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.

 

End-of-Year Meltdowns Got You Down?

It’s spring, so that means meltdowns and performances. (Haha.) Seriously though, it’s definitely performance time: most dance schools are having their end-of-year shows to showcase all the good work their dancers have accomplished over the year. So it’s a time of excitement but also nerves, often for teachers as much as students. Everyone wants to put their best foot forward (no pun intended), but the anticipation can stir emotions into a real frenzy.

If you’re still in the countdown to an end-of-year show and are either experiencing meltdown-inducing levels of stress yourself or dealing with them from your peers or teachers, here are some fun tips to keep you sane.

  • Perfection will not be achieved between today and the performance, so let go of that as a goal. How you’re rehearsing today is the best indicator of how the show will go, so start turning on your face muscles to get ready to glow onstage because…
  • Performances are the reason you work as hard as you do every day. They should be exhilarating, as well as fun. If you keep the focus on dancing your best and having fun, you’ll be happier.
  • If your teacher(s) is overly stressed, don’t take it personally; end-of-year shows are an evaluation of them as well as you, so they’re entitled to jitters. Remind yourself of that if those jitters become meltdowns: everyone is doing their best and some people cope better than others.
  • Be in control of yourself and only yourself. There’s no point in trying to fix everyone else’s problems because it won’t work. Turn your focus inwards to yourself: how can you be best prepared to perform well? Keep your focus there to feel less stressed.
  • Finally, mark the end of your school year with a celebration after the performance, however small. It’s important to mark the occasion with a dinner out or some other way to celebrate your accomplishments.

Don’t fall into the trap of letting stress overshadow your performance(s); learning to cope with pre-show jitters is a big part of becoming a happy performer. If you have tried all of the above and still can’t deal, email me. I can definitely help.

 

Smoothies for Spring: Green and Scrumptious

Warmer weather brings me back to my Vitamix and green smoothies. I started making green smoothies when I was studying nutrition at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in 2010. Immediately, I felt a difference in my body as it soaked up all those micronutrients. I began craving one every day.

In the wintertime though, I find it more challenging to get into the smoothies. Instead, I use my Vitamix for blending soups and pestos.

Now that it’s spring, I’ve been back into a daily smoothie and I feel fantastic. Dancers have asked what’s the difference between a green juice and a smoothie? A smoothie is made in a blender where all of the greens, fruit, and water are blended together; a juicer presses the juice out of greens and fruit into a glass. The “husk” of the greens and fruit gets thrown away once it’s been pressed.

I like smoothies better than juice because

  1. I don’t own a juicer and I’m not going to buy a juicer. They’re expensive and take up a lot of kitchen space I don’t have.
  2. I like that the entire vegetable or fruit is IN the smoothie- that’s a lot of soluble fiber, which helps keep my intestines clean and happy.

That said when wandering the streets of Brooklyn or NYC, I will occasionally stop for a fresh green juice at the local juicer. The benefits of green juice shouldn’t be understated – I just don’t happen to make it.

The recipes I start my dancers on are the following:

Sweet Smoothie

  • Add 3.5 glasses of water to blender
  • Add 5 oz washed baby spinach
  • Add flesh from one mango, peeled
  • Add 1 banana
  • Blend at high speed until smooth

Savory Smoothie

  • Add 3.5 glasses of water to blender
  • Add 5 oz washed baby spinach
  • Add flesh from one avocado, peeled
  • Add 1 cucumber
  • Add handful of fresh parsley or cilantro
  • Add juice from half a lemon (or more, to taste)
  • Blend at high speed until smooth

Depending on the power of your blender, you may have to chop fruits/veg into cubes or blend in stages. With the Vitamix, it can all be blended at once.

I always start with water and suggest you do too. (Too much unneeded sugar in juice.) The banana and avocado act as the emulsifier- the thing that makes all the ingredients stick together.

Once you get the hang of it, you’ll learn which fruits and greens go well together and which tastes work best for you. There are tons of recipes online, but I’ve found it fun just to experiment and see what I like.

