Archive | Dancer Health

Strategies to Beat the Holiday Bulge

Strategies to Beat the Holiday Bulge

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RD, LD.

When the holidays are over and we are left with a few extra pounds, it’s tempting to want to go for the quick fix such as fad diets, questionable supplements or restrictive eating. But that always backfires and might lead to higher body fat and lower muscle mass in the long run. The best strategy for real weight loss is to make small, sustainable changes overtime.  I know it’s not the most sensational or sexy message, but it works. If you want real change that lasts, keep reading.

Small Changes = Big Impact

Little changes add up, leading to big results that are easier to sustain. Cutting 100-200 calories per day can lead to 10-20 lbs weight loss in a year. This doesn’t mean starvation or restriction, just being mindful where extraneous calories come from. For example, some coffee drinks and smoothies from national chains can have 400-800 calories, one pat of butter can have 100 calories, and just two slices of bacon adds 108 high fat calories. Instead of bacon or sausage for breakfast, have ¼ cup of almonds or walnuts on oatmeal. Instead of a burger for lunch, have a wrap with veggies, beans and rice, instead of a protein smoothie for a snack (potentially 700 calories) have an apple, granola bar and some soy milk.

Strategy 1: Start off right

Studies published on the National Weight Control Registry show that 78 percent of people who lose weight and keep it off eat breakfast. Eating breakfast is associated with eating fewer calories later in the day, better athletic performance and decreased binge episodes1. Many of my clients who have trouble controlling cravings or food intake find that when they start their day with a good breakfast and a morning snack three hours later, they have a much easier time losing weight. Breakfast eaters have lower body weight and lower body fat percentage because they burn more fat3. Mornings can be busy times, so plan ahead and get up just five minutes earlier.

Strategy 2: Understand what may be affecting the desire to overeat  

Overeating high fat and high sugar foods can lead to a decrease in the brain neurotransmitter dopamine which affects the foods you desire and the quantity of those foods because it is connected with the areas in the brain associated with “reward”4. Sugary foods result in an addictive response for more. The more you eat, the more you want of these highly rewarding foods4. Don’t worry, all is not lost, we can get back to a healthy balance again by eating mindfully and consuming less of these rich foods. At first, it might feel hard, but stick with it. It does get easier as the days go by. Take one day at a time.

Strategy 3: Vow to eat fresh, real food

What if you didn’t go to a fast food restaurant for the next 21 days? What if you didn’t eat fast food for a whole year? Tastes and cravings change over time. When you eat more fresh fruits and vegetables in the place of less processed junk, and less buttery, creamy or fried foods, you can actually change what you desire and crave. Significantly reduce sugar and butter for 21 days, then see how you feel. That gooey cream sauce might not be as appealing. Make your health a priority this New Year by pledging to fuel your body with food that doesn’t come from a box, a powder, a bar or passed through a car window. Pledge to get a new cookbook or follow a vegetarian food blog.

Strategy 4: Know your triggers

If ice cream is your downfall, don’t keep it in the house. Accessibility is key. Make healthy snacks accessible and easy and it will be much easier to resist unhealthy foods. Keep fresh fruit washed and ready for a quick fix.

Strategy 5: Watch Portions 

Serve yourself on a smaller plate, put snacks in small to-go containers for quick bites on the run, and don’t buy the bargain super-size foods. It’s not a bargain if it isn’t good for your health.

Yes, it takes a little planning, and a little extra time. But studies show healthy eating actually costs less. We all lead busy lives in this hectic modern world. “Those who think they have no time for healthy eating, will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” You are worth it.

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

1. National Weight Control Registry:
2. Masheb RM, Grilo CM. High Caloric intake at breakfast vs. dinner differentially influences weight loss of overweight and obese women. Obesity. 2013 Dec;21(12):2504-12.
3. Stevenson EJ, Astbury NM, Simpson EJ, Taylor MA, Macdonald IA. “Fat oxidation during exercise and satiety during recovery are increased following a low-glycemic index breakfast in sedentary women.”
4. Liebman B. Food and Addiction. “Can some foods hijack the brain?” Nutrition Action. Centre for Science in the Public Interest. May 2012.

