Photo by Nathan Sayers

How do you “perform" at auditions without being obnoxious? —Mikayla

Auditions are no place to hide or act self-consciously—but there's a fine line between being assertive and being aggressive. Focus on keeping your movements lush without getting in the other dancers' way. Keep your face pleasant and relaxed (emphatic nodding and sky-high eyebrows signal that you're eager to please, but can come across as student-y). A bright leotard or hair accessory can help the panel notice and remember you. But more importantly, pay attention to what the director is asking for in class. They're more apt to notice a fast learner or precise musicality.

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Should I turn down an apprenticeship to finish my dance degree, or should I put my education on pause? —Ashleigh

Congratulations on receiving an apprenticeship offer! They don't come every day. If you think you're ready for company life, and will be full of regrets if you turn the offer down, you can always resume school later. However, make sure you know what the position entails.

Not all apprenticeships are paid, and there's no guarantee that you'll be promoted to the company's corps de ballet at season's end. Are you comfortable entering the dance world without the security of a college degree? And are you motivated enough to return to school if you put your education on pause now?

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They say injury can be a great teacher: When Texas Ballet Theater dancer Carolyn Judson was sidelined with a back injury in 2007, her interest in health piqued. “I wondered how I could heal myself, so I began to research and read,” she says. “I was amazed at what I found. I turned to food that reduced pain and inflammation.” She credits the dietary changes she made, in addition to getting introduced to Gyrotonic, with helping her recover more quickly.

Judson in The Sleeping Beauty (photo by Ellen Appel, courtesy TBT)

As time went on, Judson decided to expand her education. She enrolled in an online health coach training program at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, graduating in 2013. “I would come home from rehearsal and go right to class. The program also covered how to start up a business.” Judson has since built her own website, which features many of her popular recipes. See below for her healthy veggie tacos!

Ingredients

Serves 3 to 5.

3 zucchini squash, ends trimmed, cut lengthwise

3 carrots, peeled

1 sweet potato, peeled, cut lengthwise

1 onion, peeled, cut into quarters

sea salt

1 15-ounce can black beans

1 avocado

crumbled feta cheese

corn tortillas

juice from 1 lime

cilantro, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil or coconut oil

salsa or hot sauce (optional)

  1. Grate the vegetables in a food processor, keeping each one separate after grating.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium pan and add the onion, carrots and sweet potato. Add a pinch or two of salt. Once they begin to soften, add the zucchini. Meanwhile, heat your canned black beans in a small sauce pan.
  3. Place the cooked vegetables on top of your tortillas. Top with beans, sliced avocado, crumbled feta cheese, chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime. Serve with salsa or hot sauce. Enjoy!

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

Inside PT
As autumn gets into full swing, it's time to wave goodbye to summer produce and start embracing the rich, savory fruits and veggies of the harvest season. They come with a host of nutritional benefits, sure to help you power through months of Nutcracker rehearsals and increasingly chilly temperatures.

Here are a few to get you started:

Apples: Aside from the fun of going on an apple-picking trip, the fruit is a good source of fiber and the antioxidant quercetin, which improves endurance. There are thousands of varieties to choose from, each with their own unique benefits.

Pumpkins: Basically the poster-child for the fall season, pumpkins also have tons of health benefits. One cup contains 11 percent of the fiber you need daily, and plenty of potassium, which helps keep your muscles strong and prevents cramping. Pumpkin seeds are rich in magnesium—important for energy production and bone development.

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Inside PT

Think fast: Would you like a few more degrees of turnout? If your answer is a resounding “yes" (perhaps even punctuated by a grand jeté), you're not alone. Although natural turnout is largely dictated by the anatomy of your femur and hip socket, if your turnout muscles are weak, you could be missing out on those highly coveted extra degrees of rotation.

But there's good news: According to Shannon Casati, a former Miami City Ballet dancer who's now a physical therapist assistant at Reavis Rehab and Wellness Center in Round Rock, Texas, strengthening the muscle groups that aid in external rotation and hip stabilization, such as the inner thighs, glutes and piriformis, can make a difference. Casati recommends these three exercises to help you access your full turnout. Try them daily after warming up, or two to three times a week when your rehearsal or performance schedule is intense.

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Like many dancers, New York City Ballet soloist Antonio Carmena is constantly looking for ways to help his body run more efficiently. After watching a documentary about juice cleansing this March, Carmena decided to try his own three-day version during the last week of the company’s season. “I wasn’t trying to lose weight,” he says. “I just wanted to restart my body.”

