Perfect Your Posture
When you begin your first plié combination of the day, you’re likely feeling refreshed and ready to go—not to mention standing tall with good posture. But as class goes on, and the mind fatigues, bad habits can creep in. By center, your upper back may be slumping forward, and your posture less than perfect.
Julie O’Connell, director of performing arts medicine at Athletico Physical Therapy in Chicago, says she often sees dancers standing with their shoulder blades too far forward and the chest caved in. She suggests this exercise to help correct this postural problem. Though the motion is minimal, it can have a big impact on your overall épaulement. If you feel your upper back rounding during class, you can even do a few reps in between combos, to remind your body of the proper alignment.
1. Stand straight against a wall, using it as a contact point for your shoulder blades.
2. Lift both arms in front of you to a 90-degree angle. The wrists should be in line with the shoulders and the elbows should be extended.
3. Using the serratus anterior muscles (which wrap from the upper ribs around the scapulas), slowly reach both arms forward in a punching motion, feeling your shoulder blades move away from each other as they glide along your rib cage.
4. Return to the starting position, so your shoulder blades are resting alongside the spine. This is correct, engaged alignment. Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions.
This or That?
You just finished learning a new section of choreography, and you have a 90-minute break before rehearsal starts again. If given the choice to take a power nap or catch up on Netflix, which option might help you recall more movement once you step back into the studio? The power nap. Why? According to a recent German study, psychologists found that participants who studied 120 word pairs were able to remember more during a retest if they had taken a nap than if they had watched a DVD. Power down your tablet and let the choreography sink in as you drift away.
Don’t Condemn Carbs
You may have heard of “carbo-loading,” the practice in which endurance athletes ramp up their carbohydrate intake before an event, like a marathon. Recent studies from sports and kinesiology researchers in Canada show that when runners maximized the amount of glycogen stored in their muscles by eating more carbohydrates, they improved their athletic performance and offset fatigue.
But even though a full-length ballet like The Sleeping Beauty may feel like a marathon, dancers don’t have the same energy needs as long-distance runners. However, Leslie Bonci, a dietitian who works with members of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, says that “many dancers don’t get as much as they need when it comes to carbohydrates.” She says that some even lean toward being “carb-phobic.” Though some dancers demonize the starchy stuff, carbs play an undeniably integral role in maintaining dancers’ fluid and energy levels. For optimal strength, speed, stamina and cognition in the studio and onstage, Bonci recommends balanced meals that are neither carb-loaded nor carb-devoid. “A plate shouldn’t be a 50/50 split between protein and vegetables,” she says. Instead, it might be 40 percent protein, 40 percent vegetables and 20 percent carbs.
For nutritional yet portable snacks during a dance-filled day, Bonci suggests packing food in snack-sized Ziploc bags. Fill them with a three-part trail mix of dry cereal, nuts and dried fruit. Or, try spreading nut butter on a whole-wheat tortilla with a squirt of honey for sweetness, then fold and cut into triangles for your noontime nibble.
Hug for Your Health
Whether you’re rehearsing a passionate embrace for an upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet or hugging a friend to congratulate her on a spectacular performance, it all may be good for your health. Why? A study at Carnegie Mellon University found that frequent huggers were less susceptible to illness and didn’t have as many serious symptoms when they did get sick. Over a 14-day period, 404 healthy adults were asked about the amount of hugs and support they received. Then, the whole group was exposed to a common cold virus and monitored closely. Those who had a greater sense of social support were at a lower risk for catching the cold, and out of those who did get sick, the frequent huggers experienced less-severe symptoms. While researchers aren’t sure if it’s the physical act of hugging or the support it offers that helps combat illness, we have one suggestion for you: Share the love!
Be Iron Clad
For on-the-go dancers, iron is a must. Without enough of the mineral, it can lead to fatigue and a lowered immune function. That’s why stocking your fridge with iron-rich foods is so important.
But it doesn’t stop there. You should also make sure that other healthy habits, like drinking tea, aren’t hampering your body’s ability to absorb iron. According to research from the journal Food Science and Nutrition, micronutrients in tea, known as polyphenols, have been shown to limit iron absorption to a certain extent. However, Emily C. Harrison, a dietitian at Atlanta Ballet’s Centre for Dance Nutrition, says that there are some dietary strategies that can improve iron absorption in healthy, tea-drinking dancers. Here are her top nutritional tips:
1. Stock your diet with a variety of foods high in iron, like beans, peas, leafy greens, chia seeds and meat, if you eat it. Vitamin C helps absorb iron from plant sources, so pair the two into the same meal or snack. Harrison recommends kale and red peppers gently sautéed in olive oil, with a squeeze of lemon juice as a dressing, or spinach and black bean tacos with fresh lime juice and cilantro.
2. Foods fortified with iron are also great choices. Try oatmeal, dry cereal and pasta made from red lentils or black beans.
3. Dancers drinking less than three cups of tea daily and eating iron-rich foods are at a lower risk for iron deficiency.
4. If a dancer is anemic, one to two cups of tea per day is still permissible, though they’ll need to increase their intake of foods high in iron and possibly take a low-dose iron supplement, less than 18 milligrams. If anemia continues despite a dancer’s iron-rich diet, consult a doctor to rule out other possible problems.
The monthly cycle of blues and bloating before your period can make dancing feel infinitely more difficult. But there's good news: A recent study from the University of Massachusetts shows that simply adjusting your diet can reduce PMS symptoms. The researchers followed 3,000 women over 10 years, assessing physical and emotional PMS symptoms as well as diet. The results showed that a high intake of iron decreased PMS symptoms. The type of iron that works best is found in plants and supplements, not in meat. Try eating a balanced diet with iron-fortified cereals, beans and spinach to help maintain a balanced mood throughout the month!