A Dancer’s Diet

Healthy, Nutritious Foods for the Non-Stop Dancer

Dancers often call the studio their second home. And it makes sense when you’re spending five, six, sometimes seven days a week there for hours on end, in technique classes and rehearsals. But no one can keep dancing at that rate without the proper nutrition to stay fueled and energized.

This week I spoke with two Cal Poly dancers and a Cal Poly nutrition professor to gain insight on best meals, snacks, and drinks to keep a dancer’s energy up for those long days at the studio.

Tiffany Davids is a freshman business major and Orchesis company member. She began her dance career as a “tapper” at age seven, adding jazz, ballet, and contemporary to her repertoire in the following years.

Orchesis is currently performing their annual showcase, Immersion, which consists of six shows over the course of two weeks. Preparation for the performances has required many hours of rehearsal, often late into the evening and on weekends. Tiffany knows first-hand how important it is to stay fueled during these long rehearsals.

Tiffany is a fan of trail mix full of nuts, raisins, and other dried fruits.

“It’s easy to just pop in those little morsels in your mouth between dances and you get a burst of energy.” -Tiffany Davids, Orchesis company member

Illustrated and Photographed by Christina Favuzzi

In addition to trail mix, Tiffany said baby carrots are a “go-to” snack. She also likes crackers as a source of carbohydrates.

Backstage at the Immersion shows, Orchesis dancers are provided with a “food table,” Tiffany said. On the table they have grapes, apples, mangos, blueberries, trail mix, pita chips and hummus, and acai berries covered in chocolate for something sweet but not sinful. And of course, tons of cases of water.

“I only drink water during rehearsal but afterwards I will sometimes drink Gatorade or PowerAde to regain some electrolytes.”

Alexa Dack is a sophomore architecture major and this is her second year on the Cal Poly Dance Team, which performs at Cal Poly sports events and competes nationally. With practice at least three days a week for two hours, plus game performances several times a week, she knows how to pick foods that will boost and sustain her energy.

“I like to have some kind of nuts, like almonds, for some protein. Peanut butter is also good.”

Like Tiffany, Alexa reaches for fruits such as apples, oranges, or bananas to refuel.

Illustrated and Photographed by Christina Favuzzi

“I don’t like to eat a lot before practice because it can make me feel sluggish. If I do eat something before dancing, it’s something light and healthy because I know those types of foods won’t slow me down.” -Alexa Dack, Cal Poly Dance Team

Cal Poly nutrition professor, Dr. Susan Swadener, recommends eating two to four hours prior to dancing because, as Alexa mentioned, eating a heavy meal before dancing can make you feel sluggish.

She also advises eating within 15 to 30 minutes after working out. Dr. Swadener said it is important to restore glycogen quickly. Glycogen holds starch, which holds water, so when you restore your glycogen, you also hydrate your body.

Whether it’s a pre or post-workout meal, she recommends having a meal that has low fat, high carbs, and moderate protein because it will help you to digest the food more quickly and it won’t weigh you down.

“I think carbohydrates are so important but we’ve become so carbohydrate-phobic today, with people saying that carbs are ‘bad,’ but muscles use carbohydrates for fuel and to help them rebuild when they break down.” -Dr. Susan Swadener, Cal Poly Nutrition Professor

Whole grains are the ideal carb and can be found in cereals and whole grain breads and pastas. They are also rich in vitamins and fiber, Dr. Swadener said.

Illustrated and Photographed by Christina Favuzzi

Protein is an important part of a dancer’s diet and Dr. Swadener’s recommendations are easy and delicious.

“I think yogurt can be a fantastic snack. Or string cheese is a great option. Have peanut butter and an apple, because you need some protein and fat to sustain you through those long hours of exercise.”

Illustrated and Photographed by Christina Favuzzi

Dr. Swadener said that protein bars are also good for refueling because they have a good mix of protein, carbs, and fat.

“I think smoothies are another good snack because you can throw in yogurt and you can throw in fruit. And if you’re nervous before a performance, sometimes a liquid is easier to digest and handle.” -Dr. Swadener

Another beneficial fluid: non-fat or low-fat milk.

“It’s fantastic because it’s high protein, it’s low fat, and it’s fluid, so you get your fluids in to be hydrated.”

Dr. Swadener is a believer in “everything in moderation” and said that sweets are okay to have, but she said to make them “fun foods.”

“Personally, I like frozen yogurt because it’s lower in fat, it’s sweet but it’s healthy because it’s got calcium and protein.”

Photographed by Christina Favuzzi

Lastly, in addition to refueling with food, dancers should never underestimate the importance of sleep. With that said, try to limit caffeine intake to about two cups of coffee a day, one in the morning and perhaps one mid-afternoon.

