Archive | Dancer Health

Dancing with Cancer

Dancing with Cancer

By Rebecca Martin of Dance Informa.

The life of a dancer is about as tough as it gets. A lifetime of training, daily physical and emotional punishment, injuries, dieting, disappointment and rejection all for those fleeting moments of pure joy when you are on stage or in the studio and everything comes together – the reward of hearing an audience’s applause or the satisfaction in completing a difficult show or mastering a tricky step. A dance career is short and difficult enough without also having to worry about job security, healthcare and what comes next when your body says its over.

For some dancers who have spent their careers bouncing successfully from one contract to the next, from city to country to continent there is no ongoing health insurance or superannuation. What happens then if you become seriously ill?

For Lily Bones, who has lived and performed in eight different countries and in more than 100 different theatres and venues throughout her career, being diagnosed with cancer has left her not only with compromised health, but a whopping great debt in order to obtain the treatment required to save her life.

Lily found a lump in her breast in 2009 while performing in the UK and was told by five different doctors that the lump was benign. She continued to perform eight shows a week while travelling the world as the lump continued to grow. Not having exposure to proper medical care, the lump remained untreated until Lily returned to Australia in 2011 where she was diagnosed with an invasive ductal carcinoma – cancer.

As a testament to Lily’s strength and tenacity, she was back on stage dancing Sleeping Beauty three months after her double mastectomy surgery. She used dance to escape the horror of her cancer diagnosis and to help her mentally heal from the ordeal. However, in April of this year the cancer returned and now Lily is hoping to raise enough funds for radical treatment in Germany that does not have the severe side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. By choosing the alternative treatment, Lily can avoid potential womb cancer, blood clots, strokes, liver malfunction, and most importantly, she can maintain the strength to dance and one day become a mother.

Lily advises dancers in foreign countries to demand thorough testing by doctors. If you find a lump on your body, request a biopsy. Obtain multiple opinions if necessary. She persisted with doctors for almost two years but her history of good health led the doctors to insist that she did not require a biopsy. She also advises to see a specialist before buying contraceptive pills that can be purchased over the counter in some countries. The high oestrogen levels in many of these pills can increase the risk of cancer. Lily stresses the importance of eating well and looking after your body generally. Being too thin can throw the endocrine system out of whack and slow the healing process from any illness or surgery. She cautions against the mentality of “the show must go on” and says that dancers must listen to the bodies they know so well and if something doesn’t feel right, then they need to investigate.

Lily has launched a crowd funding campaign to raise funds for her treatment and it finishes at the end of November. More information can be found on the fundraising website: http://gogetfunding.com/project/dancing-with-breast-cancer-1.

“My next big dream is to be a mum. I have learnt through dance that if you have a dream there is always a way to achieve it,” said Lily Bones.

*Many other dancers are in similar situations. Beloved teacher, choreographer and performer Ian Knowles has recently been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. He is collecting funds to assist with his treatment. More information can be found on his Facebook page at www.facebook.com/TheIanKnowlesFoundation

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Injury Prevention for Dancers: Ankle Sprains

Injury Prevention for Dancers: Ankle Sprains

Ankle sprains are such a common dance injury. Let’s look at what a strain is, how we can prevent a strain and what we should do to recover.

By Leigh Schanfein of Dance Informa.

The human body contains more than 200 bones.  To keep us from wobbling around like disjointed puppets, bones are held together with other bones across joints by bands of tissue called ligaments.  Ligaments are made of collagen fibers, which allow little to no movement because they support and protect the integrity of the joint against excessive movement.  Ligaments are often confused with tendons, but let’s keep it straight: ligaments connect bone to bone while tendons connect muscle to bone! 

What is a sprain?  A sprain is an injury to a ligament where the ligament gets over-stretched.  In more severe sprains, the ligament suffers from a partial or a complete tear. 

How do I know if I might have suffered from a sprain?  A sprain occurs at a joint and it is usually the result of excessive movement at that joint, such as a twist, bend, or the feeling of forces going in the wrong direction.  It might be associated with an immediate sharp pain or even an audible “pop.”

If I think I have a sprain, how should I treat it?  Dr. Hillary Pane, a former ballerina and current contemporary dancer who has had her share of ankle sprains, recommends following PRICE:

Protect – wear a hard brace if the location of the joint allows.

Rest – stay off the affected limb and try not to move the joint.

Ice – ice for up to 20 minutes at a time.

Compression – use a wrap to put even pressure on the area.

Elevation – elevate the joint to assist blood flow out of the affected limb.

If the pain, discomfort, or swelling persists, or if you cannot put weight on the affected limb without pain, a visit to your doctor is recommended to make sure the sprain is not serious.  Your doctor may wish to take an x-ray or imaging such as MRI to confirm diagnosis, making sure there is no damage to the bone for example, and to rule out a tear.

Ankle Sprain Diagram

Ankle sprain diagram by Leigh Schanfein.

If I do have a sprain, how is it treated?  Minor sprains will simply take time to heal.  The ligament can recover from over stretching and small tears on its own as you transition from no use, to limited use, to return to dance.  Dr. Pane says it will start to feel better after about two weeks, and significantly better in about four to six weeks.  Extended immobilization or surgery would only be required in the most extreme cases where there is a complete tear and/or major loss of joint stability. 

Give yourself time to recover, regain strength, and slowly work on flexibility and coordination – re-injury after a sprain is very likely since not only will you have lost strength, your proprioception, or the ability for your body to recognize the angle of the joint, will be affected.  This is why physiotherapists and athletic trainers do not just do strength and flexibility training, they also work with patients on neuromuscular rehabilitation.  And Dr. Pane warns that dancers should not become dependent on a brace, and should instead begin a program of intensive therapy with a physiotherapist or athletic trainer once the ligament has tightened post-injury. 

