We’ve all felt nagging pains in our lower backs, necks and shins—and we’ve all ignored them. It’s easy for dancers to chalk these seemingly minor afflictions up to nothing more than #dancerprobz. But there comes a point when it’s time to stop pretending everything’s fine. “Most bigger dance injuries occur because of overuse, so dancers need to be diligent about the little problems,” says Sean Gallagher, PT, founder of Performing Arts Physical Therapy in NYC. Dance Spirit spoke with Gallagher and Laura Hohm, PT, DPT, CFMT, of PhysioArts in NYC, about how to care for these unloved body parts.
You Feel: Sharp twinges of pain or stiffness when you turn your neck, especially when spotting or performing choreo with lots of head movements.
If Left Unaddressed: Neck symptoms are often indicative of overworked, strained muscles. Continued stress can cause irreversible tissue damage, loss of motion in the cervical spine and nerve pain.
Try This: “Stretching the neck muscles can make the pain worse in certain situations,” Hohm warns, so use caution when you feel the urge to stretch it out. Hohm recommends The Thinker pose: Make a fist with your right hand and place it under your chin, supporting your right arm by holding your left arm across your body and tucking it under your right elbow. You should feel the tension in your neck begin to release as you relax on your fist.
(Photo by Erin Baiano)
You Feel: Pain or soreness along the front of your lower leg, especially while jumping or in relevé—commonly known as shin splints.
If Left Unaddressed:
Shin splints can progress to stress fractures, which are twice as painful and difficult to heal.
Try This: A full calf and foot warm-up prior to dancing should do the trick, as well as gentle calf stretching and periodic icing when soreness occurs.
You Feel: Sharp, persistent lower back pain that worsens in arabesque, cambré back and with jumping.
(Photo by Erin Baiano)
If Left Unaddressed: Pain from prolonged and repetitive strain on the lower back and lower lumbar spine can be early symptoms of a stress fracture.
Try This: Abdominal strengthening exercises done while maintaining neutral spine alignment (Pilates is especially good) can help support the torso and back.
These solutions are potential fixes for minor problems. “But if symptoms last more than one to two weeks, it’s time to see the doctor,” Gallagher says. Hohm agrees: “If the pain persists and doesn’t change with warm-ups, cool-downs, rest and ice, it’s best to seek medical advice.”
An Ode to Dark Chocolate
Packed with antioxidants and heart-healthy flavonoids, dark chocolate is the perfect treat to keep in your dance bag. And in case you needed more reasons to indulge this Valentine’s Day, here’s our love letter to all things dark chocolate.
Dear Dark Chocolate,
Have we told you lately that we love you? When we’re feeling down, all it takes is one bite to boost our moods—you’re packed with phenylethylamine, a chemical that prompts our brains to release feel-good endorphins. When we’re feeling sluggish, all we need are a few squares of 70 percent cocoa for some extra oomph. Each bite of chocolate provides us with iron (to help fight off fatigue), magnesium (to help with energy production) and potassium (to help regulate blood pressure). The list goes on, and so does our love. We don’t need Valentine’s Day as a reason to indulge—you’ve got nutritional goodness to give every day of the year!
Did You Know?
You’ve got the choreo on lock and your technique is on point. But you need one more thing to take your performance to the next level: eye contact, and lots of it. Studies show that holding someone’s gaze helps that person recall you more easily. So when you lock eyes with the judges at a competition or the teachers at a convention, make the moment count!
When injury strikes, how do you deal with pain? For many dancers, coping involves generous amounts of ibuprofen and ice. But pain pills, like Advil or Tylenol, can be tough on your stomach, and icing requires time—and a freezer. That’s where homeopathic pain relievers come in.
Homeopathy has been around for over 200 years. It uses natural remedies—like extracts from plants or minerals—to help the body heal. Many homeopathic pain relievers are topical, meaning they’re applied directly to the skin. “Topical pain relievers deliver site-specific relief, with minimal side effects,” explains Jacqui Haas, director of dance medicine at Wellington Orthopaedic Sports Medicine Therapy Services for Cincinnati Ballet.
There are tons of homeopathic formulas out there. To make things simpler, we got the scoop on three dancer faves.
(Photos courtesy Tiger Balm, Biofreeze, Arnicare)
Active ingredients: Menthol and camphor, which comes from
the wood of camphor trees
How it works: Menthol and camphor have similar effects. Like Biofreeze, Tiger Balm uses cold therapy to ease pain symptoms.
Best for: Sprains, strains and general muscle soreness
Active ingredient: Menthol, a chemical found in mint oils
How it works: The menthol creates a cooling sensation, which keeps pain signals from reaching your brain. It also reduces blood flow to the applied area, which prevents swelling.
Best for: Sprains, strains and general muscle soreness
Active ingredient: Arnica, which is extracted from the Arnica montana flower
How it works: Arnica’s dispersive properties help reduce bruising and swelling.