A green smoothie is great first thing in the morning before you jump into the shower. In fact, it’s recommended to be consumed on an empty stomach for maximum absorption of nutrients. It also makes a yummy snack in between class and rehearsals or right when you get home as you’re preparing dinner. Rather than reaching for crackers or some other empty-calorie snack food, drink down a smoothie. It will satisfy your hunger without ruining your appetite for that delicious dinner you’re making.

Let me know what you think if you try these recipes!

 

Stock Your Pantry (& Freezer)

Cute stocked vintage pantry. 

They say the worst possible time to grocery shop is on an empty stomach because the choices you make are going to appease your body’s worst cravings.

And I say the worst time to prepare a meal is when you are both hungry and have an empty fridge.

That’s when cookies and cheese for dinner start to sound mighty good.

But neither cookies nor cheese will replenish your body after a long day of dancing. Better to have a plan for those days when grocery shopping is out of the question and you need a quick, nutritious meal.

The solution is to keep your pantry stocked with non-perishable items that you can put together in a pinch to make a tasty, healthy meal. I am going to add freezer items to this list because, like the pantry, freezer items are just there whenever you need them. They don’t go bad and don’t require any care.

So here are some pantry and freezer staples and how you can use them.

  1. Canned tuna packed in olive oil
  2. Canned organic beans
  3. Vinegar (I like red wine, balsamic, and rice wine)
  4. Oils (I like olive oil, toasted sesame seed, and peanut)
  5. Lemon juice (See Shortcuts below)
  6. Whole grains (i.e. cracked freekeh, mixed wild rice, steel cut oats)
  7. Frozen peas
  8. Frozen leafy greens (i.e. spinach or kale)

Preparation Tips

Whole grains take a while to cook, so I like to do them in the morning while I’m getting ready or throw them in to cook while I’m eating dinner – then they’re ready for the next day.

For example, as soon as you get up, put a medium pot of water on the stovetop on high heat. As soon as it’s boiling, toss 1-2 cups of grain it in, lower heat, and set a timer. By the time you’ve showered and gotten dressed, they’ll be ready to drain and stick in a Tupperware for later. Or do the same while preparing your dinner. Once you have grains stored in your fridge or freezer, it takes no time to heat them up and add to the meals below.

Meal ideas

These meal ideas are quick and easy. They are not fancy and not for every night, but they work great as backup. You definitely want a backup plan for dinner so you don’t skip it or eat something useless.

  • Tuna tossed with warm peas: add lemon juice and olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste.
  • Beans and kale/spinach: heat frozen greens; drain; add to drained beans (cooked or not); toss with your choice of dressing. Try peanut oil and tahini or toasted sesame oil and rice wine vinegar.
  • Tuna mixed with capers and kalamata olives, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper; eat over a bed of steamed greens.
  • Beans and grains. This is one of my go-tos. Doesn’t get any faster or simpler than opening a can of beans and tossing with pre-made grains. Jazz it up with grated cheese, if you have any or a nice oil and vinegar combo.

Shortcuts

In an ideal world, we wouldn’t take any shortcuts, but in the real world of evening exhaustion and nutritional need, shortcuts are sometimes necessary. So go ahead and buy the lemon and lime juices in the little plastic containers. (I like the Sicilia brand.) These keep forever in your fridge whereas real lemons and limes rot.

Also, I am a huge fan of ordering some foods online so that I can keep them in stock and not have to schlep them home. I order my tuna online here. For those of you who live far from a good grocery store (or don’t have time to shop), Bob’s Red Mill is a great place to get your grains online. Get a bunch so you never have to worry about running out.

And…get stocked! And then tell me about it. 🙂

 

Superbowl & Ballet: Common Ground

I’m not sure if you watched the Superbowl the other week. It was kind of a big deal. I didn’t watch it because I’m not much of a football fan.

However, it was *on* in my house, and I tuned in once the score tied at the game’s end. (That had never happened before in the game’s history.)

So they went into “Sudden Death Overtime” which meant the first team to score would win the game.

The first thing they did after the announcement of overtime was what made me think of you all.

They did a coin toss.  