Prevention is best – how can I prevent a sprain?  The two best predictors of a sprain are having suffered from that sprain before and poor proprioception.  You can improve your proprioception by working on balance and knowledge of joint angle with the eyes closed (no visual feedback), looking in the mirror (specific visual feedback), and performing exercises on unstable surfaces like foam, balance boards, and inflatable balls (challenging proprioception).  Also work on strengthening the muscles used in stabilizing joints rather than just the main agonist movers.  Remember, if you’ve had previous sprains it is going to be even more important to rehabilitate your proprioceptive acuity to help prevent repeat sprains.

One of the most common injuries dancers experience is the lateral ankle sprain.  This occurs when the ankle rolls outward so pressure goes to the outer edge of the foot and ankle, and the ligaments on that outer side are over-stretched, thus the sprain.  It could involve any of the ligaments that serve to stabilize the ankle including those that connect the outer leg bone (fibula) to the heel bone (calcaneus) and other foot bones.  Ankle sprains are often sustained from landing a jump improperly or landing on an object or uneven surface causing the ankle to roll.  They are also more common amongst female ballet dancers due to working en pointe and having more opportunity to potentially fatigue the ankle, lose balance, or mis-step while in plantar flexion (full pointe).

PRICE is an update of the acronym RICE now in use because, as Dr. Pane suggests, a rigid support for the ankle is recommended rather than soft braces or wraps, which are associated with re-injury during the time when recovery should be happening.  For an ankle sprain, she recommends the MalleoLoc because it is one of the few ankle braces that rests the most commonly injured ligament, the ATFL.  It is also thin enough to wear in or over a dance shoe for early return to class.  

Dr. Pane reminds us that it is particularly important to pick a physician who understands the dancer when it comes to ankle injuries.  “Dancers have a unique use of the ankle and foot that requires much more strength, precision, and range of motion and even torque in planes of motion that are not common to other athletes…If the dancer does not feel the physician listens or appreciates his/her needs, the dancer should not hesitate to seek a second opinion.”

Hillary Pane, MD, is a board certified family physician and psychiatrist in private practice in Tulsa, Oklahoma USA.  Dr. Pane has no financial disclosures.

Photo: © Handmademedia | Dreamstime.com

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Foam Rolling for Dancers

Foam Rolling for Dancers

By Laura Di Orio.

You may have seen some dancers with a large, cylindrical device poking out of their dance bag, or others laying on what looks like a foam log before class. And you may have asked yourself, “What is that? And what are they doing?”

That device is a foam roller, and what it’s used for is foam rolling, or self-myofascial release (SMR). This technique can be used by athletes and dancers to roll out muscle tightness and to relieve knots in the connective tissue, which cover your muscle and bones and support the body’s major structures.

Here, Marissa Joseph, a personal trainer based in New York City, and founder of Working Lines: Cross-Training for Professional Dancers, speaks to Dance Informa about the fundamentals of foam rolling and how it is beneficial, specifically for dancers. 

How Foam Rolling Works

The kinks, or adhesions, in the body’s connective tissue are a result from under-use, over-use, microtrauma and so forth. Dancers do continuous and repetitive movements, which can, over time, tighten up the body’s muscles and produce those kinks in the tissue.

“SMR works primarily on a neuromuscular level,” Joseph explains. “Even more so than other athletes who undergo cross-training regimens to keep a balanced body, dancers often have over-worked muscles due to the extremely repetitive nature of the technique. These overworked muscles and fascia become tight because the nerves that connect them to the brain begin to fire overtime and create tension. The connective tissue of the muscles then knots up, pulls on the tendon, which in turn pulls a little extra hard on bones, and voilà! You have created a muscle imbalance and are now at a greater risk of injury. However, continued practice of SMR will allow your muscles to work at their best and therefore prevent injury.”

For instance, “when the muscles of the back become tight, they can inhibit your ability to go into back extension and rotation, which in turn may block some important movements as your cambré and arabesque,” Joseph explains. “When muscles in the lower body become tight, they may pull on the knee and make plié uncomfortable or inhibit your ability to fully flex your foot, extend your leg or execute a flawless rond de jambe.”

Foam rolling with Marissa Joseph

Marissa Joseph, a personal trainer based in NYC, strongly encourages dancers to foam roll. Photo by Breegan Kearney.

How to Foam Roll

To foam roll, you can apply your weight on top of the roller and roll back and forth along the length of the muscle. Joseph recommends repeating this slowly about 10 times on each muscle. If you find an extra tight, tender spot, you can rest on the spot for a few seconds, rocking back and forth to work out the kinks.

Joseph says it is safe to foam roll any muscle of the body, but she warns that you should NOT roll over your joints – knee cap and hip joint, for example. Also, she advises to foam roll any given muscle for only up to one minute.

As for where on your body to foam roll when there is a specific ache, pain or tightness, it may be less obvious than you think. If you have a pain in your knee, for example, it could stem from tightness in your quadriceps, IT band, gluteals or abductors.

So, Joseph recommends, “If you are experiencing discomfort at a joint, I would suggest rolling out the full length of the muscles surrounding the joint. If what you are feeling is a tight sensation in a muscle, I would say the best bet is to foam roll the muscle itself and the surrounding muscles.”

When to Foam Roll

“There is almost no bad time to roll,” Joseph says. “If you had to pick one time for SMR, however, I would tell you to roll out before class or rehearsal. SMR does a good job of promoting blood flow to the muscles you roll and irons out some of the kinks before a strenuous day’s work. Both effects are a vital part of preventing injury.”

