Night owls may face their own unique challenges (San Francisco Ballet's Isabella DeVivo, photo via @ballerinaproject_)

If you identify as a "night owl," then you're probably all too familiar with the feeling of running late. Maybe you've been trying to get into an early-morning cross-training routine for months, but when the alarm goes off, the struggle becomes all too real. Or you have no trouble performing until late at night, but find yourself sluggish during your morning rehearsals. Perhaps you're constantly scrambling to get to your first class on time, while others cheerfully boast that they've already been up for hours at the start of barre.

Most of the time, people will just tell you that you should be going to bed earlier, and getting more sleep per night. While this is good advice, it may not tell the whole story. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics found that there really might be differences in the way night owls and early risers are "wired"—and that society tends to cater to the morning people.

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American Ballet Theatre's Hee Seo in The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Fabrizio Ferri.

We all do our best to get enough sleep, but sometimes it feels like there just aren't enough hours in the day. And dancers have crazy schedules, whether you're in the midst of a busy performance season, touring, or juggling classes and rehearsals. It's easy to convince yourself that if you can just get six hours or so, you'll be functional enough to get through the next day. But a study published in the journal Sleep found that getting six hours of shut-eye may be just as bad as not sleeping at all.

For the study, 48 adults were asked to limit their sleep to four, six or eight hours per night for two weeks—and one group didn't sleep at all for three days. Researchers then kept track of each person's cognitive performance, reaction time and mood.

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Good news for dancers with a sweet tooth: New research may have just given you another reason to reach for dark chocolate. We already knew about the many dancer-friendly benefits of the treat, from improved heart health to stress reduction—but a recent study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that it may also boost endurance.

For the study, a group of eight cyclists ate 40 grams (about 1.5 squares) of chocolate each day for two weeks. Half received dark chocolate, while the other half received white chocolate (which contains little to no cocoa) as a control. The two groups then switched and repeated the experiment for another two weeks.

The results of several physical tests showed that the athletes who consumed dark chocolate used less oxygen while riding at a moderate pace, which signals increased endurance—and they covered more distance during a time trial. Why? The flavanols in dark chocolate are thought to increase the body's production of nitric oxide, which reduces oxygen consumption.

Though the study was small, the results make a promising case for adding dark chocolate to your list of dance bag snacks. It just might come in handy during tough cardio workouts, or when you're building up stamina for a long ballet.

Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo in Alexei Ratmansky's The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.

No matter how many times you think you've heard it all, new information about the importance of sleep is coming out constantly. From how many winks you get to the quality of your shut-eye, sleep has a big impact on helping you dance your best.

  1. Watch your social media use. One study found that checking your accounts repeatedly throughout the day could be disruptive to sleep.
  1. Give yourself time to wind down. Calming activities, like reading a book, are suggested to help you relax during the hour or so before bed.
  1. When you go to bed matters. People who tend to worry may benefit from turning in earlier, one study found. Going to bed later, along with sleeping for shorter periods, has been linked to more negative thoughts during the day.
  1. Perfect the art of napping. For best results, the length of daytime naps depends on what you're planning on doing when you wake up, whether it's taking technique class or learning a new work. Plus, one study found that napping could help you better tolerate frustration.
  1. Make your bedroom a relaxing place. Research shows that making your bed and keeping it clean can help you get a better night's sleep—simply because you'll be more comfortable.

Don't underestimate the power of perseverance. National Ballet of Canada's Emma Hawes, photo by Daniel Neuhaus.

As a dancer, you're doing creative work every day—whether you're experimenting with your own choreography, coming up with a fresh approach to a role or troubleshooting a tricky section of a new piece. But even the most accomplished artists get stuck in a rut sometimes. There are little tricks you can try when inspiration isn't striking, but a recent study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that the best way to boost creativity is very simple: just don't give up.

In a series of seven experiments involving over 1,200 people, researchers gave participants a set amount of time to come up with as many creative solutions as they could to a problem or question (for example: how many different punch lines they could write to complete a sketch-comedy scene). After the initial brainstorm, participants were asked to estimate how many more solutions they could come up with. They then repeated the exercise.

The results showed that most people were underestimating their abilities. In the second brainstorm, they typically thought of more ideas than they had predicted. Not only that, but their ideas became increasingly more creative as they went along. This reveals not only how important persistence is to the creative process, but that many people may stop working on a problem before they get to their best ideas.

It's frustrating to feel stuck and uninspired. But sometimes you have to weed through a bunch of ideas that don't work before you find the one that does. Next time you're faced with a creative dilemma, keep at it and trust that your hard work will eventually pay off. If there's one thing dancers know all about, it's the power of perseverance.

