Thanksgiving leftovers are easily the best part about the holiday. But digesting rich foods can sap your energy. We spoke with Emily Cook Harrison, a registered dietitian at the Centre for Dance Nutrition in Atlanta, for the scoop on the best Turkey Day leftover recipes for performance power. She suggested a number of delicious combinations, all of which are easy to prepare and transport.
(Photo via Thinkstock)
1. Cranberry-apple relish on multigrain toast
The giant bowl of cranberry sauce sitting in the fridge keeps for up to a week and can be transformed into an energy-rich breakfast treat. Harrison suggests chopping some tangy Granny Smith apples and mixing them in with the sauce. For an extra kick, shave a bit of ginger and sprinkle it in. Cranberries outrank almost every fruit when it comes to antioxidants, and with the toast’s carbohydrates, you’re sure to feel energized.
2. Wild rice and turkey salad
It’s a given that there’s always too much turkey at Thanksgiving—this dish is a great way to use up what’s left. Simmer 1 cup of wild rice in about 2 cups of water for 35–40 minutes (if you have some vegetable stock, use it instead of water for added flavor). Chop up any leftover vegetables (celery, spinach and kale work especially well) and sauté them with olive oil. Shred or slice some lean, white turkey meat and add it in. Once the rice has cooked, mix all the ingredients together. The vegetables paired with the turkey offer both antioxidants and protein, and the rice’s high magnesium content promotes sharper memory.
3. Day-after dip
Sweet potatoes are one of the most delicious Thanksgiving foods—and they’re also one of the best carbohydrates for you. Heat up any leftover potatoes, and chop up a mix of almonds, pecans and pumpkin seeds. Once the potatoes are warm and easily mashable, put all the ingredients into a food processor and blend for a delectable dip. Serve it with everything from crackers to fruit.
Bye-Bye Bad Habits
Everyone has bad dance habits, and getting rid of them can feel next to impossible. According to Art Markman, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, trying to break your bad habits isn’t enough—you have to replace them with better ones, instead.
Why? For starters, if you know you’ve got a habit to break, like constantly looking in the mirror during class, it only seems natural to say, “I need to stop doing that.” The problem with this is that it’s a negative goal—something you inherently don’t want to do. And since it’s a habit, it’s nearly impossible to unlearn, because your body and mind are so used to it.
Markman says it’s much easier to learn something new than unlearn something old, so try developing a better habit to replace the bad one. If you catch yourself looking in the mirror too frequently, practice using your head to complete your épaulement—and make sure to follow the line with your eyes. A little modification can go a long way.
Did You Know?
Reaching for your laptop or scrolling through an endless feed of Instagram pics is tempting, especially during a holiday break, when you have more downtime than usual. But it’s important to limit your screen time. A number of studies have shown that our short-term memory has limited storage, and according to Erik Fransén of KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, even a single session on the internet can affect our ability to retain information. That means if you OD on @real_world_ballerina’s Instagram feed, the choreo that was fresh in your mind before break may be harder to remember once you’re back in class. Browse wisely!
Do you feel overtired, have a hard time catching your breath during grand allégro or seem unable to remember the choreography you learned an hour ago? If you’re experiencing these symptoms, don’t assume that you just can’t keep up. There might be a good reason for your sluggishness: iron deficiency.
Iron deficiency occurs when the body doesn’t absorb enough of the essential mineral, causing a wide range of issues. It’s a common problem for female athletes, but one that’s relatively easy to fix. Here’s how dancers can identify, overcome and prevent iron deficiency.
Why You Need Iron
“Iron is important because it helps carry oxygen in our blood to the tissues in our body,” says Dr. Eleni Lantzouni, who specializes in adolescent medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “An athlete’s need for iron is higher than that of any other person,” Lantzouni adds. “And teenagers need more than any other age group, since they’re still growing.” Female dancers in particular require adequate iron in their diets to make up for the amount lost during their monthly periods.
If you’re iron deficient, you tend to cramp more often because your muscles aren’t getting enough oxygen. You can also experience “brain fog”—your thinking may not be as quick and sharp as it could be, making you less likely to pick up combinations or remember and apply corrections.
Iron deficiency may also mean a greater chance of injury. “When you don’t get as much oxygen to your tissues and organs, you faint easily,” Lantzouni says. “You can get out of breath and your heart rate might accelerate, causing palpitations or other symptoms.” If you push through severe fatigue, your muscles might not respond as quickly as they would otherwise, making injuries more likely.