Joseph adds that you should avoid SMR when your muscles are extremely sore. “Your muscles need time to heal when they are super sore, and foam rolling won’t help,” she says. “If your muscles are just a little sore, though, SMR is okay.”

Foam Rolling Works!

Joseph says she has had multiple success stories with clients who are dedicated with their foam rollers. Some have alleviated back, knee and foot pain.

“My favorite story,” she adds, “is of my 68-year-old male client who has always been an avid exerciser. With foam rolling alone – no stretching – he successfully touched his toes for the first time in 20 years and then ran around the gym to show everyone what he could do.”

Joseph says that foam rolling is imperative for athletes. And dancers are athletes! “It’s totally essential for health and should be done every day as part of your daily routine,” she says. “Even if you don’t feel you are particularly tight, I still recommend rolling. I couldn’t stress its importance enough.”

For more information on foam rolling, check out Joseph’s blog, www.workinglines.org, where you can also find loads of other pertinent information on cross-training and keeping a healthy, in-tune dancer body. 

Photo (top): © Lunamarina | Dreamstime.com

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Keeping Your Energy Up

Keeping Your Energy Up

Advice from Jack Chambers and Adrian Ricks

So, after months of preparation and practice and several rounds of gruelling auditions, you’ve scored a contract with a big budget stage show! Yes, it’s a dream come true, but the real challenge is just beginning. Life on the road can mean long hours, intensely physical and emotional work, and performing the same show night after night for months – or even years. How will you keep up your energy and enthusiasm?

By Rain Francis.

Show contracts are usually anywhere between six months and two years long, with varying amounts of time off in between lengthier contracts. You’ll likely be performing eight shows every week, with only one day off each week. Besides the show itself, which will often be at least two hours long and extremely physical, you’ll be required to rehearse, take classes and stay in condition with complementary exercise.

So You Think You Can Dance winner Jack Chambers is no stranger to the demands of an intensely physical show. He was a dancer with Jason Gilkison’s Burn the Floor. “The most challenging aspect of the show is keeping our bodies in tact,” says Jack. “Doing such a physical show eight times a week can definitely bring on some injuries, so it’s very important that we warm-up properly and cool down after each show.”

Jack Chambers

Jack Chambers. Photo courtesy of Jack Chambers.

A typical day at Burn The Floor involves arriving at the theatre a few hours before each show to go through a cardio, stretch and core strength session, followed by technique class with Jason Gilkison. “Eating and sleeping properly are vital,” says Jack. “I personally have a very fast metabolism, so I must always have my three meals a day with mini meals in between, otherwise I would fade away to nothing, because of how much energy I exert each show.”

Another artist who is more than qualified to speak on this subject is Adrian Ricks, who performed with Cats for eight years running. Adrian says that Cats is one of the most physically demanding shows out there, but that he was very fortunate to have been looked after so well on tour. “We had nutritionists come in and talk to us,” he explains. “We learnt Pilates, Tai Chi and different dance methods such as Horton, and there was also a physiotherapist that toured with us.”

Adrian stuck to a regimented eating plan during the show; a big meal of protein and carbs before heading to the theatre; a snack of sushi, fruit or nuts after warm-up; a protein shake and fruit at interval and another shake post-show. “Keeping hydrated was one of the hardest things, as we were sweating so much,” he says. He kept his fluids up by sipping water and a sports drink during the show and 1.5 litres of water before bed.

And what about the psychological side? How do you manage to stay inspired when you are performing the same show every night? Well, it might not be as hard as you might think, especially if you love the show you are doing. In Burn the Floor, the dancers play and interact with each other on stage a lot. “Somehow you manage to connect with someone different each night,” says Jack. “This helps with the fun factor and when you’re having fun there is no need to find inspiration.”

Adrian Ricks

Adrian Ricks. Photo by John Harney Photography.

If you do find yourself in need of some inspiration however, find the most positive aspects you can focus on, such as developing the role you are playing. This is exactly what Adrian did to stay inspired during his eight-year run. “These privileges for a performer were why I loved staying with the show for so long,” he says. “As I grew as a performer and a dancer, so could my solo and my whole show.” How far can you extend your character and the choreography? It’s not advisable to make any changes without consulting your director, but strengthening your relationship with your character will keep you inspired, which will keep the show feeling fresh and exciting for both yourself and your audience.

Having an even balance of work, rest and play is crucial. Your days off will probably be filled with mundane tasks such as laundry, cleaning and grocery shopping, but try to schedule some time to chill out and do some things you enjoy outside of dance. Treat yourself to a massage or a movie with friends, or just curl up with a book or catch up on your favourite TV shows. Stay in touch with your loved ones back home and try and take some time away from your workmates when you can. As Adrian says, “Having your own time and doing little things that just make you happy help you keep sane and positive.”

Being in a professional show is no easy ride – but if that’s what you wanted you wouldn’t be a dancer, right? You’ll make lifelong friends and you’ll grow as an artist and a person every day.

It can be one of the most challenging and fulfilling times of your life if you have the right attitude, so make the most of every day.

Adrian is now a freelance teacher, choreographer and director based in Melbourne. He has formed his own company RickStix Productions. Adrian’s dream is for RickStix to become a full-time institution, and thanks to the depth of his passion and dedication, that dream could come true in the not-too-distant future.

After his contract recently came to an end with Burn the Floor, Jack worked on the audition process for the Broadway musical Newsies, having been asked by Disney’s Associate Choreographer Geoffrey Garratt to assist at the dance auditions for the West End run. He is now back in Australia with some exciting projects in the pipeline. When asked where he’d like to be in five years, Jack replies: “It’s not a matter of ‘where’ for me, I just want to be happy and healthy enough to keep doing what I love: performing.”