(You’ll see why that matters in a second…)

The Patriots called heads and won the coin toss, so they got the ball.

Once they got the ball, they showed up and played the game they’ve played thousands of times. They scored first. So they won the Superbowl, after having been seriously behind in points for the first three-quarters of the game.

What if the coin had been tails?

What if the Falcons had won control of the ball?

Would they have scored first?

The answer is almost certainly yes. The Falcons had been killing it all game long. They were dominating the Patriots. Chances are, had lucked smiled on them in the coin toss, they would have won the game.

One coin toss. One outcome. And that was that.

I was reminded of all of the times that luck played a part in my own career, and that of many of the dancers in my life. A principal dancer’s partner retired so I got promoted; I was the right height to wear the costume for an injured dancer; I was the only one in an eye-catching red unitard at a midwest audition… the list goes on.

Luck matters in your dancing.

Opportunities will come to you or to your peers, and sometimes the only real reason why is that you got lucky. (Or she did.)

There’s now way to control for luck or to predict it.

If that makes you feel a little queasy, it should. Luck is like that.

However, what you can prepare for is what happens right afterwards. If the Patriots had played badly after the coin toss, or had let the pressure get to them, they wouldn’t have scored when they needed to. Instead they played the way they knew they needed to play. They showed up and played their best when that door opened, and they won.

If you’re an understudy, luck might help get you the part, but how you perform is entirely up to you.

Luck might help you land a contract, but how you dance your first professional season is in your hands.

So remember that while luck plays a part in success, it never plays the biggest part which comes afterwards. Prepare for that part, so that, like the Patriots in this historic Superbowl,  you’re ready when luck finally smiles on you.

 

Disappointment: How to Deal

There’s no greater disappointment than psyching yourself up and performing your heart out only to get rejected by your school or company of choice. Or even worse, getting cut halfway through the audition, before you have had a chance to show them what you can do.

It’s so frustrating. It can really get you down.

Some dancers are tempted to take these rejections as final judgments on their dancing.

Please resist that temptation. 

For starters, you can’t say why you weren’t chosen. Artistic Directors have all kinds of reasons they choose and don’t choose dancers, from height and weight to hair color. If you danced well, then try not to worry about it too much.

Dwelling on why you didn’t get in when you can’t ever know the reason is a lesson in frustration. 

Instead, try to keep your focus on what’s coming up next.

If you’re doing multiple auditions, you may not have a lot of turnaround between one audition and the next. Here are some tips for dealing with your disappointment so that you can bounce back quickly.

  • There’s no rejection; there’s only selection. Think about it like this: directors aren’t necessarily saying no to you; they’re saying yes to someone else. When you’re not selected for any one thing, that means you’re available for something else. Keep looking.
  • Always walk away from the audition with *something*: a strategy to apply to your dancing, a style to try, a good correction to apply. You can always learn from the experience. Making that part of the process gives you a larger focus beyond just getting in or not.
  • Remember the bigger picture. You’re doing something you love and you’re working hard, and this is part of the process. Take what you’ve observed and bring it back to the studio. Use the experience to work smarter, not just harder.

If you’re having trouble quieting the part of your brain that enjoys reliving rejection, try some thought stoppage. Find a word or short phrase to cut off your negativity before it consumes you. For example, “Stop” or “Not now.” I like the Italian word for enough, “Basta.” My dancers find a word that silences their inner critic and they stick with it.

Then, you can try a little mental reprogramming to find words and cues to lift you up and keep your mind clear while dancing. If you could use some help applying this strategy, shoot me an email. It’s my speciality!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over-scheduled and Stressed Out

I just got this question from a dance mom on my website: “What would you suggest for the stressed out high schooler/ dancer? My son has so much on his plate and as a family we don’t get to see each other until Friday night.”

I hear this a lot. Although the specifics differ, the dancers I work with and talk to are living highly scheduled lives. They’re running from school to dance, then eating dinner at 9:00pm and doing homework until the wee hours. It can be hard to feel on top of anything at such a pace.

How do you handle this as a dancer? As a family?