Symptoms of Iron Deficiency
Fatigue is the number one sign that you’re low on iron. “You feel more tired, and you aren’t capable of getting to the end of a variation with the same oomph,” says Emily Cook Harrison, registered dietitian at The Centre for Dance Nutrition in Atlanta. Your aerobic capacity is diminished due to iron’s role in transporting oxygen throughout our bodies.
Other symptoms of iron deficiency include a weakened immune system. “You may get sick more often, and can be more susceptible to cold and flu viruses,” Harrison says. Your complexion, your gums and the beds of your fingernails could look paler than usual. You might also have circles under your eyes. “With a decrease in immune function, you just feel kind of bad and rundown,” she says.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, go to your doctor. A simple blood test can determine if you’re iron deficient.
How to Increase Your Iron Intake
There are plenty of ways to get more iron from your diet. Red meat and chicken are good sources of easily absorbable iron. Broccoli, beans, nuts, grains and leafy green vegetables provide iron as well, although you might need to eat a variety of these foods to get the iron you need. “If you’re vegetarian, have orange juice with your meals,” says Lantzouni. “Vitamin C seems to increase iron absorption.” Heating iron-rich vegetables can help, too. “If you cook them down a tiny bit, you’re actually going to make the iron more absorbable,” says Harrison. “Sauté kale in some broth or olive oil, or bake it to concentrate the nutrients.”
Dark, leafy greens are a great source of iron (Photo Jumpiter Images/Thinkstock)
Multivitamins can be useful, but getting iron from food is preferable. And if you’re also taking calcium, avoid taking the two supplements at the same time. “Iron and calcium compete for absorption,” Harrison says.
Emily Cook Harrison, registered dietitian at The Centre for Nutrition in Atlanta, recommends this iron-rich kale salad:
Mix a little bit of lemon juice and olive oil with a quarter teaspoon of maple syrup.
Massage the dressing into a handful of kale and add dried fruit (cranberries, raisins or apricots) to taste.
“This kale salad takes just five minutes to make! It’s a really popular recipe with my dancers,” Harrison says. “The vitamin C and acid from the lemon juice help with the absorption of the iron in the kale, plus the dried fruit is another good source of iron.”
Aaron Ingley and Julia Erickson are partners on and off stage—and now, in business. (Nick Coppula)
When Julia Erickson and Aaron Ingley fell in love with dance—and each other—they had no idea their passion would result in a successful food business. Well into their professional ballet careers, the pair became dissatisfied with the lack of nutrition and plethora of artificial ingredients in energy bars. And so they created their own, appropriately named Barre.
The two started their dance careers nearly 3,000 miles apart—Ingley at the Southern Academy of Ballet Arts in Tallahassee, FL, at age 13, and Erickson at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School at age 7. They met when Ingley went to study at PNB in 1996, and they started dating a year and a half later. Ingley became a member of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 1999, and Erickson joined him in 2001. She’s now a principal with the company, while Ingley, who left PBT in 2008, recently graduated from University of Pittsburgh and is a freelance dancer.
For years, they discussed their frustration with energy bars, which tasted bad, didn’t have enough protein and were full of questionable ingredients. Erickson found that the snacks that gave her proper fuel—like granola and trail mix—made a mess of her costumes or the studio floor. One night in 2010, she came home from work determined to make a better option. “I’ve always been a foodie,” she says. “And I love experimenting in the kitchen.”
Erickson reached for staple performance-enhancing ingredients she already had: dried fruits, like dates for their antioxidants and cranberries for their anti-
inflammatory properties; raw nuts, like pecans, which are rich in potassium, calcium and iron; oats for fiber; and a pinch of sea salt for natural electrolytes, so she could skip the sugary Gatorade. She began making a different version every couple of days, and she and Ingley quickly knew she was on to something. “The bar tasted really good,” she says. “I ate it before rehearsal and it gave me awesome energy without making me feel bloated. Once I figured it out, I wanted to share it with the dance community.”
She started bringing variations of the gooey snack into the studio to share with her co-workers, and many of them said they would buy it if it were on the market. With the PBT dancers as their willing guinea pigs, Erickson and Ingley perfected the recipe for Barre’s debut flavor, called Pirouette Cinnamon Pecan. They spent days in their kitchen cooking, shaping and packaging what would be the first batch of Barre bars for sale. Many of their dancing friends even donned hair nets to help. The new products were sold for $2 apiece at the PBT summer program. “We sold a lot and saw that there was a market,” Erickson says. “The students were really into them.” They decided to officially go into business.