“Be careful with coffee and caffeine in the evening because then you’re jittery, can’t sleep, and you really need to get good rest as a dancer.”

A Quick Recap:

  • Trail Mix
  • Dried and Fresh fruits
  • Nuts
  • Carrots
  • Crackers
  • Pita chips and hummus
  • Whole grain breads, pastas, and cereals
  • Yogurt
  • String Cheese
  • Peanut Butter
  • Protein Bars
  • Smoothies
  • Milk
  • Frozen Yogurt

Want to learn more?

Check out this video: A Healthy Dancer’s Diet

Stay tuned…

Hello readers!

I just wanted to bring your attention to a few new videos I’ve added to my “Videos” page. They are from the New York City Ballet’s Youtube channel. Not only is the dancing beautiful, but the footage is also absolutely stunning, particularly in the video about tutu creation.

Stay tuned for my next post – it’s scheduled to go live this Wednesday, but I sometimes publish the night before.

In this week’s post you’ll hear from a Cal Poly dance team dancer, an Orchesis company member, and a Cal Poly food science and nutrition professor…any guesses on what my post is about? Check back in a few days for the full story.

-C

Twinkle Toes? Twitter Toes!

Follow Lashes and Leotards on Twitter!

Lashes and Leotards is now on Twitter, username @LashesnLeotards. You can find the widget to follow me on the right side of the page. Although I’d love for you to also follow my personal Twitter account, @ChristinaFav, my Lashes and Leos account will focus solely on dance related topics.

Before signing up for Twitter, I thought it was a totally unnecessary social media. Who wants to read a bunch of status updates from people who obviously have too much time on their hands?

Well, I don’t believe that ignorance is bliss, so about 2 years ago I challenged myself to give Twitter a chance. And I have been happily tweeting ever since! Fair warning, my tweets are not prolific 140 character phrases, but they are fun insights into my life and interests.

What I enjoy more than tweeting is following. On my personal account I follow over 70 journalists and news organizations, along with my favorite celebrities and other miscellaneous “tweeters.” On my blog account, I follow professional dancers and dance companies.

Twitter is an excellent way to gather quick information. I also appreciate that it stimulates individual investigative journalism. If I read a tweet that intrigues me but the 140 characters don’t satisfy me, I’ll troll the internet for more information until I find the answers.

All I ask is that you give Twitter a chance. I was a hesitant hater once too, but I now see Twitter as a valuable social media and news source. Go tweet!

The Discipline of the Ballerina Bun

The Ballerina Bun

Whether you’re a new dancer attempting to master this hairstyle for class or a non-dancing reader, the ballet bun is a versatile, easy and professional style anyone can pull off.

“I actually remember very vividly when I first did my own bun,” Gabriella Petrone, Cal Poly sophomore business major and Orchesis company member, said. “My mom had just left for Taiwan for a family emergency and the first thing I thought when she left was, ‘crap, who’s going to do my hair for ballet?’”

Gabriella’s mother had done her hair since she started dancing at the very young age of two. The day her mom left, she realized she’d have to attempt the perfect ballerina bun by herself.

“I just did my bun myself that day and at the end of class I realized that it had stayed in the whole time,” Gabriella said. “So the first thing I did after class was call my mom and say, ‘I did my own bun!’ It was an accomplishment.”

Gabriella trained under the Royal Academy of Dance method, so from a young age she understood the importance of neat hair. Her instructor would not let dancers take class if their hair was not done up to her standards.

“It teaches you discipline. It’s almost like a ritual. It helps get me into my ballet mode because I’m thinking, ‘okay, my hair needs to go in a bun.’” — Gabriella Petrone, Cal Poly Orchesis Dancer

Veronika Velikoretski, 15, has been dancing with the Santa Barbara Festival Ballet for 12 years. She remembers first being able to put her hair up in a bun when she was seven years old.

“It was important for me to be able to do my own hair because I felt like I needed a perfect ballerina bun, like the big girls.” – Veronika Velikoretski, Santa Barbara Festival Ballet Advanced Dancer

With class and rehearsal for several hours a day, often five or six days a week, Veronika is beyond familiar with putting her hair into that neat little knot.

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Photos illustrated by Christina Favuzzi. Photographed by Christina Favuzzi and Lauren Wooley. 

She begins by putting her hair in a high ponytail using a “grip” hair tie. The rubber ribs on these hair bands keep them from slipping out of your hair.

Veronika then twists her hair and wraps it around the ponytail, forming a bun.

Pins, pins, pins. Any dancer will tell you she has probably lost hundreds of pins in her life. Veronika puts pins all around her bun to secure it to her head. She prefers to use hair pins (see image) although, you may find that bobby pins or roller pins work better for you.

