How can I wean myself off my coffee fix without experiencing headaches and crankiness that will disrupt my rehearsal process? —Lauryn


Trust me, I know the feeling—I love my morning coffee! However, caffeine is a habit-forming stimulant. Drinking excessive amounts, whether in coffee or other beverages like soda, can make you jittery and anxious, increase your heart rate and disrupt sleep patterns. (400 mg, or approximately four cups of coffee daily, is considered safe for adults, according to numerous studies.) And if you regularly go to Starbucks for your daily fix, the cost can add up fast. That said, coffee has a lot of health benefits: It's rich in antioxidants, has been shown to lower the risk of Parkinson's disease and diabetes, and can improve your athletic performance.

To minimize caffeine-related

withdrawal symptoms, try cutting half

of your regular cup of coffee with decaf.

Trying to quit caffeine cold turkey will produce the headaches and crankiness you're afraid of. Instead, slowly removing it from your diet will be easier on your body. You may want to start by cutting half a cup of regular coffee with decaf to minimize initial withdrawal symptoms. After a few days, progress to a larger ratio of decaffeinated-to-regular and so on, until you can comfortably drink straight decaf without producing headaches or irritability. Or, replace one of your usual afternoon cups of coffee with a non- caffeinated beverage like herbal tea, gradually phasing out coffee altogether. You may also want to try herbal coffee, a caffeine-free, brew-able blend of roasted herbs, nuts and fruits that can be found in most health food stores.

Have a question? Send it to Pointe editor and former dancer Amy Brandt at askamy@dancemedia.com.

Ballet Stars

For many a bunhead, "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" is not just a holiday tradition, but a rite of passage. The variation, with its tinkling celesta, bourrées and petit battus, is one that all ballet dancers are familiar with, and getting the opportunity to perform it often represents moving into new realms in your training or career. Such was the case for Soviet ballerina Ekaterina Maximova. In this 1957 clip, the 18-year-old aspirant performed the Sugar Plum variation at a ballet competition, where she represented the Bolshoi Ballet Academy.

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Sponsored by Ballet Arizona
Tzu Chia Huang, Courtesy Ballet Arizona

These days, ballet dancers are asked to do more than they ever have—whether that's tackling versatile rep, taking on intense cross-training regimens or managing everything from their Instagram pages to their summer layoff gigs.

Without proper training, these demands can take a toll on both the mind and the body. But students can start preparing for them early—with the right summer intensive program.

The School of Ballet Arizona's summer intensive takes a well-rounded approach to training—not just focusing on technique and facility but nurturing overall dancer growth. "You cannot make a dancer just by screaming at them like they used to," says master ballet teacher Roberto Muñoz, who guests at the program every summer. "You have to take care of the person as well."

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Getty Images

For any young dancer performing in The Nutcracker, Marie (aka Clara, depending on the production) is a dream role. But Charlotte Nebres, who will be playing Marie in New York City Ballet's Nutcracker this year isn't just bringing her own dream to life—she's also making history.

Charlotte is the first black dancer to ever perform the role of Marie in NYCB's production of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, which dates all the way back to 1954. Charlotte was, of course, hugely excited to perform the role of Marie, but, according to the New York Times, when her mother told her that she was the first black dancer cast in the role, she said "Wow. That seems a little late."

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Courtesy School of Pennsylvania Ballet

While many of us are deep in Nutcracker duties, The School of Pennsylvania Ballet director James Payne has been looking further ahead, finalizing preparations for the school's summer intensive programs. In January, he and his staff will embark on a 24-city audition tour to scour the country for the best young dancers, deciding whether or not to offer them a spot—maybe even a scholarship—in the school's rigorous 5-week intensive focused on high-caliber ballet instruction. Though he'll be evaluating aspirants, he urges that as a student, you should be equally selective in choosing programs that could galvanize your training—and possibly even your career.

We got Payne's advice on strategizing your summer intensive plan before the audition cycle kicks in:

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