Getty Images

Can Eating Clean Make You a Better Dancer?

You've seen it a million times: A glamorous, toned dancer posts a perfectly styled shot of her colorful smoothie bowl. The caption gushes about how great you'll feel if you eat "clean"—but what does that actually mean? DS asked registered dietitian/nutritionist Rachel Fine and holistic health coach (and founder of The Whole Dancer) Jess Spinner for all of the dirt.


Clean = Pristine?

"Clean eating involves stripping away the preservatives, added sugars, and sodium that go into many mass-produced, processed foods," Fine says. "When you eat clean, you're avoiding the additives that give packaged foods longer shelf lives." Spinner agrees: "Aspiring to eat clean is all about cutting out processed, chemical-laden foods from your diet. The goal of eating clean is to focus your eating plan on foods that are as close as possible to their original state. That way, they're providing optimal levels of nutrients and health-protective benefits."

If you're choosing foods and constructing your meals from minimally processed sources, you should be able to count (and pronounce!) the number of ingredients in that meal on one or two hands. "Clean eating puts the focus on whole foods, which are the foods that usually aren't packaged," Spinner says. "And when they are packaged, you'll see only ingredients you immediately recognize as food, like almonds, walnuts, and black beans."

What's an example of a clean-eating choice? Grabbing a locally grown apple for that between-classes snack, instead of reaching for a bag of chips or another packaged option. "Choose foods that are literally grown in your state and are in season, like apples and stone fruits in the fall," Fine says. "Eating sustainably and locally helps to strip away the excess because you're not having to add preservatives, sodium, and sugar in order to ship."

When Clean Gets Muddy

Spinner notes that "eating whole, unprocessed, close-to-the-source foods is great to strive for, but not always easy." That's especially true if you don't make most of the food-shopping and cooking decisions at your house. Minimally processed foods should be your goal, Fine says: "Nobody can eat 100 percent clean. It's impossible because we can't always control exactly what goes into our meals and snacks. But do what you can to make better choices when you have the opportunity."

You'll often hear clean eating associated with paleo, vegan, and gluten-free diets—but you can absolutely strive to eat clean on any eating plan. "Steer clear of social media influencers or fellow dancers who try to tell you there's one specific diet that's healthiest for everyone," Spinner warns.

Eating clean shouldn't ever feel restrictive, overwhelming, or like you're following a particular set of rules all the time. "Food is a very important social and cultural aspect of life," says Fine. "When you're out with your friends, or when you're enjoying a holiday dinner, you can just relax and enjoy what's being served." Occasionally treating yourself to your favorite junk foods can and should be part of a clean-eating philosophy.

A version of this story appeared in the December 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Lean, Clean, Dancing Machine?"

Latest Posts


Because you know you've always wondered... (Getty Images)

Sounding Off: Here's What Your Favorite Musicians Think of Dance Routines Set to Their Songs

In the competition world, a small group of musicians has attained almost cultlike status, with choreographers turning to their tracks over and over. We know how we feel about these bangers—there's a reason we can't stop dancing to them—but how do the musicians feel about us? We caught up with three contemporary artists whose music has dominated the competition scene recently, and gauged their reactions to the dances set to their life's work.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Challenge Your Friends and Family to This TikTok Ballet Quiz

The latest popular TikTok dance challenge isn't the "Renegade," or set to "Savage," by Megan Thee Stallion—it's testing how much your friends and family really know about what you do in the studio all day.

TikTok user @kayausvlogs recorded herself asking her partner to guess what common ballet terms look like based on the way they sound. The results were...mixed, to say the least—and pretty hilarious. Naturally, the trend went viral, and now dancers everywhere are testing their friends and family and posting the results. Here are some of our favorites.

Keep Reading SHOW LESS
Project 21 dancers (from left) Selena Hamilton, Gracyn French, and Dyllan Blackburn (Photo by Quinn Wharton; hair and makeup throughout by Angela Huff for Mark Edward Inc.)

How Project 21 Is Shaping the Next Generation of Competition-Dance Standouts

"I wish I had a better story about the name," says Molly Long, founder of the Orange County, CA–based dance studio Project 21. In truth, it's a play on the fact that she was born on the twenty-first of August, and 21 is her favorite number. "I was away on a teaching tour, the audition announcement was going live on Instagram the next day, and I desperately needed a name. Project 21 was just the least cheesy of the options I thought of!"

The fact that fans might expect the name to have some profound meaning speaks to the near-mythic status Project 21 has achieved on the competition and convention scene since its founding in 2014. Long's dancers are all wholly individual, yet jell seamlessly as a group, and are consistently snagging top prizes everywhere on the circuit. Each season brings a slew of new accolades, high-caliber faculty, and legions of devoted followers.

The industry has taken notice of the studio's unique ethos. "Molly gets through to her dancers in a special way, and they have this incomparable level of commitment to their craft as a result," says dancer and choreographer Billy Bell, who's worked closely with Long and her dancers. "That's what sets them apart—it's like a little dose of magic."

Keep Reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks

contest
Enter the Cover Model Search