Find more information on these talented young artists Rickstixproductions.com and Jackchambers.net.au.

Photo (top): Adrian Ricks. Photo by John Harney Photography, courtesy of Adrian Ricks.

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Can your diet calm your stage nerves?

Can your diet calm your stage nerves?

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD.
The Centre for Dance Nutrition.
www.dancernutrition.com.

Being nervous is a natural part of day-to-day life for a dancer. Maybe there is a big audition, a run of shows or even a new choreographer in the studio. There are healthy ways to deal with nerves and food choices can play an important role. 

Before any big show, you want to feel as prepared as possible. Sure there can be last minute changes, but there shouldn’t be last minute changes to your diet on a big day. Preparing your food and snacks ahead of time will help you feel confident and strong. Going for too long without eating leads to one feeling jittery, shaky, tired and grumpy. Eat every three hours, making sure you have healthy, easy to digest, carb-based snacks on hand. 

You need to start a show day with a full tank. In nutrition terms, this means stored glycogen. Glycogen is stored in the muscles and liver, and is the form of energy that the muscles can mobilize quickly. When you go from standing in the wings to dancing full-out in a short amount of time, burning muscle glycogen will keep you feeling strong until the end. 

Make sure your glycogen stores are ready to go on a show day by eating a mix of carbs and protein within one hour after exercise the day prior. The night before, eat carbohydrates for dinner such as low-fat pasta, a sandwich or a bean-and-rice burrito.   

On show day, have easy to digest snacks in your bag. Eat an hour before you dance so you have time to digest. Focus on complex carbs with only a little protein and fat. Fruits, veggies and whole grains will give you sustained energy but won’t sit on your stomach and make you feel bloated or heavy. Save a moderate protein meal/ snack for after you dance. Protein and fat take longer to digest and if you are nervous this might lead to an upset stomach. 

Avoid too much refined sugar. Some people are sensitive too sugar and can get jumpy and overly energetic, but for some it may result in feeling more tired or fatigued. High sugar snacks, especially with refined grains, are considered high on the glycemic index. This means that they get digested and absorbed quickly and give a quick rush of energy that lasts for a limited time. This might be okay if eaten minutes before you step onstage for a short variation or if you are at the final intermission of a long show and you need something quickly absorbed. However, something sugary isn’t a good strategy for getting through a longer show or audition. Better choices would be whole grain crackers with peanut butter, an oat bar or low-sugar granola bar, or a whole grain muffin with raisins, flax seeds and walnuts.  The flax seeds and walnuts have omega-3s, which have been shown to positively affect brain function, mood and attention. 

Hydrate with water but limit caffeine. Dehydration will negatively affect performance, especially under hot stage lights. The first two signs of dehydration are fatigue and poor balance. You will be more calm and confident if you hydrate with water and not with anything containing artificial sweeteners, additives or colours. Good hydration starts long before show day. Plan to drink 2500ml-2800ml (10-12 cups) each of the 3-4 days before and on show day. One protocol is to drink 150-300 ml (5-10 oz) every 20-30 minutes. When nervous, don’t water load with large quantities at one time, but rather sip at regular intervals. 

Caffeine is known to help with alertness and can positively influence performance. One small coffee might be fine, but the amount in an energy drink can backfire by making you jittery and even more nervous. Avoid alcohol because it is known to negatively affect athletic performance for days after a drink. 

Dancers perform their best when calm, confident, and well fueled.  These few tips can help:  

1. Eat a healthy dinner with complex carbs the night before.

2. Plan ahead and bring carb-based meals and snacks with you; and eat every three hours.

3. Avoid refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, colours and additives.

4. Stay hydrated and limit caffeine.

Emily Harrison
Emily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University, USA. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at emily@dancernutrition.com www.dancernutrition.com

Photo (top): © Andriy Bezuglov | Dreamstime.com

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Can I eat fat and look good in tights?

Can I eat fat and look good in tights?

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD.
www.dancernutrition.com

Dancers tend to be cautious about fat in their diets. This is completely understandable given that we have to look good in tights and fat is a very concentrated source of calories. Fats have nine calories per gram versus four calories per gram from carbs or proteins. But what about all the reported benefits of coconut oil, olive oil and omega-3s? Would a dancer’s bone health be at risk without adequate fat to help absorb and metabolize bone building vitamins D and K, both of which are fat-soluble? Plus, fat makes food more palatable, and helps you feel fuller longer.  Smart choices and moderation are what we need for this misunderstood, but tasty, nutrient.

How Much?

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends getting 25-30% of your total calories from fat. As a dietitian for dancers, I typically recommend getting 25% because it’s necessary, but we don’t want to get too much. It is saturated fat that you want to avoid. Recommendations are to get less than 10% of total calories from saturated fat. We all should entirely avoid trans fats. Trans fats undergo hydrogenation, which makes them more shelf stable. Baked goods, doughnuts, fried foods and chips are sources of this heart-damaging fat. As athletes, our cardiovascular system is a big part of what makes us perform well and it makes sense to eat foods that support the one muscle that never stops working. Most teenagers and adults can eat between 35 to 60 grams of total fat per day, but choose your sources of fat wisely, picking plants such as nuts, seeds, avocados and small amounts of unsaturated oils. Portions matter! All foods naturally contain some fat. Even green beans and other veggies have a little.  

What does 25% of total calories really mean?

It’s different for everyone, but for approximately 2,000 calories per day, 500 of those can be from fat. This amounts to up to 55 grams per day. A pat of butter, 1/3 hamburger patty or 2 tablespoons of avocado all contain about 5-8 grams of fat, but the different kinds of fats in these foods can have profoundly different effects on the body.  

