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.


Video: Tool or Weapon? You Decide.

Now that we’ve talked about the mirror, a tool that is often misused, I want to turn for a minute to video.

Most of us have seen ourselves on video at one point and may have been disappointed by what we saw. Often the reason for that is that what we see recorded is not what we felt when we were performing. Why is that? I’m not exactly sure, but I can tell you two things.

First, no video can capture the thrill of live performance. What you felt onstage is real and it’s yours to keep.

Second, no performing artists are happy with recordings of their work. Try asking musicians how they feel about the recording of their latest performance. They will point out all the errors. Same thing with actors and singers. So you are not alone in feeling that what happened on stage and what you can see in the video are not equal. That said, video can be a great tool for improvement, which is what I want to talk about.

Video as Weapon

Using video as a weapon is a dramatic way of saying that you use it to tear apart your dancing and/or yourself. Focusing all of your attention on what you don’t do well and feeling terrible about it, is truly a missed opportunity (not to mention a very bad habit to get into).

Video as Tool

Instead, think of video as a tool through which you can learn more about your dancing. Try this experiment.

  • First watch the recording and allow yourself to experience whatever emotions you feel.

It’s okay if you aren’t 100% happy with what you see. Take a little time away from the video if that’s the case, so that you can process those feelings. Take a whole day if you need it. Then take a deep breath, and…

  • Watch the video again, this time noticing what looks good.

Imagine you’re watching a close friend of yours and you want to compliment him/her on the video. (Go ahead. You’re the only one listening.) It’s important to train your eye to see both the positives and the negatives. Seeing only one or the other is not being realistic, and will make it hard to use the video as a tool for improvement.

  • Now, rewind and watch the video a third time with a notebook handy.

This time, focus on what you see without any judgment. Try not to criticize or compliment yourself while watching. Instead, pretend you are watching that close friend of yours again and you are taking notes to help this person improve. Use positive, constructive words to correct yourself, like “place arabesque behind you” rather than “arabesque is all wonky.”

  • Use your corrections on yourself when you practice.

Now that you know what needs work, start to apply it. Be kind to yourself, and remember that muscle memory is stronger than your brain, so it will take time to “reprogram” your muscles. Just stick with it, and try to get your muscles to comply.

  • Videotape yourself again doing the same piece/variation.

Some of the changes you make might feel simple, but remember that your muscle memory may revert to the old way out of habit.  It can be helpful to video yourself more than once to see if you are applying the corrections you spotted. Don’t worry if you aren’t and don’t beat yourself up about it. This process of seeing, correcting, and trying again is part of becoming a better performer and it requires patience.

If you can do this, if you can watch yourself on video, note your strengths as well as your weaknesses, take notes and then apply them to your dancing, then you will be using video in a smart, sophisticated way that will help you improve.

The hardest part of the entire exercise is not becoming completely negative while watching yourself, so please try to avoid that trap! I will address that issue in my next post so stay tuned…

If you try the experiment, let me know how it went! What did you notice or learn?

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.

Mirror, Mirror On the Wall: Part II

So you have discovered that you use the mirror as a crutch. Now what do you do? Here are a few things to try: **

  • Change barre placement: stand where you can’t see yourself.
  • Change centre placement: stand in the back, or on the side where your full image is not visible.
  • Try doing normal, non-dance things without a mirror. If you practice yoga or go to the gym, don’t look in the mirror. Try to feel and sense things instead.

This will all feel weird. Don’t worry and don’t give up. You are highly adaptable and in a few days, it will feel normal. Think about how the first rehearsal on stage feels so strange, but then, within a few run-throughs, it starts to feel better.

My Story

It wasn’t until I got injured that I changed my relationship with the mirror. I learned that when I was forced to face the wall, I lost a lot of my turnout and placement. I also learned that my alignment when jumping was slightly off, which I couldn’t see very well during en face allegro. The physical therapist I worked with at the Boston Ballet helped re-orient me in the studio so that I was looking inside of myself for my alignment and balance, not in the mirror.

I started taking barre a few days a week without looking at myself. I learned to place myself in the centre off to the side, behind the piano, so that I would be forced to dance without seeing my image. It was hard!

At first it was so disorienting to not get the immediate feedback I was used to. I couldn’t see how good or bad things looked so I didn’t know what to work on. Instead, I had to focus on what it felt like in my body. And you know what? I adapted. My body and mind adapted. I learned how to look inside for my center and how to feel my technique. I didn’t have to see it to believe it.

This was an important lesson that I learned much too late.

Doing these little experiments can help you understand whether you base your feelings about yourself, your body or your dancing on what you SEE in the mirror or what you FEEL in your body. This is an important distinction, but most of us can’t feel it because we’re so distracted by what we see.

Try this out and then tell me: What did you learn? Did anything surprise you?