Since business classes aren’t part of a classical ballet dancer’s training, the pair was unsure what the next step would be. So Erickson approached PBT sports dietician Leslie Bonci, who was immediately on board. She directed them to a food lab to have the product analyzed; the food lab suggested a manufacturer, who introduced them to a company that produces packaging. Then, they organized meetings with Pittsburgh philanthropists to raise start-up money.
Barre made its official debut at the 2011 Dance Retailer News Expo in Las Vegas—less than a year after Erickson threw away her trail mix. “We felt like everyone in the dance retail world was a bit taken aback—in a good way,” Erickson says. “It was a great affirmation that as dancers ourselves, we understand what dancers need, and we’re able to meet those needs.”
Currently, Barre has three flavors, all made with ingredients everyone can pronounce. They’re sold across the country, including at Steps on Broadway, the NYC boutiques for Freed, Gaynor Minden and Sansha, select Whole Foods Market stores and Giant Eagle grocery stores.
Erickson and Ingley attribute much of their success to their passion for their product and their ability to “tap into the dance network.” All of the Barre team members—who distribute samples at Whole Foods, design the Barre packaging and photograph the product—are current or former dancers. “Barre didn’t start with the business in mind,” Ingley says. “It started with the dancer’s performance in mind.” That’s why Barre contributes a portion of all its proceeds to arts education programs.
Despite their remarkable success, the couple remains humble, admitting they’re still learning as they go. “When we sit here talking about it like this, I feel like we own a real company,” Ingley says. Erickson laughs, putting her hand on his. “I think we do!”
Pulling back the curtain on tried and true ballerina habits never gets old. We've pored over the contents of New York City Ballet dancers' travel cases (Weird heating pads! Notes from fans!), drooled over American Ballet Theatre principal Isabella Boylston's amazing style, (Helloooo 70s flair!), received our daily dose of #fitspo from international ballerinas with enviable workout gear (Black and neon, together, forever.) and gone completely bonkers for the delicious diets of the women at the National Ballet of Canada (Homemade kombucha. 'Nuff said.).
Now it's time to whip out our notebooks once more, because New York City Ballet principals Sara Mearns and Megan Fairchild, along with corps member Gretchen Smith, have revealed what they eat in a day. Aside from being co-stars in two absolutely stunning Cole Haan advertising campaigns, these lovely ladies know what it takes to fuel their bodies for weeks of hard dancing. Check it out below, and the full story here:
A photo posted by The Coveteur (@thecoveteur) on
We featured commercial diva Liana Blackburn in 2015 and she wowed us with her super-healthy, vegetable-centric diet—which she maintained while dancing in Las Vegas for Britney Spears.
Now that she's on tour as Selena Gomez's dance captain (nbd), Blackburn has added a new component to her DailyDancerDiet blog and Instagram presence: A YouTube series! "DaiyDancerDiet on Tour" takes followers to restaurants that Blackburn has chosen to highlight based on their commitment to healthy food.
If you're curious what a pro dancer eats to fuel their day of rehearsals, training and performance, Blackburn provides an interesting and thorough resource.
Fueling dancers’ ever-moving bodies can be an artform in and of itself. We had three professional dancers journal everything they ate on a given day, to see how they navigate the complex world of nutrition while juggling classes and rehearsals. Then we asked Rachel Fine, registered dietitian for The School at Steps in NYC and founder of To the Pointe Nutrition, to weigh in on their choices. What she says might surprise you!
Keigwin + Company
Keigwin + Company's Emily Schoen (photo by Matthew Murphy, courtesy Emily Schoen)
8:30 am, breakfast (before
10 am–12 pm ballet class):
• 1 Thomas’ cinnamon-raisin English muffin
• 2–3 tablespoons Trader Joe’s creamy almond butter, salted
• homemade cold-brew coffee with a splash of half-and-half
“If I don’t eat the right breakfast, I crash in class. This combo gives me a balance of fat and protein to keep me satiated, and carbohydrates for an energy kick. Plus, Thomas’ English muffins are easy to find on tour!”
