Diana Vishneva Leaves ABT

On Friday, June 23rd, I had the pleasure of watching Diana Vishneva’s final performance with American Ballet Theatre. It was a beautiful and emotional goodbye and the New York audience showed up in droves to applaud her.

This is not a review of the performance, but here are some good ones if you’re interested:

From Wendy Perron of Dance Magazine: Vishneva’s Farewell: A Great Ballerina Leaves

Haglund’s Heel Blog: Onegin: Passion Perfect

And this New York Times’ article, Flowers, Flowers, and More Flowers, has gorgeous photographs.

I love watching Vishneva dance; she embodies the qualities I work on with my dancers every day: fearlessness, confidence, and artistry.


Diana Vishneva is fearless. I still remember vividly watching her descend the staircase in Romeo and Juliet, at the start of the balcony scene. She didn’t walk or even run down the stairs – she flew. Her feet touched every other stair and then every three or four stairs as she picked up speed. The audience gasped audibly. I remember raising my hands to my eyes, fearing she was going to fall before reaching her Romeo.

But she didn’t. Instead, she flew off the steps with a leap and ran across the stage, like a young girl in love: impetuous, free, and unthinking.

In a performance of Swan Lake with David Hallberg, her Odile piqued into an arabesque and tipped into the supported lean as her Seigfried was still crossing the stage. Again, audible gasps from the audience. But Hallberg made it, as she knew he would. And if he didn’t, her attitude seemed to suggest, she’d be just fine.

Vishneva is not afraid to take risks onstage and that makes for very exciting ballet. I have to imagine that fearlessness comes from her immense trust and confidence in her dancing body, as well as not getting stuck in her technique.


As a former dancer and an avid watcher now, one thing that bugs me in professional dancers is a lack of confidence on their faces. You’ve seen it: that sudden drop of the performance smile when something technically difficult arises as if to announce, “I’m not sure I can do this!” Even at a company like ABT this happens.

But not with Diana Vishneva. Regardless of what she’s feeling inside, her facial expressions always register complete confidence. She is completely in her body when she performs, embodying the “flow” or being in “the zone” that strong mental fitness skills can deliver.

Vishneva has lovely technique, but it is not the first thing I noticed about her and it’s not front and center when she performs. It’s there like a skeleton or a scaffolding: without it, there wouldn’t be anything to “hang” her performance on, but it’s not what I pay attention to when watching her. Her body executes the technique, but it’s like speaking a language: I’m interested in what she’s saying, not so much how she’s saying it.


Vishneva is an actress; she inhabits the characters she dances, body and soul. And that is part of what makes her so much fun to watch.

I remember watching company class onstage one Saturday and looking for her. I could not find her, although I was pretty sure she was there. Eventually, in the back, in a corner, I spotted her during adagio. I kept my eyes on her and was surprised at how tiny she looked. No matter where she is on the Met stage, my eye is always drawn to her, even when she’s not dancing much. But during class, she was just another body in motion up there.

I realized that when she performs, she PERFORMS: she’s an artist. Class is just that: class, a warmup, a way to get ready for the moment when it counts.

My Work

When it comes to my work, I want my dancers to watch people like Diana, who dance beyond their technique and who focus on the message of their dancing as well as the medium. That takes work and it takes trust. At some point, dancers need to trust in their training and let themselves go. And that takes a lot of confidence in one’s self and in the process of learning to dance and performing. That sequence of events – work, trust, confidence – is one that takes a career to master. But it is so worth every minute of work for it. Because the outcome is sublime. It’s a performance like Vishneva’s last at ABT: one that lingers in the mind’s eye for days and weeks later.


Coffee & Caffeine: Where Do You Stand?

When I was training back in the day, “dancer nutrition” was an oxymoron. Company dancers I knew seemed to subsist largely on coffee and cigarettes. Today’s dancers are much better informed about what they need to fuel their bodies, and cigarettes aren’t nearly as common. Thank goodness for progress.

That said, I have been surprised how many young dancers drink coffee daily. Dancers as young as 12 or 13 years old have told me they rely on the caffeine in coffee to perk them up during the day.

I don’t have anything against coffee and I’m not here to tell you to give it up. But, like all things, I’m asking you to investigate your relationship with it. If you’re a regular coffee drinker, here are some things to think about.

Why Coffee: For Taste?

If you drink coffee because you love the taste, I hear you. And if you’re only drinking one cup per day for the taste, then you’re fine.

Just an FYI: the health benefits associated with drinking coffee are only when it’s drunk black, when the roast is dark, and when the beans are freshly ground. So if you like yours with heavy cream, flavored syrup, and/or lots of sugar (ahem, fancy coffee Starbucks fans), then you’re most likely canceling out the benefits. Again, if it’s only one per day, then it’s basically a caffeinated dessert.

Why Coffee: For Energy?

Dancers should not have to rely on caffeine to perk them up: healthy pre-professional dancers should have good energy for the duration of a normal dance day.