There is no simple fix, but here’s a place to start.

First, determine what you need more of. 

  • Sleep?
  • Sit-down Meals?
  • Family time?
  • Alone time?
  • Time for schoolwork?

Yes, yes, and yes! I hear you, but for purposes of getting started, try to pick only one or two things. Then take a look at your average day and week. Usually, there’s some time in there, often in between two scheduled things, that could be better used.

Here are two concrete examples:

  • Maybe on the train (or car) ride to dance class, you could either do some schoolwork or use the time for self-care, like listening to calming music or doing a breathing exercise.
  • Maybe you’re a person who does homework with your phone next to you, inviting distractions and multi-tasking. Homework can take twice as long when interrupted, so try putting your phone in another room and applying your full mind to the task at hand. Most people find that when they focus completely, they work faster and more efficiently. If that’s true for you, then you’ve just created more time in your day.

More generally though, try these things:

  • Prioritize downtime: When faced with the option of adding another thing to your schedule, resist. Make sure you’re getting some unscheduled downtime every week when you can relax and recharge (in whatever way works best for you).

This includes dancing. It’s important to take at least one day off per week from dancing. Resist the urge to do class on a Sunday!

  • Prioritize self-care: Although we all can use more self-care, dancers need it more than most. The physical, mental, and emotional demands of training alongside an academic schedule can produce faster than normal burnout.

Be sure to make time for sleep (at least 8 hours/night), resting your body (legs up, couch time), and eating healthy meals three times a day. It sounds basic, but cutting any of these corners can make you feel even more stressed.

  • Minimize social media: yeah, yeah, you’ve heard this one before. The thing is, unless you don’t own a smartphone, you probably spend a lot more time on social media than you’re aware of. Start keeping track of how many times a day you pick up your phone to check a text message or Instagram or Snapchat or Facebook. Imagine if you created mini-breaks from media to turn your attention to self-care or family-time? It’s an experiment worth trying. You might find you feel calmer and more on top of things.

I suggest adopting one of the above and committing to it for the next three weeks. See how it goes and if you feel any less stressed. Then move on to the next thing. Slowly, over time, you can build new habits for yourself and your family that offer little pockets of sanity. And hopefully, you’ll feel the difference!

 

Injured? Don’t Audition. Here’s Why.

So you’re all set to hit auditions and then you get injured. Not a major injury, but something painful enough that it’s got you thinking about whether or not you should push it. What do you do? To answer this question, consider the next scene.

Imagine you have the stomach flu. You are hanging over the edge of your toilet bowl all morning in agony both from the flu and the fact that you have an audition that afternoon. What would you do? Would you put your dance clothes in a bag, and storm the studio regardless of the fact that you probably won’t make it through class?

I’m going to make an educated guess here and say that in the second scenario, although you might wish otherwise, you probably wouldn’t even consider attending that audition. For one, you can’t predict how your body will react: you could get sick at any time. Secondly, you know you won’t be able to dance your best. Thirdly, well, really, there’s no need for another reason because those two are enough, right?

When sickness strikes, especially something unpredictable like a stomach bug, we tend to retreat. We recognize we aren’t in control and surrender ourselves to staying home and healing.

So, when it comes to injury, why would some dancers go to the audition anyway? 

I’m being overdramatic for effect. Of course there are reasons you would want to go:

  • it’s your dream school/company and you’ve been preparing all fall for this moment
  • not going eliminates this place from your options for summer/fall
  • the injury is probably nothing…surely it can’t get that much worse from one class?

Here’s the problem though, and it’s simple: you won’t dance your best.

This is true in part because you’d be making adjustments to avoid the injured area, which would inevitably affect your dancing. Your mind couldn’t be 100% in the moment and focused, so you might look distracted. So you’d be doing some weird technical stuff and looking distracted. But even worse, you would risk injuring yourself further, which would be the worst possible outcome.

Basic rule of thumb for auditions and injury: if you won’t dance your best, then don’t dance at all.

The good news is, you have options to be seen. Depending on who you’re auditioning for and the circumstances, I would have specific recommendations for you –  recommendations that have been met with success.

