Health, Wellness & The Dancer’s Body – Dance Advantage Solutions For All Stages Of Your Dance Life Tue, 16 Jan 2018 21:00:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Setting New Year Nutrition and Body Goals That Stick Mon, 09 Jan 2017 21:03:41 +0000 Healthy dancing goes beyond diet, exercise and willpower. Here's how to make sustainable and lasting changes to your dance life and your food plan.]]>

A New Year can be a really awesome time to set some nutrition goals that are innovative and more importantly effective. However, it can also feel totally overwhelming if you’re tackling a number of different areas of your life all at once.
This can lead to overwhelm and major disappointment when a couple of months go by and you start to feel like NOTHING is changing.

It is possible to set nutrition and body goals that stick but it’s first important to think about the reason WHY you’d like to achieve them.

Is it about dancing at your peak and getting a professional job? Is it about getting stronger and staying injury free?

Set goals around your performance in the studio and on stage and stay away from goals that are purely driven by a number on the scale or a comparison to another dancer.

Your unique shape is beautiful and the sooner you embrace that and love yourself exactly how you are in this moment, the easier and faster you’ll start to see positive, tangible changes in how your body looks.

It’s also important to make sure these body goals are yours.

If you want to change your body because of feedback from a teacher or artistic director, it is going to be a lot harder to stay positive and motivated.

Don’t let anyone else’s opinion influence how you feel about yourself.

IMAGE The top of a bright red pepper IMAGE
Photo credit

When it comes to the actual adjustments to your food plan, keep these 5 – ideas in mind:

  1. Brainstorm healthy foods you could eat more of (think greens, colorful vegetables, fruit, nuts, beans, seeds, avocados).
  2. Set up a plan to make those healthy foods more accessible: pre cut veggies so they’re easy to grab and go, stock up on frozen organic vegetables, display your healthy options front and center so they’re the first foods you see when you’re prepping a meal or grabbing a snack.
  3. Once you’ve started habitually loading up on the good stuff (this could take 2 – 4 weeks), brainstorm what unhealthy foods you’re eating that you could eat less of i.e. sweets, processed carbs, sugary beverages, low fat dairy. Start to cut back on those foods gradually.
  4. Remember you should not be hungry. If you’re feeling unsatisfied or perpetually hungry, you’re likely not getting enough healthy fats. Those are some of the most satiating foods.
  5. Have a backup plan and don’t let one slip cause you to fall off the wagon completely.

Your mindset around these New Years nutrition and body goals is majorly important. If you’ve got a story in your head that you’ll never be able to make the changes – you likely won’t be able to do it.

That story in your head will be a self – fulfilling prophecy and any time you fall off the healthy eating wagon you’ll tell yourself “see, I knew I couldn’t do it”.

Switch your story now.

Remind yourself of the times you have succeeded or stuck to a goal. Remember how much you are capable of and harness all the power and positivity you’ve got.

Reaching your best body goes beyond diet, exercise and willpower. There is no such thing as a 21 – day fix or detox. To make truly sustainable and lasting changes to your body, you’ve got to adjust things gradually and accept that it takes some time.

Dancers Best Body Program

Reach Your Body Goals

If you know you’re ready to reach your body goals but you need some help, check out The Dancer’s Best Body Program from The Whole Dancer. This program was designed exclusively for dancers and the unique pressures you face around your physical appearance.
If you’ve ever been told you need to lose weight, or a certain body part needs work, or you don’t have the body needed to be a professional, or you’d simply like to get stronger and stay injury free – this program is for you!
Over the course of 8 – weeks you’ll take a guided, deep dive into the topics of what to eat, how to plan your meals, how to eat for muscle repair and injury prevention, how exactly to cross – train and much, much more.

For full program details, pricing and to save your spot CLICK HERE.

Don’t delay, enrollment for this program is closing on January 15, 2016 and this exclusive LIVE round begins on January 16.


Jess Spinner - The Whole DancerJess Spinner is a professional ballet dancer turned health coach and founder of The Whole Dancer. Driven by her own body struggles as a dancer she is inspired to create programs that are an enriching force of support and positivity in dancer’s lives. She has had the privilege of working with dancers from New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Boston Ballet (to name a few) and she can’t wait to work with you!

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Getting Started With Essential Oils For Dancers Fri, 28 Oct 2016 15:12:54 +0000 Like athletes, dancers are always exploring ways to improve performance, nutrition, exercise, and wellness in every way possible, including using essential oils as useful tools for supporting the body in natural ways.]]>

Dancers are athletes!

Regardless of whether or not you consider dance a sport, it’s hard to argue that a high level of athleticism is required of dancers in the 21st Century. The rigorous training and performance regimen of elite dancers is equivalent to that of top athletes in other fields.

Like athletes, dancers are always exploring ways to improve performance and stay healthy– optimizing nutrition, exercise, and wellness in every way possible, including applying “alternative” or more holistic solutions to many important areas of their dance lives.