12 pm, snack:
• 1 apple
1 pm, lunch (eaten throughout the afternoon Keigwin + Company rehearsal):
• a serving of honey and harissa farro salad with parsnips, carrots and feta cheese (recipe from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)
• 1 hard-boiled egg
“I like to munch on this grain salad throughout rehearsal. It’s fresh and light, so it doesn’t make me too sleepy.”
5 pm, snack:
• 1 dark-chocolate almond-coconut Clif Mojo Trail Mix Bar
8 pm, dinner:
• 1 piece of homemade garlic bread
• 1 serving of spaghetti with 1/2 cup of homemade marinara sauce
• arugula salad with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper
• 1/2 scoop of Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked ice cream
“I’ve let go of the notion that certain foods are ‘bad,’ and just focus on eating reasonable portions of real food. A small scoop of full-fat ice cream leaves me much more satisfied than the low-fat stuff.”
FINE SAYS: I’m glad to see Emily choosing whole-food sources for her recipes. When using premade items, you should reach for those that are minimally processed. How can you tell? Look at the ingredient list on the box and see how many you recognize—and can pronounce.
To start her day, Emily makes a great choice with almond butter. It has anti-
inflammatory omega-3s, vitamin E to protect her cells, magnesium to facilitate muscle contraction and iron to oxygenate her tissues. Farro, which Emily eats throughout rehearsal, is a nutrient-packed grain, with protein, fiber and even some iron and calcium. Eating little bits of it over time will help provide a steady supply of the sugar she needs for energy—and it'll keep her from feeling too bloated.
While nutrition bars are a great grab-and-go source of fuel, many of the products
advertised as “nutrition” or “energy bars” are really just glorified candy bars, with added sugars. I’d suggest that Emily opt for a brand with more fiber and fewer processed ingredients, like Lärabars or KIND bars. And at dinner, I’d tell Emily to toss in some lean protein, like shrimp or grilled chicken breast, to help rebuild tired muscles.
Dominic “D-trix” Sandoval
Quest Crew's Dominic "D-trix" Sandoval (Photo courtesy MTV)
9 am, breakfast (before 10 am–1 pm wardrobe fittings and camera rehearsals for “America’s Best Dance Crew”):
• 16-ounce (“grande”) Starbucks iced, sugar-free caramel macchiato with soy
• Starbucks reduced-fat turkey-bacon and egg-white sandwich
“I like adding soy to my morning drink because it makes it taste much sweeter—but with less sugar and fat than cream. And turkey bacon and egg whites taste just as good as regular bacon and eggs.”
1 pm, lunch (before 2–5 pm rehearsal with Quest Crew):
• chicken breast with sides of green beans, mac and cheese and corn bread
5 pm (before 5–7 pm rehearsal with Quest Crew):
• 16-ounce Jamba Juice Protein Berry Workout Smoothie
“I like drinking a protein smoothie between workouts, instead of at the end of the day.”
7 pm, dinner (before 9 pm–4 am rehearsal with Quest Crew):
• Chipotle chicken salad with rice, beans, grilled veggies, corn, cheese, sour cream and lettuce
• pineapple-orange-mango Mountain Dew Kickstart
“Because rehearsals go so late, I’m usually hungry before bedtime. But I’ve found that drinking a glass of water—instead of snacking—tends to curb my late-night cravings.”
FINE SAYS: When eating out, it’s easy to consume excessive sugar, unhealthy fats and sodium. At Starbucks, be careful of sugar substitutes, such as those found in sugar-free syrups, as they can cause stomach discomfort. But as far as Starbucks’ breakfasts go, the sandwich D-trix chooses is a good option for maximizing protein and reducing sodium and sugar.
Though a homemade version with fewer added sugars would ultimately be best, D-trix’s smoothie is a solid choice before rehearsal. Protein is critical for muscle recovery, and the carbohydrates in the juice will help replenish his energy.
Overall, I’d make sure D-trix is getting enough water, especially since he’s dancing all day. I’d tell him to forgo the soda—which is loaded with sugar and lacks nutritional value—and opt for seltzer or unsweetened brewed iced tea to sip on throughout rehearsal.
Britney Spears’ Britney: Piece of Me; author of DailyDancerDiet blog (dailydancerdiet.com)
Liana Blackburn (bottom right) in Britney: Piece of Me (Photo by Jonathan Pears, courtesy Liana Blackburn)
9 am, breakfast:
• 1 glass of water
• 2 organic, pasture-raised eggs from Vital Farms, pan-fried
• organic broccoli, zucchini and mushrooms sautéed in coconut oil and tossed with quinoa and a pinch of salt
• 1/4 avocado
“Eating veggies first thing makes me feel fresh and energized for the day. While I don’t have food allergies, I’ve found that my body operates best when I refrain from eating gluten, dairy, refined sugar, caffeine, soy and processed foods.”
