Love it or hate it, this is the time of year when people start talking about New Year's Resolutions. While it's exciting to think about what you want to work on in 2017, it can also feel daunting—especially because we often set unrealistic goals for ourselves, and wind up frustrated a few months in. Breaking resolutions down into small, attainable steps can help keep you motivated, and seeing positive results. To get you started, we pulled together a few tips for tackling some common dance-related goals.
Chances are, you're a couple weeks into your Nutcracker run, and the exhaustion is starting to set in. With so many performances, your joints and muscles have less time to recover between shows, and you have less time to wind down and relax. For those days that you aren't sure your body and mind can take one more performance, try these tips to fight fatigue and soreness:
Take a nap: A short power nap can give you a quick burst of energy before you get ready to take the stage. Try finding a quiet place to rest between your matinee and evening performances.
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.
As dancers, you know how rewarding creative endeavors can be—but you also know how tremendously challenging they are. Sometimes we just don't feel inspired, or new ideas seem out of reach.
Creativity is complicated: Earlier this month, researchers at Kent University and Sussex University identified 14 different components that make up the creative process, like persistence and being able to deal with uncertainty. Other studies have noted that it can take both positive and negative emotions to help creativity thrive—feelings of frustration can drive us to fix problems or complete daunting tasks.
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.
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.
Whether you're heading off to a summer intensive or loading up on classes at your hometown studio, buying fresh and seasonal produce is a great way to get the fuel you need for dancing. Fruits and veggies are tastier (and often cheaper) when they're in season, since they are more locally abundant and don't have to be shipped from far away.
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:
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).
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As a dancer, chances are your joints and muscles have experienced the painful effects of inflammation. But many foods have been found to either worsen or fight these effects (not surprisingly, fried foods, sugary sodas and refined carbs like white bread are among the inflammatory culprits). Here are a few foods with anti-inflammatory benefits, to help you power through rehearsals and performances more comfortably:
- Foods rich in omega-3s: Think fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel; walnuts; or flaxseeds.
- Cherries are a good source of quercetin, a natural anti-inflammatory compound that can help with pain management. Tart cherry juice has also been found to reduce muscle pain and weakness after intensive strength training or long-distance running.
- Turmeric, a spice found in many Indian dishes, has known anti-inflammatory benefits, and it's easy to sprinkle onto your salad for a dash of extra flavor. Alessa Rogers of Atlanta Ballet says she turns to turmeric to help reduce inflammation during hectic Nutcracker seasons.
- Green tea's anti-inflammatory properties help reduce muscle and joint aches, and—bonus—the soothing drink can also calm nerves and decrease heart rate.
Spring performance season is an exciting time, but it's also a hectic one. Between performance prep, studying for school exams and gearing up for summer intensives, your stress levels may be higher than usual. Here are some of our best tips for taking care of yourself during this busy time.
- Watch out for hidden stress. Sometimes anxiety can creep up on you before you have a chance to figure out what's causing it. Be aware of these sneaky sources of stress so you can avoid them.
- Take a social media break—the right way. Research has found that using social networks actively, like posting a shot of you and your fellow dancers backstage, is more beneficial. Scrolling through your Instagram feed and looking at all the fun others seem to be having might leave you feeling lonely or envious.
- Write it out. If you're doubting yourself the night before a performance, try jotting a few thoughts in a journal. It's been found to increase self esteem—and could even help you perform better. (Still nervous the day of? Try this helpful self-talk trick to beat stage fright).
- Fuel up. When you're busy, it can be harder to keep up with your usual nutritious habits, but it's important to fuel your body with foods that will give you the energy you need (hint: find the right balance between protein and carbs).
- Find moments to unwind. Even if you only have a few minutes between activities, there are quick tricks you can use to relax, so you'll be ready to take on the rest of your day. It could be as simple as looking at photos of baby animals.
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.
There are so many reasons to love spring: more chances to get outside, milder temperatures, longer days. Not to mention, an abundance of flowers. While spring blooms add a little more color and brightness to the world, their presence can have a very real effect on your mood and energy level—which just might help your dancing.
Here are a couple research-backed benefits of fresh flowers:
Brighten your morning. Coffee isn't the only way to get a pick-me-up before an early rehearsal. One Harvard study found that people who looked at flowers first thing in the morning felt happier, more energized and less anxious.
Boost creativity and make the most of your studio time. Studies of office workers have found that people generate more innovative ideas when plants are present in their workplace, and they're more productive throughout the day. Even if you aren't surrounded by blooms at your studio, try cross-training outdoors when possible or heading to a nearby park during a break time.