This is where essential oils come in. We’ve seen these natural compounds, which are extracted from plants (or parts of plants), consistently recommended by dancers and experts in dance publications. Typically, it is suggested the dancer use them aromatically. However, oils that meet the standard of CPTG (Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade) can also be a benefit when applied to pressure points or taken internally. No matter how you use them, essential oils are a useful tool for supporting the bodies of dancers in natural ways.

I’m no longer dancing and performing at a professional or elite level. Now that I’m approaching middle age, however, I’m feeling the wear and tear of many years of teaching, jumping, and rolling around on inadequate dance floors. In addition, over the last 2 months I’ve started running. After being introduced to doTERRA essential oils by a friend, I decided to give their Athlete’s bundle and a few other products a try.

Athlete’s Kit

doTERRA Athlete's Kit

Founded in 2008 (the same year as Dance Advantage), doTerra is a company committed to providing the highest quality and purest essential oils to homes around the world. Their Athlete’s Kit is designed to support healthy athletic activity, while counteracting the taxing effects of exercise on the body and includes 5mL bottles of doTERRA Breathe, doTERRA On Guard, Lavender, Melaleuca, and Peppermint and a 120 mL tube of Deep Blue Rub in a compact, reusable zippered pouch.

Essential oils can support athletes in a few different ways: relief from achy muscles, immune support, and boosts in performance are primary goals for most athletes. Some oils may also help with relaxation or even odor-reduction for smelly gear. The Athlete’s Kit actually addresses all of these.

Deep Blue Rub

doTERRA Deep Blue Rub is a cream you apply to the body. It is similar to other products you may have used before that create a sensation of cold and warmth to soothe sore muscles. The smell may even remind you of these other products. The cream is infused with the Deep Blue essential oil blend of Wintergreen, Camphor, Peppermint, Ylang Ylang, Helichrysum, Blue Tansy, Blue Chamomile, and Osmanthus. I noticed immediately that my skin did not feel sticky or greasy after applying the Deep Blue Rub. It absorbs into the skin much like a moisturizer so a little goes a long way. Once applied, the tingling sensation intensifies and lasts for quite a while. I like using the rub before I go to bed when my muscles are sore at the end of a long day but it would be comforting after class too as long as you or your dance buddies don’t mind the distinctive wintergreen scent.

Breathe Blend

doTERRA Breathe is a blend of essential oils including Laurel Leaf, Eucalyptus Leaf, Peppermint Plant, Melaleuca Leaf, Lemon Peel, Ravensara Leaf, Cardamom Seed. My favorite way to use this blend is to put a drop or two in my hands and inhale but you can also put it on your chest, back of the neck, or bottom of the feet (those with sensitive skin may want to dilute with fractionated coconut oil) to promote that feeling of easy breathing and clear airways– especially useful this time of year!

On Guard Blend

doTERRA On Guard has a warm, spicy scent that is great when added to a diffuser to cleanse the air. You can also add it to water to clean surfaces but the blend of Wild Orange Peel, Clove Bud, Cinnamon Bark/Leaf, Eucalyptus Leaf, and Rosemary Leaf/Flower essential oils serve to protect against environmental threats.

Lavender, Melaleuca, and Peppermint Oils

These three oils are versatile and useful to have on hand.

Lavender, you may know, is used widely for its calming qualities. You can add a few drops to bathwater or linens to encourage rest and relaxation or dab a little on your temples before performances to ease nervousness or stage fright. Lavender can also be used for minor skin irritations.

Melaleuca, otherwise known as Tea Tree oil, is also handy for solving skin problems. I’ve used Melaleuca to fight acne breakouts and, because it is known for its cleansing and rejuvenating effect on the skin, some athletes use this oil to keep their feet and toenails healthy and free of infection.

Peppermint can provide a boost when your energy is low. It’s a key ingredient in one of my other favorite doTERRA oil blends, Motivate. Peppermint also works well with Lavender for a soothing massage blend or you can put a few drops in your foot bath.


The Athlete’s Kit above can be purchased when you Shop via the button below. (PS. I do not recommend purchasing doTERRA products from non-doTERRA retailers as you cannot be sure that what you’re getting is the real deal.)


I became a Wellness Advocate after seeing how other athletes and dancers are using doTERRA essential oils and after trying the products. You don’t have to be an Advocate or even a doTERRA member to get the Athlete’s Kit. It retails for $100 and it’s a simple, effective way for dancers or teachers to get started with essential oils.


Wholesale Customers can get the Athlete’s Kit product bundle above for only $75.

If you’d like to become a Wholesale Customer and get 25% off doTERRA products, there’s more information on that if you keep reading below.

Whether you buy the bundle above or not, I invite you to learn more about ways dancers and dance teachers might use essential oils in their daily lives by signing up for our Essential Oils for Dancers newsletter.