The importance of fats

Fats provide critical biological functions in the body. Phospholipids are components of cell membranes, and glycolipids are components of brain tissue. Fat can also be an important fuel source during a long show. Fats are essential for the absorption of vitamins A, E, D and K. 

Different types of fat

You want to replace saturated fats with unsaturated sources. When you hear of saturated or unsaturated fats (both poly and monounsaturated), those terms are referring to the structure or the chemical bonds. The structure can influence how it is metabolized by the body and then how it is used by cells. Different types of fat can also have different effects on athletic performance. Coconut oil is popular now. While it is very saturated and should be eaten in moderation, it has the type of fat that can be absorbed rapidly and can be a quick fuel source before dancing.

Below are some examples of fat sources. These are all naturally a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, but this gives a general idea of which fat sources are healthier options.

Saturated Fat (usually solid at room temperature) includes:

  • Meats, cheeses, butter, chocolate, coconut oil, palm oil, shortening, hydrogenated oils/ trans fats. 
    Linked to heart disease, hardening of the arteries, higher cholesterol, cancer, liver disease and poorer athletic performance.

Poly and Monounsaturated fats (usually liquid at room temperature) includes: 

  • Oils from flax, safflower, canola, olive, sesame. All seeds such as chia, flax, hemp, and sunflower. All nuts such as walnuts, almonds, peanuts.
    Linked to decreased cholesterol, better heart health, lower risk for cancer.

Omega-3s/ fish oils (Unsaturated and considered “essential” because the body can’t make them):

  • Flax and chia seeds, walnuts, cold water fish, canola oil, soy, wheat germ.
    Linked to decreased inflammation, lower risk for depression, improved brain function and better heart health.

Making good choices when dancing

Because fat slows stomach emptying and digestion, choose a high carbohydrate meal that is moderate in protein and low in fat one hour or more before a show or rehearsal. Nerves can affect digestion as we all know. Options could be a low fat meal of pasta with light marinara sauce (easy on the oil) or rice, veggies and edamame or a veggie burger on bread with a side of carrots. During long class or rehearsal days, try trail mix with nuts and seeds with a carb like pretzels or crackers. Add flax or chia seeds to your oatmeal in the mornings.

Anyone who is watching their weight and wants better performance doesn’t need to fear fat, they just need to be smart about not eating too much and getting their fat sources from plants.

Emily Harrison
Emily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University, USA. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at emily@dancernutrition.com www.dancernutrition.com

 

Photo (top): © Alen Dobric | Dreamstime.com

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Don’t Fear Carbs

Don’t Fear Carbs

Why Carbs Can be a Dancer’s Best Friend

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD.
www.dancernutrition.com

Want better jump height, more endurance, improved brain function and better fat burning? Then carbohydrates can be your best friend.

Should I eat a high protein, low carb diet?

There always seems to be yet another new bestselling, yet unscientific diet trend that touts low carb, high protein eating. These diets are not good for anyone, but this is especially so for the type of activity that dancers do. Certainly adequate protein is important, but the body would prefer to spare it for important physiologic functions, not burn it as fuel. Carbs provide the type of fuel that the muscles need for dance. High protein diets can lead to lower bone mineral density and increased risk for long-term diseases. Plus, such diets have not consistently shown to help with weight management over the long term 1,2,3.

Carbs can be found in wholegrain pasta, bread, rice, quinoa, barley, dairy, all vegetables and all fruits. Of course, you should avoid simple sugars in sweets, juices, soda, refined grains and baked goods. Sugar won’t give you enough energy to get through barre, but have a simple sandwich or pasta with veggies, and you’ll dance strong all the way through grande allegro. You won’t get that same level of sustained energy from a protein shake, or a big piece of meat before class.

Weight management and carbohydrates

The main reason people believe the hype about low-carb diets like Atkins, South Beach and Paleo diets is that they do aid in weight loss…. at first. For most people, much of the weight is gained back often with a few extra pounds to spare1. Yo- yo dieting is not what dancers need, especially when it is at the expense of their health or performance. Quick weight loss, a hallmark of low-carb diets, can lead to loss of lean mass (muscle). Going on any very low-calorie diet and losing muscle means losing the most metabolically active tissue the body has. In addition to lowering the metabolic rate, the body adjusts to the restricted calories, setting one up for an endless cycle of gaining and losing. A better strategy would be to limit simple sugars and eat smaller more frequent meals and snacks with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes as the foundation.

Carbohydrates and performance

There is no better fuel for athletic performance and brain function than carbohydrates. Complex carbs in whole grains, vegetables and fruits give the muscles a prolonged source of energy. It has been found that giving athletes carb-based snack bars between meals results in better energy output and anaerobic power, while keeping weight the same and lowering body fat4.

In one study carbohydrate intake prior to exercise was shown to be as effective in improving repeated jump height as the supplement creatine 5. The carb group didn’t gain weight but the creatine group did5. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that athletes get 55-60% of their total calories from carbohydrates, and whole grains are also important sources of fiber, B-vitamins, iron and folate.

How much, and when?

Here are a few real-life examples:   

Everyone is different, but if 2000 calories are needed then 55-60% should come from carbs. That is about 275-300 grams because carbs have 4 calories per gram. Carb needs can also be calculated based on grams per kilogram of body weight. In general, recommendations are 5-8 g/kg depending on intensity of activity. So a 120lb (54.5kg) female dancer would need at least 272 grams per day.

Examples:
1 piece of bread: 12-17 grams
1 apple: 25-30 grams
1 cup quinoa or brown rice: 39-45 grams
1 cup green beans 8 grams

Long, busy class and rehearsal days

Plan ahead so that carbs and protein are eaten within one hour post exercise the day before.  Carbs should be eaten in the range of 30-60 grams per hour during the rehearsal day.

