Your Body

Does your mom say you’ll catch a cold if you go outside with wet hair in winter? Have you heard a juice cleanse will help you lose weight? Want to go for a jog, but anxious because someone told you running isn’t good for dancers? With all the old wives’ tales and wellness fads floating around, it can be hard to discern truth from myth. DS spoke to three health professionals to get the facts—and they just might surprise you.

These vegan cupcakes sure look delicious, but don't let them fool you! (Photo courtesy Thinkstock)

MYTH: Vegan or gluten-free treats are healthier than their non-vegan or gluten-containing counterparts.

False. “Just because something is gluten-free doesn’t automatically make it a health food,” says Emily C. Harrison, a registered dietitian at the Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education. These kinds of treats tend to have added sugars to improve flavor. Vegan snacks can be healthy options if they include fruits and vegetables. But be smart: “You can be vegan and eat just chocolate and peanuts all day long,” Harrison says. “If all you’re eating is junk, that’s a problem.”

(Photo courtesy Thinkstock)

 

MYTH: Dancers shouldn’t run.

False. “It’s important for dancers to cross-train,” says Michelina Cassella, PT, former director of physical therapy at Boston Ballet and Boston Children’s Hospital. “You need to get your heart rate up to build endurance.” She recommends running one mile, three times a week, in supportive shoes on a soft track or treadmill. Just remember to stretch your calves and hamstrings after each run—running tends to tighten your muscles. And if you feel any pain in your hips, knees or ankles, stop running and consult your doctor or physical therapist.

 

(Photo courtesy Thinkstock)

MYTH: A juice cleanse can help me lose weight.

True—sort of. Yes, most juice cleanses and detox diets are very low-calorie. The issue is that they give you much less than what your body actually needs to dance. “If that’s all you drink for 24 hours or more, your body will go into survival mode,” warns Harrison. Instead of a highly restrictive diet, use juice as a supplement. Drink it with breakfast, or sip on it throughout the day.

(Photo courtesy Thinkstock)

MYTH: If you eat within 20 minutes of dancing, you’ll get cramps.

True and false. If you’re in the middle of a really tough show, you may need to eat during intermission to get the energy you need to jump back onstage. A granola bar or piece of fruit will give you a boost without making your stomach cramp. But don’t try to wolf down an entire meal during intermission. “If you eat too much right before you dance, then you’re going to cramp or throw up,” says Harrison. “Think smaller, more frequent meals.”

(Photo courtesy Thinkstock)

MYTH: Frozen yogurt is healthy.

True and false. Yogurt is healthy because it contains probiotics, tiny organisms that help strengthen your immune system. It’s also a good source of calcium. But frozen yogurt is not much different from ice cream. “It has tons of sugar even without the toppings,” says Harrison. “Add the toppings, and it’s a tremendous amount of sugar.” She suggests ordering a kiddie size and avoiding all the extras at self-serve places.

MYTH: You’ll catch a cold if you go outside in the winter with wet hair.

False. Damp or wet hair might give you the chills in frigid temperatures, but it won’t make you sick. “A cold is a virus that you can catch from another person, not from cold exposure,” says James T. Reinprecht, MD, of Abington Health in Pennsylvania.

MYTH: If I walk around with my feet turned out, my turnout will improve.

False. Turnout has to do with the construction of your hip joints, and walking with your feet turned out isn’t going to improve mobility in the hip. In fact, the “dancer waddle” might actually cause problems. “If you force from the knee down, you’re going to do damage to your knees,” warns Cassella. Focus on walking in parallel to maintain the health of your joints.

(Photo courtesy Thinkstock)

MYTH: If you’re flexible, it’s OK to do splits without warming up.

False. “Splits put a lot of torque on the hip joints and the pelvis,” says Cassella. “It’s harmful to do any kind of split if you’re not already stretched out.” If you don’t have a good stretching regimen yet, consult a physical therapist or trainer to learn how to stretch safely.

How To

Laura Halzack and Robert Kleinendorst in Paul Taylor’s Mercuric Tidings (by Tom Caravaglia)

Think bunheads don’t belong in Graham class? Think again! Modern dance is one of the few truly American art forms, and its various techniques can benefit dancers of all persuasions. We got some pros in the know to debunk five negative myths about modern dance.

1. Modern dancers are “failed” ballet dancers. 

“The assumption that a dancer only chooses modern because she doesn’t have good enough technique to cut it in the ballet world is ridiculous,” says Laura Halzack, who has danced with the Paul Taylor Dance Company for the past seven years. “In most cases, ballet dancers switch to modern when they discover the great things it has to offer. It requires just as much technique, athleticism and brains as ballet.”

“I started off in classical ballet because that’s what I knew and saw around me,” says Katherine Crockett, principal dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company. But as soon as she tried Graham technique, she knew she’d found her home. “What drew me to Graham was its incredible expressiveness,” she says. “Graham is about showing effort rather than effortlessness, and I really connected with that.”

2. Like jazz dance? You won’t like modern. 

Actually, jazz and modern are not-so-distant cousins. “So much of jazz came out of the modern techniques,” says Freddie Moore, a Horton technique teacher at The Ailey School. “Like modern, jazz also has a rhythmic connection to the pelvis and back,” Halzack adds.

Moore suggests researching your favorite jazz dancers’ backgrounds—because you’ll almost always find they’ve trained in modern dance.

3. If you want to be a professional ballet dancer, you don’t need to take modern.

Take a look at any ballet company’s current repertory, and odds are you’ll find a bunch of modern or modern-influenced works. Graham pieces have been set on ballet companies all over the world; Mark Morris regularly choreographs for ballet companies; Paul Taylor’s work is in the reps of Paris Opéra Ballet, Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and San Francisco Ballet, to name just a few.

Ailey School instructor Freddie Moore teaching Horton (courtesy the Ailey School)

“Ballet dancers must be versatile enough to perform modern,” Crockett says. And “having modern training will give ballet dancers an edge,” Halzack says. “You can climb faster through the ranks if you have a more thorough understanding of movement.“

“Don’t lock yourself in and say, ‘Ballet is all I need to be the best ballet dancer out there,’ ” Moore says. If you want to make it into a prestigious ballet company, “you need modern training to balance your ballet training.”

4. Working in parallel in modern class will mess up your turnout. 

Not only is this false, but the opposite is true! It seems counterintuitive, but working in parallel actually helps balance out the muscles in your legs, ensuring that you don’t overdevelop—or strain—the muscles involved in turned-out positions.

“While we do work in parallel, we also work turned out a lot—and the combination of the two has made me much stronger,” Halzack says. Moore says honing your muscles in parallel positions will also improve your balance. “The parallel line will allow you to figure out how to shift your weight and place yourself properly.”

5. Modern class is boring.

“Before I found Graham, I took a general ‘modern dance’ class and hated it—it was boring to me,” Crockett says. “For two years after that, I didn’t step into a modern class. I thought I already knew what it was. But it turned out I just didn’t like that one teacher’s style.”

There’s a wide range of modern techniques, which all feel very different. If you have the modern blahs, try taking classes in specific styles (Graham, Cunningham, Limón, Horton, Taylor) instead of a generic “modern” class. That’ll help you figure out which style speaks to you.

And once you find the right fit, “modern class is anything but boring!” Halzack says. “You’re developing your technique and musicality, but not by standing at a barre. You’re out in the center getting in touch with yourself from the beginning of class.”

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