Skipped Periods Could Have Serious Effects on Your Health - And Career
If you’re a dancer whose menstrual cycle has stopped, you could be wondering what’s happening. Are you pregnant? Is it early menopause? You may even be thinking, “Big deal, so I don’t get my period.” But it is a big deal, not only for overall health, but also for the future of your dance career. Besides leading to reproductive problems and osteoporosis, amenorrhea, the condition in which your body refuses to menstruate, may increase susceptibility to stress fractures.
There are two types of amenorrhea: primary and secondary. Primary amenorrhea occurs when a woman hasn’t had her first period by age 16. Secondary amenorrhea, more common among dancers who train long and hard, occurs when regular periods stop for three months or longer. Up to 30 percent of classical dancers have stopped or will stop getting their periods at some point in their careers, says Dr. Michelle P. Warren, a professor of women’s health in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University who has studied this condition for 20 years.
Address the Causes
Reduced caloric intake, over-exercising and stress are typical causes of amenorrhea. “The body has a way of picking up when there aren’t enough calories around, [so] it shuts down reproduction,” says Warren. In other words, if your caloric intake is too low to sustain your activity level, your body will divert calories from reproduction to fuel vital organs.
Spending long days training in the studio is part of being a dancer, so exercising less in order to restart your menstrual cycle may not be an option for you. There are other ways to address the issue, however. Increasing caloric intake, especially from such nutrient-rich foods as red meat, spinach and yogurt, can stop amenorrhea by sending the appropriate signals to your ovaries to restart the cycle. Eating consistently, never skipping meals and avoiding yo-yo diets will also help to keep periods regular. Manage your stress with yoga, massage and relaxing baths. Also avoid using supplements as meal replacements. According to Warren, there’s a high incidence of fractures in women who replace food with supplements, because nutrients aren’t absorbed as well from supplements as they are from food.
Failure to reproduce is an obvious side effect of irregular periods, but amenorrhea can also interfere with the amount of calcium deposited in your bones, even if your diet is high in calcium. For young dancers, it’s especially important to build bone density, because bone growth stops after about age 25. (The exact age varies according to the individual.) If irregular periods cause your body to build less bone than it should before you stop growing, the chances of stress fracture and early osteoporosis rise.
While calcium is vital for healthy bones, protein is just as important. Studies have shown a correlation between low protein intake and low bone mass. “In an effort to keep weight down, I see young dancers who are vegetarians, and you have to be very careful on this diet because it’s hard to get enough protein,” Warren explains. “You can’t just make trips to the salad bar and expect to be on a well-balanced diet.” Lean meats such as chicken and fish are good protein foods, however, these don’t provide enough iron, another valuable nutrient that promotes growth and maintains high energy levels. Warren recommends eating spinach and parsley and cooking in iron skillets. Vegetarians may even need to consider eating red meat—if only in small amounts. “I usually ask [my patients] if they would consider eating at least three ounces of red meat at least three to four times a week,” says Warren. Amenorrheic vegetarians can also strategize with their nutritionists on ways to increase protein without eating meat.
Luckily, secondary amenorrhea is reversible in most cases with diet change and lower stress. If your periods don’t return within three months (barring pregnancy), schedule an appointment with your ob/gyn immediately.
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.