April is Stress Awareness Month. What Does That Mean to Dancers?

Guest blogger, Dr Ben Caref.  Caref was a former ballet dancer with the National Ballet of Canada and the National Ballet. He taught ballet and choreographed with the American Dance Center in Orland Park, IL, and Joel Hall Dancers. Dr Caref is now Managing Partner and Chief Medical Officer, Medtelligence. Trained in cardiac physiology and bio-engineering, Ben focused his earlier scientific work on identifying, understanding mechanisms, and the treatment of cardiac arrhythmias.

Dancers use their bodies to artfully express ideas and feelings. Stressful situations are everywhere in normal daily life. Family and friends can cause stress, reports in the news, in schools, and in the dance studio. Dancers can feel stressed trying to master steps while rehearsing for a program, or when the steps or flow just don’t come together. Taken together, it can be difficult on the body and mind.

Stressful situations cause strain and pressure and can take an emotion toil on all humans. Stress is everywhere, and while small amounts may be beneficial, it’s essential to know how to control stress so that over time, without any release, stress doesn’t undermine your true potential.

The body has mechanisms to deal with stress. The endocrine system reacts to stress by producing cortisol from the adrenal glands. It’s part of the flight-or-fight adaptation we possess. It helps us deal with acute situations, and can be a positive feature, like getting “psyched-up” before a performance. So, some stress can be a good thing. But if a stressful situation becomes chronic, too much cortisol in the bloodstream can lead to a variety of poor outcomes such as: interfering with learning and memory, lowering immune function and bone density, causing bodyweight to rise (and make difficult to lose), high blood pressure and cholesterol which over time can contribute to heart disease. It seems far away now but over time it can lead to depression and other mental illnesses too. Clearly, too much stress is not a good thing.

Fortunately, there are many ways to deal with, and turn stress into working for you - instead of against you. First, you must recognize that you’re experiencing stress. Half the battle is in identifying the trigger to stress that is causing emotional (and perhaps physical too) discomfort.

Ways to respond to stress:

  • Regular exercise – Partake in fitness (other than dance) at least 3–4 times a week. Activities should include both aerobic (jumps across the floor) and strength exercise (adagio). Beware though, ballet classes alone will not give you the aerobic exercise that’s needed to maintain a healthy heart and decrease chronic stress.
  • Support systems – Find a core group of supporters and advisers. Listen to your friends or classmates when they are stressed. Let trusted teachers, counselors, or parents have a perspective on what you’re feeling. Talk! Don’t keep feeling bottled up. 
  • Time management – Develop an organizational system. After a plan is made, organization is everything!
  • Calm the mind via guided imagery and visualization – Listen to your favorite music, go to an art exhibition, take the time to try something new.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation – Loosen tense muscle groups with massage, therapeutic touch, or props like rollers or balls.
  • Assertiveness training – Work on honest communication (get out of your shell – don’t be afraid)
  • Self-reflection – Express true emotions by taking time for self-reflection.
  • Minimize stress at school, the studio, or at home, and the paralyzing fear it can stir up in your life.
  • Asses what’s working for you and what’s causing stress. Prioritize tasks and organize a new system.

Breathe. Be grateful for the things you have in your life. Do whatever it takes to lower your chronic stress levels, and you will enjoy a more fuller life and be a better dancer too!

Reference

Patricia Potter (2014. Canadian Fundamentals of Nursing (5 ed.). Toronto: Elsevier. pp. 472–488.

 

 

 

March is National Nutrition Month. What does that mean for dancers?

Dancer Nutrition
Is this you?
•    Really don’t know good example of proteins, carbs, and fats
•    Go for long periods of time without eating or deliberately skip meals
•    Feel shaky and barely have strength to hold up arms and legs in class
•    Don’t drink much during the day
•    Believe that to keep body weight low you must eat very little

You’re not alone. It’s confusing. It’s difficult to find nutrition information geared to dancers.
Dancers need to eat! What you eat and the time of day you eat will affect your energy and strength levels.

Why should dancers eat? To fuel their bodies for:
•    Training (classes, rehearsals, performance) 
•    Periods of high-intensity and/or long duration
•    Recovery (post class/performance/injury)

There is a way to feed yourself to support your energy requirements, maintain strong bones and muscles, and keep your weight aligned for dancing. It takes planning. 

