Andrea Marks is a writer based in New York City. Beginning in her home state of Connecticut at the School of the Hartford Ballet, she trained in dance for over 20 years. She majored in English and minored in dance at Skidmore College and earned her Master's degree in journalism at Columbia University.
With a competition weekend looming, studio owner Kim McDonough was rehearsing students for an up-tempo jazz piece at Dansations in Jacksonville, Florida. As one dancer crouched low to the floor, a nearby teammate kicked her leg up, connecting her foot with the side of the crouching dancer's forehead. McDonough stopped the music to assess the situation.
A well-fitting, properly laced shoe is integral to achieving correct technique and preventing injury on pointe. A shoe that is too short, too narrow, too long or too wide hampers a dancer's ability to get her body into alignment on pointe and can cause ailments ranging from blisters and tendonitis to a sprain or even stress fractures. Once they're professionals, dancers will make their own choices about how their shoes look and feel, but as teachers, you can guide students to prioritize safety over aesthetics, and to listen to the advice of experienced fitters.
A qualified personal trainer can help create a workout regimen that meets your body and classroom needs.As a teacher, you already know you need to look outside the studio for regular workouts. If you've trained primarily as a dancer, however, establishing a gym routine beyond using aerobic machines can be intimidating. It's tough to know where to begin.
The pressure for female dancers to be slim and feather-light is often at odds with their need to be strong. This contradiction is especially misleading in partnering. "Sometimes, a woman who has more muscle mass may weigh more but is actually easier to lift because she's stronger," says Matt Kent, associate artistic director of Pilobolus. "You don't want to be a sack of sand. Any male Pilobolus dancer can tell you the difference between lifting with a woman who has that kind of strength and one who doesn't."
"My first eating disorder, I was about 14," says Deborah Wingert, head faculty at Manhattan Youth Ballet. "I remember carefully limiting everything I ate. I'd eat three quarters of the piece of toast and not the last quarter." Then she'd skip lunch, but eat dinner normally. Her parents never suspected she had a problem. "It was very secretive, and I felt in control," she says. "I couldn't change the shape of my legs, but I could lose weight."
Last year, dance teacher Elaine Mannix of Commonwealth Dance Academy in Walpole, Massachusetts, learned a 10-year-old student had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The dancer had just added hip hop and lyrical to her class schedule and would sometimes dance three hours a day, building toward participating in more competitions as she approached middle school. The news was frightening to Mannix and the dancer's parents, but thanks to technology and communication, the dancer has been excelling in her classes and learning—along with Mannix—to monitor and manage her disease.
To perform at peak levels, dancers need to be particularly mindful of how they fuel their bodies. They need to be sure they get not just enough food, but the nutrients required to build strong bones and muscles, a sturdy immune system and supple joints. When you're always on the move, it's easy to miss out on vital nutrients. Although dietary supplements may seem like an ideal shortcut to better nutrition, experts advise that they should never be considered as a replacement for healthy, whole foods. However, if chosen carefully, they may fill in nutritional gaps when combined with a balanced diet.
We spoke with several nutritionists about supplements and dancers' dietary needs. They shared their advice about essential nutrients and where to find them.
Pliés shouldn't be excruciating. As a ballet conservatory pre-professional student, Taylor Gordon knew this, but when the back of her left heel began aching during pliés and jumps in 2007, she didn't think it was a big deal. She was dancing more than 20 hours a week and couldn't imagine pain bad enough to keep her from it. "I never understood why people I'd seen who were injured had to sit down and watch class," she says, remembering her determination. "Why can't you just push through it?"