Photo (top): © Ariwasabi |

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Stretching Truths

Stretching Truths

BEST OF 2013: A favourite article from the February Edition

By Rain Francis of Dance Informa.

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 ©.
- 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.

Stretching rules for dancers, by Ausdance.

Photo: © Candybox Images |

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Choosing the Right Energy Foods

Choosing the Right Energy Foods

By Emily C. Harrison, MS, RD, LD of Centre for Dance Nutrition.

Choosing the right energy foods doesn’t have to be complicated. It just takes knowing a few key things about how nutrients work in the body and which foods are good sources of those nutrients.

Carbohydrates are known to be an energy storehouse for athletes, but certain vitamins and minerals play an equally important role in helping us feel energetic. The important thing to remember is that real energy comes from food. “Energy” pills or supplements claims haven’t stood up to scientific study when compared to actual food. “Energy” drinks rely on extreme amounts of caffeine which does increase alertness but isn’t a substitute for real food. Lastly the body prefers to use protein for important biological functions instead of burning it for energy. A protein shake before exercise won’t give you the same energetic feeling that carbohydrates will.

Repeat after me, carbohydrates are good….

Ignore the latest anti-grain food fad and choose diverse sources of whole grains for maximum energy. Whole grains differ from refined grains because they haven’t been stripped of the nutrient rich outer bran and germ. These contain fibre, minerals, vitamin E and B-vitamins. B-vitamins help the body convert calories into useable energy. Again and again whole grains are shown to increase athletic performance and contribute to lowered risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes1,2. Whole wheat, brown rice and oats are classics. However, think outside the box with these ancient grains:  

  • Barley was once the food of the Roman gladiators1.  A good source of fibre, selenium and B-vitamins, it works well in soups and pilafs.
  • Millet has been cultivated for 8,000 years and is a staple food in many countries1. Not only a good source of carbs and fibre, it contains the minerals manganese and phosphorus, which are important in bone health.
  • Buckwheat makes for delicious noodles and is gluten free. 
  • Spelt is another ancient grain that has higher protein content than wheat. It does contain gluten but might be less reactive in those with mild wheat sensitivities.  It can be used in breads, pancakes and baked goods and has fibre, iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus2.
  • Quinoa cooks faster than rice, is a good source of protein, and is gluten free.
  • Couscous will cook in only five minutes and is perfect when you are short on time.

Quick Burst Energy vs. Long Sustained Energy

The Glycaemic Index is a tool that gives a numerical value to a specific amount of food based on how it affects your body’s blood sugar and insulin over a specific time period. Foods with lower numbers provide energy over a longer time. Whole grains, vegetables and other low glycaemic index foods will help give you sustained energy, but sometimes you want to grab something for quick, immediate energy during an intermission or a short break. In this case, protein or dairy isn’t what you want. Choose simple carbs from fresh grapes, strawberries, dried fruit, pretzels, oatbars, bread and preserves, or crackers. These get absorbed and used-up fast without leaving you feeling sluggish.

Non-grain food superstars for energy and wellness

  • Mushrooms: Find ones treated with UV light in the produce refrigerated section of your grocery. The UV light increases the amount of vitamin D with one serving containing more than half your recommended vitamin D for the whole day. Vitamin D isn’t just important for bone heath, it is critical in immune function and disease prevention. You can’t feel energetic if you are sick. People with normal Vitamin D status in their body can fight infections better than those who are deficient.  
  • Sweet potatoes: Contain Vitamin C and the antioxidants beta-carotene and Lutein.  Lutein is an antioxidant whose protective effect may increase when heated2. Sweet potatoes’ glycaemic index score is 41 points better than a standard white russet potato3.
  • Beans, lentils, and peas: Only one half cup of these nutrient powerhouses have 23 grams of carbohydrate but they also have a full serving of protein too4. Plus they have iron and zinc, which are important in fighting illness. And, you can’t beat the price at $0.25/ serving.