Don’t start the day on an empty stomach
o    Better suggestions: Oatmeal with ½ banana and raisins, hard boiled egg with multi grain toast and avocado😊

Eat small meals throughout the day, making sure you include protein and eat it first at every meal. Include an array of foods with healthy fat, and carbs
o    Get most of your nutrients from unprocessed and fresh food
o    Stop substituting energy/protein bars in place of food
o    Pack healthy snacks: String cheese, fruit, edamame, humous & carrot sticks

      
Limit fast foods
o    Most fast food is highly processed and packed with (bad) fats and sugar
o    Eat foods in their more natural form. If you can’t identify all the ingredients on the label, they’re probably processed


Drink water frequently throughout the day. Dehydration can happen quickly
o    Drink more water. Make your own drinks by adding natural ingredients like oranges or berries. It’s easy to do! 😊
o    Most coffee drinks from shops like Starbucks are tasty but loaded with sugar and calories
o    Limit drinks that seem healthy but are packed with hidden sources of sugar: Juice, sports drinks, Jamba Juice shakes, full fat milk, soda, coconut water ☹
o    Energy drinks have lots of chemicals and additives. Don’t waste your money!

Helpful Hints
Keep a food log and write down everything you eat and drink over 2 weeks. Note your activity and how you felt 😊
•    Listen to your body: How does your stomach react after you’ve eaten? 
•    Identify foods that may upset your stomach
•    Tune in to how you feel after you’ve eaten and when you feel energized or sluggish

Examples of dancer friendly foods packed with nutrients
•    Proteins: Fish, turkey/chicken white meat
•    Fats: Avocado, nuts (especially almonds, walnuts, and cashews) 
•    High carb foods: Whole grain pasta, quinoa, oats, buckwheat, corn, brown rice
      
References:
American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Nutrition and athletic performance. Medicine & Science Sports Exercise. 2009:709-731. 

 International Association for Dance Medicine & Science, May 2016. www.iadms.org.                    

Challis J, Stevens A. IADMS Dance Nutrition Resource Paper http://bit.ly/2F4eNTz


 

February is the month of love, Performing Health, February 2018

Dancer Love

February is the month of love. What does that mean for dancers?

·       Being grateful for your body and the marvelous things it can achieve

·       Eating better food to build, modify, and sustain your strength

·       Getting more, and better-quality sleep to repair, grow, and keep energy levels high

·       Being kind not only to yourself, but to your classmates, too

·       Giving your parents and teachers the respect they deserve

·       Challenging your mind and learning something new NOT related to dance

So often we dancers look in the mirror and see only flaws. We don’t give enough credence to what we have and are in the process of accomplishing. This type of negative thinking creates a feedback loop that hinders growth and chips away at self-esteem. Work hard on the physical demands of dance but realize it’s a process that does not happen instantaneously. Smile, find something in your day that gives you joy, judge less, congratulate yourself for persevering, no matter the setback. You are awesome. Embrace it!

February is also heart health month. Dancer specific recommendations include:

·       Quit smoking or don’t start!

·       Read labels and opt for lower sugar alternatives

·       Examine the type of dancing and other physical activities you do and make sure there is a balance of both aerobic and strength training involved

Performing Health - Juilliard Alumni News

Adrienne Stevens, Founder, Performing Health

Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015  

Alumni Story

https://www.juilliard.edu/news/131436/adrienne-stevens-founder-performing-health

Earlier this year you launched a new company called Performing Health.  What prompted you to do this, and were your fellow Juilliard alumni helpful or inspiring along the way? 

Among all performing artists, dancers face the highest risk for poor nutrition, eating disorders, depression, body dysmorphic disorder, and preventable, career-ending injuries. Unfortunately, most clinicians are unschooled in the characteristics that set dancers apart from their “regular” patients. This is one of the reasons why dancers turn to fellow dancers, friends, dance teachers, and the media for advice. When a dancer faces illness or injury, s/he deserves professional healthcare, provided by a specialist who understands both the rigor and the aesthetic of a dancer’s lifestyle. Hopefully Performing Health can bridge this divide through education, nutrition counseling, and health guidance.

Although my initial plan was to work exclusively with pre-professional and early-career dancers, young athletes heard about Performing Health and we soon received calls from ice skaters, wrestlers, and even soccer players. Dancers are definitely at the heart of our mission, but we are glad to help other athletes as well.