Best for: Bruises and swelling
You shouldn’t use topical homeopathic pain remedies…
…under braces or taping.
…on broken or sensitive skin.
These products can cause rashes or blistering, and they can be poisonous if they enter the bloodstream.
Haas says: “If, after using the product, your symptoms get worse, you develop skin irritation or you experience no relief in seven days, stop using it and consult
Got a sweet tooth that won’t quit? Pump up the a.m. protein! According to a study published in Nutrition Journal, eating a high-protein (about 35 grams) breakfast helps quiet your sugary cravings throughout the day by upping the level of happy hormones in your brain.
Did you know...
…dark chocolate is awesome? You probably did.
But in honor of Valentine’s Day, here’s yet another accolade to add to its trophy case: Dark chocolate can reduce muscle pain and soreness. Its high cocoa content works like ibuprofen or aspirin to reduce inflammation, one of the major causes of pain. What’s more, if eaten before physical activity, dark chocolate may even prevent inflammatory molecules from forming, according to a study conducted at Aberystwyth University in Wales. That’s reason number 3,465,891 to pack a square of the dark stuff for a pre-rehearsal snack.
(Photo by Digital Vision/Thinkstock)
Hugz, Not Strugz
Does your competition team or student company have a pre-performance ritual? Believe it or not, those hand-squeeze chains, massage trains and hug seshes do a whole lot more than calm your nerves.
You’ve probably heard of oxytocin, commonly referred to as the “love hormone.” It’s the chemical that makes you feel so darn awesome whenever you get a good hug. But oxytocin also has a lesser-known function: It boosts team performance. Numerous studies have found that teams that engage in physical contact before a competition—such as hugs or pats on the back—perform better than teams that don’t. Scientists attribute the performance boost to the release of oxytocin, which can strengthen important team attitudes, like trust, empathy and generosity.
Vaseline Lip Therapy
Love is in the air this month—but that air is positively frigid! When the weather is cold and dry, your lips can become chapped and cracked—not the ideal canvas for that candy-apple red lipstick you’ll wear for your next performance, or for a V-day date. We chatted with dermatologist D’Anne Kleinsmith, MD, to get tips for keeping your lips kissably smooth.
Don’t lick your lips in an attempt to hydrate them. The salt and acid in your saliva will dry out your lips and the skin around them.
Splash some water on your lips before you apply your lip balm—the balm will seal the moisture in place.
Steer clear of lip balms that include eucalyptus, menthol or camphor. These ingredients can cause dryness and irritation.
To avoid dryness on competition day, try wearing a lip balm or conditioner, like MAC lip conditioner, underneath your lipstick.
If you’re acne prone, avoid using a lip balm with a Vaseline base—it can block the pores surrounding your lips.
If your lips are extremely chapped and cracked, normal lip balms may not be strong enough. Try using one percent hydrocortisone ointment on premoistened lips at bedtime for a few nights.
Dr. Kleinsmith’s Picks:
Vaseline Lip Therapy: A great basic lip balm.
Eucerin Aquaphor Lip Repair + Protect: The shea butter and castor seed oil make it very hydrating. Plus, it’s SPF 30.
THE DARK SIDE
Avoid a sugar coma this Valentine’s Day by enjoying some tasty dark chocolate treats. In moderation, dark chocolate has some pretty awesome health benefits, like improved heart health, reduced diabetes risk and more. Here, the DS editors share their favorite dark chocolate delights.
Dark chocolate–covered strawberries. —Alison Feller, editor in chief
Dark chocolate–covered almonds. —Josephine Daño, senior art director
Dark chocolate–coated pretzels. —Rachel Zar, managing editor
Plain dark chocolate squares—"the really intense kind, like 70 percent cocoa." —Margaret Fuhrer, associate editor
Dark chocolate–covered pomegranate seeds. —Michael Anne Bailey, assistant editor, fashion
When it’s dreary outside, it’s easy to feel down in the dumps. But keep your head up, because a slight change in your posture can make a world of difference. According to a recent study at San Francisco State University, slouching can make you feel depressed, but perking up your posture boosts your mood and energy levels. So the next time you’re counting down the minutes in your last class of the day, sit up a little straighter. You’ll feel happier and ready for your after-school rehearsal!
Got an arch cramp? Grab a golf ball! It’s the perfect size to roll out aching arches.
Waltz your way around the kitchen while making these yummy drinks.
64- ounce bottle
100 percent apple juice (no sugar added)
12- ounce bag fresh cranberries
Small handful whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
Put all the ingredients into a slow cooker and simmer for 4 hours. Strain out the cranberries, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Serve warm.
Homemade Hot Cocoa
2 cups skim milk
2 heaping tablespoons dark chocolate cocoa powder
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Optional: 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
Pour milk into a saucepan and warm over medium heat until steaming (not boiling). Add the remaining ingredients and whisk until well blended. Pour into a mug and enjoy!