Show or audition day

If a dancer is feeling nervous and doesn’t want food sitting on their stomach, then they should be well-fueled 3-4 hours prior to the show/ audition. Then an hour or so before, opt for easy to digest carbs like pretzels, crackers or a sports beverage. High-fat and high protein foods take a bit longer to digest, so eat these in moderation if you’re nervous. Re-fuel as needed if it is a long show.

Rest day

On well-deserved days off, a dancer still needs carbs but not in the same amount as a workday.  Cut back just a little bit, and eat lots of fruits and veggies.

The subject of carbohydrate intake is big, and can’t be covered in one article. Check out my earlier Dance Informa article on glycaemic index for additional information.

Emily Harrison
Emily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University, USA. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at emily@dancernutrition.com www.dancernutrition.com

Sources:

  1. Four-Year Follow-up after Two-Year Dietary Interventions N Engl J Med 2012; 367:1373-1374. October 4, 2012.
  2. Campbell TC, Campbell TM. The China Study. 2006. Benbella Books
  3. Rohrman S, et al. Meat consumption and mortality – results from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. BMC Medicine, 2013.
  4. Benardot D, et al. Between Meal Energy Intake Effects on Body Composition, Performance, and Total Caloric consumption in athletes. Medicine & Sci in Sports and Exercise V37. 2005.
  5. Koenig C, Benardot D, Cody M, Thompson W. Comparison of creatine monohydrate and carbohydrate supplementation on repeated jump height performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2008;22
Photo (top): © Phinizrl, Dreamstime.com

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Fitness Beyond the Studio

Fitness Beyond the Studio

By Emily Yewell Volin.

Technique classes and rehearsals are a dancer’s job and a common misconception is that this training schedule provides enough exercise and conditioning to make a dancer performance ready. Not so. Dance Informa spoke with Nehemiah Kish (Principal Dancer, The Royal Ballet), Alice Hinde (Australia’s Dancenorth) and Glenn Allen Sims (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater) to learn how they augment their workout regimes to achieve top fitness, stamina and sculpted physiques.

What type of fitness activities do you do in addition to your technique classes and why?

Nehemiah Kish – The Royal Ballet, UK
In addition to our daily ballet class, we are very fortunate at The Royal Ballet to have two sports scientists on staff as well as Pilates and Gyrotonics instructors. This season I have been working with our sports scientists. They test our strengths and weaknesses and give exercises accordingly. When I want to improve a certain area of my dancing or build a specific group of muscles they tailor the exercises to my needs. How much I do is based on my performance schedule, because some of the exercises leave me sore or fatigued. I like to take advantage of the days when I have fewer rehearsals and use those days to work on strengthening the areas I want to improve.

Alice Hinde, Dancenorth, Queensland Australia

Dancenorth Company Dancer Alice Hinde. Photo by Bottlebrush Studios.

Alice Hinde – Dancenorth, Australia
In addition to ballet and contemporary technique classes, I cycle, do yoga and skip. I have these activities on rotation so that my body is subject to different kinds of movement patterns. I enjoy doing all of these activities because they are also a rest for the mind. I aim to reduce the noise of a busy mind and just enjoy focusing on my breath in yoga or even the scenery while riding. Cross-training is great for the body, it helps improve stamina and strength and overall shape and performance.

Glenn Allen Sims – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, USA
I am always working out, especially at the gym, when I am not in my technique classes. While at the gym my main concern is free weights, basically sculpting my upper body and breaking down muscles groups into days of the week (ie. Monday- abs and shoulders, Tuesday- back, Wednesday- abs and cardio, Thursday- chest, and Friday- abs and arms). This schedule can be altered depending on what I am dancing that evening, if there is a performance or the free time I may have during a rehearsal period. I also take Pilates classes that are generally on a private basis with a Master Trainer. I feel that a man should look like a man from the stage, not to say that someone that is slighter than I doesn’t look like a man, but it is my prerogative. As an Ailey man, it is part of the history and legacy that the men always looked great, sexy and fit. I am just trying to live up to this standard as best as possible with all the knowledge that I know about fitness. Working out really plays a huge role on how good you feel about yourself, and when you are feeling great in your skin it really shows!

What is your strategy for staying fit and conditioned during your off-contract time?

Glenn Allen Sims
I try to make sure that I am at the gym on a daily basis. When I am on off-contract time I make sure to really focus on as much cardio as possible – it’s the only way I can come back to work with the same amount of stamina that I left with. I love taking a spin class or just simply running on the treadmill. The best cardio workout that I am head over heels for is aqua aerobics! You tone and work all the muscle groups without the impact on your joints, which is a huge plus for me as a dancer. In terms of my eating habits, I eat the same for the most part. I food combine what I’m going to eat, meaning that I don’t mix proteins and carbohydrates in a meal. This really aids the digestive system in processing the food I am taking in. I’m big on eating whole foods and loads of greens (especially green juices), and making sure that what I am eating is of quality – no junk foods. I try to stay away from desserts.

Alice Hinde
During the summer holiday, I try to allow ten days to two weeks for rest. In that time I might do some gentle stretching. Swimming and biking are two of my favorite ways to keeping my body moving while I’m on holiday.