Attempting to be as healthy as possible, Carmena created his own juices from spinach, kale, cucumbers and squash, occasionally throwing in berries, ginger or grapefruit. On the first day, he felt hungry but also more hydrated. By day two, though, he’d become stressed-out, and noticed that he had far less energy in rehearsal. “I felt weak, and couldn’t push as hard,” he says. “I realized a juice cleanse isn’t good while you’re dancing.”

Juice cleansing or fasting—where people drink only fruit and vegetable juice while avoiding solid foods—has been used in religious and cultural rituals since the Old Testament days. Dieters have co-opted the practice because it offers a quick way to drop pounds on a short-term basis, and some alternative-medicine practitioners believe that giving the body a break from solid foods allows it to focus on healing. Today, the fresh juice business, including premade juice cleanses, has become a $5 billion industry.

Dancing on the Diet

Juicing has gained traction among dancers. Some view it as an opportunity to get in top aesthetic form before an audition or performance. Others, like Carmena, see it as a chance to detox, although few scientific studies have tested that idea. The deluge of fluids, vitamins and minerals is also appealing to health-conscious perfectionists: All of those berries, citrus fruits and leafy greens can load the body up on antioxidants.

But an all-juice diet has serious consequences. Juices lack protein, digestion-enhancing fiber and healthy fat, and don’t include the combinations of elements that help your body take advantage of the health benefits of fruits and veggies. “Nutrients need to be in certain forms to be digested and enter the bloodstream,” explains Rebecca Dietzel, a biochemist in private practice in nutritional counseling. “Calcium from kale, for example, can’t get into its ionized form when it’s put through the juicer.”

What’s more, juice cleanses rarely offer substantial calories, causing a host of problems. Within 48 hours of starting a juice cleanse, your body is forced to burn muscle mass for energy, says Joy Dubost, PhD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “You’re losing essential nutrients and electrolytes,” she says, “which over time can affect the rhythm of your heart and cause muscle cramps.” Thinking it’s experiencing a famine, your body goes into a state of panic, and inflammation increases, making chronic injuries like tendonitis worse. “Your brain also says, ‘Let’s turn down any nonessential processes so we can conserve fuel,’ ” says Dietzel. “That includes hormone production and healing processes, both essential to dancers.”

Then why do so many dancers say that juicing makes them feel great? “It’s often because dancers are usually dehydrated, and during a juice cleanse they finally get the fluids their bodies crave,” says Dietzel, who adds that you can get the same effect by drinking adequate water. Some cleansers even feel euphoric after a few days. But this isn’t the result of improved health; it’s because the body has started dumping opiate-like hormones into the system to protect you from noticing that you’re “starving.”

The aftereffects of a juice cleanse can also backfire. Most dancers gain weight when they return to solid foods because they’ve slowed down their metabolism. “You’ve programmed your body to store fat; it thinks it needs to save fuel,” says Dietzel. Because your body has turned down the production of digestive enzymes, it also takes a few days to restart that process, making you feel sluggish and tired after eating.

A Smarter Cleanse

Not all of the principles of a juice cleanse are inherently misguided. Cutting out artificially processed foods in favor of fresh produce can be a healthy choice. If you’re interested in the idea of rebooting your diet, Dietzel suggests spending one day drinking lots of water and eating only fruits and veggies (a large variety). “You’ll get more hydrated, give your liver a break from fat metabolism and get a wide range of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds,” she says. “Plus, all that fiber supports intestinal and colon health by absorbing toxic compounds in the intestine and helping to create a healthy bowel movement.” However, she warns, just like a juice fast, this one-day diet doesn’t offer enough energy to fuel a full day of dance rehearsals. Only try it on a day off.

For the long term, incorporating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains with high fiber into your diet and drinking more water will keep your body on track. That way, you won’t need to resort to drastic cleanses in order to hit a risky “reset” button.

Originally published in the August/September 2013 issue of Pointe.

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

Inside PT

You want to fuel yourself with foods that will give you the energy and nutrients you need to dance your best, but with all the conflicting information out there, it can be hard to figure out what's actually healthy. Last year, we found out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would be giving the classic Nutrition Facts food label a makeover, to make labels more accurate and easier to understand. The FDA finalized the new label last week, and announced that the new label is expected to be on most packaged foods by July 2018.

We broke down the biggest changes so you'll know what to expect on your future trips to the grocery store:

Photo via FDA

1. Serving sizes. On the new label, serving sizes reflect what a person is actually likely to consume in one sitting. For example, both 12 oz and 20 oz drinks will now be considered one serving (as opposed to listing 20 oz bottles as multiple servings).

2. Calories. The number of calories is now displayed in larger font, making it easier to find. "Calories from fat" has been deleted, to acknowledge the fact that there are healthy fats, too.

