Raise your hand if you've ever walked out of the studio with just one thought on your mind: a big, juicy cheeseburger. But raise your other hand if instead of getting that burger, you opted for a hearty salad or stir-fry.
While dancers need to fuel their bodies with nutrient-dense meals and snacks, plenty of foods get an unfair bad rap. "The diet culture in this country vilifies various food groups as being bad while championing others as good," says Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, CDN, clinical nutrition and wellness manager at the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "But black-and-white thinking like that has no place when it comes to food."
Certain ideas have floated around dance studios for so long that we don't even question them. But, no, it's not true that you need 180 degrees of turnout to be a professional dancer! Here are five such common pronouncements. Can we all agree it's time to put them to rest?
Dance should be a release. But as rates of depression and anxiety rise among teens, and as students feel the pressure to take on ever more commitments, time at the dance studio can turn into yet another stressor. Even if dance isn't the cause of duress, dancers as a population can be obsessive and perfectionistic, qualities that build meticulous technicians but may also make them more prone to common mental health struggles than the general population.
It's a topic dancers can be hesitant to confront, and one that requires significant awareness-building and education—which doesn't happen overnight. "It takes time away from the dancing," says Brian Goonan, a sports psychologist who works with dancers in Houston. "Most athletes feel, 'If I don't spend my time with the physical self or learning the craft, then it's not valuable.'" But if a dancer doesn't develop mechanisms to cope with stressors and maintain a healthy sense of self, she puts herself at risk for anxiety disorders and depression, which can drain her energy and love for dance, cause her to struggle in school and personal relationships and, in the worst case, threaten her life.
Misty Lown remembers what it's like to struggle mentally and emotionally during adolescence. Her parents divorced and faced financial difficulties when she was in high school, at which point she started making destructive decisions like skipping school, and she developed an eating disorder. "I felt pretty invisible," she says. She credits a librarian at her school for taking interest in her as a person and making her feel like she mattered. "It only takes one caring adult to change the life of a child," she says.
Because of her personal experience, Lown, who now owns Misty's Dance Unlimited in Onalaska, Wisconsin, puts dancers' mental well-being first. "You realize you can shorten their path to discovering their worth," she says. Teachers, who see kids for hours a week—sometimes more than their parents do—can't afford to ignore the growing mental health problem. They may be the first (and best) line of defense to help students in need and nurture happy, healthy dancers.
Wobble-free balance—a sign of ankle stability—requires strength in the smaller muscles on all sides of the lower legs and ankles: the peroneals, the tibialus posterior and anterior and the flexor hallucis longus. Many dancers overuse their calf muscles, the gastrocnemius and soleus, when trying to find balance on relevé, says San Francisco–based physical therapist Kendall Alway of ODC's Healthy Dancers' Clinic. "It's helpful for getting into relevé, but it doesn't stabilize you," she says. In other words, it gets you there, but that muscle alone won't keep you there.
You shouldn't wait for a surgery or injury to build muscles in your ankles and lower legs. Strong ankles support solid, beautiful lines and protect dancers while they're moving, whether through quick direction changes, landing from leaps, turning or balancing on pointe.
Here are some of Alway's favorite ankle-strengtheners that you can add to your routine.
Recently my daughter has been told that her hyperextended knees are causing her hips to sway out instead of under—making it so she's not getting over the box of her pointe shoe fully. Although she's always been hyperextended, she did have a growth spurt in the last year. Could this, combined with her hyperextension, cause instability and incorrect technique? Can it be corrected?
The darling of the Winter Olympics, figure skater Adam Rippon, recently dished to The New York Times about struggling with an eating disorder throughout his career.
As a dance teacher, you've almost certainly had to talk to a student about her or his weight at one point or another. (You may have even had memorable conversations or situations in your own dance training—or maybe it's something that affected you as a teacher.)