Supplementing with Essential Oils

doTERRA Daily Nutrient Pack

Daily Nutrient Pack

In addition to the Athlete’s Kit, I decided to try doTERRA’s Daily Nutrient Pack which includes Microplex VMz and xEO Mega dietary supplements. Microplex VMz provides 22 essential vitamins and minerals, including a botanical blend with greens like kale, broccoli, and spinach and a balanced blend of calcium, magnesium and other minerals. xEO Mega is an essential oil omega complex that’s formulated with a proprietary blend of Clove, Frankincense, Thyme, Cumin, Wild Orange, Peppermint, Ginger, Caraway, and German Chamomile and provides a wide range of omega-3 fatty acids from marine and plant sources. Combined, these supplements are designed to support the body’s natural functions and provide essentials nutrients.*

I’ve tried these in place of my normal multi-vitamin nearly every day for over a month, sometimes taking the full dosage and sometimes just half, and either way feel confident I am doing something good for my body by making sure I’m taking in quality nutrients that I’m not getting from my normal busy writer/teacher/mom diet. In particular, I notice that I feel my mind is less foggy on mornings that I take the xEO Mega.


doTERRA’s Mito2Max supplement provides an extra energy boost when you are tired or low-energy. For me, (again, busy writer/teacher/mom) that’s pretty much daily. I take Mito2Max, an energy and stamina complex of standardized plant extracts and metabolic cofactors, on days that I go running in the morning. I actually regret it on the days that I forget.



Deep Blue Polyphenol ComplexDeep Blue Polyphenol Complex

Deep Blue Polyphenol Complex is another supplement that can be taken daily or as needed. Like the Deep Blue Rub this formula, which includes proprietary, standardized extracts of ginger, curcumin, resveratrol, and other polyphenols is designed to help with soreness, aches, and pains. Any dancers out there who don’t have their share of these?

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.



How To Save

Everything above (the 5 essential oils, supplements, and the rub) are included in a Wholesale Starter Kit for Athletes.

Becoming a Wholesale Customer is how most people get started with essential oils. Why? Because your wholesale membership allows you to save 25% off retail prices. If you’ve ever had a Costco membership, you know how this works – join and you save every time with no obligation to buy or sell.

Wholesale is the way to go. Here’s how:

  1. Click the Get Started button below, enter your language and country and hit continue.
  2. Select “Wholesale Customer” (cannot sell doTERRA) or “Wellness Advocate” (can sell doTERRA) and then hit continue. If at any time you decide to sell the oils, you can upgrade to a Wellness Advocate account. Contact me using the form below if you’d like more info on creating an income in doTERRA.
  3. Input your contact and shipping info.
  4. Select your wholesale starter kit
  5. Enter in your payment information and then hit “Process Order Now and Continue“


Get Started


Unfortunately, the Athletes Wholesale Starter Kit is NEARLY SOLD OUT and may not be offered again by doTERRA so, if you’re thinking about getting started with this starter, don’t wait.

In fact, only the Spanish introductory literature for this starter kit is available and only while supplies last. (Don’t worry, if you enroll and need your introduction packet in English, simply contact me using the form below and I’d be happy to send you what you need. I just don’t want you to miss what is likely your last chance to enroll with a kit specifically geared to athletes). When these run out, you can still get started with any of the starter kits available.


I’m still learning about the many uses of essential oils for dance and all aspects of my life but I’m happy to have been introduced and I hope you are too!

Because this is a dance site and not an essential oils site, we won’t be covering oils or doTERRA on Dance Advantage much beyond what you see above. However, if you want to learn along with me or share what you know, please do sign up for our Essential Oils for Dancers newsletter.


If you have questions about how to get started or become a Wellness Advocate, contact me:


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7 Things To Remember In Phases Of Uncertainty In Your Dance Life Mon, 24 Oct 2016 14:00:20 +0000 If you feel like you've been thrown off the path in your dance life; if you doubt yourself or your decisions, dancers: Read this!]]>


We all know this situation:

We are gently flowing along in our dance life and feel comfortable in what we are doing, and suddenly something happens that completely throws us off our path. May it be a note, a new teacher, a challenging performance, or an injury – from one moment to the other we question our entire existence as a dancer and as a human being.

Into the Unknown by Edwin Land is licensed CC BY 2.0 [text added]
Into the Unknown by Edwin Land is licensed CC BY 2.0 [text added]
It is often that we slip into this state of insecurity and uncertainty through events that make us think about who we are and what we want to achieve with our art. For example, we take class with a new teacher who has a totally different approach to what we are used to. He may see and correct things that have never been mentioned to us before which makes us question our own approach and style, seeing ourselves from a different perch. It is then that we put different expectations towards our own dancing, and if we do not fulfill these expectations, we get frustrated and disappointed at ourselves. We develop a feeling that we are floating around, unsure about what we do and who we are.

