• Getting Performance Ready

    This post is in collaboration with Deos Contemporary Ballet, to get tickets to Collide, August 3-7 2021, please visit here

    Every dancer has a ritual. There is something so comforting about the methodical task of getting performance ready. No matter the season, the company, the repertoire, or the venue, my pre performance rituals are a staple.  

    For me, it is just as important to focus on my mind as well as my physical body before a performance. So, let me take you through how I get performance ready!

    The night before

    Getting ready for a performance starts the night before. Months go into rehearsing, training, and taking care of my body and mind to get me ready for the stage. By the time the performance weekend comes around, I know I have put in the time and effort to dance my best. The night before a performance involves nourishing my body, relaxing, and preparing my body for the next day. I always have a large, satisfying dinner that is filled with complex carbohydrates, protein, fat, and veggies. Dessert is also a necessity for me to finish the day, so I will enjoy some chocolate or ice cream. 

    I roll out my muscles, ice any body part that is achy, and I take a relaxing bath with epsom salt to help my body and mind relax. I leave any choreography and corrections for the theater. My goal is to disconnect and give myself a break! After a relazing evening I head to bed early so I feel refreshed and ready for the next day. 

    The morning of

    The next morning, I make sure to have a big breakfast. During a performance day, it is often hard to eat big meals. I make sure to have a big breakfast and dinner with a light lunch and plenty of snacks for the whole day. I try to have a quiet and calm morning before the long and often exhausting day ahead. 

    Before heading to the theater, I will take a hot shower, roll out my muscles, and do some light stretching. My theater bag is already packed and at the theater. All I need is to grab fresh warm ups, snacks, my water bottle, and anything else I will need for the day. I never like feeling rushed on a performance day, so I usually get to the theater about a half hour before class. I give myself plenty of time to change, put my hair up, and work on some mobility exercises to get ready for the long dance day. As a treat to sip on before the performance, I bring a matcha latte or chai latte with me to the theater as a dose of comfort and caffeine.

    In the theater

    During class, I focus on my breath, placement, and movement. Our bodies feel different every day, so I make a mental note of any choreography I want to try after class or if any particular area of my body needs extra stretching or care. I make sure my body is completely warm and that I feel stable and strong. After class, I usually go through any choreography I need to on stage and I talk with anyone I’m partnering with for the show to see if there is anything we need to walk through together. 

    Heading into the dressing room to get performance ready, I make sure I have all of my warm ups on and a heating pad or blanket with me to stay warm. I prefer to do my makeup and performance hair after class so that I don’t need to worry about accidentally rubbing makeup off or messing up my hair while I’m warming up. To me, this is the time where I completely zone in. My headphones are in as I methodically fix my hair. I take a second to have a snack like an apple and peanut butter or trail mix so that I have energy for the show. After washing my face, I put on my makeup and add any finishing touches. 

    Before the show

    About a half hour before the show, I make sure I have my costumes and shoes lined up and ready. I will usually do a few exercises to make sure my body is warm again before I slip into my costume. As I head backstage, I find a corner where I can visualize the choreography while I mark the movement. I calmly go through the choreography and then promptly leave it to my body to do it on stage. I take a few moments to close my eyes, breathe deeply, and steady my heart rate. When I am calm, I am able to be so much more present onstage and just enjoy dancing. 

    After what is hopefully an amazing performance, it’s time to pack up and get ready to do it all again the next day. I make any mental notes of any bits of choreography I want to think about or try tomorrow. In the dressing room, I quickly change into street clothing and I take off my makeup and take down my hair. I like to leave the theater as “normal” as possible. When I get home, I go through my night time routine before the following day. 

    I am someone who thrives on having a routine. What I do on a show day helps me to physically and mentally prepare for a performance. What is a part of your performance routine? Let me know in the comments below! 

  • Why Dancers Lose Their Period

    Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or a nutritionist. I am currently working towards my master’s degree in nutrition, and this information is based on a research project I did for one of my classes. This information is not meant to provide any diagnosis or treatment advice. Please speak with your health professionals to address any health concerns you may have. This blog post is based on a research project I just completed for grad school. I am currently studying nutrition to become a Certified Nutrition Specialist.

    Let’s clear the air about why dancers lose their period. Periods are not taboo, in fact, this is a topic we should be openly talking about. It is a part of educating dancers on the signs that our period gives us. You may be wondering why you lose your period while dancing, or if a period is really necessary as a dancer. Periods are inconvenient and often accompany not so fun symptoms, so let’s talk about why having a normal period is actually extremely important for dancer health. 

    First, what is amenorrhea?