3. The new "added sugars" line. This will show how much sugar has been added to the food, and will include the percent daily value it makes up out of a 2,000 calorie diet.

4. New nutrients. Labels will now be required to list the amount of Vitamin D (to help you develop strong bones) and potassium (which reduces muscle cramps).

 

For more news on all things ballet, don’t miss a single issue.

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

I recently pulled a muscle in my hamstring, which has negatively affected my flexibility. Are there safe stretches to work through a pulled muscle?Megan

A pulled hamstring—tears that occur in the muscle when the hamstring is suddenly overstretched or overloaded—needs to be taken seriously if you want to heal properly. I didn’t take enough precautions when I pulled mine years ago, and my flexibility in that leg has never felt quite the same.

“Hamstring injuries can take a long time to heal due to the potential accompanying injury to the nervous system,” says Andrea Zujko, PT, DPT, OCS, COMT, clinic manager of Westside Dance Physical Therapy in New York City. Recovery time depends on the severity of the strain, and Zujko discourages self-diagnosing. “A physical therapist can help you more clearly diagnose the injury and develop a prognosis and plan to return to dance.”

One thing is certain—don’t stretch a pulled hamstring too soon. For the first five days (longer for serious strains), don’t dance or stretch. Do use ice and compression during the first 72 hours. Then, you can gradually start gently releasing the soft tissue using a tennis ball, Zujko says, followed by range of motion exercises and pain-free stretches, including this one: Lie on your back with both knees bent, keeping a neutral spine and pelvis. Raise the injured bent leg to a tabletop position, with the angle of both your thigh and lower leg at 90 degrees. Holding on to your thigh, gently straighten and bend the leg through a pain-free range (keeping the foot relaxed and the leg parallel). Do 5 sets of 10 throughout the day when you’re warm. As your hamstring heals, you can progress to a sustained, passive stretch, using a yoga belt. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, doing 5 repetitions two to three times a day.

Isometric strengthening exercises can help, too, Zujko says. For example, sit comfortably on a chair, keeping the knees at a 90-degree angle. Using 5 to 10 percent of your strength, gently press your heel into the floor to create a light contraction in the hamstring, holding for 5 seconds; repeat 10 times.

What kinds of foods should I eat for sustained energy? I don’t want to be weighed down, but I can’t dance when I’m hungry, either.Cecilia

The only thing worse than dancing hungry is dancing with a bowling ball feeling in your stomach after lunch. The key is nutritionally balanced, well-timed eating habits.

“Snacks are going to be your savior,” says Peggy Otto Swistak, registered dietitian with the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Your dance bag should be well stocked: “You have to plan ahead of time,” she says, “and make it a habit.”

For sustained energy, the best meals are those that combine carbohydrates, protein and healthy fat. “They all work in conjunction with each other,” Swistak says. Your muscles use carbohydrates for immediate energy, while protein and fat digest more slowly and curb hunger. A snack that only contains carbs will leave you hungry after 30–45 minutes, while overloading on protein and fat will give you that heavy, sluggish feeling. “You don’t want to eat a lot of soluble fiber just before you dance, either,” Swistak says. “That’s what makes you feel bloated.” Some great balanced snack ideas include trail mix with nuts, cereal and a little dark chocolate; a hard-boiled egg and baggie of pretzels; cheese and crackers; and veggies with hummus.

Balancing your meals should also factor into dinnertime. “While you sleep, your muscles turn carbohydrates into glycogen,” Swistak says. “That’s your energy for the next day.”

Is it better to audition for a summer intensive at a small school where I’ll get individualized attention, or at a large school where I might have a chance to stay year-round?Amy

When it comes to auditioning for summer programs, you should go for a range of schools. Not only does that allow you to practice auditioning, but you can better assess what each program offers and which might be the best fit for you. Once you know which intensives you’ve gotten into, you can make an informed final decision. And in addition to size, you should be keeping other important factors in mind: the faculty, the types of classes offered, performance opportunities and costs.

That said, if you’re trying to decide between a small or large summer program, think about what you ultimately need right now. Which school is going to give you the most opportunity to grow and reach your goals? If you suspect that you’re behind for your age and need a lot of strengthening, or if you want to work closely with a specific teacher, a smaller school might be a better fit. You may also want to consider a more intimate program if you’ve never been away from home before. But if you’re itching to gain more exposure, want to see where you fit in the bigger picture and hope to be considered for a year-round program, a larger intensive may be better for you. (Although many smaller schools offer excellent year-round programs, too.)

For my first summer away, I picked a program close to home. When I returned to the same program later, it was because I wanted to be considered for a traineeship. As you make your decision, think about your goals and where you’re at in your training. And don’t forget to listen to your gut, too.

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