There are a few things to remember if we are experiencing states like this:


1. Life is change

I know that it may seem convenient to think that one day we know who we are, maybe after a certain number of performances we have done or pieces we have choreographed. But it’s – of course – not that easy. The only constant thing in life is change. That we can depend on for sure. There will never be a moment in which we can say “Ahh, so this is me now!” Only moments of “Ahh, I have figured out what characterizes me right now. But that can change tomorrow, next week, or next year.”

The moment we become aware of and open to change, we are able to accept it and rid ourselves from fears.


Sunny Kluge Tap Dancing
The author, Sandra “Sunny” Kluge

2. Everybody goes through this

You think you are the only person who experiences these insecurities– maybe because you are not good enough? No. Talking to many different people about this topic, I realized that these states of uncertainty happen to anybody, regardless of style, age, and experience. And if you think about it – even (or especially?) people at the top of their field never dance the same way throughout their career. Tap dance master Savion Glover for example started with Broadway tap dancing, then was famous for his heavy “hitting” style and today is a leading figure in jazz music, establishing deep grooves over a long time period. His style evolved, and so does everybody’s. Our journey would be boring if it was any different.


3. Change your perspective

It seems like the moment we are in this insecure state of being we want to get out of it as soon as possible– perceiving this transitional period as something negative. But what if those times are actually the best? We never learn and grow as much as when we question ourselves, when something pushes us out of our comfort zone. We should not make it even harder by fighting against our feelings. Instead we should embrace everything that comes our way and live in the moment. Sooner or later we will realize how helpful this struggle was and that we go out of it wiser and stronger than before.


“Sooner or later we realize that from the struggle we come out wiser and stronger than before.”
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4. Don’t compare yourself to others

Everybody is on a different journey. So don’t compare yourself to others in your class or company. They are where they are and you are where you are. Everyone’s life goes at a different pace, and we experience different things at different times. There is no right or wrong. Don’t assume that the girl in the first row who seems to dance the choreography exactly as the teacher pictures it never struggles. She is just at a different place, and you also don’t know what she thinks and feels – maybe she is as insecure as you are? Get inspired by the light that other people radiate, embrace it, and soon you will be able to shine bright again, inspiring others to do the same.


5. Don’t judge anything

Speaking about not comparing you should also not judge anything – yourself, your feelings, other people. Accept everything and tell yourself it’s okay to feel whatever you feel. Don’t get angry at yourself because the pirouette doesn’t come out the way you want it to. Your body and mind are adjusting to a new state of being, and it’s completely normal and okay if some things need a little time. You don’t know what life has planned for you, so you might as well surrender to your inner guide and be open to the experience. Even if something feels weird or uncomfortable or frustrating –

“The more something upsets you, the more it is meant for you. When it no longer upsets you, it is no longer needed because the lesson is complete.” (Bryant McGill)


6. Go with the flow

This state won’t last forever. It is just a transitional path that takes your dancing to a new, higher level. Also, life never runs linear. You might have to take three steps back in order to move four steps forward. In any case, everything is for the best. If you experience a setback, an uncomfortable or embarrassing situation – it may feel ugly in that moment, but in the end everything is a lesson for you. And lessons are not always easy. Sometimes we have to hit the bottom to realize certain things. If something feels really nasty and we are able to learn from it and then let it go, it is a deep, long-term lesson.


7. Don’t take anything too seriously

And finally, do not take the situation or yourself too seriously. Of course we are prone to a sensation of “world weariness” if everything seems to be uncontrollably floating in space. But does worrying change anything? At the most it will make everything worse. So realize that your purpose as a dancer and as a human being is greater than your temporary insecurities. Even though it might not feel that way, life is still beautiful and a gift. If you are able to maintain as much positive energy as possible, everything will fall into its right place sooner or later.


“The more something upsets you, the more it is meant for you.”
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Uncertainty is possibility


Sandra Sunny KlugeSandra “Sunny“ Kluge is a tap dancer originally from Germany. Partly self-taught, she was influenced by many different teachers and mentors, such as Barbara Duffy, Sebastian Weber, Pia Neises, Derick Grant, Sarah Petronio, and Heather Cornell, to only name a few. She sees herself as a musician, deeply influenced by the language of jazz music, and is always striving for the most genuine and sophisticated musical expression possible.

However, her style is not only influenced by jazz. Other important aspects of her journey as an artist – as well as a human being – include visual art, singer/songwriter music, world music, different cultures, psychology, and meditation.


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How One Dance Studio Is Promoting Healthy Body Image Mon, 25 Apr 2016 14:30:06 +0000 All That Dance studio tells us about Love Your Body Week at their studio and how they are helping students develop a greater appreciation for their bodies while encouraging teen leadership.]]>


When it comes to the relationship we have with our bodies, a dancer’s status is often “It’s complicated.”

It is the paradox between both celebrating and fighting our bodies during the training years and beyond that motivated Seattle dance studio, All That Dance, to develop Love Your Body Week at their school.

