Category Archives: ballet nutrition

Our Blog Has Moved!

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We are excited to announce that with the launch of the new balletstrength.com, our Ballet Skills blog has moved! Now you can get all of our helpful free blog tips as well as our products that offer solutions to the most common ballet problems in one place!

Don’t worry, we’ll still check back with you here periodically but our most recent and up to date blog posts and products will be posted to our new blog at http://www.balletstrength.com. Thanks again for all of your support and I look forward to hearing your feedback on the new blog!

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Should I go to Ballet When I’m Sick?

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There is nothing worse than waking up in the morning with a sore throat and a full day of rehearsals ahead of you. No matter how healthy you are it is inevitable that the flu or a cold will hit you at some point during peak season. I get asked a lot by my dancer clients whether they should continue classes and rehearsals while sick. The answer truly depends on just how sick you are. Is it a cold? Allergies? The flu? Are you contagious?

In general, if you are sick you stay home and rest but with dancers it can be a really tough decision to make. If we miss a day of rehearsals, for example, our understudy will get a chance to do our part or we may lose our spot altogether. So what do you do? Be sure to talk to your studio or company director directly on the phone (so they can hear just how sick you are) and take care of YOU. Staying home may make you feel lazy, but it is an essential part of your recovery – and the faster you recover, the sooner you will be back to dancing.

The general rule is that if the symptoms are above the neck it is usually okay to exercise but at a lower intensity than you are used to. As dancers, we don’t really get the luxury of determining the pace of class and rehearsals, so If you absolutely must go through with it, alert your teacher or director that you will be taking it easy. Dancing while you are ill could also lead to injury so be cautious. The key is to listen to your body – it is definitely not a good idea to push yourself beyond your limits when you are under the weather so take it easy.

You wouldn’t want the rest of the dancers at your studio to get sick either, so be sure to wash your hands and wipe off your barre spot with disinfecting wipes. Get lots of rest when you can and be sure to drink lots of liquids whether you are at the studio or at home.

When you should definitely NOT dance while you are sick:
• When you are vomiting
• You have a fever
• Coughing or chest congestion
• Widespread body and muscle aches

When it is okay to dance with a lower intensity:
• Sore throat
• Nasal congestion
• Sneezing
• Runny nose

My hope is that you stay healthy this Fall and Winter and continue to thrive as a dancer. Be sure to stay up on your nutrition and rest to avoid getting sick!

Hydration for Dancers

©BalletStrength

If you are dancing for long periods of time, it is important to replace the fluids lost from sweating. If you become dehydrated while dancing, especially in the heat, it can cause fatigue, dizziness, decrease in coordination, and even muscle cramping. Examples include forgetting combinations, the inability to physically complete long segments of choreography due to fatigue, and legs cramping in the middle of a piece. We’ll talk more about how you can hydrate yourself during the dancing day to prevent some of the awful consequences of dehydration.

Chances are, you’ve probably experienced one of the three symptoms I mentioned above. Dancers are sometimes at a disadvantage here, as teachers are not all educated about the importance of hydration in the classroom and do not allow water or sports drinks to be brought into the studio. You can work around this by making a conscious effort to drink water and/or a sports beverage throughout the day, at home or at school, and in the morning before ballet.

Adequate hydration is an essential part of your ballet nutrition. Water makes up almost 60% of our body weight. Water is the most important nutrient for your body. Its functions include lubricating joints, regulating body temperature, and transporting nutrients through the body. We lose water during the day through sweating, respiration, and through urinary and fecal output.

lemonwater ©BalletStrength

Electrolytes-

When you hear the word “hydration” you immediately think of water, but being hydrated sometimes means more than simply drinking more water. Dancers who spend more than 3 hours rehearsing per day can be at risk for dehydration and fluids need to be replenished in the form of electrolytes. Electrolytes are minerals that are essential to the human body.(examples: sodium, potassium, magnesium) Electrolyte beverages utilize these minerals to restore the body’s water levels.

When I was dancing with a ballet company that required 8 hours per day of class and rehearsals, I sipped on an electrolyte beverage all day long. Many of my friends didn’t even drink as much as water during the long rehearsal days and let me just tell you – it is part of the reason why their performance in class and rehearsals suffered day to day.

