• Body Image of a Dancer – What Needs to Change

    Ballet and body image go hand in hand. Whether we recognize it or not, the body image of a dancer is created in the studio. Combine this with body image issues seen in friends, family, and media can create a storm of deeply connected issues that stifle body confidence. 

    When I discuss intuitive eating and creating a healthy body image, I am always asked, “but what about the high caliber of body that is needed for dancers?”. Basically, this is a nice way of trying to put “well, wait, aren’t these ideas going to encourage dancers to not be fit and lean?”. Our brains are taught to think of cross training and nutrition in terms of body size and shape. It perpetuates this idea that strict dieting and excessive exercise are the only ways to become a top ballerina. Being a “healthy” dancer does not mean physically, mentally and emotionally strong and happy, but purely how you look in a leotard and tights and how rigid and strict you can be with yourself. So, how did we get here?

    Acknowledging privilege 

    Before we talk more about the body image of a dancer, I want to acknowledge that I am mostly able to speak on my own experience as a dancer. But I have body privilege in that I naturally hold a lean shape, I am white, and I do not have any underlying physical impingements that keep me from pursuing highly competitive and demanding physical activity. There are so many issues that many dancers of color face that I have never had to go through. I have also always had access to physical and mental health professionals who have been able to help me on my journey. 

    This blog post is not going to be able to capture the experience of every single dancer, which is why I want to keep this conversation going. On my YouTube channel, I am planning on having perspectives of other dancers whose journeys were different than mine. Each dancer is going to have a different experience when it comes to the scars they carry from dance, but what we do have in common is this feeling of frustration, doubt, and self-questioning in our ability and in our bodies. I hope that there is also a unifying understanding that how we approach nutrition and body image in dance needs to change. 

    What is body image

    Body image is the perception that a person has of their physical self. It encompasses the thoughts and feelings they experience as a result of that perception. This is the way you SEE yourself, the way you FEEL about the way you look, the THOUGHTS and BELIEFS you hold about your body, and the things you DO in relation to all of these things. 

    Body image in ballet

    The body image of a dancer is so intertwined with messaging inside and outside of the studio because ballet is a visual art form that uses the human body as the expression of art. It perfectly combines movement, athleticism, culture, emotion, and beauty. This also means that we judge dance based on what we see – which are the dancer’s bodies. Our bodies accomplish so many superhuman feats in dance, but where we can get sidetracked is in assuming that for us to present our art in the best possible way, that we have to take on a certain standard of physical attributes. 

    We are often taught outright or through subtle messaging that we have to do everything in our power to look like a stereotypical dancer. Many of these attributes are up to genetics, like degree of hip rotation, arched feet, and long limbs, which can only be changed to a slight degree. As a result, weight is often spotlighted as the one thing that dancers can and should control. It is much harder to change your physical structure and joint mobility than it is to get smaller, so it is easier and faster to change size. Unfortunately, this often comes with disordered eating patterns, habits of over-exercising, and a poor relationship with food and with your body. When dancers try to control and manipulate their body, it is often against their overall health and well-being. 

    Success in ballet

    What is often not taught to dancers is that a certain body type does not have to be equated with success in ballet. In actuality, when you are watching a dancer, their beauty is not given off by the size of their body, but by their QUALITY of movement. Epaulement, emotion, movement quality, and joy all combine to create the beautiful art of dance. Watching a stick thin but stiff ballerina does not bring the same enjoyment. 

    We give perfect bodies way too much credit – that they are the only ones capable of being beautiful dancers. But often, this is how the body image of a dancer is formed. Artistry is what captivates an audience and tells the story or evokes emotion. Yes, having the perfect body with crazy extension, insane hyperextension and a curved arch can make pretty lines, but if there is nothing beyond that, it is kind of lacking.