“Managing and facilitating Love Your Body Week is by far one of the most rewarding parts of my job, and having it as a part of our studio calendar each year makes me proud to be a faculty member at All That Dance.” – All That Dance, ballet department leader, Mary Gorder.

Love Your Body Week at All That Dance


What Is Love Your Body Week?

Love Your Body Week is an annual event on the All That Dance calendar filled with class-time activities focused on fostering healthy body image in the school’s dancers.

Love Your Body Week at All That Dance was started in 2005 by Rachel Stewart after she witnessed some of her 5-year-old students comparing the sizes of their thighs. Rachel wanted to counteract the negative messages about our bodies delivered from outside sources and acknowledge the additional internal pressures that young dancers face. Rachel’s idea was received with great enthusiasm from All That Dance studio founder and director, Maygan Wurzer who has nurtured a supportive and accepting environment at her school.

Rachel and fellow instructor, Emily German, turned immediately to the studio’s student leadership to help with the event. The high school dancers in their chapter of the National Honor Society for Dance Arts (NHSDA) are in the studio’s top technique levels, maintain high GPAs at school, participate in dance-focused service work, and are very involved in the studio community. Love Your Body Week has become a big part of their mission. NHSDA members spend a Sunday afternoon preparing and decorating the studio to kick off the week and visit classes to lead activities with younger dancers as well as with their peers throughout the week.

Mary Gorder is the NHSDA Chapter Sponsor and oversees the facilitation of the event. She works to develop the Love Your Body Week curriculum each year. We were so inspired by Love Your Body Week, its mission and implementation, that we asked Mary some questions with hope that it will inspire you, too!


Dance Advantage: For over 10 years this program has been a part of the culture at All That Dance. When does the positive impact of LYBW became crystal clear for you?

Mary Gorder: I think what shows Love Your Body Week’s impact the most is how much of a normal part of our school year the event has become. The dancers who are now in charge of facilitating LYBW activities first experienced it when they were six or seven years old, and they do not remember a time before LYBW. When I announce in class that LYBW is coming up, the response is just as enthusiastic as when I tell dancers that we are starting choreography for a performance.

One of my favorite things to overhear in the hallways or lobby between classes are the moments in which dancers remind each other of LYBW’s message throughout the year. Numerous times I have heard a dancer start to speak poorly about him/herself, only to be met with a chorus of peers shouting “LOVE YOUR BODY!”. This is not to say that we can prevent our students from ever experiencing feelings of self doubt or of a negative body image. But it is our hope that by creating an environment that encourages self acceptance, we can help them to have the strength to overcome such negativity. As a studio community we value support over competition, and Love Your Body Week is one facet of that mission.

LYBW allows for impactful movement experiences as well. For example, every year I use the same improvisation exercise in all of the teen lyrical levels I teach. I ask dancers to start with some journaling about a body part they love, then about one they don’t. Next, they watch each other improvise first using their favorite part as an initiation point, then their least favorite, then both. I am struck every year by how much power this seemingly simple exercise holds, especially for our most advanced teens who have danced the same exercise a number of times over the years. In each dancer I see such courage, intention, and passion. The fact that these students are brave enough to dance so fearlessly and with so much heart is overwhelming to me each and every time. I am so proud to teach at a studio that has created a safe space for these young artists to move, explore, and express, and this exercise always exemplifies and reinforces that for me.



DA: Tell us a bit more about NHSDA, which is a program of the National Dance Education Organization, and what that’s brought to your studio culture.

MG: Our NHSDA chapter is made up of our higher-level teen students, mostly Juniors and Seniors in high school. Our goal is to use NHSDA to promote community, leadership, scholarship, and service among our students. Aside from LYBW, NHSDA hosts events for younger dancers (a sleepover and “parents’ night out”), and teach classes to children staying at our local Ronald McDonald house while in treatment for serious illnesses. They also attend performances as a group, and read and write about dance. They produce a concert of student choreography each winter, and create collaborative group choreography for our studio-wide shows in the spring.

NDEO’s support has been integral in the development of our teen programming this these past few years. Having an NHSDA chapter has allowed us to create exciting opportunities for our most advanced dancers, who are looking to commit time and energy to dance outside of their classes and rehearsals. We love that it gives these dancers a chance to build closer relationships with their peers, which in turn helps to strengthen our community as a whole. It creates greater investment from our oldest dancers, as well as great modeling for the younger ones. Teens serve as such powerful role models within the context of our studio, and the opportunity to connect them directly with little ones is incredibly influential across our whole community. We hear from young dancers not only that they want to someday dance with our company, but also that they want to be NHSDA members to help carry on the LYBW tradition.



DA: What does a typical Love Your Body Week at the studio usually looks like? 

