Dancers need to stay healthy to remain injury-free and to perform well. Practice, rehearsals and shows aren’t enough to stay in top physical condition; a good diet, cardiovascular workouts, stretching, targeted weight training, and even stress management through meditation and yoga all play a part in a dancer’s lifestyle regime.
We’ve compiled a list of 23 resources that help all dancers, professional and student alike, to stay healthy by addressing preventive behaviors such as nutrition and targeted exercise as well as factors such as stress management and relaxation.
The Body Series
Dancer, master teacher, author and neuromuscular educator, Deborah Vogel conducts workshops for teachers as well as student and professional dancers. She has written numerous articles on dance technique and injury prevention, and she co-founded the Center for Dance Medicine with Dr. Richard Bachrach.
You’ll find in-depth posts on her blog addressing dancer issues such as over-stretching, the hamstring/arabesque connection, and why the butterfly position and the frog stretch aren’t the best indicators of turnout in first position.
Laura Hunter Nutrition
This athlete and nutritionist believes food can be a powerful medicine and advises everyone from casual exercisers to high level athletes — including dancers — how to best fuel their bodies. Consultations can be done over the phone, via Skype or by email and range from simple tips (meal timing, hydration and overall healthy eating) to in-depth individual advice.
Dancer Nichelle Strzepek started Dance Advantage in 2008 as a dance education website. Student dancers can read articles about what to remember when executing a plié, as well as tip and cheats on pirouettes that might get you a few more rotations. There are healthy-body posts on alignment and how to properly strengthen your core, and one especially interesting piece that explores why a dancer should walk like a man.
WINforum and Momentum Nutrition & Fitness
Emily Edison, owner and founder of Momentum Nutrition & Fitness, and Washington coordinator of the WINForum (Washington Interscholastic Nutrition Forum), is a recognized expert in the areas of sports nutrition and disordered eating. A registered dietitian and certified personal trainer, her philosophy centers around body fueling with whole foods and eating intuitively. The goal is to empower people to eat for performance, improve vitality, and develop a positive relationship between food and body.
In response to our question as to whether or not Ms. Edison would be able to advise dancers specifically on best nutrition practices, she confirmed that she would, saying: “I am an expert in working with dancers and on a personal note was a competitive figure skater and took dance most of my life.” She added that she does “a lot of online counseling with the use of Skype.”
Dancing Thru Pregnancy
Founded by movement specialist Ann Cowlin, Dancing Thru Pregnancy offers programs of pregnancy and postpartum fitness which include aspects of cardio as well as yoga, pilates and core strength exercises. While not specifically designed for dancers, the exercise tips, DVDs and nutrition advice can certainly be useful to a pregnant dancer, helping to keep her healthy and in shape both throughout her pregnancy and postpartum.
This award-winning registered dietitian and author says she helps “people create a healthy relationship with their food, mind and body.” While she tends to focus on eating disorders and intuitive eating, she also personally understands the requirements of high-level athletes, having qualified for the Olympic Trials in the first ever women’s marathon in 1984. She has confirmed to us that she is able to advise dancers regarding best nutrition practices, and if you’re not able to get to her Newport Beach, California, office, phone sessions are available.
Part of this online dance magazine and news service is health (which you’ll find under the Resources section), and articles there range from a series on injury prevention to a Q&A format with professional dancers about their pre-class routines. One interview-based article is with two principal dancers (Julie Diana of Pennsylvania Ballet and Christine Winkler of Atlanta Ballet) who talked about getting back into shape after having children.
Created by professional ballerina Mary Helen Bowers, who trained actress Natalie Portman for her Academy Award-winning role in the film Black Swan, this is a ballet-inspired fitness site, with workouts that mix the athleticism and grace of classical ballet with targeted exercises and stretches designed to sculpt a dancer’s physique.
With online classes, DVDs and customized private training, it’s a convenient resource that allows dancers to focus on problem areas or get back into shape after time off. Private training is available in the Manhattan studio as well as online.
Wellness for Performers
Linda Hamilton, who is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in the performing arts, danced with New York City Ballet while in school for her doctorate in clinical and research psychology. Her stated mission is to “help people reach their performance potential without compromising their health or well-being.”
Ms. Hamilton, as one of the key designers of NYCB’s wellness program, is knowledgeable with respect to eating disorders, especially in dancers, but the Monthly Wellness Tips section of her site cover a gamut of issues that performers might face, including weight gain, pain threshold and prescription drug addiction.