    Take the classical ballet Sleeping Beauty. Technically, Aurora is probably one of the hardest leads for a female in any full length classical ballet. Watching a ballerina with a stereotypical ballet body and pristine technique might be beautiful to look at, but it is not memorable. It doesn’t teach or tell anything. You can enjoy it visually, but it might not necessarily be engaging beyond that. Think instead about a dancer who embodies Aurora as a youthful, giving, loving lead. The dancer might be playing with the music in an interesting way, or genuinely connect with the others on the stage in a way that really tells the story. This is what we actually want to watch as dancers and as audience goers. This is what dancing is about. 

    How we negatively cope with poor body image

    Unfortunately, we can get so caught up in what we see in the mirror and in pictures. This is often because we see casting changes, company contracts and attention from dancers and teachers equated to being thin. Many dancers receive compliments from directors, teachers, and peers alike when getting leaner, which gives us positive affirmation to continue on this potentially dangerous tightrope. We are also surrounded by this culture of perfection in dance that perpetuates this “need” to always be in your “best shape”. Often, this is only achieved with unhealthy habits.

    Especially when we are younger, many dancers deal with our bodies changing by talking negatively about our own bodies around other dancers. I think some of it can be the need to be complimented when we feel insecure, but some of it stems from this place of feeling like we aren’t allowed to accept our bodies as they are. In spite of the fact that our bodies are going to constantly be growing, changing, and fluctuating. 

    This really hits home for me when I hear nine and ten year-olds talk negatively about their body size and shape. I will hear them talk about how bad their body looks in a leotard and how they won’t be liked by teachers or cast in the Nutcracker because of this. THEY ARE STILL KIDS! Unfortunately, this degrading language can continue throughout their lifetime, past the studio, and into their adult years as well. 

    A bit of my story

    I once thought that I had to stay a certain size in order to be a good dancer. In fact, I felt like I was only praised in my ability to keep a ballet body and not my actual dancing, and so I was stuck in feeling like I had to look a certain way. The only way I felt confident in my dancing was to be thin. I not only didn’t enjoy dancing anymore, I was constantly tired, injured, and full of anxiety. 

    I didn’t realize this until I stopped caring so much about having a super flat stomach and started to just think about how much I really did love dancing. Instead, I stopped thinking about how my body looked in a snapshot, but how my dancing would translate. This doesn’t mean that I never struggle with having days where my body image is so-so, but I have the tools now to work through these negative thoughts before they become thought patterns that turn into old habits. 

    Responsibility of the ballet industry

    Whether you are a seasoned professional, or you take dance classes recreationally, the way we are taught about our bodies in dance can be carried with us throughout our lives. I think it is the responsibility of directors, choreographers, teachers, and even dance parents to teach their dancers how to develop a healthy relationship with food and with their body. This is such an important issue that can impact a dancer’s physical, mental, and emotional health for decades. 

    Change can begin when we have spaces where we can start talking openly about how to develop a healthy body image within arts organizations. It will start with shifting the mindsets of dancers as well as shifting the practices and ideals that teachers and artistic staff hold in regards to a dancer’s body. For real change to occur, body image needs to be addressed as every level of a dance organization. 

    Trust me, it’s worth it

    When looking at uprooting negative body image in the dance world, it can be daunting to try and conceptualize change. But trust me, it’s going to be worth it. So many dancers are becoming passionate about creating spaces dedicated to supporting healthy dancers.

    My hope is that the more we talk about unhealthy standards in dance, the more we can begin to change them and make dance a better, safer, and more constructive place for dancers to develop into strong, independent, and well rounded, healthy individuals. In future posts, I will be talking about my personal body image journey as well as tangible steps that dancers can take to develop a healthy relationship with their body. 

    If you have any questions in regards to body image, you can reach out to me here. Also, please check out my video on this subject here.