Choose your “sports drink” wisely – although some may taste like kool-aid this is likely due to the fact that they contain too much sugar. My favorite brands of electrolyte hydrators such as the brand Vega, are found at natural health food stores.

I hope this blog will help you understand hydration and how it effects your ballet performance and recovery. For more information please be sure to subscribe to this blog and join us on Facebook or check out my eBook, Ballet Nutrition. Happy Dancing!

 

Ballet Strength Interview with Dancer Samuel Wilson

Dance Theatre of Harlem's Samuel Wilson and Michaela DePrince in Black Swan Pas de Deux.

Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Samuel Wilson and Michaela DePrince in Black Swan Pas de Deux.

Dance Theatre of Harlem dancer Samuel Wilson is preparing for an upcoming show at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center on January 17th. The show boasts three different pieces from three different choreographers including the well known Agon by George Balanchine and Gloria by Robert Garland. Learn more about Samuel and what he does behind the scenes to stay in top physical condition.

When did you know that you wanted to be a professional dancer?  The moment I realized I wanted to be a professional dancer was shortly after I started taking lessons. At that time in my life, I had very few aspirations for my future and had many hobbies but nothing that was quite as challenging or rewarding. It was as if a light bulb had turned on in my head and I found what I was meant to do.

What struggles or injuries have you encountered along the way?  The struggles and injuries I have encountered have been both major and minor. There are always set backs in life and it is no different for dancers. The most difficult part about any injury is that you are temporarily removed from the thing you love most in this world. I have broken my ankle, both my big toes, subluxed my right hand and even sprained my back muscles, which is the most painful of all those injuries. In the end, it is a part of trying to achieve perfection and excellence so it has always helped me to keep a positive outlook on things.

With the talk of New Year’s resolutions, what was your resolution this year?  With all the talk of New Year’s resolutions I have decided to continue with the same resolutions I have already made: to be a better dancer, person, and friend. There are so many aspects of myself that I will continue to work on and develop. Instead of making a deadline for those things, I wish to take my time and enjoy life as it comes. Also, I would like to go on a cruise with my girlfriend.

What do you do for cross training to maximize your performance?  What I do during the off season for cross training can vary from day to day. Since our dance season has two major breaks, one in the winter and one in the summer, it is not too difficult to find jobs. During that time, I do as much teaching as I can so I can develop a new skill set that can be used in my future. Along with that, I take long walks with my dogs, or even roller blade with them, and lift weights. I have found that rest is sometimes a good medicine, along with stretching and yoga to maintain strength.

Why do you feel that cross training is important for young dancers in particular?  I feel that cross training can be good for young dancers because it can help strengthen your weaknesses and prevent you from acquiring injuries related to overusing the wrong muscles. It can also have endurance benefits and help the overall aesthetic of a young dancer’s body.

Tell me more about your nutrition and go-to foods for energy:  As a male dancer, I find myself eating constantly and with great gusto. My go-to foods are pretty healthy in nature (not fried) such as meat, vegetables, fruits and whole grains. I find that without foods, such as carbs and protein, I get very hungry and cranky. When I eat I also live by a rule, “If I wanna eat it, then I am going to eat it!” When I am eating a dessert, I just eat less of what I want and I am less likely to snack on other things.

What did you learn on your own that you wish someone had taught you as a young dancer?  What I learned on my own that I wish someone had told me when I was young is that as a dancer you need to be patient. I always wanted things to happen so fast for me: to be a principal dancer in just a year or be given the roles I want because I work hard and hold myself to a high standard. The thing is, there is so much more to what we do than being out front all the time or getting the parts you want. I have fallen in love with some of the steps I do on the side and have detested some of the ballets where I am in a central role. There are also moments I enjoy being in the spotlight, as well, and now I relish it because it was earned over time and never just handed to me.

You have an upcoming performance at the NJPAC – tell me more about this:  We have an exciting program coming to NJPAC on the 17th! We will be doing a repertory show, including works from three different choreographers. The program will have something for everybody, such as the deeply spiritual Gloria by Robert Garland or the quick and assertive Agon by George Balanchine. Sandwiched in the middle is a love story of a different kind that has all the roller coaster of emotions you would find within the minds of timid lovers. I expect it to be an event the audience will not soon forget.