11:30 am, snack:
• homemade butternut-squash waffle with 1 tablespoon organic almond butter and organic strawberries
12 pm, snacks (eaten throughout 12–4 pm rehearsal):
• homemade green drink with kale, cucumber, celery, lemon, water and ginger
• Mary’s Gone Crackers (original flavor)
• organic carrots
“If I’m not fueled during rehearsal, it drags me down and I have trouble focusing. I
always bring plenty of snacks so I’m prepared in case rehearsal runs long.”
4:30 pm, lunch:
• homemade organic veggie soup with kidney beans, Swiss chard, celery, zucchini, carrots and sesame seed oil
6 pm, snack:
• 1 Lundberg Family Farms salt-free brown-rice cake topped with hummus, organic cucumbers, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt
8 pm, dinner:
• 3 ounces baked wild-caught Alaskan salmon seasoned with soy sauce and salt
• steamed organic green beans lightly pan-fried with coconut oil and salt
• 1/2 cup wild rice
• 1/4 avocado
45 minutes before bed, dessert:
• 1 handful organic blueberries
• 1 piece of 80-percent cacao dark chocolate
• herbal organic peppermint tea
FINE SAYS: I applaud Liana’s use of wholesome ingredients! She’s getting the most nutritious bang for her buck. Veggies for breakfast may seem like an odd choice, but they’re great any time of day. That said, be careful not to fill up on veggies alone. They don’t have enough protein for optimal muscle building and won’t keep you satiated all day. So it’s great that Liana chooses eggs to help keep her energy levels stable for the long day ahead of her.
The sodium in processed foods can really add up, so opting for low-sodium products, like Liana does, is a great way to keep it in check. But I also love that Liana adds salt back into her diet by sprinkling it on the foods she eats. Dancers need salt to replenish their electrolytes after intense rehearsals, particularly when it’s hot and humid outside.
I’d suggest that Liana add some nut butter to her afternoon snack of plain crackers. While the carbohydrates from the crackers will help supply the glucose (sugar) Liana’s body needs during a long rehearsal, protein will help keep her blood sugar levels stable to avoid spikes—which can cause fatigue and/or dizziness.
The Joffrey Ballet
(Mendoza in The Nutcracker (Photo by Cheryl Mann, courtesy Joffrey Ballet)
7:30 am, breakfast (before 9:45–11:15 am company ballet class):
1 cup French-press coffee with a splash of cream and 2 sugars
Siggi’s Fig and Lemon Zest yogurt
5 rounded tablespoons of KIND brand coconut granola
“I’m not usually very hungry when I wake up, but eating a little something before class makes all the difference in my energy and mood in the morning.”
11:15 am, snack (before 11:30 am–2:30 pm rehearsal):
1 Cool Mint Chocolate Clif Bar
“If I’m even slightly hungry, I can’t function! We get a five-minute break every hour of rehearsal, and I often use that time to snack on a Clif Bar, pretzels, cheese or chocolate soy milk.”
2:30 pm, lunch (before 3:30–6:30 pm rehearsal):
a kid’s-size cheesy chicken quesadilla with tomatoes from Freshii (a restaurant in town)
pretzels and cheese
“I like to eat something small at lunch, so I don’t feel like taking a nap during our second rehearsal block.”
7:30 pm, dinner:
1 slice of NYC-style pepperoni pizza from Panino’s Pizzeria
1 arancini ball from Panino’s
1 can of Barq’s root beer
“I’m naturally a pretty healthy person, so I let myself eat what I crave. I try to listen to my body and give what it wants—and in this case it was pizza!”
FINE’S ASSESSMENT: Jeraldine starts her day with a high-protein and high-fiber meal. It’s a great combination that will keep her energy levels sustained throughout the morning. I also like how Jeraldine orders the kid-sized portion of the cheesy chicken quesadilla. It helps lower the overall fat and sodium content of the meal. That said, I’d also advise Jeraldine to include more healthy fats in her daily diet. Adding flaxseeds or chia seeds to her morning yogurt; avocado or guacamole with her lunch; or olive oil to a side salad at dinner are great ways to get these in.