From the very beginning, my Juilliard colleagues have been incredibly supportive. Many have opened up and shared personal experiences about disordered eating, negative body image, and a number of other health issues that just weren’t discussed openly – at Juilliard or anywhere else – years ago when we were students. Jennifer Muller (BS ’67, dance) is one of America’s best advocates on the need to integrate nutrition education into dance curricula. She serves on the Performing Health advisory board and we benefit greatly from her expertise.

In your experience, are dancers’ health and healthcare handled differently in the US from how they are handled in Europe?

Of course the dance community globalized long before many other sectors of society, so the differences between Europe and the US aren’t as stark as you might imagine. Food pricing differs from country to country, as does the availability of prepared foods. Cultural factors and labor laws influence everything from smoking to contract negotiations. Given the large volume of medical and scientific research that takes place in the US each year, American dancers might be a little quicker to experiment and reap the benefits that science has to offer. Here in New York, we are early adopters!

What is a typical day like for you, and what are your summer plans?

I am so fortunate to be doing what I love – working right at the nexus between art and science. Although I’ve always been a “morning person” – by dance standards, anyway – rising early is essential because Performing Health does business internationally as well as in the US. Working with people in multiple time zones requires flexible scheduling! After I’ve caught up on international correspondence, I like to start my day all over again with a movement class or a run through Riverside Park. In the summer months, I take a cue from Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit, in which she advises creative thinkers to begin each day with a ritual. Weather permitting, my ritual is terrace gardening. By mid-morning, I’m back at my desk, writing and working with clients until dinnertime.  In the evening, my favorite way to unwind is to attend a live performance in NYC with friends.

For me, “summer mode” is mostly about writing and laying the groundwork for the year ahead. At the moment, I’m working on several articles for scientific journals and also drafting the first set of nutrition guidelines for an international dance medicine organization. I’ll be doing some teaching too, which often gives me new ideas for clinical research and always brings me great joy.

How is your current career influenced by your time at Juilliard?

After Juilliard, I danced with various companies in and around NYC. After having children, I transitioned to arts administration, followed by the fitness industry, then graduate school and eventually academia.  While working as a researcher at Columbia University, I became really concerned about America’s obesity epidemic. So I went to work for WebMD. It was a great career, but one day I realized how much I missed working among dancers. That’s how Performing Health was born.

Someone advised me that starting a company would feel like jumping off a cliff and then building an airplane during the free fall. Looking back, I realize that Juilliard really prepared me to put myself in challenging situations. Thanks to my dance education, I’m almost fearless, and also comfortable receiving criticism. All of these qualities came from Juilliard, and they have prepared me to become an entrepreneur.

Which Juilliard teachers and mentors have been most influential in your life?

That’s a tough question, because I’ve been blessed by so many wonderful teachers! In terms of dance technique, Anna Sokolow, Hanya Holm, Alfredo Corvino and Ethel Winters were all truly remarkable.  Doris Rudko, who taught choreography and composition during my time at Juilliard, also had a profound impact on me.

Although I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, today I’m truly grateful for the music education I received at Juilliard. Apart from music theory classes, which were required for graduation, I elected to take advanced classes with composers like Stanley Wolfe. Thanks to him, I have a much deeper appreciation of music. I can understand musical structure and complexity in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

Have you kept in touch with your classmates?

Absolutely! In my experience, the ties between Juilliard classmates seem to grow deeper and stronger over time. When the documentary Miss Hill: Making Dance Matter was released last year, the NYC screening reunited many of us who had studied with Martha [Hill] at Juilliard during the 1980s. A number of my contemporaries have retired from performing and are now pursuing second careers in the healthcare sector. It’s been fascinating to watch these transitions, and I take great pride in our collective achievements. At some point in the future, I would like to find a way to galvanize all of this expertise.

What advice would you share with our current dance students and recent grads?

First and foremost, learn to take extraordinarily good care of your physical body as well as your mind. Always be mindful of what, when, and how you eat.  By building good eating habits right now, you might actually lengthen your dance career and you will certainly enjoy better health over the course of your lifetime.

Invest the time it takes to befriend your colleagues as well as your teachers. Try not to be baited into competing with classmates. The brilliant people who surround you at Juilliard could become lifelong friends, colleagues, or collaborators. This is a priceless opportunity: seize it!

Explore interests beyond dance and have confidence that your Juilliard skills – creativity, tenacity, and stamina, for example – will serve you well during a second or even a third career. Once you are no longer dancing, you can still have a meaningful voice in the arts or sciences. Approach life as a journey, and remember that your performing career is just the beginning of your travels.

