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.
For as long as there have been dancers, there have been diets. But dancers should be spending their time dancing, not manipulating their diet and restricting calories. "If they greatly reduce their caloric intake and reduce grains and bread, their energy is going to drop, and they're going to go into a brain fog," says The Ailey School's nutritionist Marie Scioscia, referring to a feeling of disorientation caused by undernourishment.
Nevertheless, your students are bound to encounter—and consider trying—popular diets. The constant stream of conflicting information about ever-changing diet trends can be especially misleading for young dancers who are eager to get ahead in a field that demands athletics and rewards aesthetics. To help you sort through some of the noise, DT looked at three trendy diets of 2017—some with more science than others—and checked in with registered dietitians about how they stack up for dancers.
You've seen them: dancers, still recovering from a holiday food coma, shuffling into class in a woozy, post-vacation stupor. (You may even know the feeling yourself.) It's all they can do to make it through their classes, and by day two, they're stiff, sore and moaning about it.
“Winter break is the worst," says Rubén Graciani, chair of dance and associate artistic director, Conservatory of Performing Arts, at Point Park University. Not many students take a January intensive, and with no school for about four weeks, it's just long enough to fall seriously out of shape—especially if dancers aren't cross-training.
“The biggest thing is stamina," he says. “Jumping into that schedule—11 to 13 technique classes a week—it's really hard on their bodies."
In a basement wood-floor studio at Peridance Capezio Center in New York City, Katharine Pettit starts her intermediate tap class with simple drills using the heel and toe taps. She incorporates weight shifts and gradually increases the speed to warm up ankles and brains, first hitting the quarter notes and eighth notes, then triplets and sixteenths. “Really fight for that specificity," she urges during time steps. She pauses to demonstrate the correct spot to hit the toe tap—in “the Bermuda Triangle" between the three screws. Her tap smacks the floor with a satisfying, crisp sound.
As 30 dancers in booty shorts and socks concentrate to perform grand pliés in center, Heather Rigg glides around the perimeter of the studio. She counts off the exercise as she checks students' alignment to gauge their level of experience. “That's when I see whether I need to take something out of the combination or restructure it. I can tell at that point what the pace is going to be."
But as dancers, we should. We need our feet. They connect us to the floor; we push off them to move through space. We use them to relevé, roll through, land, stomp and tap. Yet we don't treat them well. And sometimes, we flat-out abuse them.
In her work as director of physical therapy for New York City Ballet, Marika Molnar relies on tools like bands, balls and Pilates equipment to rehabilitate and strengthen dancers. She says there's a place for such tools in daily dance classes, as well. Resistance and stability tools can help students develop strength and even break bad habits. "Say someone is compensating because of a weakness or restriction—that's what they're always going to do," she says, even after a teacher corrects them repeatedly. "If you give them something that makes things a little unfamiliar, their brain has to participate more. It becomes not only a physical exercise but a cognitive one." The dancer learns in a new way, and improves.
Molnar has collaborated with Pilates expert Joan Breibart and PTs at Westside Dance Physical Therapy to create a series of tools and exercises with dancers' training and recovery needs in mind. Here, she shares three of her favorites.
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."