So if this happens to you, first, imagine it’s the stomach bug and ask yourself how you would make your decision. Then, reach out and find out what your other options are.

 

Negativity: Wipe It Out in 2017

It’s a New Year, so you know what the means, right? You have to set a bunch of goals, make resolutions, and make it the best year ever!

Ugh. That’s not only a tall order, it also freaks a lot of people out. What if, instead, you decided to change the way you think about things. That, in turn, could lead to more control of your mind, with the eventual goal of being in a better place. What about that?

Everyone experiences negativity and negative thoughts. It’s part of the natural evolution: remembering negative experiences helps us protect ourselves from them in the future. But continuous rumination is not only unnecessary, it’s harmful to our health and wellbeing.

This New York Times’ piece from early January suggests starting with acceptance of your negative thoughts. Pushing them away or  telling yourself to stop thinking them will only make it worse. “Instead, notice that you are in a negative cycle and own it.”

For example, you might find yourself reliving a bad class. Tell yourself, “I am obsessing about my mistakes in class today.” Once you’ve accepted that, then try to challenge the reason why you’re obsessing. Two common concerns I hear about bad classes are “I’m a terrible dancer” and “My teacher probably thinks I’m not even trying anymore.”

But is that really true? Are you really a terrible dancer because you made a few mistakes? And just because you’ve had a bad class or haven’t been able to apply a correction means you’re suddenly lazy and don’t care? Unlikely.

It’s more likely that you just had a bad class. Everyone has bad days and even the professionals make mistakes regularly. End of story.

The Times article has more great suggestions like giving yourself the same advice you’d give to a friend and digging deep to understand what, if anything, you are accomplishing by thinking negatively. Read it for yourself and consider taking them up on their New Year’s challenge of quitting those thoughts.

 

 

Auditions: More Prep is Better

Dress the part.
Arrive at destination.
Put on a number.
Enter a room with hundreds of people who want what you want.
Audition (i.e. Dance your heart out.)
Do your best.
Hope for the best.

It’s enough to freak anybody out, right? It can feel like jumping off a mountain! Everyone says not to worry, just dance, and if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. While that’s partially true, it’s not all there is to being prepared.

In my opinion, more is definitely better when it comes to preparation.

That’s why I created an Audition Package, just for you.

Here are some of the things that I address when helping my dancers prepare for auditions.

  • Rationally assess what’s expected of you beforehand.

Too many dancers don’t think this one through and get bombarded by all kinds of emotions when the audition is already underway. Instead, I like to anticipate these emotions and explore what’s coming up. Who expects what? Can they meet the expectations? What would it mean if they did or didn’t?

This kind of pre-audition thinking can relieve a lot of pressure during the actual audition.

  • Work on getting self-talk as positive as possible.

I’m sure I sound like a broken record, but it’s still true: what your dancer thinks about while dancing can make or break her. Let’s be sure it’s positive, constructive, and helpful, rather than the contrary. No one but she can turn things around mentally in the middle of an audition. And it does take some practice to build up good self-talk.

  • Have a do-or-die routine in place that will drown out the noise and confusion of the audition.

All performers need routine: it helps calm the mind and body when we can go on auto-pilot before an audition or performance. A routine can include how a dancer packs her dance bag, what she eats before the audition, and how early she’ll arrive to warm up. (In my next newsletter I will write more about how to create this routine.)

  • Focus only on what you can control.

The dancer next to you has legs that go on forever and perfect turnout? The one behind you turns for days and the one in front jumps like a gazelle? Why have you even noticed those things?

It is too easy to get caught up in watching other dancers or in bemoaning conditions that are beyond your control, like a slippery floor. Mindfulness is key in an audition, but it can’t be built overnight. Together we’ll work on combatting distraction and narrowing your focus to only those things that make you dance your best.


All of these topics and more are covered in my Audition Package. If you think your dancer could benefit from my support, please head over to my website to schedule a Discovery Session with me. We can get started on this and many other tools to help your dancer be perfectly prepared for auditions this winter.