What words of advice do you have for young dancers?  The words of advice I have young dancers are to keep persevering. You must continue to give all you can and what you will get in return will always be worth it in the end. Take your time and enjoy dance while you still have it. Remember that you are blessed to be able to create art every day and that you are an individual with your own story to tell.

You can see Samuel Wilson and the rest of Dance Theatre of Harlem at the NJPAC on Friday, January 17, 2014 at 7:00 pm. For tickets and pricing visit ticketmaster.com.

Nutrition for Dancers – Career Saving Advice

Ballet NutritionDid you know that proper nutrition can make or break your day to day ballet performance? With the intense physical demands that are being put on dancers these days a solid nutrition routine is a must for optimal performance, endurance and muscle recovery. Contemporary choreography is taking ballet to a new athletic level. Dancers are much like other athletes – They need to eat for energy.

When I landed my first professional job away from home as a dancer with Ballet Austin, I wasn’t used to having to prepare meals and take care of myself. Frozen food and pizza were convenient but were not what my body needed to perform at it’s best from day to day. I was always tired, got frequent migraine headaches, and my performance in class started to suffer. I also gained weight.

All of this eventually lead up to an injury. The physical and nutritional stress that I was putting on my body had finally taken it’s toll. Soon I was called into the office to talk to the directors about not only my injury but my weight gain. The last thing that I wanted to be thinking about while dealing with an injury was “dieting.” Injured, self-conscious, and desperate for answers, I left the company mid-season to recuperate back at home and pull myself together in time for company auditions that Spring.

Through healthy eating, adequate rest, and stress management I was able to catch myself before I fell into a career ending pattern in time to receive multiple job offers that Spring. Luckily I have put together a resource for you to optimize your nutrition and apply the same principles that helped me to your life and dancing!

It’s called Ballet Nutrition and it covers all of the important things that you need to know including; using food for fuel, proper hydration, adequate rest, muscle recovery, daily caloric requirements (super easy to use formula to figure out your needs), and eating for energy. This digital book empowers you to make your own healthy choices and design your own plan based on the principles explained and examples given.

Your dancing deserves the best nutrition! Read more about Ballet Nutrition here >> http://balletstrength.com/Ballet_Strength/balletnutrition.html

 

 

Ballet Performance Nutrition Advantage

Is your ballet nutrition giving you an advantage during performances and rehearsal? A common topic that comes up between my Ballet Strength clients and I is performance nutrition. Let’s face it, if there was a magical healthy potion created for dancers to eliminate muscle fatigue, soreness and boost energy we would all have it by now. But wait- there are some things that you can do to help your body repair, recover, and revitalize! Follow these steps to get your ballet body at it’s best come performance time.

Stay Hydrated- Let’s admit it…as dancers we sweat a lot. Water is one of the most important things that we can drink as it regulates body temperature, transports nutrients, and helps lubricate our joints, but If you are exercising excessively like we do as dancers, just plain water sometimes is not enough. I suggest an electrolyte sports drink beverage to my Ballet Strength clients who have schedules where they are rehearsing and/or performing more than 2 hours per day. Diluted Gatorade or G2 is a great start as you will get the effect of the electrolyte beverage without taking in too many additional calories. It is key to remember that hydration isn’t only important while you are dancing – you want to maintain your levels of hydration even on your days off!

Protein- I get many emails from dancers wanting to know about protein supplements and when they should be taken. Protein is an essential part of any athletes nutrition as it helps aid in muscle recovery and helps repair muscle that is broken down during exercise. It also helps optimize the storage of carbohydrates in the form of glycogen (enough of the technical stuff…I know). So when should you drink your Protein shake? Your protein shake should be consumed after your day of dancing. Drinking a shake or bar before rehearsal will make you lethargic- trust me on this, I’ve learned the hard way. Once I realized the importance of protein, as a professional dancer I always drank a high quality protein shake (in water) before bed. Quality of protein is also important, but that is a lengthy topic for another post.

Carbohydrates- If you are looking for sustained energy, carbohydrates are arguably the most important source. Carbohydrates are what provide the energy to fuel muscle contractions (getting technical again, sorry). This is why I do not recommend a low-carb diet for dancers. Carbs provide great between rehearsal snacks. A couple from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre have even formulated the perfect balanced pre-performance snack for sustained energy called Barre. (they’re not paying me to endorse them- I’ve tried Barre and it’s really good! You can get them here: www.realfoodbarre.com) General rule- if you are extremely active like most of us dancers are, don’t skimp on carbs!