    To put out a few definitions, amenorrhea is the absence of menstruation in individuals of reproductive age. Amenorrhea can occur alongside other disorders like PCOS, but the type of amenorrhea we are talking about today is what is known as hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA) or functional hypothalamic amenorrhea (FHA). HA occurs solely due to the effects of prolonged psychological and physical stress. This could mean caloric restriction, over-exercising, unmanaged stress, or a combination of these factors (1). HA can occur in individuals who have not yet had their period, or in individuals who have had their period but who have not had their cycle for several consecutive months. 

    To put it simply, when our body is undergoing chronic stress, is not receiving enough energy, or is using too much energy, our body diverts its resources away from our reproductive system and towards the systems that keep our body alive (2). With this comes hormonal changes that can affect other aspects of our health. 

    How does this relate to dancers?

    This is where we talk about specifically why dancers lose their period. Dancers and athletes are especially susceptible to HA because of the long hours of intense training, pressure to fit a certain size, and the sometimes high stress environment of dance companies and studies. Not every menstruating dancer will develop HA, but there is research showing that certain factors and personality traits that are often seen in individuals with HA. Attitudes of perfectionism, control, and rigidity as well as concerns over the thoughts of others make it harder for one to deal with stres (2,3). Stress from casting, rehearsing, and auditioning during pivotal years of a dancer’s training can influence a dancer’s ability to cope with stress and can negatively influence eating and exercise behaviors.  

    Dancers with HA have a higher likelihood of also dealing with disordered eating and disordered attitudes towards food and body image (1,4) This can lead to restrained eating behaviors and increased engagement in extracurricular exercise to achieve thinness. It is estimated that as many as 47% of female athletes with leaner body types have disordered eating, and the number of dancers could be even higher (4). 

    Why should dancers be concerned about their lack of period?

    Estrogen is a hormone that has many functions, but it importantly influences our bone health and is vital to our reproductive health. The majority of estrogen is produced by our ovaries during our menstrual cycle. Estrogen helps our bodies to maintain bone mass and bone strength. There is a correlation between individuals with HA and low bone mineral density, stress fractures, and an inability to achieve peak bone mass (1,4). This is especially important for dancers, because it can influence a dancer’s injury rate, recovery period, as well as can lead to issues such as osteoporosis in the future. Prolonged amenorrhea has also been linked to an increased prevalence of psychological disorders like depression and anxiety, infertility issues, and cardiovascular issues (1,4). Amenorrhea should be taken very seriously by dancers, parents of dance students, teachers, and directors. 

    What should you do if you don’t have your period?

    First, speak to your doctor, whether OB GYN or primary care doctor about amenorrhea. If you have a nutritionist or counselor that you are working with, they are also great to notify about what you are going through. Resolving HA is often best done with a team of individuals who can help you address your nutrition needs, stressors, and other behavioral and lifestyle factors that may be contributing to HA. Medical professionals are usually well versed as to why dancers lose their period. a

    Second, change your mindset surrounding what a dancer’s body should be. HA can occur when dancers feel pressured to take on behaviors that drastically change their body composition in a way that negatively impacts their body. This is something that I experienced as well! It took me years for me to see that my natural body is a dancer body because it allows me to have the energy and strength to undergo long hours of classes and rehearsals. There are definitely going to be more posts on how we can start to change our body image in ballet. But for now, check out this post

    Third, make sure you are eating enough for your needs as a dancer! I cannot stress this enough. Our bodies need fuel in order to do the things that dance requires us and it needs the fuel to make sure our body can function optimally. Chronic undereating can lead to amenorrhea as our body is trying to save as much energy as it can. This also means eating a wide variety of foods filled with proteins, carbohydrates, and fat. For dancers, it is important to eat every 3-4 hours to make sure you are intaking enough energy for what you are expending. If you want to learn more about fueling your body, look here

    Lastly, find ways that help you to handle stress. I am someone who is especially sensitive to stress, and so this one has probably been the hardest one for me to tackle. It is easy for my stress levels to get out of hand and the compounding effects can make me lose my period for a month or two. I have found it important to find ways that help me to better manage my stress. For me, going to therapy, taking baths, giving myself regular breaks from dance and work, and cutting back exercise when needed are all tools that I use regularly. What will help you cope with stress may look totally different, so explore as to what works best for you. 

    I hope this post gave you some more information about HA and why dancers lose their period. If you want more information, I am linking all of my sources down below, and always be sure to talk to your medical team about what is best for you! 

