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These 5 Lifestyle Factors Prove That Being a Healthy Dancer Isn't Just About What You Eat

Having a strong, healthy and energized body isn't just about what you eat and the time you spend dancing. Many nonfood factors can also have a big impact on self-assessment and body image.

When you focus on additional forms of nourishment, instead of obsessing over food, you'll find so much more peace and joy in ballet. The following are common areas I work on with my pre-professional and professional dance clients as a holistic health coach.

Prioritize Self-Care

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Some self-care activities come pretty naturally to dancers: For instance, you might already spend time stretching or rolling out your muscles. Caring for your body is an act of self-love, and cultivating this self-love helps to promote a positive body image.

To prioritize self-care, consider how you can add to the ways you already care for your body. You might start journaling or writing a gratitude list. When dancers journal specifically about their bodies—using a prompt like "What does my body allow me to do?"—positive shifts can happen. You start to see your body for what it can do versus what it can't.

You can also try a hot-towel scrub: Run hot water over a washcloth, and then use it to scrub your whole body. This helps to reduce muscle tension and improve circulation. Maybe treat yourself to a massage, or invest in calming essential oils, like lavender or chamomile, and rub a few drops on the bottoms of your feet before bed.

Practice Mindful Eating

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When you're not on the go, commit to eating each meal sitting at a table and without the distraction of your phone or the TV. Set the stage, so your meal looks appealing and you're excited to eat it. Then, eat slowly and tune in to each bite. Engage your senses of sight, taste and smell.

When you slow down and enjoy your food, you'll be better at following your body's natural hunger and fullness cues. Eating mindfully can also help to mitigate stress eating. As you're spending more time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, use it as an opportunity to appreciate your meals.

Create Nurturing Morning and Nighttime Routines

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Morning and nighttime routines allow you to wake up more inspired and go to sleep more relaxed. Morning activities might include meditation, putting together a healthy breakfast and going through a skin-care routine. Make sure you wake up early enough to complete your morning activities without feeling rushed and stressed. If you start off feeling refreshed and positive, it can easily spill over into how you approach dance and your attitude toward your body.

Nighttime activities might include reviewing your goals or a list of the next day's to-dos. Taking a relaxing bath with lavender essential oil or reading a book for pleasure can also help you wind down. Make sure you ditch the screens at least an hour before bed, as the blue light they emit can make it harder to fall asleep.

At night, a routine will help you fall asleep more easily and sleep more deeply. Sleep is a key element in physical restoration, and it supports your healthiest body.

Seek Out Supportive Relationships

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Build on relationships that are uplifting. If you have friends who are constantly criticizing or focusing on the negative, they might not be the best people to spend your time with. This goes for teachers, as well—body shaming has no place in the classroom. Seek out the people who focus on your value and how they can help you bring it out. To find a greater sense of balance, it often helps to spend time with family and cultivate friendships outside of dance.

In addition to the daily relationships, seek out healers and helpers who can support you in reaching your best body goals. Some dancers find that a holistic health coach who's familiar with the demands of ballet can help them consider food and lifestyle factors that align with their goals. A dietitian can help you create a specific nutrition plan to fuel your dancing, and if you're experiencing severe struggles with body image or disordered eating habits, it's time to seek out a clinical psychologist.


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A spiritual practice might be found in religion or by attending church, or it could be a connection to something bigger than yourself, like nature or the universe. Whatever spirituality looks like for you, it can help to take the focus off the daily grind of rigorous ballet training.

Professional dance jobs can be stressful, but focusing on something bigger may alleviate some of the aesthetic pressure you might feel and help you maintain perspective as you encounter casting and audition challenges.

Adjusting your lifestyle doesn't require massive shifts each day. Start small. Pick one area to focus on first, and create a plan around it. When you find yourself feeling stressed, these areas of nonfood nourishment can have a grounding effect that will help you to move forward with positivity wherever your dance journey takes you.