MG: Most of these activities happen during class time, with the exception of the prep work that NHSDA members do before the week begins. We offer a variety of different jumping-off points for conversation in classes based on age and dance genre (picture books for our pre-school dancers, photos, videos, and readings for pre-teens and teens). For our older dancers who experience a number of conversations over the course of the week, we also incorporate movement exercises, both choreographic and improvisational, to create a well-rounded experience. Our goal is for dancers who take multiple weekly classes to examine the concept of body image through a variety of different lenses.

NHSDA members visit classes over the course of the week to lead LYBW activities. There are generally about 20 members in a given year, and they facilitate conversations in pairs or trios. NHSDA members visited over 100 classes over the course of the week this year, so it is certainly a substantial time commitment for those dancers. We are intentional about taking time to fully prepare NHSDA dancers l to help them feel confident and prepared, as well as offering them resources and support throughout the week.

Here is an example track of LYBW class activities for an advanced dancer:

  • Jazz – Video and discussion of dancers as athletes.
  • Modern – Choreographic task inspired by a word each dancer chooses to describe his/her body.
  • Ballet – Photo timeline of the evolution of the “ideal ballet body”, discussion of how these ideals (for both male and female dancers) have changed over the course of history.
  • Tap – Discussion of body positivity from the perspective of thankfulness. Dancers write thank you notes to their bodies to post on the mirror.
  • Lyrical – Dancers choose a favorite body part and a least favorite body part, then improvise movement initiating with each of those parts.



DA: Do you incorporate wellness/nutritional education?

MG: In general, we do not incorporate much from a nutrition standpoint, as we are not experts in the field and do not want to inadvertently offer potentially damaging advice. In general the conversations will touch on the importance of eating well to keep active bodies fueled, but nothing more specific than that. We are lucky enough to have Rachel Stewart, who also works with children and teens as a counselor, as a part of our LYBW program.  She offers an info session at the end of each LYBW so that parents and teens can access clinical resources.


DA: Has the event grown beyond All That Dance?

MG: A number of other studios across the country have contacted me for more information, and many have instituted similar programs at their studios. I am happy to share our curriculum with anyone who is interested! I love having the opportunity to share our materials, and to discuss ways of implementing similar programming in the context of other studios. The best way to contact me is via email:


DA: What resources or sources you can suggest to studios interested in helping students love their bodies?

MG: The National Eating Disorder Association has a website with tons of fantastic links and resources. We have also had great success searching for inspiring quotes and articles on Pinterest. Dance Magazine and Dance Teacher Magazine have published wonderful articles about body image, building confidence, and using studio mirrors as helpful tools that can be found on their respective websites. There are of course several fantastic articles on Dance Advantage, too!

Here are the books that we have used successfully in our classes for young children:


Through Love Your Body Week, All That Dance students are learning to be kind to one another and kind to themselves, as well as developing an appreciation for their bodies. They will take these lessons into college and adulthood, making time spent in the dance studio about even more than technical proficiency, discipline, and work ethic. What an amazing gift!


How do you promote healthy body image at your studio?



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What is Intuitive Eating and Why is it Good for Dancers? Mon, 04 Apr 2016 14:30:20 +0000 Dancers tend to trust their physical body but rely on external cues when fueling it. Learn the principles of Intuitive Eating and trust your body when it comes to food.]]>


Intuitive Eating is an approach to food and diet created by dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, that utilizes your bodies’ awareness and understanding of its’ own internal cues for hunger, satiation and cravings, in order to guide food and diet choices. Unlike many fad diets, Intuitive Eating does not tell you what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat. Intuitive Eating is actually based on the premise that your body is really smart, and it knows exactly what it needs at any given time. It is your job to listen to it. Through the process of becoming an Intuitive Eater, you learn how to create a healthy relationship with your food, mind, and body – where you ultimately become the expert of your own body.

As dancers, when attempting to achieve a certain aesthetic appearance, it can be all too tempting to fall prey to various dieting schemes and fads. Most typical diets involve following sets of rules and regulations that tell you what to eat (or not eat), and when to eat (or not eat), creating a scenario where the dieter utilizes external cues to guide their eating behavior, resulting in a disconnect from their bodies’ internal cues. This causes body awareness to decrease, which is arguably not a “good thing” for the aspiring dancer.

In order to be a successful dancer, you need to be highly aware of your body – whether you are working on trying to get a higher extension without gripping your hip flexors, or you are trying to decide what to eat for lunch in order to have the best energy for afternoon class/rehearsal. The process of Intuitive Eating teaches you to attune to, and trust, your own bodies’ needs. This ability allows you to make food and diet choices, based on simple nutrition, that will fulfill and satisfy your bodies’ needs at any given time, resulting in less stress around food and eating, greater body/self awareness, increased confidence and strength, not to mention peace of mind around food and eating, allowing you to focus your energy and mental capacity on improving your dancing rather than fretting about your diet…Sounds pretty nice, huh?

If your answer is “yes,” read on to learn about the 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating, and how they may be able to help you become a healthier, happier and more aware dancer.