  • Creating SMART Goals for Dancers

    As we head into a new year, many of us dancers are looking to create a mental new start after last year. Unfortunately, the hardships of 2020 are not just going to go away when we start a new planner. Learning how to create smart goals for dancers can give us an opportunity to create something to work towards while developing a healthy relationship with food and with our body and career. This isn’t about willpower. This is about making realistic, sustainable, and healthy goals that can help us get out of a rut and help us feel physically, mentally, and emotionally our best. 

    I want to put out a reminder that you do not need to always have a goal. If you feel like you are in a hamster wheel trying to achieve personal growth, it can be helpful to distance yourself for a while and know that you don’t need to constantly be improving in order to be an amazing human. 

    A Road Map

    Goals are like a destination and we can use thoughtful planning to create a road map to this destination. Setting out towards a destination without a plan might prove to be frustrating after a while and may lead us to a place of burn out and feeling like we are going in circles. 

    Our goals can be big or small. Or we can have a series of smaller goals that provide stepping stones to reach one bigger goal. While we can have many goals at one time, I prefer to only focus on one or two so that I don’t become overwhelmed and quit mid pursuit. 

    Barriers to Goals

    In order to create thoughtful goals, I think it is important to look ahead and see if there are any roadblocks that we could encounter. This can not only help us create an action plan, but it can also help us to prepare so that we won’t be derailed as easily. 

    Some of the most common barriers involve time-management and financial burdens, but they can also include lack of physical, mental, and resource capabilities. For example, after having several surgeries, I know that creating a goal that involves running is not the best choice for my physical health in the long run because it is too intense on my joints. These barriers should not be discouraging, but recognizing them helps us to establish realistic and sustainable intentions. 

    Goals vs. Intentions

    I have a very type A personality, so it has been helpful for me to view goals more as intentions. By viewing my goals as intentions, it personally reminds me that it is okay if my goals/intentions need to change over time. Or that it can be healthy to take a break from pursuing a goal if needed for my overall well being. I can have flexibility to also change and adapt the methods I am using to reach a goal. 

    Creating smart goals for dancers, who tend to be very perfectionistic and driven, might be helpful to keep goals from becoming rigid, overly-intensive, and ultimately destructive. Creating healthy and sustainable goals means keeping our overall physical, mental, and emotional health first. 

    SMART Goals

    An acronym for goal setting that has personally helped me to create a road map for goals and intentions is SMART. Using this acronym can help you to create goals as a dancer. 

    • Specific goal is well-defined, detailed, and clear, not vague
    • Measurable – goal has specific measures in which to measure your progress in reaching your goal
    • Achievable – goal is attainable for you to reach
    • Relevant – goal is meaningful and realistic to who you are and what you want to achieve
    • Timely – goal includes a start date and timeline for achievement 

    A Real Example

    This year, I want to focus on establishing a practice of mindfulness in my daily routine. In the past, I have dedicated a few weeks or a month to a mindful morning routine here and there. It has helped me overtime to become more calm and present during the day, but I have never stuck to it long-term, even though I know the benefits. This makes the goal relevant to me. 

    Rather than just saying I want to pursue mindfulness this year, I want to create a plan for developing it into a habit. Using the SMART acronym, my goal, starting on January 1, 2021 and going forward for the whole year, I am going to set aside five minutes each morning to engage in a mindfulness practice. Each month I am going to change this practice so that it keeps a sense of freshness and creativity to the goal and also helps me find different habits that work for me. This might include a month of meditation, light stretching, breathing exercises, journaling, or noting. 

    By being specific and establishing a realistic practice and a timeline for this goal, I already have S, R, A, and T covered. While mindfulness is difficult to measure in a quantifiable way, at the end of each month, I want to reflect on any changes to my overall mental and emotional health. I want to note if I liked the mindfulness practice or if it was something that I dreaded doing. While all goals do not need to meet SMART standards, it can be a helpful tool for mapping out a goal or intention that will prove to be sustainable in the long run. 

