At a time when Stacey Tookey's dancing should have been taking off, she suffered two serious health setbacks that almost cost her her career.

First, at 17, she learned she had stress fractures in her shins that were so bad she could have snapped her tibias. She had to recover in a wheelchair and took a year off from dancing. "I had never rested a day in my life and worked through any pain I'd ever had," she says. "It was the first message to myself that I'm not invincible."


Then, at age 21 while living and working in New York City, an eating disorder she had been struggling with combined with another health problem. She was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease when she was 16, and medications failed to ease her nausea, bloating and abdominal pain, so she couldn't gain enough nutrients from food passing through her. "I basically collapsed one night," she says. She was hospitalized for malnourishment and spent months at home in Edmonton, Canada, her career on hold again.

Today, Tookey says, caring for herself is a top priority. "I made a complete flip on my health and self-awareness," she says. She follows a strict nutritional regimen based on what her digestive system can handle, while still powering her body for teaching on the rigorous convention circuit. She found what works for her through a combination of Chinese traditional medicine, food-allergy testing and an elimination diet recommended by an herbalist. She also gets regular acupuncture. "It just helps," she says. The disease has been in remission for more than 20 years.

While Tookey's circumstances may be extreme, she says learning to prioritize your own health is a lesson every dancer needs to learn sooner rather than later. "You can expect great things from your body if you take care of it," she says.

Q: What do you eat?

A: If I get one good meal, it's my breakfast. I'll have eggs with spinach and sweet potatoes. I'm a huge advocate of a green smoothie in the morning. You can just throw in some spinach and kale, pineapple, mango. Sometimes I add collagen. You can add whatever you want—matcha, protein powder, flaxseed oil—then mix it up and go out the door. The more veggies I eat, the more satisfied I feel during the day. I eat a lot of salads: fresh food with lean protein. I try to limit myself on sugar.

Q: How do you maintain your dietary habits when you're traveling?

It's funny to see me in the airport, because I basically travel with a cooler of food. I'll cut up vegetables and hummus and pack spinach and a little Magic Bullet blender, and I'll do little bags of nuts to go. It's rare you find a good place to eat in the airport. When I'm there, I know I have my blender and spinach. You can always get a banana from the gift store, or I'll order room service and just ask for a plate of berries. I travel with my protein powder and make my green smoothies.

Photo by Joe Toreno

Q: What about those weeks when the system falls apart?

There's definitely going to be a time when it's not going to go your way, and no matter how well you treat your body, there will be a time when your immune system is going to crash, and you're going to find yourself on the couch and eating mac and cheese or whatever makes you comfortable. For me, this is not about being perfect. When I have those moments, I know the next day is a new day, and I just do my best the next day. It's all you can do. I know, for me, when I'm rundown and I just want to eat this or drink that, I notice I don't feel good afterward, so that's a trigger for me to get back on track. You have to give yourself those moments, though. I don't believe in being perfect.

Q: Do you work out?

Yoga, Pilates, Gyrotonic. I'm into qigong right now. I feel like if I can sneak in one of those things a day, I'm good. I also try to rotate one self-healing "Let's check in with Stacey, see how we're doing" thing each day. I wish I had more time to meditate and journal. The older I get, the more I realize I need time to quiet my mind. It's difficult for me to sit with my breath and a quiet mantra. I try to take 30 minutes, but sometimes it's just 10 minutes to connect to my breath and body. It's new for me, but I notice a huge difference in the way I'm able to parent, teach and connect with students.

Q: Anything else you've discovered?

I've learned the value of a good night's sleep, of training super-hard but having time off to process and heal. Injuries and health are related to rest. We have a culture of "We only need four hours of sleep," and "I'm so exhausted but I did this, this and this." Now that dancers are excelling at an early age and there's so much expected of them, I'm seeing more injuries. You need good-quality and enough sleep.

Q: What's your formula for a good night's sleep?

I do my best to turn off my phone at 6. When I'm getting dinner and getting my daughter to bed, that time I am unplugged. There's always another e-mail to answer, there's always another text to respond to or phone call to make. And I find that if my mind starts racing late at night, it doesn't stop and I can't sleep well. It's a work in progress. I say all this stuff like I do this perfectly, but just the other night I was waiting for something coming in from my agency, and my husband was out, and I just went to lean over to see if he had texted, and what did I do? I ended up on my e-mail, and then it was "game over."