For more information on nutrition and maintaining more energy, check out my other Dance Informa articles on this topic: Don’t Fear Carbs, Glycaemic Index, Energy Balance and Protein Needs of Dancers.

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


1. Mateljan, G. The World’s Healthiest Foods. 2007
2. Environmental Nutrition Newsletter of Food, Nutrition & Health. Vol 36, issue 11. November 2013.
3. Glycaemic Index and Glycmic Load for 100 foods. 2013
4. USDA Database for Standard Reference. 2013 

Photo (top): © Piotr Marcinski |

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How to Become a Dance Therapist

How to Become a Dance Therapist

By Grace Edwards of Dance Informa.

One of dance’s harshest realities is that while there are many talented people who love to move, few will actually become professional dancers. However, enterprising dance-lovers need not despair — those with an open mind may well discover that there are many equally interesting alternatives out there. Have you, for instance, ever considered a career as a dance therapist?

Dance Informa’s Grace Edwards spoke to Melbourne-based dance therapist Bouthaina Mayall about the ins and outs of her job. Bouthaina is a professional member of the Dance Therapy Association of Australia and runs dance-movement therapy groups in aged care facilities for residents with varying needs including dementia. Her clients have included children with disabilities and autism and she also works on a one-to-one basis with clients.

How did you become involved in dance and dance therapy?

I come from a Middle Eastern background so culturally I am connected to dance. I started studying ballet as a young girl at the age of seven and became really inspired by ballet thanks to my teacher at the time. I left that form of dance for a while to explore contemporary dance, which was such a completely different place to come from and that really challenged all my preconceptions about movement.

Following that, I explored Indian dance and became inspired by the Abhinaya of Indian dance, the story-telling aspect and the hand gestures. Even without me thinking about words, I found that each gesture embodied meaning. That led me to an exploration of meaning and movement and from there, I moved into dance therapy.

How did you become a dance therapist in Australia?

I went to an introductory day with the IDTIA (International Dance Therapy Institute of Australia) where people can come and see what is involved. That’s always the first step with them. There is also another place called the Phoenix Institute which is soon to offer a nationally-recognised diploma and which I believe is also good, though I trained with the IDTIA, so I can only speak from experience with reference to that body.

If you decide to go through the IDTIA, you can apply formally and there’s an interview process involved because there’s a certain level of maturity that’s required to due to the psycho-therapeutic nature of the therapy.

If you are successful, you will then enter the certificate course. That’s one year in duration and one in which you will do a lot of experiential study backed up by a theoretical component. There is a practical component where you go and assist the therapist in his/her groups and at the end of a certain amount of time he/she will invite you to take a section of her therapy session so that you get a taste of what it is to facilitate a session. A course will also include the study of Laban movement analysis —this provides a common language through which we speak about and analyse movement. It’s also used as an assessment tool for clients. Upon the completion of your training, you can hold classes of your own.

To call yourself a therapist, however, you need to apply for the advanced training course, where you ultimately get to practise in the field under supervision. That usually takes two years. At the end of that, you can also apply for a professional membership of the Dance Therapy Association of Australia (DTAA).

dance therapist

Bouthaina Mayall working with her clients.

What traits are required in a good dance therapist?

Definitely a dance background, it’s very primary. You don’t need a professional level of training but you need to love movement and dance, and be willing to explore your own relationship to dance not just physically but psychologically and emotionally.

You also need, as I mentioned, a degree of maturity, because you’re approaching people in need, people in difficult situations, and you need to be able to tolerate that in a compassionate way so that you can fully accept a person in their suffering or in the state in which you find them. Sometimes, for instance, you might be working with people who have very little movement and great disability, and your ability to validate their state, range of motion and expression through movement is really important. They may have limited verbal ability, so their ability to otherwise express themselves might be limited. You have to be able to attune and adapt to that.