The Royal Ballet's Nehemiah Kish and Zenaida Yanowsky

The Royal Ballet’s Nehemiah Kish and Zenaida Yanowsky in Raymonda Act III, photo by Tristram Kenton, courtesy ROH

Nehemiah Kish
Maintaining the same level of fitness and conditioning I have on contract is very difficult when I’m off contract. It basically comes down to time allocation – how can you give at least 5 hours a day to training as you would if you were working? So, I generally lead an active lifestyle which helps maintain some level of fitness, including regularly hiking, swimming and diving. As I am constantly on the move between cities and even countries, attending regular classes becomes difficult. To remedy this I always pack a skipping rope. It is lightweight and it’s easy enough to find a space large enough to skip in. Skipping also gets your heart rate up rapidly. I set my iPod to my favourite up-beat tracks and I can skip happily for 15-20 minutes.

How do you augment your exercise regimen while touring?

Alice Hinde
Touring doesn’t affect my routine that much. I don’t use a lot of machines or props when working out. Most of my exercises are based on using my own body weight.

Glenn Allen Sims and Linda Celeste Sims, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Glenn Allen Sims and Linda Celeste Sims in Jirí Kylián’s Petite Mort. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Glenn Allen Sims
I carry a range of travel equipment with me. I have Spree resistance straps that help tone the body, the Perfect Push-Up and a Multi-toner, which is like the Pilates magic circle, but this was designed by DLFit and is a complete body workout. Of course, there’s only so much you can do in the hotel gym so most of my workout augmentation happens either in the hotel room or at the theater, unless there is a gym nearby.

Nehemiah Kish
I aim to tailor any fitness activities to things that can be done in a hotel room such as skipping and yoga. I find stretching extremely beneficial when on tour because of the increased workload when performing a show. Cardio and strength are usually taken care of by actually performing! A spa or bath also works wonders in decreasing lactic acid levels and keeping the body supple.

Top photo: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Glenn Allen Sims and Antonio Douthit in Alvin Ailey’s Opus McShann. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

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Happy Valentine’s Day: Five red foods that are good for your heart

Happy Valentine’s Day: Five red foods that are good for your heart

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD
www.dancernutrition.com

Dance Informa is celebrating heart health this Valentine’s Day by highlighting five red foods that are good for the one muscle in your body that never gets a rest. These foods are also great for recovering from a tough rehearsal, for keeping a healthy body weight and for preventing cancer and heart disease – but most importantly, they taste good!

Heart disease is a leading cause of death for both men and women1. Being physically active, maintaining a healthy body weight, and eating more colourful fruits and veggies can reduce your risk.

Strawberries
At only 43 calories per cup, berries contain vitamin C, folate and potassium, in addition to cancer-fighting flavonoids, such as anthocyanins. Flavonoids are antioxidants that combat oxidative stress on the body and protect against free radicals that cause cell damage. This is good news for dancers who push their bodies to the extreme and is especially helpful in urban areas where city pollution can be a source of oxidative stress. The Nurse’s Health Study II reported that people who ate berries more frequently (more than once a month) were 32 percent less likely to have a heart attack than people who ate berries infrequently. Berries also protect the heart with their anti-inflammatory properties. Be sure to choose organic berries as often as possible. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) lists these on their “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and vegetables that are typically high in pesticides2.

Capsicum
Sweet or hot, raw or cooked, there is no doubt that these are super healthy foods. Sweet red capsicums contain vitamins C and A, but they are also a good source of vitamin B6, which aids in protein metabolism. Because red capsicums have been left on the plant to mature longer than green ones, they are better sources of antioxidants. They are great sliced and dipped in hummus or on top of a pizza. These are also on EWG’s Dirty Dozen list so it’s worth the money to buy organic.

Tomatoes
These are a great source of vitamins C and K. They also contain vitamin A and the carotenoids lutein, and lycopene. These are antioxidants, powerful cancer fighters and are very heart protective. Research has shown that cooked tomatoes, like in sauces and stews, can have additional benefits. So enjoy them raw and cooked. Eat the skins as well, as the skins contain many health-promoting phytonutrients. This is another food on EWG’s Dirty Dozen list, so once again we recommend that you buy organic.

Red Beans
A fantastic source of plant based protein and fibre, red or ‘kidney’ beans also contain folate, iron, manganese, copper, potassium and several other minerals. Current recommendations from a variety of health organisations tell us to get protein from more plant-based sources in general. Beans are a cheap source of organic protein, which with the fibre will help you feel fuller longer and can keep blood sugar more stable. I would strongly recommend avoiding canned beans because canned products are lined with a plastic coating that contains BPA, which is a known neuroendocrine disruptor. It’s so easy to throw some beans in a slow cooker in the morning and they are ready when you get home. During cooking, don’t add salt or something acidic like tomatoes. Wait until the beans are softened to add these. If you soak beans overnight and then give them a good rinse before cooking or eating you can reduce the substance that gives them their reputation for being gas-producing.

Beetroot
These bright red root veggies are hot in the sports nutrition field right now because they are a great source of naturally occurring nitrates. Naturally occurring nitrates in foods like beets, rocket, spinach and rhubarb have been shown to significantly improve athletic performance with better power output, more endurance and speed. Dancers might see benefits by eating more of these veggies or drinking beetroot juice. Nitrate supplementation from pills has not shown the same benefits as consuming the actual vegetable. It’s important to note that cured or processed meats contain nitrates too, but interestingly these have a completely different effect on the body and cause cell damage instead. Cook beets in water until soft and then add them to salads.

There are plenty of other great red foods out there so don’t forget to also include these in your daily food choices – cherries, watermelon, red cabbage, raspberries, cranberries, ruby red grapefruit, pomegranate, apples and many others. Enjoy!