 

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

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Soragrit Wongsa via Burst

Most dancers have experienced the stress of sifting through a cluttered dance bag to search for just one more bobby pin before class starts. And while that hectic exchange may make you feel less calm during your first plié combination, you probably haven't considered how it could affect your eating habits.

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American Ballet Theatre’s Hee Seo in The Sleeping Beauty. Photo by Fabrizio Ferri.

You already know how essential it is to get enough sleep—and how a night spent tossing and turning can affect everything from the amount of energy you'll have at barre the next morning to your anxiety levels and your appetite. The latest information about getting a good night's rest may be related to dialing down your digital habits throughout the day. A new study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that frequent social media use may disrupt sleep.

The study measured sleep disturbances in a group of over 1,700 young adults, ages 19 to 32, and had them fill out questionnaires about their social media use. Researchers looked at how much time each person spent on popular social media sites per day and how often they logged in during the week.

Nearly 30 percent of participants had high levels of sleep disturbance. But the ones who logged into social media most frequently were three times more likely to have trouble sleeping, while those who spent the most total time online were twice as likely to have trouble. This suggests that it's not necessarily about how much time you spend browsing Facebook overall. Checking social media repeatedly seemed more disruptive to participants' sleep.

More research still needs to be done to determine the relationship between sleep and social media use, but it makes sense that constantly checking in could make it harder to wind down at night. Instead of scanning Instagram between every class and rehearsal, try choosing a couple times each day to scroll through messages or post photos. It may also help you stay more engaged with what's most important: dancing.

 

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

The National Ballet of Canada in rehearsal, photo by Karolina Kuras.

Have you ever wondered what’s going on in your brain when you’re learning a new ballet? A new study from York University, published this week in the journal PLOS ONE, used ballet dancers to shed new light on the learning process and its long-term effects.

To understand the changes that happen in the brain when learning something over a long period of time, the researchers recruited 10 dancers ages 19 to 50 from the National Ballet of Canada. They had the dancers try to visualize the movements they had learned in rehearsal while listening to music and undergoing fMRI brain scans. This was done four times over a 34-week period while the dancers were learning a new work.

The brain scans initially showed an increase in activity from week one to week seven. By the end of the 34 weeks, however, activity had decreased again when compared to week seven. In other words, brain activity rose at first, reached a peak and then gradually returned to its original level. Think of it this way: when you're first learning new choreography, you have to work harder to remember and master the unknown material. Once you've become expert at it, you're able to do the movements more instinctively.

The findings may not come as a surprise to dancers—after all, you’ve experienced this process firsthand. But the results suggest that using dancers as a model could help give researchers a more complex understanding of motor learning in general.

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

The Royal Ballet’s Steven McRae in Christopher Wheeldon's The Winter’s Tale. Photo by Johan Persson.

We're now in the middle of the winter season (and as those of you in the Northeast know, possibly heading into our first snowstorm of the year). The drop in temperature and change in weather can affect everything from your mood to the foods you're most likely to reach for. Here are some of our best tips for staying healthy as you navigate the winter months:

  1. When you leave a rehearsal at 5 pm and it's already getting dark outside, it can feel downright depressing. But a few simple tricks can help you fight off the winter blues.

  1. Wintertime also means audition season. Having a clear idea of what to eat before a nerve-racking audition means less added stress the day of. And don't forget to stay hydrated! It's just as important this time of year as during the hot summer months.

  1. No one wants to get sidelined by a cold in the middle of a busy season. Make sure you're getting enough sleep, and try these three immune-boosting foods to keep you feeling (and dancing) your best.

  1. It's tempting to hibernate indoors and fill up on comfort food after a long rehearsal, but be careful not to overdo it. Research shows that heavy, high-fat meals could make you sluggish in the studio, especially when combined with stress.

  1. Ultimately, you can use even the dreariest weather to your advantage. As one study suggests, it's a great opportunity to improve your dancing—you'll be less distracted by the desire to be outside, and your studio time will be more productive.

 

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

It seems like we're reading about new potential health benefits of meditation all the time—and from helping you beat procrastination to reducing anxiety, there's a host of possible ways it could come in handy for dancers.

The latest reason to give it a try? A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience found new evidence that meditation can reduce both physical and emotional pain. While previous research suggested a link between meditation and pain relief, scientists from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center wanted to make sure it wasn't just due to the placebo effect (a placebo treatment has no actual physical effect on patients, but can produce results because patients believe they're receiving treatment).

The researchers split volunteers into groups and had some practice mindful meditation while others tried different placebo methods (like a fake pain-relieving cream). They then tested people's pain tolerances. Though all the groups experienced some decrease in pain, meditation had the most significant results, reducing pain intensity by 27 percent and emotional pain by 44 percent.

More research still needs to be done, but the findings are encouraging. Next time you're sore after a grueling day in the studio, battling injury or powering through an especially tough workout, consider making meditation part of your training.

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