the manufacturer’s label.  Fourth: Keep a food journal.  Research has shown that people who write down everything they eat have more success taking the weight off and keeping it off.  It really raises your level of awareness as to what is going into your body.  If you can, seek guidance from a registered dietitian who can help you devise a food plan to safely take the weight off while ensuring your body is getting the nutrition it needs.Are there books or websites that I can read to learn more?

I work in a private nutrition counseling practice for a wonderful registered dietitian named Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN.  She has written two books about nutrition that I would highly recommend called The Snack Factor Dietand The O2 Diet (and the upcoming Slim, Calm, Sexy). They’re great resources for someone wanting to learn more about nutrition, and would be excellent for dancers as well (and I’m not just saying this because I work for her!).  The information in the books is based on sound nutrition research and helps you to understand why we need carbs, protein and fat in our diet as well as goes into specifics on portion sizes and creating healthy menus.  I also really like Strong Women Eat Well by Miriam Nelson, PhD.  These books are about eating healthy for the rest of your life and make good nutrition accessible to anyone who reads them.
When searching for nutrition information on the internet it is very important to consider the source, because there is a lot of misinformation out there.  Reputable nutrition information will cite a body of scientific research (not just one article) and be based on the scientific literature, not just one person’s opinion.  Unfortunately, this information can be difficult for some people to discern.  Generally, if it promises a quick fix miracle or causes you to cut out huge food groups it likely isn’t quality nutrition information.

Who should I talk to if I’m feeling overwhelmed?
Whomever you trust.  This may be your parent, a good friend, a dance teacher, or a therapist.  It’s important to feel that you can turn to someone when you are overwhelmed, but be sure that this person has your best interest at heart.