** NOTE: If you are like many dancers, you have a certain way of doing thing. You like “your spot” at the barre; you have a special way you like to stand so that you can see yourself just so. Which means, of course, that you may not want to experiment with standing somewhere else. But if you’ve noticed that you use the mirror as a crutch, then do try some of the experiments. I promise you, you will learn a lot about your dancing and discomfort is often the first sign of growth. Don’t be afraid to try something new!

Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall: Part I

Mirror as Crutch

As dancers, we are trained to work in front of a mirror. For as many as eight hours a day, we scrutinize every inch of our bodies from our fingertips to our toes, searching for…what? Are we using the mirror to scrutinize our dancing or are we getting distracted?

I was taught that the mirror was a tool and that by looking, I would become more self-sufficient at spotting and correcting my errors of alignment, line, and technique. In fact, when I was training, I used my reflection constantly to correct myself and it was helpful.

However, at some point in my training, the power dynamic shifted and the mirror came out on top. When I couldn’t see my reflection, my technique suffered. When my image was blocked by another dancer, I didn’t feel my feet or my extensions in the same way. I became reliant on my reflection to dance well. It stopped being a tool and became a crutch.

How Does It Happen?

In my experience, this is something that happens to most dancers at some point.  We often have trouble feeling things like where an arabesque is (90 degrees? 110 degrees?) or whether our feet are pointing in petite allegro, so we look at our reflection to see what’s going on.

Find Out Where You Stand

If any of this sounds familiar, then try this little experiment over the summer. Start by asking yourself some questions:

  1. If I am having a good class- I’m on my leg, I feel centered and balanced- does that change if I stop looking in the mirror?
  2. Does my image of my body or technique get better or worse when I see myself?
  3. When I see my image in a distorted mirror (the so-called “fat” mirror), does this change how I feel about myself or my dancing?
  4. When my reflection is “taken away” or covered, do I panic? Do I lose my center and my bearings? If so, how long does it take for me to get re-oriented?
  5. How much time do I spend correcting errors vs. noticing other things about myself (hair, make-up, leotard, etc) or other dancers?

Your answers to these questions may indicate that it’s time to start thinking about how to change your relationship with the mirror. It will take some time, but will be well worth the effort. You’ll dance in a more organic way if your movement comes from what you feel in your body, rather than what you see with your eyes.

Answer the above questions and tell me what you’ve learned. I’d love to hear from you. Next time, we’ll talk about ways to start changing how you work with your own image.

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.


Female Athlete Triad: know what it is!

The Female Athlete Triad is named for three health problems that are linked:

  • low energy availability
  • menstrual problems
  • weak bones


Energy availability refers to how much energy from food is available to your body after you have exercised. If you don’t eat enough, your energy availability will be very low after you dance- so low that other healthy functions like getting your period, repairing muscle tissue, and building bone won’t be able to happen.

Dancers, athletes, and other physical performers can also lose strength and muscle mass when the amount of food eaten is too low compared to the level of activity. Over time, this can cause you to feel more and more tired, get sick more often, and take longer to recover after injury.


When the body doesn’t get enough food and energy, its normal reproductive functions can be interrupted. Missing a period every once and awhile can be a sign that you aren’t getting enough calories in your diet. Missing three or more cycles in a row is a sign that your body isn’t happy. It means your body isn’t producing enough estrogen, a hormone that is necessary for menstruation and…building strong bones. (The term for this is amenorrhea.)


I’ll bet you didn’t know that your period was linked to bone health. (I certainly didn’t when I was dancing.) I also didn’t know that peak years for building bone start in puberty and end at age 20. This is such a small window to build strong bones!

In order to make the most of it, your body needs to have food and energy available; when your hormones communicate that not enough energy is available, your old bone cells don’t get replaced with new ones. Weak bones are susceptible to breaks and fractures, which keep you from performing and weaken your skeleton.


So remember how these three things are connected: low energy from not eating enough food can cause your reproductive system to “shut down” and not produce a menstrual cycle; when this happens, the body isn’t producing enough estrogen which is needed to build and maintain strong bones. When your bones become compromised, you are at risk for developing stress fractures and early osteoporosis.

If you have even one of these three things: low energy availability/erratic eating habits, irregular periods, or stress fractures/reactions, you could be at risk for developing the Female Athlete Triad. And that means you could be at risk for getting injured.

If you have any one of these components of the Triad, talk to your parents and doctor right away. If they don’t know what the Triad is, print out this page and share it with them. Please don’t compromise all of your hard work and dreams for the future by ignoring the warning signs of the Triad!


All of this information serves as a reminder that eating a healthy diet is crucial to becoming a strong performer. We may think that we know what we’re doing when we play around with our diet in order to fit into a costume or feel ready for an audition, but your body does not go along with these practices. Your body knows what it needs to perform its best: it needs regular energy availability, which is a fancy way of saying FOOD.

If you don’t know what to eat, or feel that your eating habits are not good ones, email me  or talk to your parents or doctor. As a health coach, I help performers find ways to maximize their energy and keep their bodies healthy. You don’t have to do it alone.

Source: The Female Athlete Triad Coalition, femaleathletetriad.org