Emily Harrison
Emily Cook Harrison MS, RD, LD
Emily is a registered dietitian and holds both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nutrition from Georgia State University, USA. Her master’s thesis research was on elite level ballet dancers and nutrition and she has experience providing nutrition services for weight management, sports nutrition, disordered eating, disease prevention, and food allergies. Emily was a professional dancer for eleven years with the Atlanta Ballet and several other companies. She is a dance educator and the mother of two young children. She now runs the Centre for Dance Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles. She can be reached at emily@dancernutrition.com www.dancernutrition.com

 

Sources:
1. Centers for Disease Control USA: www.CDC.gov

2. Environmental Working Group: www.ewg.org

Photo: © Svetlana Kolpakova | Dreamstime.com. 

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Stretching Truths

Stretching Truths

By Rain Francis.

Do you stretch extensively before class? Do you often sit in a stretch for a few minutes or more? Do you stretch every single day?
As dancers, most of us would probably answer “yes” to at least one of the above questions – which would mean that we might have been practicing unsafely, and could be doing our bodies more harm than good. It’s time to get wise about the correct, safe and effective way to stretch.

Flexibility is important for injury prevention, physical fitness and mental and physical relaxation. Since all bodies are different, there is little point in comparing your flexibility to another dancers; flexibility is determined by genetics. However, stretching, when practiced correctly, can increase your flexibility and improve your performance.

When to Stretch
The most crucial factor in regards to stretching is to always warm up first. As much as we may be used to it, this means not sitting in stretches before barre! A proper warm-up should start with some light aerobic activity (such as a gentle jog around the studio) to increase your core temperature. When you produce a light sweat, it’s time to engage in some dynamic stretches. Dynamic stretching should start slowly and gradually increase in the speed and power of the movement. (See below for an explanation on the different types of stretching). Many Pilates exercises incorporate dynamic stretching, so before class is a good time to do your Pilates routine.

At the end of your cool down after class – when the activity that requires you to be strong and stable has ceased – is a good time to do your static stretches. Believe it or not, stretching to your end-range before class actually reduces strength and stability, as well as increases your risk of injury, so it should be avoided at all costs.

What to Stretch
It may feel good to practice the stretches that are comfortable for you, but it’s important to stretch the muscles that need to be stretched, not just the ones that are already flexible. Stretch both sides of a joint, in order to not develop an imbalance that could lead to injury. Practice stretches that only target the muscles you are trying to lengthen. Isolating a muscle group gives you greater control and means you are able to vary the intensity of the stretch.

How to Increase Flexibility
In order to maintain your range of motion, a weekly stretch session is sufficient. However, if your goal is to increase your flexibility, you need to stretch three to five times per week, and you need to be consistent. It may take several months for certain stretches to become comfortable, but perseverance is key (just make sure you are not pushing yourself to the point of pain.)

As it takes time for your muscles to adapt and adjust, you must give them time to heal, rest and repair themselves. This means mixing up your stretching programme by alternating light days, heavy days and rest days. Any gym bunny knows the importance of working and resting different muscle groups on different days, and making gains in flexibility follows the same principles.

Though it may be tempting, over-stretching increases the risk of injury and can just push your goals even further away.

Stretches should be slow and gentle, and should never create a sharp or painful feeling. Use your breath to assist you, and do not bounce!

How Long to Hold Stretches
Hold your static stretch (but not your breath) for 30 seconds, then relax. After a brief rest, repeat the stretch two or three times. The changes in your flexibility from stretching in this way will only last less than an hour. However, when performed consistently, as explained above, flexibility gains can be maintained. If you are a child or young adult whose bones are still growing keep stretches to 10 seconds or less.

Contrary to what you may believe, prolonged stretching should only be used by medical professionals and is not appropriate for dancers. Rather than simply stretching muscles and their connective tissues, stretching for extended periods of time can elongate joints and ligaments, which are there to keep your joints stable. You may think that lying in second while watching TV is doing you good, but this can actually lead to loss of stability and serious injury, whether in the short-term or further down the track.

The Importance of Breath
There is a reason why yoga and Pilates place so much emphasis on the incorporation of the breath. Correct breath control is essential to getting the most out of your flexibility training. It helps relax the body, improve muscular elasticity, increase blood flow and remove lactic acid, which reduces muscle soreness and the risk of injury.

When stretching during your cool-down, keep your breath fluid, not forced. Use slow, relaxed breathing, with an emphasis on exhalation through the mouth or nose. Inhale through the nose, which will filter and warm the air you inhale and allow more oxygen into your lungs (just ask any yogi!)

Types of Stretching
There are several different techniques for stretching muscles, each with advantages and disadvantages. You should consult an experienced teacher or health care professional to find the best technique for your physique.

There are two main types of stretching: static and dynamic.

Static stretching is a stretch that is held in a particular position. For example, lying on your back with one leg raised in the air and gently easing the leg in toward the chest to stretch the hamstrings. Static stretching is more effective than dynamic stretching for producing long-term flexibility, but should only be practiced when the body is fully prepared.

Dynamic stretching is a stretch that is an active movement as a result of muscle contraction. For example, circling the ankle or shoulders, or controlled leg and arm swings. This type of stretching takes you to the limits of your range of motion, with no bouncing or jerking. A good dynamic stretch is one that reproduces the movement patterns required for the exercise you are about to undertake. For dance, an example is a controlled développé to the front or side, which dynamically stretches the hamstrings. Dynamic stretching should be performed only after a proper warm-up.

When researching for this article the author consulted the following resources:

Stretching – a vital part of dancers training and practice, by Tania Huddart for DANZ ©. www.danz.org.nz/Magazines/DQ/April2012/stretching.php

Stretching for dancers, by Brenda Critchfield, MS, ATC, under the auspices of the Education and Media Committees of the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science. www.iadms.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=353

Stretching rules for dancers
, by Ausdance. www.ausdance.org.au/articles/details/stretching-rules-for-dancers

Photo: © Candybox Images | Dreamstime.com

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