She finishes the style by wrapping a hairnet around the bun to catch any stray wisps of hair.

For performances, Veronika uses plenty of gel to get her hair perfectly slicked and smooth. She also uses extra pins for good measure.

While you should always regard class as seriously as a performance, your hair should be a little more relaxed in the studio. In fact, New York City Ballet Soloist, Kathryn Morgan, said she often opts for a hairstyle other than the high ballet bun for class and rehearsal.

“I usually do a French twist or low loose bun for rehearsals with just bobby pins and for performance, we do our hair to whatever ballet it is – usually a high slick bun.” – Kathryn Morgan, New York City Ballet Soloist

Kathryn suggests wetting your hair with a spray bottle before putting it into a ponytail. This helps the hair to smooth down.

As a soloist for one of the best ballet companies in the world, Kathryn knows the exact formula for perfect performance hair. She grabs for the hairspray can to tame “any little wisps hanging out.” She also uses a piece of fake hair in addition to her own hair to make her bun thicker. This is because like many professional dancers, Kathryn’s hair is very thin.

The New York Times wrote a fascinating article on dancers and their hair. It discusses the problems dancers deal with as a result of pulling their hair back tightly into a bun for so many years.

During Kathryn’s tremendous career as a professional ballet dancer, she has dealt with hundreds of quick costume and hair changes.

“It is very important for dancers to be able to do their own hair because you never know the situation you will be in. You might have to put it up quickly. There is one ballet we do that we have to go from one costume with hair down to a different costume with hair up in about 90 seconds. Very scary. So it is super important.” – Kathryn Morgan, New York City Ballet Soloist

What You’ll Need

  • Hair Ties
  • Hair Net
  • Hairspray and/or gel (for performance)
  • Different Types of Pins: Bobby Pins, Jumbo Bobby Pins, also called Roller Pins, Hair Pins, Jumbo Hair Pins

~Optional:

  • Fake Flowers
  • Decorative Barrettes and Clips
  • Ribbon

You can purchase these products at your local drugstore. Goody Hair products are excellent.

If you need additional help, check out this video by Anaheim Ballet.

What’s your favorite dance style?

I need your input!

Subscribe to Lashes&Leos via RSS

Hello dancers, dance lovers, and Lashes&Leos readers,

I hope you enjoyed my last post. If you would like to be aware of new content on my site without checking the page everyday, I encourage you to subscribe to this blog through the RSS reader. You’ll find a button on right side of my blog where you can click to subscribe.

RSS readers are helpful tools that allow you to keep track of a number of sites that you visit regularly. I use my RSS reader to follow my friends’ and peers’ blogs, a variety of news websites, and also social media sites. It’s sort of like a “best of the internet, according to me” generator. I hope you’ll explore the wonders of RSS readers and make Lashes and Leotards a part of your own RSS reader.

Reverence,

Christina

The Importance of Stretching and Flexibility

“Stretch is just the opposite of strength and it’s all about finding balance in your body” -Lisa Deyo

From the time one begins his or her dance career, whether it’s a first ballet class as a young child, or later on in life, flexibility and stretching are regular and necessary aspects of dance training. But it can be difficult to motivate oneself to stretch because it’s often uncomfortable or frustrating because the dancer isn’t noticing any improvement in his or her flexibility.

This past week I sat down with Lauren Creger and Nikki Sullivan, both members of Cal Poly’s dance company, Orchesis, as well as a Cal Poly dance teacher, Lisa Deyo, to talk about the importance of flexibility and stretching and how to fit it into our daily routine.

Lauren is a freshman psychology major and has danced on and off throughout her life. In high school she was a member of her school’s dance team and had a coach that pushed the dancers tremendously to improve their flexibility.

“She once said, ‘Splits aren’t good enough; splits are expected,’” Lauren said about her dance team coach. “She told us, ‘If you aren’t flexible, you’re nothing to me.’

While her coach may sound like an unreasonably harsh person, Lauren said she always meant her criticism in a positive way and she led them to their first national title, so the intense stretching definitely paid off.

Lauren stretches everyday and begins her stretching routine by walking or light jogging to get her heart rate up and blood flowing. Then she does gentle head rolls, isolations, and leg swings.

Lauren recommends stretching right after showering because the hot water warms up and releases muscles so they are easier to stretch.

Dancers often use equipment to intensify their stretching routine. Theraband resistance bands, tennis balls, and foam cylinders are useful tools for working on flexibility. Therabands are often used to stretch and strengthen ankles. Wrap the band around the arch of the foot, holding each end tightly with both hands, flex and point your foot to stretch the muscles on the top of the foot and strengthen the ankle. See the photo slideshow to see Lauren demonstrate this exercise.