DID YOU KNOW? Watching a rerun of your favorite TV show (“So You Think You Can Dance”! “All the Right Moves”! “Dance Moms”!) could help you become more motivated. According to recent studies published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, having a little rerun fun will help you relax, because you already know what’s going to happen. You’ll leave the couch feeling refreshed and motivated to tackle that tricky turn combination.
Having hair trouble? Spray your bobby pins, clips and elastics with dry shampoo before you use them. It will give them more grip so your buns stay performance perfect.
Don't you love it when foods you thought were guilty pleasures turn out to be good for you? Recently, scientists have called out two unlikely treats—chocolate and popcorn—for their health benefits. A new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine shows that people who consume chocolate frequently have lower BMIs (body mass indexes). And the American Chemical Society just announced that popcorn has more healthful antioxidants than fruits and vegetables. (Antioxidants help neutralize damage-causing free radicals in your body.)
That said, your new diet shouldn't be popcorn with a side of chocolate followed by chocolate-covered popcorn for dessert. Chocolate is best eaten in moderation—a piece or two of dark chocolate daily is a good bet. And popcorn shouldn't replace vegetables in your diet. Instead, sub lightly salted (not buttered) popcorn for chips or crackers. Happy snacking!
Oh, chocolate, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways. Chocolate helps us quell our PMS-induced cravings and nurse our wounds after heart-wrenching breakups—not to mention that it just tastes so good. To our delight, recent studies have the media singing the praises of this decadent dessert that’s previously had a bad rap, health-wise. We know you’ve seen those news flashes on the internet proclaiming, “Chocolate is good for you!” But to score chocolate’s true health benefits, you have to know which kinds to choose.
Chocolate is made from cocoa, also known as cacao, grown on trees in the tropical forests of South America in the form of a bean. Cocoa contains high levels of flavonoids, which are “the natural chemical substances in chocolate that have favorable health properties,” says Jackie Keller, an L.A.-based health and nutrition expert.
Why should you care about flavonoids? They can improve blood vessel function, which keeps your blood pumping freely throughout your body, and they can also reduce blood clots—those nasty little things that can cause heart attacks and strokes later in life. Flavonoids also clean up free radicals, which are absolutely-no-good molecules that can cause cell damage, cancer and aging, says MariAnn Rhodes, MS, RD, LDN, a Chicago area–based nutritionist. That doesn’t mean that gorging yourself on chocolate will automatically erase your wrinkles when you’re older, but a flavonoid-rich diet is thought to lessen the signs of aging.
If all this chocolate-is-good-for-you news is making you want to rush to the nearest vending machine or bakery—STOP! Sadly, all chocolate is not created equal. “The addition of milk dilutes the concentration of cocoa solids and lessens flavonoids,” says Massachusetts-based nutritionist Laura Zohman. This means you’ll receive the most health benefits from a solid chocolate—not chocolate cake, pudding or cookies—that also has a high cocoa content. Here’s a breakdown of cocoa content for the three types of commercially-made chocolate out there:
- White chocolate: contains no cocoa bean solids
- Milk chocolate: contains 7 to 50 percent cocoa
- Dark chocolate: contains 50 to 85 percent cocoa
Because these categories vary widely, Zohman recommends looking for a dark chocolate with 70 percent or greater cocoa content noted on the label. Brands to look for include Scharffen Berger, Dagoba, Santander, Godiva, Amadei, Endangered Species, NEWTREE Chocolates and Cacao Reserve by Hershey’s. This higher cocoa content means a lower sugar and fat content, which gives dark chocolate a stronger, more bitter taste in comparison to lighter milk chocolate. In addition, check the ingredients label when shopping for chocolate. “Choose…chocolates containing real cocoa butter, not hydrogenated oils and milk fats, which are unhealthy,” says Zohman. “Look for real vanilla and other natural ingredients, rather than artificial additives.”
Words of Wisdom
Unfortunately, “the more the better” rule of thumb doesn’t apply to dark chocolate. Sticking to a healthy serving size is essential, as even the darkest chocolate also contains sugar, saturated fat and about 150 calories per ounce (that’s usually one or two squares, depending on the bar). Nutritionists recommend dark chocolate as a smart substitute for other treats, like brownies or cookies, but you still need to maintain a balanced diet of fruits, veggies and whole grains—all of which offer their own doses of beneficial antioxidants and vitamins. “A one-ounce serving daily can be a delicious way to obtain the health benefits and a bite of pure enjoyment, too,” Keller explains.
Keep in mind that chocolate isn’t for everyone. “We are all biochemically different,” Zohman says, “and do not tolerate foods in the same way.” She explains that chocolate contains theobromine, a caffeine-like chemical which can cause headaches or insomnia for some people, while Rhodes adds that chocolate can also aggravate acid reflux for others. In these cases, it’s best to steer clear of chocolate altogether.