Despite spending time in the studio every day, maintaining a healthy weight is often difficult for studio owners and teachers. Whether running a business leaves little time for proper nutrition and exercise or an injury has left you sidelined, weight gain is a common occurrence as the years progress. Here, two teachers talk candidly about their body struggles and reveal what motivated them to lose—and keep off—the extra pounds.

Sandra Sears
Age 46
Studio owner

“I gained 10 to 12 pounds over 10 to 12 years,” says Sears, who has owned Atelier of Dance in Tampa, Florida, for the past two decades. As the demands of running her business increased, Sears’ activity level decreased. She was teaching more and dancing less—and gaining weight so slowly she hardly noticed the changes that were taking place.

Though she generally avoided scales, one day Sears stepped on one. It registered 180 pounds—a stinging number that further decreased her motivation to maintain a healthy weight. “It was so overwhelming. I almost gave up the idea of ever losing the weight,” she say. “I was like, ‘Why bother?’”

Then, four years ago, after a trip with her students to the Empire State Building, she saw a photo of herself. “I thought it was distorted,” she admits. “I was 274 pounds.”

Like many, Sears at first looked to quick-fix diets, including Slim-Fast and Atkins, to shed the weight rapidly. Then, realizing a lifestyle change was in order, she began working with a nutritionist and trainer to learn more about her body and eating habits. For example, Sears now knows she is more likely to eat healthy (and avoid ice cream) if she works out early. Six mornings a week, she wakes up before dawn and hits the treadmill and weights. In addition, she is teaching more, leading roughly 20 classes a week at the studio.

De-cluttering her life has also helped keep her weight down, as she discovered after cleaning up at home and at the studio, paying off her credit cards and getting her financial affairs in order. “The more stress you can take out of your life,” Sears says, “the easier it becomes to eat healthy and stay fit.”

KayCee Stroh
Age 24
Teacher and star of High School Musical

Stroh grew up a competition kid in Salt Lake City, Utah. As a child, she struggled with her compact, broad build, hearing from competition officials that while she was a good dancer, she didn’t “fit the image.” “I was shocked that they actually took me aside and told me that,” Stroh recalls. “But as I got older, I realized that this is what I’ve got, this is what God gave me.” She made herself a promise: “I’m never going to let my body hold me back.”

At age 18, while teaching dance, Stroh endured a knee injury that required surgery. The procedure was complicated by a blood clot in her calf, and she was placed on complete bed rest for two months. She gained 40 pounds, going from a size 10 to 18.

After losing her health insurance, Stroh was unable to continue physical rehabilitation and went back to teaching. At first, she called out instructions to students while seated. “Kids don’t respect you as much if you’re not doing [the steps] and looking amazing,” Stroh says. “I never wanted to be that dance teacher who taught from a chair.” She eventually got back on her feet and dropped 15 pounds. “If I hadn’t gone back to teaching,” Stroh says, “I probably wouldn’t have danced again.”

In the meantime, Stroh was working with a group of teens she lovingly deemed her “misfits”—much like her, they didn’t fit the dancer mold. One day, Stroh and her students headed to an open-call audition for the then-unknown Disney Channel movie High School Musical. Surrounded by a couple hundred waif-like dancers decked out in biker shorts and sports bras, Stroh said to her students, “I guess this one’s just for practice.”

Unexpectedly, the director, who happened to be looking for a heavyset hip-hop dancer, approached Stroh. “You’re different,” she recalls him saying. “You’re kicking these skinny girls’ butts.”

One month and one audition later, she got the part. One of her misfits, Andrew Winston, was also chosen as an extra. Today, Stroh is starring as pop-and-lock girl Martha Cox in the third installment of High School Musical. She was profiled in an issue of People magazine about her weight gain and currently models for Torrid, a plus-sized clothing line. And she’s back to embracing her figure. “It really is amazing that I found Martha and Martha found me,” Stroh says. “It seems very meant-to-be that I was led down this path.”  DT

Buffalo, NY–based writer Tim O’Shei is the author of 35 books.

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