The School at Steps
This NYC-based school, which trains dancers up to 18 years old, has a “Healthy Dancer Tip of the Month” section that includes tips from senior students. The benefit of sleep, for instance, isn’t just physical — it allows dancers to experience the process of consolidation, where the brain “practices” skills learned during the day, meaning dancers can review and remember choreography.
From resistance bands and body fuel to protecting your pointe and a primer on all types of stretching (static, ballistic, PNF and AIS), this site is a refresher and reminder on best health practices by dancers for dancers.
STOP (Sports Trauma and Overuse Prevention) Sports Injuries
While the stated purpose of this site is to get “parents, coaches, athletes and healthcare providers to help prevent athletic overuse and trauma injuries in kids,” the information on dance-specific injuries and injury prevention is an excellent resource.
The emphasis on what the young dancer can do to prevent injuries is based on the fact that dancers experience injuries more frequently as they age. Most are from overuse, and result in foot and ankle problems like stress fractures and tendon injuries and strain.
Ballet Skills and Ballet Strength
The two sites were created by former professional ballet dancer Nikol Klein, who knows from personal experience the components that go into being a well rounded dancer like turns, jumps, flexibility and nutrition. From training programs to personalized coaching and helpful articles (How to Prevent the Most Common Ballet Injury), these are good sites for dancers to bookmark.
Dancer/choreographer Maria del Pilar Naranjo Rico, who has a degree in kinetography Laban and movement analysis (labanotation), is the owner of this comprehensive site, which includes a couple of sections of interest to dancers specifically looking for resources to stay healthy. Under Health, you’ll find advice on diet, injuries and anatomy. In the Practice section, contemporary dance techniques (which include ballet) and their value to the dancer are examined.
Straight to the Pointe
Although the reason for this site is to promote its owner’s mobile pointe shoe fitting service, there is content that can be helpful when it comes to the health of a dancer’s feet. Posts include “Pointe Shoe Tips and Tricks,” and there’s an informative video called “Toe Pads for Pointe Shoes” which looks at gel toe socks and spacers as well as foam pads, ouch pouches and toe tape. If it’s nutrition advice you’re after, there’s an article with vegan recipes with personal recommendations such as drinking coconut water and adding protein-packed chia seeds to salads and smoothies.
Chicago Artists Resource
CAR is an arts service website administered by the Chicago Artists Coalition, and in its dance section it has one health-related resource page called Dance/USA Taskforce on Dancer Health Insights. Here, dancers can find a number of articles with medical information which include:
- Vitamin D and Calcium: Tips for Dancers
- Dancer Health Tips: Heat Illness and Dehydration
- Dancer Health Tips: Backstage First-Aid Kit Necessities
- Dancer Health Tips: Staying Healthy on Tour
- Tips on Depressive Illness for Dancers
- Health Care Options for Independent, Uninsured, and Underinsured Dancers
The Centre for Dance Nutrition
Affiliated with the Atlanta Ballet, counseling sessions and workshops are offered to dancers who work directly with the dietitian to create an individualized nutrition assessment, eating plan, and a personalized guide to pre- and post-performance fueling. The registered dietitian is Emily Cook Harrison, a professional dancer, whose master’s degree thesis was on elite level ballet dancers and energy balance and the relationship to injuries.
The Classical Girl
Terez Rose, a former ballet dancer and lifelong classical music fan, blogs about ballet, classical music, the violin, and life on The Classical Girl. She’s got reviews of ballet performances, movies and books as well as posts such as 10 Odd Facts About Pointe Shoes, and while there’s only one article specific to health (What Do Ballet Dancers Eat?), it’s worth a dancer’s read. Rose reminds her readers that professional dancers are top-level athletes who should eat as much quality food as their engines require.
The New York-based magazine has been continuously published since 1927 and is a source for everything dance. A quick site search shows various blog posts and articles that pertain to health-related matters from How Stress Can Slow Your Muscle Recovery and Eating and Drinking for Energy to The Injury Diet and Your Body: Concussions, Not Your Everyday Injury.
Here are some stand-alone articles and videos from around the web that are worth a look:
- 12 Health And Fitness Tips Top Ballerinas Swear By (And That We Want To Steal)
- Good Nutrition for Dancers [PDF]
- Health and Lifestyle by Australian Ballet dancers
Staying strong, healthy and in prime condition is the best way for a dancer to avoid injury and recover more quickly when necessary. With preventive measures such as targeted workouts and a nutritionally balanced diet, which includes eating to fuel for rehearsals and performances, dancers are better equipped to withstand the rigors of their chosen sport and lifestyle.