Head-to-Toe Wellness

May 31, 2007

Whether you’re jetting off to a six-week intensive or driving around the corner for a weekend workshop, it’s important to maintain your physical and emotional well-being in order to make the most of your summer dance training. Use this wellness guide to ensure that your experience is a good one!

Brain Boosters

According to a Dutch study published in January 2007, folic acid may improve an adult’s ability to pick up information quickly. Folic acid is a water-soluble B-vitamin found in leafy green vegetables, beans, tuna, oranges, strawberries, bananas, cantaloupes and fortified cereals. Add these to your diet and you may pick up combos and integrate corrections faster. Sleep is also important for cognitive function, so resist the urge to gab all night and get at least eight hours.

Tension Release

If your neck is sore after dancing, you’re probably holding tension in the wrong place! Before and after class, spend a few minutes gently rolling your head clockwise and counterclockwise. To relax your jaw: Open your mouth as wide as you can and stick your tongue out, then release after a few seconds.

Eat More Calories

Your activity level increases during a summer intensive, so you need more fuel in order to meet the strenuous demands being placed on your body. Female dancers who don’t consume enough calories can develop the Female Athlete Triad. This syndrome refers to low energy levels, menstrual irregularities and weakened bones. The consequences include stress fractures, injury, increased healing times and early onset osteoporosis. Never skip meals, and keep protein and carbohydrate snacks like fruit, nuts, crackers and cheese in your dance bag for after class.

Get Noticed

Teachers take note of dancers who are on time, well-groomed, hard working and have good etiquette. Here are a few other ways to catch your instructors’ attention, from Sanna Carapellotti, a performance specialist and CEO of mentalperformances.com:

  • Respect your teachers in and out of the studio.
  • Respond enthusiastically to directives.
  • Volunteer for extra rehearsals or understudy opportunities.
  • Listen and watch attentively when teachers demonstrate and when others are dancing.
Condition Now

Just like a runner builds up to a marathon, you need to condition your body before you start your summer program so that the rigorous schedule isn’t a shock to your system. Conditioning doesn’t mean that you have to pack in extra dance classes. Instead, cross train by building cardiovascular strength through swimming or biking. Strengthen muscles by lifting weights or taking Pilates or yoga.

Build Brawn

Want your port de bras to show off your sculpted biceps? Try yoga poses like Crow pose, pictured at left from the new book Yoga for Teens. Here’s how to do it:

Place hands on the floor in front of you, shoulders-distance apart, and bend your knees so that you’re in a squat with your feet together and knees apart. Lift your butt, engage your belly and lay your knees on the backs of your upper arms. Start to shift your weight forward until one or both feet are off the floor. Look forward. (Place a blanket in front of your hands in case you fall!)

Matters of Malaise

The mental strain of a hectic summer intensive can be a lot to handle, and ignoring or suppressing your homesickness may exacerbate your dampened spirits. “When you feel down, visualize three happy memories of your family and friends,” advises Carapellotti. “Keep a Daily Event Journal to share when you return. Ask someone at home to record daily events for you, too.” Participate in any planned activities, even if you don’t feel like it—it will help you make friends. You can also forge a mentorship relationship with one of your teachers so that you have a trusted adult to go to for advice.

Just Breathe

Your muscles need oxygen! According to a study by Reetta Ronkko of the University of Kuopio in Finland and Jarmo Ahonen of the Finnish National Ballet, dancers tend to hold their breath to “achieve the illusion of weightlessness and ease.” Likewise, if you try to “hold your stomach in,” you won’t be able to breathe correctly”and you’ll wear out faster. Instead, coordinate your breath with movement and be conscious of how you’re breathing while you dance. Make sure you inhale and exhale fully with each breath.

Social Strengthening

You probably have an ab regimen at your studio, as will most of the dancers you train with over the summer. Gather in a common area of the dorm to swap workouts; a different dancer can lead each session.

Write Offs

Instead of always texting or e-mailing, take the time to write letters and postcards to your dance teachers, friends and family back home. When it comes to the digital connection, get creative. Carapellotti recommends asking a friend or family member to leave you a loving voicemail or to text you daily words of encouragement. Create a web page where you and your friends can leave messages for each other, or start a blog about your summer experience.

Muscle Maintenance

Know the warning signs of muscle strain: You might not feel pain immediately, but your movement will be restricted and soreness will increase throughout the day. Give your body a temporary rest rather than pushing through a strain and developing a full-blown injury that sidelines you for days or weeks. Warm up before dancing (even if you’ve had class earlier) and use a foam roller at the end of the day to release any muscle tension that may have built up.

Foot and Ankle Aids

If your summer program has you dancing more than you’re used to, you may be susceptible to stress fractures and ankle strains. Strengthen your ankles now by doing extra relevés a few times a week and using a Thera-Band. Remember that feet need to be warmed up just like the rest of your body. Try a Yamuna foot warm-up (see “Tension Tamer” in DS July/August 2006), or doming (see “Happy Feet” in DS July/August 2005).

Toe Kit

Podiatrist Tracey Vlahovic suggests packing moleskin, bandages, cotton balls, lamb’s wool, hydrogen peroxide, Neosporin, toe caps, a nail file, scissors and a toenail clipper.