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Chisako Oga photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton

Chisako Oga Is Soaring to New Heights at Boston Ballet

Chisako Oga is a dancer on the move—in more ways than one. From childhood training in Texas, California and Japan to a San Francisco Ballet apprenticeship to her first professional post with Cincinnati Ballet, where she quickly rose to principal dancer, she has rarely stood still for long.

But now the 24-year-old ballerina is right where she wants to be, as one of the most promising soloists at Boston Ballet. In 2019, Oga left her principal contract to join the company as a second soloist, rising to soloist the following year. "I knew I would have to take a step down to join a company of a different caliber, and Boston Ballet is one of the best companies in the country," she says. "The repertoire—Kylián, Forysthe, all the full-length ballets—is so appealing to me."

And the company has offered her major opportunities from the start. She danced the title role in Giselle in her very first performances with Boston Ballet, transforming a playful innocent into a woman haunted by betrayal with dramatic conviction and technical aplomb. But she also is making her mark in contemporary work. The last ballet she performed onstage before the pandemic hit was William Forsythe's demanding In the middle, somewhat elevated, which she says was a dream to perform. "The style really clicked, felt really comfortable. Bill drew something new out of me every rehearsal. As hard as it was, it was so much fun."

"Chisako is a very natural mover, pliable and strong," says artistic director Mikko Nissinen. "Dancing seems to come very easy for her. Not many have that quality. She's like a diamond—I'm curious to see how much we can polish that talent."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, does a pench\u00e9 on pointe towards the camera with her arms held out to the side and her long hair flying. Smiling confidently, she wears a blue leotard and a black and white ombr\u00e9 tutu.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

A Life-Changing Opportunity

Oga began dancing at the age of 3. Born in Dallas, she and her family moved around to follow her father's job in IT. Before settling in Carlsbad, California, they landed in Japan for several years, where Oga began to take ballet very seriously. "I like the simplicity of ballet, the structure and the clear vocabulary," she says. "Dances that portray a story or have a message really drew me in. One of my favorite parts of a story ballet is diving into the role and becoming the character, putting it in my perspective."

In California, Oga studied with Victor and Tatiana Kasatsky and Maxim Tchernychev. Her teachers encouraged her to enter competitions, which she says broadened her outlook and fed her love of performing in front of an audience. Though highly motivated, she says she came to realize that winning medals wasn't everything. "Honestly, I feel like the times I got close and didn't place gave me perspective, made me realize being a dancer doesn't define you and helped me become the person and the dancer I am today."

At 15, Oga was a semifinalist at the Prix de Lausanne, resulting in a "life-changing" scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet School. There she trained with two of her most influential teachers, Tina LeBlanc and Patrick Armand. "She came in straightaway with strong basics," Armand recalls, "and working with her for two years, I realized how clever she is. She's super-smart, thoughtful, driven, always working."

She became a company apprentice in 2016. Then came the disappointing news—she was let go a few months later. Pushing 5' 2", she was simply too short for the company's needs, she was told. "It was really, really hard," says Oga. "I felt like I was on a good track, so to be let go was very shocking, especially since my height was not something I could improve or change."

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

Moving On and Up

Ironically, Oga's height proved an advantage in auditioning for Cincinnati Ballet, which was looking for a talented partner for some of their shorter men. She joined the company in 2016, was quickly promoted to soloist, and became a principal dancer for the 2017–18 season, garnering major roles like Swanilda and Juliet during her three years with the company. "There were times I felt insignificant and insecure, like I don't deserve this," Oga says about these early opportunities. "But I was mostly thrilled to be put in those shoes."

She was also thriving in contemporary work, like choreographer-in-residence Jennifer Archibald's MYOHO. Archibald cites her warmth, playfulness and sensitivity, adding, "There's also a powerful presence about her, and I was amazed at how fast she was at picking up choreography, able to find the transitions quickly. She's definitely a special talent. Boston Ballet will give her more exposure on a national level."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, poses in attitude derriere crois\u00e9 on her right leg, with her right arm out to the side and her left hand grazing her left shoulder. She smiles happily towards the camera, her black hair blowing in the breeze, and wears a blue leotard, black-and-white ombre tutu, and skin-colored pointe shoes.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

That was Oga's plan. She knew going in that Cincinnati was more stepping-stone than final destination. She had her sights on a bigger company with a broader repertoire, and Boston Ballet seemed ideal.