Rest- The body needs adequate time to recover after a long day of dancing or performing. This is why I suggest at least eight hours of sleep each night. This might mean heading to bed earlier than you would like but trust me, your dancing will benefit from a few extra hours of zzz’s!

So there you have it, four major components to your ballet performance nutrition advantage. With adequate hydration, nutrition and rest you will be able to perform at your best! Feel free to leave your thoughts or questions below.

Ballet Strength Goes Beyond the Barre

Are you looking to advance in your current ballet company? If you are like most dancers, your goal is to rise through the ranks of a ballet company and eventually get the opportunity to dance principal roles. Smart dancers know that the tools necessary to excel in the dance world are not all found in your daily ballet technique class. The following are some areas to explore when it comes to having the advantage over your competition.

1.) Use your resources. Does your ballet company offer massage and chiropractic services? If so, these are resources that you should be utilizing on a weekly basis. Keeping your body fine tuned will keep it performing to it’s full potential.

2.) Eat for fuel. It you are dancing professionally you should be on a performance nutrition plan. Dancers must eat to fuel their bodies to get through intense days of rehearsals, performances and most importantly recovery. If your body is not adequately recovered from the previous day of training, it will not magically reset the next day.

3.) Look beyond the barre. Ballet cross training is a huge part of a dancers performance plan today. It will help you stay injury free, strengthen weaknesses, and improve overall physical conditioning. The old thinking that dancers can’t lift weights is no longer a valid statement as dancers in the top ballet companies like New York City Ballet and San Francisco Ballet are doing it. Oh, and to answer the question “Will I get bulky?” No, you may actually lean out!

4.) Rehab injuries- Be smart about your injuries. If a prescribed physical therapy plan is not working, look elsewhere. Different rehabilitation techniques work for different injuries and with the many options available these days, there is no excuse to live in pain. Find a treatment plan that works best for you.

5.) Hire a coach. Sometimes you need an outside perspective. You can’t always lean on your friends in the company for help and advice since in essence they are your competition. Professional dancers hire me, for example, to keep them motivated and on track with their goals and to create a performance plan. Without a long-term plan, you will be lost in the corp de ballet.

6.) Rest. Probably the most important part of a dancer’s recovery is rest. This means respecting your body by getting to bed early each night and keeping outside drama to a minimum. It may sound like a good idea to go out with friends on weeknights, but you are only further fatiguing your body.

By exploring these six areas you will put yourself ahead of the game as a dancer. These are just a few of the things that I currently work on with my professional dancer clients. If you are interested in learning more about my coaching services for dancers email me at nikol@balletaudition.com.

Nutrition for Dancers

This weeks question comes from a professional dancer on the verge of being promoted to a principal dancer.

Question: What foods can I eat to give me energy throughout the dancing day that will fill me up without making me feel lethargic?

Answer: Nutrition for dancers is a touchy subject on the online message boards and forums, but I am not afraid to tackle this one head on. If you are a professional dancer dancing sometimes up to 8 hours a day, you want to make sure that you are eating to stay fueled up for rehearsals. I always drank an electrolyte beverage such as Gatorade during class and rehearsals to replace all of the carbohydrates lost while sweating. In case you haven’t noticed already, water alone will not satisfy your need for hydration during class and rehearsals. If you are a pre-professional dancer, hydration is just as important so these tips go for you as well.

As far as fueling your body with foods, you want to make sure that you are eating a healthy, carbohydrate rich snack every 2 hours during the dancing day. This is the nutrition schedule that I give to my ballet strength nutrition clients. Finding time to include the snacks in your day can sometimes be a struggle, but is imperative to your dancing when it comes to making improvements and progress in your technique. Not only will your body suffer if it is lacking essential nutrients, but your mind will also have a hard time remembering choreography.

So what should you eat? Here is a list of some great healthy snacks that you can add into your day to stay energized and eager to dance;

  • Granola Bars (not protein bars!)
  • Yogurt
  • Trail Mix
  • Fruit
  • Whole Wheat Crackers
  • Cereal

These snacks will replenish the stored carbohydrates that you lost during class, rehearsal, or both. Remember, don’t go hungry, eat for energy and your dancing will improve tremendously!