If you’re drinking it for energy, then chances are you aren’t eating a proper diet or getting enough sleep, and those things often go hand in hand. Dancers who get under 7 hours of sleep per night will certainly feel it the next day. And dancers who aren’t getting the right amounts of protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats in their diets can also feel regularly sluggish. So those are two things to remember. If you’re getting good sleep and eating a good diet, and still tired all of the time, there might be some other things going on that could be solved with cross training or some tweaks to your diet or a visit to your doctor.

The bottom line: you should not be relying on more than one cup of caffeine for energy on an average day. There are better, healthier, and more nutritionally sound ways to find energy.**

Tea vs Coffee

Some dancers prefer tea over coffee because it has a lower caffeine content; dancers who find that coffee makes them jittery may find that tea does not. And many are now choosing matcha, the powdered version of green tea, over both options. There’s a nice comparison of tea and coffee on Dr. Mercola’s website here.

Keep in mind that his recommendations regarding quantity are for the average American, not a young, pre-professional athlete dancing all day long.

Next Steps

If you aren’t happy with your caffeine consumption but don’t know how to change it, consider this. This summer, tune in to what your body is feeling and needing. Make notes in a journal as you go so you can keep track of what’s happening. Notice the following:

  • How do you feel first thing in the morning after you get out of bed?
  • What’s the first liquid you reach for?
  • How long until you feel “awake”?
  • What effect does caffeine have on your body at home, in dance class, after dance class, in the afternoon, in the evening?
  • Alter what you put in your coffee/tea. If you use cream, try regular milk; if you like sugar, try honey or no sweetener; mix it up and see if you feel a difference.

Remember that comparing your use of caffeine to anyone else’s is a moot point: every is different and each body reacts to substances differently. Tune into your own instrument, be mindful of how it’s feeling, and take notes. Chances are high you will learn something and maybe even want to make some changes.

** Are you dependent on caffeine to get you through your dance day? Would you like to learn how your peers are fueling themselves for better energy and strength? Set up a Discovery Session with me to talk about it.

On Track with Eating: Three Dancer Tips

How to eat healthily is a very popular topic among dancers and it’s a big piece of the work I do coaching and mentoring. And with my guidance, over time, my dancers become the experts on how to develop and stick with better eating habits.

Today I thought I would share three of their go-to tips for when they start going off the rails…

I. Eat the Right Food (or Turn Knowledge into Action). 

Knowing what to eat is rarely the issue; every dancer I’ve met has all kinds of information in her head about what’s healthy and why, and what to stay away from and why. Other than the weird food trends that pop up and misleading “factoids” about eating, most everyone can get their hands on some decent nutritional information these days. And my dancers have all that info because they’ve learned it with me. So the knowledge isn’t what’s missing.

Turning knowledge into consistent action is where dancers fall short of their healthy eating goals. Why is that?

The most common challenges I have witnessed are:

  • A lack of connection with the “why”: WHY am I making these choices? What’s my real motivation?

If your motivation is external, like a teacher or parent is the reason to eat better, then it won’t stick. Eventually, you will rebel. Motivation needs to be internal: you need a reason why you’re going to make this lifestyle change and stick with it. My dancers always define that motivation early on BUT it can get lost. It’s important to keep that motivation front and center in order to stay on track.

  • No plan for healthy eating

Once you commit to healthy eating, you need a plan: that’s part of turning knowledge into action. A big part of that plan must include shopping for healthy food, so it’s on hand and preparing foods you know are good for you, in a way that is also good for you.

My dancers always make a plan with me, but again, life can get in the way. When the plan gets lost in the shuffle, they can find themselves grabbing food on the go or eating whatever is around, which is often the first step away from healthy eating.

II. Eat the right amount of food.

When it comes to developing healthy eating habits, quantity can be tricky. Some dancers restrict calories, which sets them up for failure on many levels: strength and energy decrease with lack of nutrients, and often, restriction leads to binging when hunger takes over. Others overdo it, feeling that they’ve “earned it” or wanting to rebel against the expectations of teachers, parents, and fellow dancers.

The dancers I work with know how much food they need to be eating to feel energized and healthy and when they’re overdoing it. But a lot of dancers have no idea because they haven’t done any investigation around food and eating.

The bottom line is: you need to get serious about your eating habits and start finding out what works for you. Once you know, it’s a lot easier to eat the right food and the right amount of food.

III. Finally, accountability.

My dancers say that having someone to share their successes and challenges with is a big part of how they’re able to stay on track. My dancers build on successes to better understand why things are working. We anticipate difficult stretches (like being in the theater during Nutcracker season) and make a plan for maintaining good eating habits.

No matter how enthusiastic you are about your goals initially, it’s normal to hit a wall and fall back into old patterns over time. But at the end of the day, my dancers know that they have someone to turn to when that happens, so they can get back on track right away.

So the next time you feel like you’re moving in the wrong direction, think about these three tips:

  • Eat the right food (turn your knowledge into action)
  • Eat the right amount of food
  • And find someone to hold you accountable to your goals

**What about you? Do you want to have healthier eating habits but don’t know where to start? Or are you having difficulty turning what you know into action? Shoot me an email; I’d love to help.