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Tennis balls and foam cylinders can be used to roll out tense muscles. Rolling a tennis ball under the arch of the foot releases many tiny muscles that are very tight. The small surface area of a tennis ball increases its pressure on muscles. With that said, use it cautiously or try using a foam cylinder to massage larger muscles such as calves.

Lauren also showed me how she uses ropes to improve her flexibility. Because rope does not stretch, it increases tension and affects the muscles differently.

Fellow Orchesis dancer and sophomore business major, Nikki, echoed Lauren’s note about warming up before stretching. Starting with some breathing exercises and light cardio is beneficial for stretching, Nikki said.

“Stretch everyday for longer that you want to and don’t give up if you don’t see results right away,” Nikki said. “You’re essentially training your muscles to move differently so it’s going to take time to see improvement.”

Flexibility is important for dancing because it makes everything look better and strengthens your ability to hold lines, Nikki said.

Nikki fits her stretching routine in everyday, whether it’s before a technique class, an Orchesis rehearsal, or just at home.

“If I’m at home, I sometimes watch something on Hulu and stretch then,” Nikki said.

This is an easy and enjoyable way to stretch because it takes your mind off the pain you may be feeling and if you’re really enraptured by what your watching, you’ll likely hold the stretch longer.

Cal Poly dance teacher, Lisa Deyo, has witnessed her flexibility change over the course of her dance career. Her daily stretching routine depends on how she’s feeling each day and thus determines what exercises she will do, she said.

“My body always thanks me later.” – Lisa Deyo

With age, Lisa said she feels things more intensely, so she focuses on staying strong and balanced. She distinctly remembers needing to transition from stretching to more strengthening when she turned 36. However, at that time, she said her muscles also became tighter so she had to work on stretches that she didn’t need to do when she was younger.

“I used to wake up and sit in the splits, but that goes away very abruptly with age,” Lisa said. “I’m almost 47 now which means my tissues are less flexible, so I have to be more gentle and take longer with my stretching.”

When instructing younger dancers, Lisa teaches them how to listen to their body to feel where they are tight. She emphasized the importance of staying in a stretch longer and really picturing the breath filling the space where it hurts.

“Flexibility is about balancing your flexibility with your strength so that you are as pliable and able to respond to the needs of the choreographer as much as possible,” Lisa said.

Here is a list of  stretches that dancers are recommended to do everyday. Always remember to listen to your body and stretch according to what it needs.

Before you begin stretching, do some form of cardio to get the blood flowing. Stretching your muscles will be easier and less painful if they are warmed up.  

  • Pike – legs stretched out in front of you. Lay torso on legs, pressing head into knees. Hold feet with your hands.
  • Butterfly – sitting on rear, bend legs and press feet together. Increase stretch by leaning torso over legs.
  • “Cobra” or “Seal”
  • “Child’s Pose” or “Kitty Cat” – lean back on your thighs and stretch arms straight out ahead of you
  • Frog – lay on stomach with legs bent and feet pressed together
  • Lunges
  • “Pigeon” or Half-Split
  • Splits on the left, right, and in the middle
  • Wall stretch – lay on back with rear pressed against the wall, legs extended in second position. Let gravity pull legs down
  • Feet Stretch – point and flex. Therabands are a useful tool for this stretch


Something’s different…

Have you noticed anything different about the Lashes and Leotards page? Well you may have noticed that the addition of menus has made the site a little easier to navigate. Thanks to a great web tutorial by SiteSparker I learned how to add menus to my blog. There is now a menu with several buttons directly below the header. I have also created a footer menu at the bottom of the page. As I write and develop content for the site, I will continue to update my menus to improve the ease of navigation and accessibility for my readers.

Although I didn’t seek the expertise of web tutorials, I spent many hours clicking through the Dashboard and figuring out how to set up a a link to “Like” the Lashes and Leotards page via Facebook. And with that being said, I encourage you to visit the Lashes and Leotards Facebook page. I have also set up a Twitter account under the name LashenLeotards. Please visit these pages and follow me! I so appreciate your support and hope you enjoy my blog!

New Post Coming Soon!

Hello readers!

Please keep your eyes open for my next post on FLEXIBILITY and STRETCHING! I think you will all enjoy this post and benefit from the tips my lovely sources have given me. Here’s a sneak preview of my post…

First-year Psych major and Orchesis dancer, Lauren Creger remembers her high school dance team coach telling her and her teammates this:

“If you aren’t flexible, you’re nothing to me.”

Wow, harsh right? Don’t worry; Lauren said her coach meant it in a “tough love” sort of way. Look forward to many more interesting tidbits on flexibility from Lauren. Now go work on your splits!