Physical and Mental Fitness for Women

Empowering Women: Programming to keep women mentally and physically fit. Making women feel at ease by providing all-inclusive education, cardiovascular conditioning, strength strengthening, flexibility/balance and mind/body techniques.

Highlights of the piece: 

The Three Cs to attract and keep women in the gym:

  1. Comfort
  2. Confidence
  3. Camaraderie

Common techniques to alleviate stress and optimize cardiovascular and bone health.

What Women Want:

  1. Family Focused Services
  2. Personal Services
  3. Educational Lectures
  4. Health Consultations
  5. Weight Management

Read the full article here: http://www.clubindustry.com/stepbystepprogramming/focus-programming-2

 

 

Dance Nutrition Resource Paper - International Association for Dance Medicine & Science

IADMS Nutrition Resource Paper 2016

A practical guide for educators and dancers focusing on nutrition and offering flexible strategies for dancer health.  

The widely circulated Nutrition Fact Sheet, written by Pricilla Clarkson, PhD, under the auspices of the IADMS Education Committee has been the basis of nutritional information for many dancers since its publication in 2003. This resource paper updates and addresses information which was not available in the first publication. This resource paper and planned future fact sheets derived from this paper, are aimed at dancers and dance students, as well as dance educators all around the world. The information is based on the most up-to-date evidence-based sports and dance research that are currently available at the time of this writing. This paper aims to be a practical guide for educators and dancers, focusing on the whole nutritional milieu, and providing information which can inform choices and offer flexible strategies. A range of measures (e.g. oz. vs. grams) and several terms are used to describe foods (e.g. biscuit vs. cookie) to make the paper reach an international audience. Specific references are included so the reader can obtain further information for self- study. There is also a general reading list and many links within the paper to direct the reader to appropriate sources from the US, UK, and Australia for additional information.

 

CREATING AWARENESS IN DANCE NUTRITION AND BODY IMAGE

Chasing the Sylph: How the Quest for Perfection Impacts Dancers’ Body Image, Nutrition, and Health


Adrienne Stevens, EdD
Founder, Performing Health
New York City, USA
www.PerformingHealth.com

More than any other performing artists, and certainly more than most athletes, dancers are at high risk for poor nutrition, eating disorders, and preventable, career-ending injuries. To address these physical issues, it’s necessary to examine the underlying causes. And to do that, we need to understand the dancer’s frame of mind.

During 15 – 20 years of intensive training, dancers pursue an elegant, meta-human physique that can soar through the air, appearing almost weightless when in motion. The dancers’ ideal is nothing less than perfection, and of course perfection isn’t attainable. I refer to this elusive quest as “chasing the sylph.”

While dancers strive to achieve this ethereal — and highly subjective — state of grace, athletes are usually working toward much more earthly, measurable goals: faster speed, for example, or number of points scored in a competitive match. Whereas an athlete can achieve “personal best” or break a new record, a dancer will never attain artistic perfection. Within this paradigm, an athlete literally receives laurels; a dancer constantly faces defeat. The dancer’s defeatist mindset is further exacerbated by the knowledge that a professional career is usually over by the time he or she reaches forty years of age.

That’s why “chasing the sylph” has direct implications for a variety of health concerns among dancers, including inadequate nutrition, disordered eating, body dysmorphic disorder, depression, dancing while injured (which, in turn, leads to more severe injury), and an unwillingness to follow standard medical advice.

Today most medical professionals are unschooled in the characteristics that set dancers apart from the mainstream patient population. At the same time, dancers who are in dire need of clinical care turn instead to fellow dancers, friends, dance teachers and the media for medical advice. As the emerging field of dance medicine grows and develops, we can expect to see improvements on both of these fronts. In the meantime, new strategies are needed now to protect and preserve dancers’ health. First and foremost, nutrition education must become a standard component within every dancer’s education. Teachers and parents need training on how to identify symptoms of disordered eating. The dance community as a whole would benefit from open dialogue about injury prevention and mental health.

As an organization that is firmly grounded in both artistic and clinical expertise, Performing Health looks forward to playing a meaningful role in all of these endeavors.

Article originally appeared in Beyond Ballet Why and How: Arnhem, Netherlands April 2015

 http://rdtheatredance.artez.nl/creating-awareness-in-dance-nutrition-and-body-image-by-adrienne-stevens-edd/