Back-to-school season means the return of long nights at the dance studio. When rehearsals go as late as 9 or 10 pm, waiting until you get home to eat dinner isn’t a good option. But chowing down on fast food or snack bars between classes could leave you feeling sick to your stomach. How do you pack a nutritious meal that will fuel your dancing without weighing you down? Rachel Fine, registered dietitian and founder of To the Pointe Nutrition, offers her foolproof strategy.
According to Fine, a balanced meal should incorporate the following three macronutrients:
1. Complex carbohydrates—like lentils, wheat bulgur, quinoa, wheat berries and barley—give your body sustained energy. “I recommend primarily nonbread carbohydrates, because they offer the highest fiber content, which is good for digestion,” Fine says. “But if you choose bread, opt for a product with visible nuts and seeds, like Ezekiel bread.”
2. Lean protein—like lean meat, nuts, soybeans, Greek yogurt, quinoa, edamame and eggs—helps build and repair muscle. “Hard-boiled eggs are a great grab-and-go protein fix,” Fine says. “Some people shy away from egg yolks, but they actually have a lot of vitamins and minerals.” Fine doesn’t recommend eating more than one whole egg, but you can have unlimited egg whites.
3. Healthy fats—like the omega-3 fatty acids in ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, olive oil and salmon—are crucial for muscle recovery. “Because dancers are athletes, their bodies are always in a state of minor inflammation,” Fine says. “Omega-3s reduce that inflammation.”
(Photo by Lucas Chilczuk)
How do these macronutrients come together in a delicious, packable dinner? Try one of Fine’s three dance-bag-friendly recipes.
Greek Lentil or Wheat Berry Salad: Combine steamed lentils or wheat berries with chopped onions, tomatoes, feta and splashes of olive oil and lemon juice. If you have access to a fridge at the studio, add a dollop of plain 2% Greek yogurt to your salad when it’s time to eat.
Fine recommends steaming a whole box of lentils, quinoa or barley on Sunday, and using it as a base for different grain salads all week.
Packable perks: Grain salads are delicious at room temperature, and unlike green salads, they won’t wilt throughout the day.
Almond Butter and Banana Sandwich: Spread almond butter on two slices of Ezekiel bread. Top with half a sliced banana and a sprinkle of flaxseeds.
Packable perks: Nothing beats a utensil-free sandwich when it comes to meals on the go.
Tuna or Egg Salad Wrap: Combine canned tuna or chopped hard-boiled eggs
with plain 2% Greek yogurt and chopped celery and spread on a whole-grain wrap
Packable perks: Crackers make this meal easy to snack on throughout the evening, rather than eating all in one sitting.
Your Aches and Pains Addressed: Charley Horses
What is it? A “Charley horse” is a muscle spasm in which the muscle contracts involuntarily and can’t relax. Dancers tend to get them in their lower legs—especially the calves—as well as their hamstrings and the arches of their feet.
(Photo via Thinkstock)
What causes it?
General causes: A Charley horse can result from overloading a muscle that’s unprepared to do the job asked of it. You’re most at risk when coming back from a break, practicing a new step or working at a new level of intensity. Dehydration can also contribute to the problem, particularly for spasms in the lower leg, where the waste products of muscle contraction concentrate easily.
Specific causes: Calf spasms often occur in dancers who wing their feet excessively. When you wing, you rely heavily on your peroneus longus, a stabilizing muscle running along the outside of your lower leg. Without adequate help from the many other muscles in your calf, your peroneus longus gets overworked, which can cause it to spasm. Similarly, the main calf muscle—the gastrocnemius—can spasm from overloading due to weakness in the larger hip muscles.
Charley horses in the arches of your feet can originate in your calves, too. The flexor hallucis longus and flexor digitorum longus are two muscles that run from your calves to your toes. They tend to be tight in dancers from spending so much time on pointe or in relevé. This tightness can compress the joints of the feet or overload the intrinsic foot muscles, which can lead to spasms.
How to deal
If you get a Charley horse in the middle of class, step aside and try to gently work it out. If the spasm is in your calf, try doing some demi-pliés and other calf stretches to relax the muscle. If that doesn’t help, try massaging your calves or rolling them out with a tennis ball. If it still hurts to walk, stop dancing and let the area rest.
When a Charley horse strikes in your arch, you might want to focus on massaging your feet. But remember that the problem likely originates in your calves, so spending some time rubbing out your lower legs can be helpful, too.