    For when you feel like you are failing

    No matter how prepared and dedicated we are to pursuing a goal, life happens. 2020 has definitely taught us that we are not always in control, and that we need to adapt and change to fit our needs from day to day and week to week. While this can be disheartening for someone like me, it has helped me approach goals with more flexibility and self-compassion. 

    For goals to be sustainable, we must be open to changing and adapting them as well as the possibility of throwing them out and creating a new one altogether. Ultimately, goals are meant to serve our needs, improve upon our character and passions, and help us pursue personal growth in a positive way. 

    I want to know, what goals are you pursuing this year?

    If you want to learn more about creating smart goals for dancers, check out my YouTube video here. Want to learn more about what makes a healthy dancer? Check out my blog post here. 

  • Plant Based Food Inspiration for Dancers

    It can be tricky when going plant based, so I wanted to put together plant based food inspiration for dancers. When I first went vegan while I was in my last year of training professionally to become a ballet dancer, I was having a hard time finding information on how a dancer, or athlete, should go about it. It is important to consider caloric intake, macronutrient distribution, among other nutritional concerns as well as knowing how to recreate favorite meals and find new foods that your palate and your body will love. 

    A little recap

    If you want to check out my last blog post about important considerations that dancers should think about before going vegan or vegetarian, check it out here. Going plant based doesn’t mean that you have to be restrictive of macronutrients, calories, processed foods, or meal times, but there are variations of each that are. I always encourage dancers to strive for well rounded, balanced meals and snacks regardless of if they eat animal products or not. 

    As I stated in my last blog, going plant based is not for every dancer. Since we all have different bodies, our foods and meals that we eat will differ as well. For example, I rarely eat animal products because I do not like them and I enjoy plant based foods, I have other dance friends who love having animal foods as a part of their diet, and others who thrive somewhere in between. What matters is that you listen to your body and find what works best for you. 

    Let’s talk macronutrients

    If you remember from my posts about macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat), you will know that each macronutrient is important for dancers to include in their meals and snacks to make sure that your meals and snacks will keep you fueled during dance. I’m going to just briefly recap their functions here, but if you want more information, I would highly encourage you to check out those posts or my videos that go along with them. 


    Carbohydrates are important for dancers to have throughout their day because they are one of the main sources of energy for our body and our brain. They help our bodies physically and mentally get through long days in the studio and help to make sure that we don’t start using muscle as fuel. Carbohydrates are also an important source of fiber, which is important for our digestion.

    Simple carbohydrates, like fruit, are broken down quickly by the body are broken down quickly by the body. Many refined carbohydrates like white rice, white bread, and certain cereals, crackers, and other packaged foods can also be in the category. Because our body can use them quickly for fuel, they do not provide much staying power when eaten alone. I always suggest that dancers pair simple carbohydrates with a source of protein or fast for longer lasting, stable energy levels. One example would be having a piece of fruit with nut butter, rather than having the fruit by itself. 

    Complex carbohydrates provide lasting energy and fiber. These are found in whole grains like oats, quinoa, bulgar, brown rice, whole wheat, buckwheat, amaranth, couscous, and farro. Almost all vegetables are in this category as well. Everything from leafy greens, to cruciferous vegetables, starchy vegetables, and more. Beans and legumes like black beans, chickpeas, and lentils are also a great source of carbohydrates (and protein, but more on that in a second). Complex carbohydrates are great to have before dance to give your body energy, and after dance to replenish your energy. Complex carbohydrates can be great during the dance day, but some dancers might find that their food might not feel digested after eating a lot of them on a short break. 


    Proteins are known as the building block of our body, and it also plays a role in many of the chemical processes in our body. It is important for growing and maintaining muscle, supporting our joints, maintaining fluid balance, and so much more. Sometimes people think that animal sources are the only way to get in enough protein, but this is so far from being true! 

