Adopting a healthy lifestyle can be difficult for students, because it affects an entire household and parents’ bad habits may be hard to break. As a dance teacher, you are in a unique position to observe children’s body condition, perhaps even more closely than their mothers and fathers. Take the responsibility for educating not only your students, but also their parents about the importance of good nutrition for health and career longevity. Be sure to keep parents informed of children’s progress and any issues you might observe to provide a strong support system for your students. Together, you can form a team committed to improving everyone’s nutritional habits.
Many parents may not know what young dancers need to maintain the healthy weight, strong bones, endurance and strength to train and dance professionally. Give them the information they need to feed their young dancers properly. Rather than single out the parents of an individual child, gather families at your studio for occasional health and nutrition lectures to discuss sensible nutrition guidelines. Schedule them in the evenings or on weekends to make them more convenient for those with busy schedules. If you have the space, schedule other meetings or rehearsals back-to-back with these talks so parents can make the most of their trip to the studio.
In addition, contact the American Dietetic Association to purchase handouts on sports nutrition with recipes and ideas. You can leave them in your lobby or distribute them to parents and students. Keep healthy snacks at the studio for purchase: yogurt, fruit, low-fat cereal bars, trail mix, water, fresh fruit juices, unbuttered popcorn and pretzels, and skim and soy milk.
Also, be sure to set a good example. Next to parents, teachers are children’s most important role models. The more students hear you talk about good nutrition and see you choose healthy foods, the more they will follow and request the type of sports diet that you endorse.
Don’t let students eliminate a food group to lose weight or because popular culture deems one food “bad,” such as the current carb-cutting craze. And though the Internet can be a good source of information, be aware that questionable supplements promising weight loss or muscle building are also available online. These supplements can often be dangerous. Talk to your kids about avoiding quick fixes for weight and/or athletic ability.
Remember, as a dance teacher, you are a role model whom students listen to and revere. You have the power to positively affect not only their technique, but their whole lifestyle. Make your classroom and studio a holistic place by involving interested parents in nutrition education and asking for their help. You might also act as a liaison between doctors specializing in adolescent or pediatric health and concerned parents who need guidance. The information you impart will have far-reaching effects. DT
Marie Elena Scioscia, MS, RD, CDN-MPHC, a former dancer, currently heads nutrition services at the Manhattan Plaza Health Club and has a private practice in NYC.