Last spring, Miami City Ballet corps de ballet dancer Chloe Freytag decided to eat vegan. With a passion for nutrition, she was concerned that toxins and preservatives in certain foods were preventing her from becoming her best dancing self. "Before veganism I was more rundown and I would get tired easily. My body was weak and heavy at times," she says. "Now I feel like a lighter person, more happy and energetic. I feel more like myself."


Dancers are always searching for nutrition solutions that meet the needs of their demanding training. Eliminating certain foods containing dairy and gluten and eating vegan have become popular in an attempt to lose weight, follow animal and environmental beliefs and calm food aversions. But these diets call for major lifestyle changes. They may only be beneficial to a dancer's health if she is careful about getting the nutrients she needs.

Gluten-Free

Gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye, is in processed carbohydrates, including pasta, cereal and bread. It's also found unexpectedly in products such as soy sauce, pudding and vitamin supplements. People with a wheat allergy, gluten intolerance or celiac disease (a condition when the small intestines cannot properly digest gluten proteins) are advised to remove it from their diet. Others may have sensitivities to gluten to a lesser degree, which can cause gastrointestinal pain and bloating.

Eating gluten-free has also become popular among those attempting to lose weight. Roberta Anding, a registered dietician who works with Houston Ballet dancers, says eating this diet will not necessarily help a dancer slim down because “many of the quick and easy gluten-free foods are actually just as processed as conventional foods." (Many grocery stores sell pastas made from brown rice and cookies baked with corn flour.) If you must eat gluten-free, quinoa, rice, specially labeled corn, millet and oats provide the benefits of energy-boosting carbohydrates without the gluten protein.

Dairy-Free

After decades of “Got Milk?" ads and a food pyramid recommending three servings of dairy a day, studies now raise questions about how much we should consume. Most famously, The China Study (2004) indicated a connection between animal-based foods and many chronic diseases. Emily Harrison, a registered dietician at the Centre for Dance Nutrition, recommends that dancers who decide to cut back on dairy should be mindful of getting nutrients from other sources. “When you have a growing young athlete like a dancer, they are very high risk for stress fractures to begin with," she says.

If a dancer is lactose intolerant, has an allergy or plans to reduce her dairy intake, Harrison suggests loading up on high-calcium foods like kale, Swiss chard, broccoli, tofu and almonds. And replacing cow's milk with almond milk will provide calcium and vitamin E, which promotes muscle repair. Those not consuming dairy should watch their intake of vitamin D, which is found in fortified foods like milk and helps the body absorb calcium and maintain the immune system. Harrison adds that many dancers are vitamin D–deficient because they spend a lot of time in the studio away from the sun, the best source for the nutrient. Catching some rays (with sunscreen) and eating fish, like salmon or halibut, can help supplement.

Vegan

Once the food choice of animal-loving hippies, veganism is now a robust movement focused on eating local and “clean." This means eliminating all animal byproducts from your diet, including meat, milk and eggs. “We know that vegans live a lot longer and tend to be much healthier," says Harrison. This is in large part because they tend to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables than nonvegans. But maintaining this diet takes constant attention. “You can't just have a veggie burger and French fries every day and say, 'OK, I'm a vegan.' You've got to work a little bit harder," says Harrison. “It really forces us to look at our food choices." Anding advises that a vegan dancer pay special attention to vitamin B12, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids and calcium.

Freytag didn't change her diet overnight. At 14, she started eating vegetarian and eventually transitioned into veganism. “Don't necessarily cut it all out at once," she says. “Start including different things that vegans eat a lot of, like dark leafy vegetables and more nuts and seeds." She eats more frequently now, but she finds that the nutrient-dense foods give her strength and a more positive mental state.



Dance Buzz
PC Break the Floor

Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?

If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.

"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."



The Boy Factor doesn't just have to do with competition scores: It's how we treat boys throughout their dance education. "We idolize the boys," says Ashley Harnish, a teacher at a competition studio. "We build entire dances around one boy, and we teach them that we need them more than we need the girls."

On the surface, The Boy Factor is flagrant sexism. But what's really behind the phenomenon? "So often, young male dancers are bullied because our culture says that dance is for girls," says a second national competition adjudicator. "This stigma pushes some judges to reward boys by scoring them higher than their female competitors." The Boy Factor also stems from a simple fact: There are far more girls than boys in the dance world.

"Judges see boys as valuable commodities," says Marissa Jean, a staff member at Broadway Dance Center's new building for children and teens and a teacher at several competition studios. "To encourage their career in dance, judges will throw a little extra their way. It could be placing them in the top ten or giving them a special award. They nurture them a bit more than the girls."



But by trying to retain more male talent, are we suggesting to girls that they are less valuable to the dance world than boys? "There's so much about this getting into these kids' psyches," says Childress. "Like, 'Oh the boy will beat me no matter what.' How do we teach self-worth knowing that you're going up against a boy, so what's the point?"

The Boy Factor is a product of and a contributor to the culture that sends the few men in dance up the glass escalator: "Many boys growing up in the dance world are not told the word 'no' often, so they tend to climb the professional ranks more quickly than the women," says Jean. We often bemoan the absence of female leadership in dance, but the damage is already done if we've taught young women that their gender determines their value to our community.

So what can be done about The Boy Factor? First, we could change how we encourage boys to continue dancing. Instead of empowering young men by devaluing young women, we could work as a community to dispel the culture of toxic masculinity that discourages boys from pursuing dance in the first place.

But it also falls in the hands of judges and teachers. "We need to increase awareness," says the second adjudicator. "A lot of us judges don't realize what we are promoting and the messages we send through our scoring and awards. If enough of us band together, I think we can make a difference so that this part of our field is less toxic."

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Every true dancer knows just how valuable a perfectly arched foot that curves effortlessly from the ankle to the end of the toes is to a performance. In fact, it's so important, it seems we've all taken an unofficial pact to spend inordinate amounts of time stretching our feet with ominous looking contraptions that cause us severe pain. We are completely crazy! With good reason, but crazy, nonetheless.

In order to keep us all inspired to stretch our toes until they are drool-worthy, DT compiled a list of five dancers whose feet we have a very real crush on. Honestly, these guys should get their toes insured! Truly, they are perfect.

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Students need strong feet for pointe work, but few concentrate on their toes specifically. "Fatigue sets in and they start knuckling," says Atlanta Ballet podiatrist Dr. Frank Sinkoe. This puts excess pressure on the nails, causing bruising. The exercises below strengthen the arch and intrinsic muscles, which flex the toes and support the feet.

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What are your non-negotiables? Share on Dance Teacher's Facebook page.

It could be argued that half the battle of owning a dance studio is getting people to follow the rules. To ensure your business will run like a well-oiled machine, it helps to have clear expectations in place for students and their families—and, most important, to make sure everyone knows them from day one. Of course, every school is unique, and behavior that may be acceptable to you might be out of the question for someone else. "There are so many studios out there," says Dana McGuire, a studio co-owner in North Kansas City, Missouri. "Know and stand by what you're about." Here, four seasoned studio directors discuss the issues they consider non-negotiable.

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