One of my passions in my career, and the main reason why I chose my career in the first place, is helping young dancers and athletes learn how to properly take care of their bodies. I noticed, as a dancer myself, that a lot of my friends and other dancer/athletes that I followed were constantly getting injured, falling into bad eating habits, and their bodies would start to break down at very young ages.
This is actually one of the reasons why I wrote A Dancer's Diary in the first place. I wanted to provide a complete source for dancers to go back to when they needed help in the various areas of their lives. Through my research on this subject, common health problems in young dancers, I came across a lot of helpful material that I would like to share with you today. Most of the information you read in this post is taken directly from A Dancer's Diary. If you would like more information, please feel free to order your copy by visiting the Contact page.
Weight Control - The Dancer's Figure - Food
Perfection is unattainable. However, this is way easier to say than implement, especially for young dancers. Dancers, especially those in professional companies, are constantly under pressure to look a certain way. Thankfully, this is changing. The historical characteristics of a dancer is gradually changing in the professional dance world, making it much easier for aspiring young dancers to make it into companies.
With that said, weight is still an issue. When you think about it, if you are doing Pas de Deux, the girl must be lighter in order to be lifted by the male with ease. This provides added pressure to be a certain weight. Weight control is achievable through natural means and simple meal planning. Fiber (rice bran, vegetables, nuts) is important for keeping you full longer. Vegetables, fruits, and nuts (only a handful) are perfect for quick snacks.
Avoid sugar and processed forms of carbohydrates and fibers. Consume lots of spices that can help you lose weight, increase blood circulation, and lower inflammation (ginger, black pepper, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, cayenne, ginseng, mustard). Healthy fats like coconut oil, avocado, sesame oil, and olive oil are great for filling you up for longer. Meat is very important for dancers. You must have protein to perform properly. Avoid soy as it is a hormone disruptor and causes inflammation.
Counting calories can become an obsession and I only recommend it for people trying to lose large amounts of weight in a short amount of time. You should enjoy your food. Make sure you are eating organic, natural, high-quality foods.
Malnutrition is becoming less and less of an issue among adult dancers, however, young dancers who haven't done their research can easily fall into this. Eating properly and consuming the proper vitamins and minerals is so important. Vitamin D, C, and Iron are extremely important. There is an entire section in A Dancer's Diary that tackles the issue of the common health issues for dancers. I encourage you to check it out. This includes amenorrhea, nutritional deficiencies, and lowered immune system.
Here are some posts that I've done on these topics: Is Restricting Calories the Best Choice? ~ There is so Much More to Weight Loss ~ Healthy Weight-Loss Snacks ~ Health Issues That Prevent Weight-Loss ~ Thoughts on Veganism & Vegetarianism ~ The Importance of Vitamin D ~ Vitamin D ~ Why Are Animal-Based Foods so Important
Fitness Outside of Dance
Young dancers don't usually think about the importance of exercising outside of dance. I know that when I was young, I thought that the exercise I got during dance was plenty for the week. The reason why I encourage young dancers to exercise outside of dance is because it strengthens parts of the body that otherwise go unused. Cross training (fast walking, cycling, weights, etc.) is important to have at least twice a week. Just avoid running and jogging as it is hard on the delicate bones of the feet.
I don't recommend that you exercise more than five days a week so make sure you are taking your dance class time into consideration. Another note, is that you don't want to exercise for longer than one hour. Once an hour is up, your body is not benefiting from the exercise any longer and can actually begin to break down. I recommend a 30-45 minute workout, twice a week in addition to dance class/rehearsal.
Here is a post on this topic: Exercise...How Much is Too Much?
Injuries - Recovery
There are so many injuries that can occur in dance (too many to discuss right now) including tendinitis, fractures, sprains, and strains. The most important thing you need to remember is that ignoring the pain is the worst thing you can do. Pain is your body's way of telling you that something is not right and you should fix it right away. I can't tell you how many young dancers brush off the pain or hide it using NSAIDs just so they don't have to take a break from dance. They push through. This is such a bad idea because, guess what? That pain could very possibly get worse and worse and worse. When this happens, you are in for a long time of recovery. Much longer than it would have been had you taken care of it from the beginning. Don't ignore the pain. See your doctor when something starts to feel swollen, bruised, look discolored, or it increases in pain.
Another part of this is that I never recommend NSAIDs unless absolutely necessary. There are many different kinds of natural anti-inflammatories that you can use. NSAIDs (even ones used on the surface of the skin) can hinder the body's inflammatory process. When this happens, your body cannot heal properly or form collagen fibers for the muscles. It's basically delaying the inevitable and setting you up for a more serious problem in the future. There is whole list of natural anti-inflammatory supplements in A Dancer's Diary. Please consult your doctor before taking any new supplements.
I wanted to give you a few honorable mentions. Getting enough sleep (kids 18- should be getting at least 8 hours each night), avoiding stress, and making sure you are balancing both flexibility and strength.
It is so important that young dancers learn how to care for their bodies. Building these tips into their lives will make it easier to care for themselves when they are older. The more they know about their bodies, the healthier and stronger they will be.
Again, if you would like more information about any of the topics that I've presented today, please check out my book, A Dancer's Diary. It has all the information you need to remain healthy and strong throughout the year as well as helpful menu planning tips, shopping tips, and details on what foods you should eat and how often.
Let me know if you have any questions.
Until next time,