    1. Gordon, C. M., Ackerman, K. E., Berga, S. L., Kaplan, J. R., Mastorakos, G., Misra, M., Murad, M. H., Santoro, N. F., & Warren, M. P. (2017). Functional hypothalamic amenorrhea: an endocrine society clinical practice guideline. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 102(5), 1413-1439. https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2017-00131
    2. Roberts, R. E., Farahani, L., Webber, L., & Jayasena, C. (2020). Current understanding of hypothalamic amenorrhoea. Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology and Metabolism, 11, 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1177/2042018820945854
    3. Morrison, A. E., Fleming, S., & Levy M. J. (2020). A review of the pathophysiology of functional hypothalamic amenorrhoea in women subject to psychological stress, disordered eating, excessive exercise or a combination of these factors. Clinical Endocrinology. https://doi.org/10.1111/cen.14399
    4. Huhmann, K. (2020). Menses requires energy: A review of how disordered eating, excessive exercise, and high stress lead to menstrual irregularities. Clinical Therapeutics, 42(3), 401-407. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clinthera.2020.01.016
  • Nutrition and Body Image in Dance

    photo by Dave Burguess at Studio 616 Photo

    Dance is not a stagnant art form. It is continuously moving and breathing. It utilizes the form and athleticism of the human body to create a story and invoke emotion in the viewer. With every movement, every ballet class, and every performance, dancers are continually working to mold and shape their bodies to perfection. But at what cost? We lose the importance of nutrition and body image in dance. 

    Since dance is a visual art form based on physical ability, dancers are ultimately judged based on the technique and artistry that is displayed through their body. This has led to a culture filled with self criticism, disordered eating, and mental health disorders in dance communities. Whether consciously or unconsciously, dancers try to change the size and shape of their body through sometimes unhealthy measures to fit the desires of their teachers and directors to achieve the “ballet body”. 

    This negative messaging that dancers receive about nutrition and body image in dance can foster an unhealthy relationship with their body and poor relationship with food at best. At worst, it can induce health complications like eating disorders, injuries, and clinical anxiety and depression. This shifts the focus away from the health and well-being of the dancer and makes way for elitism, abuse, and dancer burn-out. Instead, we should make dance not only an avenue for arts and entertainment, but also a healthy and enriching place to teach dancers about body-awareness, self-care, exploration, nutrition, and so much more

    So, how do we change the narrative surrounding nutrition and body image in dance? 

    Let go of the false narrative that only some bodies can participate in dance. Any body can find joy in movement, whether it is a ballet class or other dance discipline. Period. When we drop the “ballet body” as a requirement to be a dancer, dance becomes enriched by the unique talents that every dancer can bring to the table. It also allows dancers to focus on the craft and artistry of dance and not feelings of self-doubt that they will never be enough because of their body. 

    Make dancer health a priority. Dance companies and schools need to stop harmful practices like requiring weight on a resume, weighing or measuring dancers, casting based on size, and commenting on a dancer’s body to invoke body shame. Speaking from personal experience, when I was in an environment that encouraged a rigid schedule, food control, and extraneous “training” outside of the studio, I was unhealthy, unhappy, and uninspired. My negative self-esteem and poor relationship with food took years of unlearning before I was really able to grasp my true ability as a dancer. 

    Bring in professionals who can educate and help dancers. We all have our limits and blind spots, which is why it is so important to have a network of medical and nutritional professionals who can impart their knowledge and expertise on dancer health and wellness. Medical doctors, physical therapists, nutritionists, and counselors who understand the unique struggles that dancers face can help dancers to care for their bodies inside and outside of the studio and foster a healthy body image and relationship with food. 

    Make the studio a safe space. There are many changes that happen to a dancer’s body, like puberty or an injury, that may make the dancer feel uncomfortable or not as in tune with their body. It is normal for bodies to fluctuate, grow, and change. In fact, this is an absolutely normal process! Several ways we can help dancers through these changes is by allowing dancers to have personal expression in their dancewear, helping dancers to focus on aspects of dance like artistry and musicality, cultivativating a body positive atmosphere in the studio, and encouraging the representation of different body types in the organization. 

    Encourage a well-rounded, non-restrictive approach to nutrition. Dancers need energy in order to sustain a heavy dance load, build muscle, and recover. A dancer’s body also needs nutrients to be able to amass bone strength, aid in muscle recovery, and keep the body’s many functions up and running. Often, balanced approaches to nutrition are not modeled in dance, which can encourage restrictive and disordered eating. Instead, promoting principles like individuality, listening to hunger cues and cravings, letting go of food rules, and having fun with food can help to encourage a healthy relationship with food. Fuel for dancers can exist in a way that highlights the importance of all macronutrients, emphasizes nutrient dense foods, and also makes space for play foods that are simply there for enjoyment. 

    Overall, redefining what it means to be a healthy dancer takes time. For so long, dance culture has put so much emphasis on size and appearance that it has taken dancers away from being able to listen to their bodies. There is an opportunity to hold dancer health above aesthetics to not only prolong the career of dancers and decrease injuries but also to help dancers be their healthiest and most confident selves. It starts with showing that strong and healthy dancers can prioritize a healthy body image and relationship with food without diet culture.