    Beans and legumes, like I mentioned earlier, are a great source of complex carbohydrates and protein! Tofu, tempeh and edamame are also great sources of plant based protein along with nuts and seeds. Whole grains like whole wheat and quinoa and even vegetables like kale, broccoli, and mushrooms have protein in them. There are many companies that make plant based protein options that are great mock meat alternatives if you are craving a burger, sausage, chicken, or other meat product. Many companies make fortified foods like plant based protein powder, snack bars, cereals, and non dairy products that can also have sources of protein that can especially be useful for dancers to incorporate if they struggle with eating enough protein rich foods. For vegetarians, eggs, cottage cheese, yogurt, milk, and cheese are great sources of protein as well.

    Protein is an important macronutrient for dancers to consume throughout a day in the studio, but it is especially important to incorporate into meals and snacks after dancing to help your body recover. 


    Last but certainly not least is fat. I know many dancers who hear the word “fat” and want to shy away from it, but fat is so important as a source of energy, to help us absorb vitamins, create hormones, and regulate our body temperature, as well as fat helps us to boost our brain function. 

    There are so many great plant sources of fat including nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, cashew and peanuts. Other sources include avocados, olives, olive oil and other plant oils, coconut, and even dark chocolate in a moderate amount. Vegetarians can find fat in eggs and dairy products. 

    With fat, you might find it easier for your body to digest higher fat foods before and after dance, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t incorporate some sources through the dance day to keep you full and fueled!

    Tying it all together for meals and snacks – plant based food inspiration for dancers

    For any dancer, plant based or not, planning your meals and snacks can be an important component in making sure your body stays energized and fueled for a long day of dance. When going plant based, some dancers might find it challenging in putting macronutrients together to form balanced meals and snacks. So let’s break it down!

    At breakfast, think of having complex carbohydrates with protein and a bit of fat. Oatmeal with fruit, nuts and seeds, a smoothie with protein powder and nut butter, tofu scramble with veggies and toast, avocado toast with chickpeas, or a yogurt parfait with fruit, granola, nuts and seeds are all great options. Lunch can be tricky due to the time and duration of your break in between rehearsals, so tapping into intuitive eating can be really helpful. Many dancers find success with a lunch that might feel light on the stomach, but is packed with calories for energy. A quinoa or pasta salad with olive oil dressing, a peanut butter and honey sandwich, hummus, avocado, and veggie wrap, and rice with edamame and avocado and sesame seeds are a few easy to make and easy to eat options. 

    For dancers, snacks are really important to keep your energy up throughout the day – trail mix, fruit and nut butter, yogurt and granola, hummus and crackers, dried fruit, or a protein bar are great snacks to explore. Some dancers like to bring a larger lunch and split it up between breaks, others like to eat more during a longer break and smaller snacks in smaller breaks. Whatever works best for you! 

    Finally, for dinner, we want to focus on replenishing our energy stores so our body can repair itself and get us ready for another day. After a long day of classes and rehearsals, our bodies might crave something hearty like a plant based chili with avocado and crackers, roasted vegetables and potatoes with beans or tempeh and a creamy sauce, pasta, a burrito bowl, plant based burger, or curry. The options are endless! Remember to pack in complex carbohydrates, protein and fat! 

    Nutritional concerns to watch out for 

    If you have never gone completely plant based, it can be a learning process in finding what foods fuel you, what meals and snacks help you feel your best, and what foods you enjoy. It is important to find balance with food, so if going vegan or vegetarian feels restrictive or unsatisfying, try adding a few animal based foods back in and see if that impacts how you feel. 

    Sometimes, it might be easier to change what you eat by taking it one step at a time rather than making a huge change all at once. Having a slower transition might make it easier on your digestion, energy levels, and on your brain to get used to a different way of shopping and cooking. 

    More than anything, remember to listen to your body. Putting a label to what you eat or sticking to a set of food rules will not make you healthy. Exploring what fuels your body and makes you feel your best is one of the most important steps you can make in keeping your body thriving in dance. 

    If you want to check out my video on plant based food inspiration for dancers, check it out here