Q: What's the most important takeaway from your experience that you convey to young dancers?

Treat your body as a whole and know that it is so powerful and resilient if you take care of it. That means listening to your doctors, teachers and yourself. No one knows your body as well as you do.

Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Jerome Capasso, courtesy of Man in Motion

Finding a male dance instructor who isn't booked solid can be a challenge, which is why a New York City dance educator was inspired to start a network of male dance professionals in 2012. Since then, he's tripled his roster of teachers and is actively hiring.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Owners
Getty Images

You've got the teaching talent, the years of experience, the space and the passion—now all you need are some students!

Here are six ideas for getting the word out about your fabulous, up-and-coming program! We simply can't wait to see all the talent you produce with it!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of HSDC

This fall Hubbard Street Dance Chicago initiates an innovative choreographic-study project to pair local Chicago teens with company member Rena Butler, who in 2018 was named the Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellow. The Dance Lab Choreographic Fellowship is the vision of Kathryn Humphreys, director of HSDC's education, youth and community programs. "I am really excited to see young people realize possibilities, and realize what they are capable of," she says. "I think that high school is such an interesting, transformative time. They are right on the edge of figuring themselves out."

Keep reading... Show less
Getty Images

Q: What policies do you put in place to encourage parents of competition dancers to pay their bills in a timely manner?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo courtesy of Kim Black

For some children, the first day of dance is a magic time filled with make-believe, music, smiles and movement. For others, all the excitement can be a bit intimidating, resulting in tears and hesitation. This is perfectly natural, and after 32 years of experience, I've got a pretty good system for getting those timid tiny dancers to open up. It usually takes a few classes before some students are completely comfortable. But before you know it, those hesitant students will begin enjoying the magic of creative movement and dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for fun
Photo via @igor.pastor on Instagram

Listen up, dance teachers! October 7 is National Frappe Day (the drink), but as dance enthusiasts, we obviously like to celebrate a little differently. We've compiled four fun frappé combinations on Instagram for your perusal!

You're welcome! Now, you can thank us by sharing some of your own frappé favs on social media with the hashtag #nationalfrappeday.

We can't wait to see what you come up with!

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Original photos: Getty Images

We've been dying to hear more about "On Pointe," a docuseries following students at the School of American Ballet, since we first got wind of the project this spring. Now—finally!—we know where this can't-miss show is going to live: It was just announced that Disney+, the new streaming service set to launch November 12, has ordered the series.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Photo by Tony Nguyen, courtesy of Jill Randall

Recently I got to reflect on my 22-year-old self and the first modern technique classes I subbed for at Shawl-Anderson Dance Center in Berkeley, California. (Thank you to Dana Lawton for giving me the chance and opportunity to dive in.)

Today I wanted to share 10 ideas to consider as you embark upon subbing and teaching modern technique classes for the first time. These ideas can be helpful with adult classes and youth classes alike.

As I like to say, "Teaching takes teaching." I mean, teaching takes practice, trial and error and more practice. I myself am in my 23rd year of teaching now and am still learning and growing each and every class.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Misti Ridge teaches class at Center Stage Performing Arts Studio. Photo by Arlyn Lawrence , courtesy of Ridge

The dance teachers who work with kids ages 5–7 have earned themselves a special place in dance heaven. They give artists the foundation for their future with impossibly high energy and even higher voices. Enthusiasm is their game, and talent is their aim! Well, that, self-esteem, a love for dance, discipline and so much more!

These days, teachers often go a step beyond giving tiny dancers technical and performative bases and make them strong enough to actually compete at a national level—we're talking double-pirouettes-by-the-time-they're-5-years-old type of competitive.

We caught up with one such teacher, Misti Ridge from Center Stage Performing Arts Studio, The Dance Awards 2019 and 2012 Studio of The Year, to get the inside scoop on how she does it. The main takeaway? Don't underestimate your baby competition dancers—those 5- to 7-year-olds can work magic.

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Patrick Randak, Courtesy In The Lights PR

The ability to communicate clearly is something I've been consumed with for as long as I can remember. I was born in the Bronx and always loved city living. But when I was 9, a family crisis forced my mom to send me to Puerto Rico to live with my grandparents. I only knew one Spanish word: "hola." I remember the frustration and loneliness of having so many thoughts and feelings and not being able to express them.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Courtesy Just for Kix

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox