Our Top Tips for Staying Healthy During Cold & Flu Season

Madi Hicks in Jeff Edwards' ballet class at Juilliard (Kenneth Edwards)

You know what unfortunately goes hand in hand with the greatest time of year? The dreaded cold and flu season. But, never fear—you can stay ahead of the curve this year by keeping your immune system working smoothly before the sniffles set in. We've rounded up our best tips and tricks to help you stay healthy (and dancing!) all season long.


First, Know the Difference Between a Cold vs. Fall Allergies

Photo by Igor Mozjes/Thinkstock

Many people associate allergies with spring's pretty blooms, but fall allergies can wreak havoc on your body, too. "Fall is really a key point in the allergy season, mostly because of ragweed allergy, which affects most of North America," Dr. Nadim Bikhazi, an ear, nose and throat specialist in Ogden, UT, told Weather.com. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), if your nose is running, check the color of your mucus. If it's clear, you could have allergies, but if it's yellow or green, it's probably a cold. Also, a fever is almost always a key giveaway that you have a cold or the flu—it's never a symptom of allergies.

Make Sure You're Getting Plenty of Sleep

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Because this is also the busiest time of year—thanks to school, holidays, and intense dance rehearsals and performances—it's super important to make sure you're getting plenty of quality sleep. (Emphasis on quality!) Did you know that catching up on sleep over the weekend isn't actually beneficial? "You wouldn't stop eating Monday through Friday, then gorge yourself over the weekend," says Dr. Rafael Pelayo, pediatrician and clinical professor at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine. "Even if you skip sleep completely one night, you don't sleep 16 hours the next. Ten hours or so is the most your brain allows based on evolutionary needs."

Plus, an extra few hours of "catch-up" sleep won't fix the fact that you're not getting enough sleep when you should be. And sleep is our body's best defense against illness. Check out other common sleeping mistakes dancers make here and fix your zzz's for good!

Make Sure You're Eating the Rainbow

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Marie Scioscia, a registered dietitian with The Ailey School, says that most green, red, blue and purple, and yellow and orange produce all contain great doses of Vitamin C, which is key for supporting a healthy immune system. Make sure you're eating a wide color spectrum by consistently reaching for things like kiwis, kale, broccoli, strawberries, tomatoes, red peppers, blueberries, plums, cabbage, oranges, peaches, and sweet potatoes. "Less is more when it comes to immune support. It's all about having variety in your diet and not overdoing it on one particular food or vitamin supplement," Scioscia says.

Check out Scioscia's go-to smoothie recipe to fit lots of the above fruits and veggies into one snack. It's (very appropriately) dubbed The No-Sick-Day Slurp.

Destress with Plenty of #SelfCare

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We get it, stress is just an unavoidable fact of life for today's teenagers—especially teens who dance. But, "if you keep experiencing stress over and over again and you don't manage it properly, it can wear and tear on your body," says Lynda Mainwaring, PhD, a sports and performance psychologist and an associate professor at the University of Toronto. Chronic, long-term stress can weaken your immune system, making future illness all the more likely.

Make sure to fit time in your busy schedule for things that make you happy. Meditate, take a yoga class or a bubble bath, journal or color, bake, or just laugh with your friends. Anything that clears your mind can undo fight-or-flight responses triggered by stress and anxiety. If you're constantly agitated no matter what, though, check out this advice to know if you should talk with a doctor.

Make Sure You're Actually Eating Vitamin C

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When you feel a cold coming on, it's easy to reach for Emergen-C. But this popular supplement contains 1,000 milligrams of Vitamin C—more than 10 times the recommended daily amount! Vitamin C overload can cause stomach distress and kidney stones, so next time, Scioscia recommends grabbing an orange instead.

Stay Warm in the Studio


Photo by Jayme Thornton, modeled by Tillie Glatz

Drastic temperature changes can make our immune systems crash. Make sure you're bundled up during warm-up so your body doesn't go from freezing to boiling. And stay toasty when you're leaving the studio, too, even though putting on something snuggly may be the last thing your sweaty body wants. Check out our favorite cozy jumpsuits, that are just as cute as they are functional.

Make Sure Your Diet Includes Plenty of Garlic

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When it comes to boosting your immune system, nothing beats garlic. Emily Cook Harrison, a registered dietitian at Nutrition for Great Performances in Atlanta, GA, says,"Garlic isn't just anti-inflammatory. It's also shown to reduce cold symptoms." Chop up two or three cloves and add them to whatever you're cooking for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

And If You Do Get Sick...

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Stay home! We know, we know, the show must go on, but it's super important to let your body rest sufficiently so that you can recover quickly. And it's so not fun for anyone else around you...no one wants to be coughed or sneezed on! Sometimes, rest and recovery can even take your dancing to the next level.

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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