Committed to Your Dancing,
Nikol Klein
www.balletstrength.com

Cross Training for Ballet Strength

Improve your technique by cross training.

As Summer approaches, many Dancers will embrace a much needed three or four month layoff. Some will vacation, some will continue to obsessively take class day after day. The smart Dancer Cross Trains. To continue Dancing with the intensity you had during the season is like beating a dead horse. Our bodies need time off in order to make important gains and improvements. Yes, you can actually improve by taking some time off!

Here is the Cross Training Plan that I recommend;

Right after the Performance Season is over, take at least 2 weeks off! Upon returning to class, this will give you a clear signal as to what “pains” are actual injuries and which were just symptoms of overuse. During that first class back (typically after a 2 to 6 week break) take note of certain areas and muscle groups in the body that feel weak. If you feel that you have a serious injury this is a great time to see a Doctor, get an MRI, and get it fixed in time for the season to start.

After taking note of those weak areas, consult a Ballet Strength Expert such as myself for Dance Specific exercises that you can do in the gym.  On Ballet Dancers, for example, the “turn-in” or legs in a parallel stance is usually weak. I would then recommend some basic strength training techniques involving one-leg squats and exercises on the Bosu. Dancers also tend to favor one side of the body. This is a great time to strengthen your weak side!

As far as taking class goes, I recommend no more than 3 days per week during your time off.  The other 2 days should be dedicated to your Cross Training program!

Feeling out of breath during that variation? Don’t forget about cardio. What better time than Summer to go for a run, hike, or bike ride in your favorite park. You may be surprised at how much better you feel and how much more you are able to do pain free!

How do I Cross Train? To ensure that my trouble areas stay injury free, I take class only twice per week during the off season and weight train three times per week. I also focus on keeping my core strong with lots of unique abdominal exercises. For Cardio, I do chasse’s on the treadmill, front and side!

Still confused? I have taken all of the guess work out of it with my new book, Beginning Ballet Strength©. You can get your own copy at www.balletstrength.com!

Happy Dancing,

Nikol Klein, Professional Ballet Dancer/ Certified Personal Trainer/ Author/ Certified Nutritionist

How to Prevent Ballet Injuries

Ballet injuries are common career ending catastrophes for dancers of all ages. What may seem like a small ache or pain could turn into a serious injury if you are not making the proper adjustments to your technique. There are a lot of solutions offered that just mask the pain. If you do not get to the bottom of the issue that is causing the injury, it could be a life long struggle.

The following are a list of steps you can take to ensure you are doing the right things to prevent career ending injuries.

1.) See a Doctor- I know this may seem like a no brainer, but going to a doctor is one of the most important things you can do if you are experiencing abnormal pain. If you are attending a good ballet school, they should be affiliated with a Sports Medicine department or physical therapist in your city.

2.) Rest- You’ve heard this one before too. If you are experiencing abnormal pain, you need to stop dancing until you have the issue identified by a physical therapist. I know, you’re afraid that you will lose your part to your understudy, but how would if feel if you kept dancing and tore or broke something? Do your career a favor and take a much needed rest.

3.) Therapy- Once you have seen a physical therapist and they have diagnosed the problem, you need to follow through with your treatments. Your physical therapist may have you doing some strange exercises, but if you don’t follow through with them the injury will come back.

4.) Investigate- After you are finished with physical therapy and your injury seems to have healed, start investigating your ballet technique. Are you rolling in on your ankles? Are you gripping your hips? You might even want to see a Ballet Strength & Conditioning Coach like myself to help you work on technical weaknesses based on your anatomy and body mechanics. (Keep in mind that these are things that most ballet teachers are not qualified to recommend)

Sometimes your Ballet instructors, though they have your best interest in mind, will continue to tell you to force your turnout, etc. so that your body looks aesthetically correct for ballet. While this may look good, it may be doing disastrous things for your body and your career.

Take these simple precautions to prevent long lasting injuries and never be afraid to ask questions. You can try out one of my Ballet Strength programs HERE.

Nikol Klein, Certified Personal Trainer/ Professional Ballet Dancer/ Certified Nutritionist