When to seek help
If stretching, massage and proper hydration aren’t helping, and the pain doesn’t ease by the following day, the spasm may be the sign of a nerve impingement in your lumbar spine or a muscle tear. This could also be the result of joint dysfunction in the spine,
so it’s something you’ll want to get checked out by a physical therapist or sports medicine practitioner.
Are you a stomach sleeper? You may want to train yourself to snooze on your side or back. Lying on your stomach puts pressure on your lower spine by flattening out its natural curvature, leaving you with an anterior pelvic tilt that may follow you to the ballet barre.
This summer, many of you will experience a rare and beautiful thing: a week (or two!) off from dance. You may feel tempted to spend your time cross-training at the gym or giving yourself a daily barre (and if you’re heading to a summer intensive, you should). But consider giving your body and mind a well-deserved break, too. Certified yoga instructor Keely Garfield explains three healthy and relaxing indulgences to try during your time off. After all, Nutcracker auditions and competition rehearsals will be back before you know it.
(Photo by Nathan Sayers)
1. Restorative yoga pose: Lie on your back with your calves resting on the seat of a chair in front of you. Your knees should be over your hips with your shins parallel to the floor. Place a pillow under your head so your neck is comfortable.
Garfield says: “This pose refreshes your whole body, calming your nervous system and mind by promoting circulation.”
2. Meditation: Sit comfortably and still for five minutes. Alternate paying attention to your breath in your nostrils, chest and belly.
(Photo by Nathan Sayers)
Garfield says: “Meditation lets you observe the backdrop of stillness and silence. This attention can help reduce stress by training your mind to focus on the present moment.”
3. Aromatherapy: Put a few drops of essential oil on a cotton pad and inhale, taking care not to get it in your eyes.
Garfield says: “Lavender oil is relaxing, clarifying and grounding; lemon is refreshing and balancing.”
Still wound up? Here are three more ways to give yourself a little TLC.
Try self-acupressure. There’s an acupressure point located in the middle of your sternum, between your nipples. Pressing down on it with your fingertips will help you calm down by encouraging you to breath more deeply.
Give yourself a foot massage. Quickly swipe your hands across the tops of your bare
feet several times to warm them up. Rub and rotate each toe, and draw diagonal lines across the sole of each foot with your fingertips. For an extra-special treat, use peppermint oil, which will create a refreshing cooling sensation as you rub.
Take a warm bath to soothe your skin, relax your muscles and reduce stress. Bonus: A hot bath before bed can help you fall asleep more quickly.
Food Cures: Sunburn Edition
Don’t be the girl who returns from summer vacation looking like a lobster. Not only does sunburn look and feel terrible (leotard straps + peel-y shoulders = OUCH), it also increases your risk of developing melanoma later in life.
(Photo by Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock)
In addition to applying sunscreen, wearing protective clothing and sunbathing
responsibly, try these foods to boost your body’s natural sunburn protection.
Tomatoes and/or organic ketchup protect your skin from sun damage because of their high lycopene content, which helps neutralize the harmful effects of UV rays.
Guava is rich in vitamin C (one fruit contains five times more than a medium-sized orange), which can boost your skin’s healing properties.
Pomegranates contain ellagic acid, which protects your skin cells from damage by both UVA and UVB rays.
Green tea contains catechin compounds, which provide some protection from solar radiation. Studies suggest you should drink two cups a day.
If you already have a sunburn…Certain foods can also help ease the sting when it’s too late for prevention.
Rub raw potato slices where your sunburn is most painful. The starches will help alleviate the sting. For more intense relief, use grated raw potato.
For a soothing bath, add one cup of ground oatmeal to a tub of cool water and soak your entire body in it for at least 15 minutes.
Mash up strawberries and rub them over your sunburn, rinsing with cool water after letting the mixture sit for a few minutes. The berries’ tannins will help with the pain.
Boil lettuce leaves in water. Strain the liquid and let it cool, then use cotton balls to dab the lettuce water over sunburn. The analgesic properties of lettuce will help with pain reduction, and its vitamin E will moisturize your damaged skin.
Did You Know...
…thinking through the exercises as you observe class can help you retain strength? According to a study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, your nervous system plays a significant role in overall muscle strength. So if you’re sidelined by an injury or illness, push yourself to pay attention and imagine yourself participating in class. It may feel frustrating now, but it’ll pay off when you get the OK to dance again.