What might a typical session look like for you?

I work mostly in aged care and a little bit one-to-one with the general population. I have my music and my props, and props play a big part in my intervention with the therapy. I use them to engage eye contact, expand movement and so on. I might use see-through cloth, large heavy balls if I want to encourage my clients to feel strong and self-assertive, or something they can push or stretch. If you imagine someone who is sitting in a chair for most of the day, those props and actions can make all the difference. I also select my music very carefully to support my interventions. After greeting everybody, I make sure I establish a relationship and carry on from there. After each session I write up my notes to assess how it has gone.

Do most dance therapists work full-time or part-time in Australia?

I think it would be mostly part-time. I would say about three days a week, usually, if they are well-established. 

Do qualifications for dance therapists vary from country to country?

Dance therapy began in America and Europe. The pioneers over there began exploring movement as therapy after the Second World War, so the field is a great deal more developed there. There is even a Masters program.

The professional bodies in Australia, however, are fighting to gain a higher profile and I do think that more people are becoming aware of its impact and usefulness, so the field is definitely growing.

What kinds of backgrounds do dance therapists come from, apart from professional dance?

 They come from a very wide range of backgrounds – they might be school teachers, nurses, carers, mental health nurses, midwives, social workers or even business professionals. I know some who work in business to help facilitate communication, for instance.

In what sorts of professional environments do dance therapists find themselves?

At the end of your training, you are generally encouraged to consider a number of ‘populations’ for when you leave your training, usually at least two. By that, I mean groups of potential clients who are supported by an institution, like a daycare centre or a hospital, so that you’re supported by other professionals. This is to ensure a safe environment for new therapists and their clients. You can also find dance therapists working with refugees or one-on-one with members of the general population who want to work through issues using their bodies instead of some kind of verbal therapy. Others might visit disabled people in their homes and work with them one-on-one there as well.

What are some of the common misconceptions you mentioned with regards to dance therapy?

The biggest is probably that it’s seen as just a way to entertain or pass time. Also, because dance therapy is as much about well-being as it is about movement and is not just a dance class, you get some people coming in and wondering, ‘Why aren’t people up and dancing right now?’

With aged care, carers change every day, and they may not completely understand what I do or what I need, so establishing clear boundaries is an important part of my job. I generally need to tell the carers that during the time my session is happening, our space is to be respected. For my clients, it’s their time to focus on their emotional well-being and it’s important for them not to be disturbed – people can’t just be barging in and taking them off to have their medication. So I need to be pro-active in creating a sacred space where people can be themselves and have that space respected.

How competitive is the field?

There is definitely a lot of potential for dance therapy in Australia. It takes an entrepreneurial spirit, someone with initiative to go out and offer what we do and to recognise the environments and people who would really benefit from it. You need to be able to put yourself out there.

What are the future prospects for dance therapy in Australia?

Dance therapy is not well known here and it’s often misunderstood, but it has been steadily gaining a higher profile. I know with my work, that dance therapy it’s gaining a better profile in aged care and there is a lot of potential there. Among those with disabilities I think dance therapy also has a lot of promise –and increasingly, I think, also in hospitals.

Bouthaina Mayall, prof member DTAA, Dip. Dance Movement Therapy (IDTIA), B.Sc., Hons (Biochemistry), Dip.Ed. Therapeutic Touch practitioner is based in Kew (Melbourne), and works in Surrey Hills, Thornbury and Mordiallic. Email her at

For additional information on dance therapy and training courses across Australia, see the Dance Therapy Association of Australia website at

Photos: Bouthaina Mayall working with clients. Photos courtesy of Bouthaina Mayall. 

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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:

“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

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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 |

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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,, where you can also find loads of other pertinent information on cross-training and keeping a healthy, in-tune dancer body. 

Photo (top): © Lunamarina |

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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 and

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.

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

Photo (top): © Andriy Bezuglov |

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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.

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


Photo (top): © Alen Dobric |

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