As she continues to spread her wings at the company, Oga has developed a seemingly effortless artistic partnership with one of Boston Ballet's most dynamic male principals, Derek Dunn, who Oga calls "a kind-hearted, open person, so supportive when I've been hard on myself. He's taught me to believe in myself and trust that I'm capable of doing whatever the choreography needs." The two have developed an easy bond in the studio she likens to "a good conversation, back and forth."

Dunn agrees. "I knew the first time we danced together we had a special connection," he says. "She really takes on the artistic side of a role, which makes the connection really strong when we're dancing onstage. It's like being in a different world."

He adds, "She came into the company and a lot was thrown at her, which could have been daunting. She handled it with such grace and confidence."

Derek Dunn, shirtless and in blue tights, lunges slightly on his right leg and holds Chisako Oga's hand as she balances on her left leg on pointe with her right leg flicking behind her. She wears a yellow halter-top leotard and they dance onstage in front of a bright orange backdrop.

Oga with Derek Dunn in Helen Pickett's Petal

Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Perspective in a Pandemic

The pair were heading into Boston Ballet's busy spring season when the pandemic hit. "It was really a bummer," Oga says. "I was really looking forward to Swan Lake, Bella Figura, some new world premieres. When we found out the whole season was canceled, it was hard news to take in."

But she quickly determined to make the most of her time out of the studio and physically rest her body. "All the performances take a toll. Of course, I did stretches and exercised, but we never give ourselves enough time to rest as dancers."

She also resumed college courses toward a second career. Oga is one of many Boston Ballet dancers taking advantage of a special partnership with Northeastern University to help them earn bachelor's degrees. Focusing on finance and accounting, Oga upped her classes in economics, algebra, business and marketing. She also joined Boston Ballet's Color Our Future Mentoring Program to raise awareness and support diversity, equity and inclusion. "I am trying to have my voice inspire the next generation," she says.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

One pandemic silver lining has been spending more time with her husband, Grand Rapids Ballet dancer James Cunningham. The two met at Cincinnati Ballet, dancing together in Adam Hougland's Cut to the Chase just after Oga's arrival, and got married shortly before her move to Boston. Cunningham took a position in Grand Rapids, so they've been navigating a long-distance marriage ever since. They spend a lot of time texting and on FaceTime, connecting in person during layoffs. "It's really hard," Oga admits, but adds, "We are both very passionate about the art form, so it's easy to support each other's goals."

Oga's best advice for young dancers? "Don't take any moment for granted," she says without hesitation. "It doesn't matter what rank you are, just do everything to the fullest—people will see the hard work you put in. Don't settle for anything less. Knowing [yourself] is also very important, not holding yourself to another's standards. No two paths are going to be the same."

And for the foreseeable future, Oga's path is to live life to the fullest, inside and outside ballet. "The pandemic put things in perspective. Dancing is my passion. I want to do it as long as I can, but it's only one portion of my life. I truly believe a healthy balance between social and work life is good for your mental health and helps me be a better dancer."

Tanya Howard in rehearsal Trase Pa. Photo by Karolina Kuras, Courtesy of NBoC.

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Students of Canada's National Ballet School. Bruce Zinger, Courtesy Ballet Unleashed.

Ballet Unleashed Aims to Connect Emerging Dancers From 11 Academies With Freelance Opportunities

To any pre-professional dancer vying for a company position, auditions are a familiar and often dreaded scene: Hundreds of hopeful young graduates flock to an audition site, pin a paper number to their dance clothes and try their luck. But only a few will receive full-time contracts with companies—the rest will go home disappointed, potentially facing a gap year as they try to figure out next steps.

Mavis Staines, artistic director and CEO of Canada's National Ballet School, became frustrated with this flawed system years ago. Why were so many talented dancers not being rewarded with work opportunities? And why was the only acceptable form of work a full-season contract, when in the music and theater industries, project-based employment was a legitimized way to build careers?

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