Intuitive Eating
“Eat!” by Joshua Rappeneker is licensed CC BY-SA 2.0


The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

1. Reject the Diet Mentality: More and more (and more) research is showing that diets simply do not work. They may work for a short period of time, but the weight loss resulting from any one given “diet,” is unsustainable and, once the diet ends, the dieter will gain back more weight than they lost. As dancers, we need a sustainable approach to food and eating that will allow us to sustain our bodies’ health and wellness for year round training and performing. While going on a “diet” may yield short term weight loss results, in the long run, it can actually set you up to disconnect from your body and gain weight – not necessarily the outcome you were hoping for.


2. Honor Your Hunger: Hunger is a good thing. Our bodies are smart. They know when we need fuel, and they use signals to inform us. Hunger signals might appear as a growling or cramped stomach, light-headedness or dizzy spells, shaky hands or an inability to focus, or, my personal favorite, a bad (bad) mood…often referred to as becoming “hangry.” These signals are actually survival tactics, and, they are to be listened to. As a dancer, learn to listen to your bodies’ hunger cues, and try to satiate them when they arise, so you can continue to have energy for your craft, while staying present and conscious to make good food choices through out your day.


3. Make Peace with Food: Food is good. No, wait, food is great. It is yummy, and delicious and fun, and to be enjoyed, not feared. When attempting to achieve a certain aesthetic, it is far too easy to make food the enemy, leading to restrictive eating behaviors. This restrictive behavior around food can lead to a slew of negative results for the body. Do not prohibit yourself from eating food, for this may cause feelings of deprivation and could eventually lead to over indulgence, i.e. disconnected weight gain. Food is your friend. Use it to fuel your body for your craft, and try to have some fun with it during the process.


4. Challenge the Food Police: The “Food Police” are those voices in your head (no, you’re not crazy, I have them too) that like to chime in when you are eating something that might be on your “bad food day” list, or your “I could never in a million years eat x, y, z” list. Most people have a “list,” and everyone has different things on their “list,” usually determined by their past experiences and beliefs around healthy/unhealthy food and eating. When your “Food Police” chimes in, challenge them. Try to rid your mind of any guilt-provoking and negative thoughts that arise when eating certain foods. Remember, food is good, food is your friend, and, as a living and breathing human being inhabiting this earth, you not only get to eat food, you actually need to eat food.


5. Feel Your Fullness: Again, your body is smart. It will tell you when it is sated. Learn to listen for body signals that show you are full or content. Once you start to notice that you actually do get full, and that, no, you won’t eat the entire bag of chips every single time you allow yourself to eat chips, you start to build confidence in your self and your ability to eat intuitively. This is a really important part of the process. What might it feel like for you to feel comfortably full? Remember, it is not an exact science, and your experience will vary.


6. Discover the Satisfaction Factor: Eating food is a sensory experience, and it deserves to be a satisfying one. Notice the different elements of taste, texture, color and aroma of the foods you eat. Eat in a pleasant environment, perhaps with nice china and silverware, or while listening to soothing music. Identifying the pleasures related to your experience of eating can help you be present, allowing you to more easily attune to your bodies’ needs.


7. Cope with Your Emotions Without Using Food: We’ve all done it. Bad day in class or rehearsal or a performance, or, (eek) all three, and we decide to say, “Screw it, I’m eating everything in the house.” We grab the bag of chips or cookies or whatever, plop down on the sofa and drown the sorrows and unfairness of life in delicious, yummy and comforting food. The funny thing is we usually don’t end up feeling better after an episode like this, we typically feel worse. If you find yourself in a particularly emotional state, and you have the tendency to reach for food for solace, try to explore new ways to comfort, nurture, and resolve your issues without using food. Perhaps take a walk, or a hot bath or call a good friend to vent. Once you’ve calmed down, THEN try to make your food choices based on what your body is telling you. If you still desire a cookie, have a cookie. Just try not to set yourself up to mindlessly eat as a way to cope with your emotions.


8. Respect Your Body: This is my favorite – and arguably one of the most challenging. As dancers, we expect SO MUCH of our bodies. Let’s remember to take a little time to appreciate all they do for us. They not only endure the countless hours of training, but they also keep us breathing, digesting, self-regulating and much (much) more, without us ever really thinking about it. And then we berate them on top of this for not appearing this or that way? Sounds a little unfair if you ask me…Let’s try to be realistic with our bodies – respect their natural shapes and sizes, and work with them, rather than against them. This does not mean you can’t work and train hard, just try to respect your body as you work hard.


Dancers tend to trust their physical body but rely on external cues when fueling it.
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9. Exercise – Feel the Difference: Obviously dancers exercise (duh, they dance all day!). This principle is about exercising with the intention to feel good. Recognize the benefits you are gaining from your training – more energy, stamina, endurance, control – and feel how good they feel, rather than placing all the focus on the amount of calories you’re burning.


10. Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition: And finally, we get to nutrition – gently. I love that this is the last principle of Intuitive Eating, and that the word “gentle” is tacked on to it. Not that nutrition isn’t important for health – it is extremely important – but, often times, aiming for nutritious eating can lead you down the path of dieting and disconnection from your body. Use your knowledge of nutrition to make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while leaving you connected to your body and feeling good.



*Resch, Elyse, and Evelyn Tribole. Intuitive Eating. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1995.

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Foam Rollers: Flawed Fad or Functionally Fundamental? Fri, 11 Mar 2016 16:02:54 +0000 Seems every dancer's doing it but what is the purpose and value in using a foam roller? And, should you be doing it too? Here's the 411 on fascia and foam rolling.]]>


Stretching is an important ritual for many dancers before and after class, and the effectiveness of pre-class stretching has been previously discussed here.

Personal Trainer Jessica Johnson is "besties" with her foam rollers. Find the pros and cons of foam rollers and SMR in this post!
Personal Trainer Jessica Johnson of Illinois is “besties” with her foam rollers. Find the pros and cons of rolling in this post!

Since writing that article, a number of new warm-up and stretching techniques have risen in popularity, particularly the use of foam rollers to get your morning “crunchies” out. In fact it’s hard to find a dancer these days who’s not toting a foam roller under her arm.

Foam rollers are not the only way to get your roll on. Foam rolling is part of a bigger category known as Self-Myofascial Release (SMR), or self-massage. So, whether you use a foam roller or a roller that looks like a tire, or if you roll around on a softball, or use a foot massager, or stick those squishy spiked Franklin balls under your heels… it’s all the same principle, sharing the same philiosophy as massage therapy and other manual techniques used for many, many years.



Fascia 411

To better understand self-myofascial release, it’s helpful to understand a little bit about fascia:

Fascia is a web of tissue connecting the body’s compartments. Fascia’s job is to provide stability and directional pull for the muscles to best accomplish their jobs. Injury and repetitive use can contribute to fascia becoming less pliable, essentially building scar tissue and resulting in reduced range of motion, pain, and shortening of the surrounding muscles.

Myofascial release is designed to massage the damaged fascia and restore its natural pliability, while suppressing receptors that are stimulating the associated muscle tightness. Self-myofascial release allows the individual to monitor pain by conducting this process herself.

SMR brings additional blood flow to the area you are rolling, and perhaps for this reason has been integrated into many athletes’ warm-up routines. While this may prime the body for movement and sometimes feels good (other times it feels like a million needles poking into your thigh), the body responds in much the same way it responds to static stretching before activity.


So, why do people foam roll?

Is it just hype, or is there value in foam rolling?

Some clinicians feel that SMR manages the neuromuscular connections between muscles, creating a potential for improved movement patterns. The link between this idea and athletic performance isn’t too convincing at this point, but many athletes report better range of motion from foam rolling, and muscles tend to perform better when they can achieve full range of motion.


The simplest answer to the question, “to roll, or not to roll” is probably:

“Who knows?!?”

The jury is still out on whether foam rolling is bad, or good, or neither. At the time of this writing, it’s an emerging area of research and the argument in favor of foam rolling is largely justified by a whole lot of anecdotes.

Many athletes and coaches swear by their SMR routines, and most will likely tell you, “I don’t know how it works, but it works.” This seems to be the general consensus among researchers too, and until we have more concrete answers, it is unwise to make broad statements about foam rolling preventing injury or improving performance in any athlete.


Another possible answer to the SMR question is: “It depends.”

As dancers, we are obsessed with mobility. Any crunchy or tight area is perceived as a detriment. While foam rolling is thought by some to address areas of tightness and maladaptive movement patterns, we must also recognize the importance of balancing mobility with stability.

Our bodies’ joints form a kinetic chain in which alternating joints are ideal for providing stability (as in the knee and lower back), or mobility (ankle, hip, and thoracic/middle back areas). When in balance, our bodies move with ease and efficiency. However, through repetitive use or faulty movement patterns, we can change this balance and run the risk of getting injured. Dancers’ extreme hypermobility leaves us susceptible to injury, and so an intervention aimed at exacerbating mobility – which you already have a lot of – should be approached with caution.


#Dancers report better ROM from #foamrolling but the balance of mobility and stability is important.
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Knowing where to roll isn’t as simple as it seems.


Dancer Dylan Roth from Chicago demonstrates a glute roll that targets piriformis
Dancer Dylan Roth from Chicago demonstrates a glute roll that targets piriformis

Muscle pain can result naturally as a part of the training process, or may be the result of overuse or faulty movement patterns. In using a foam roller, it’s tempting to simply attack the muscle that hurts, but the answer might not be so simple.

Understanding how the body compensates for a lack of muscular efficiency and knowing how to correct faulty movement patterns will help make the most of your time on the roller. For example, hip and knee pain is often attributed to the iliotibial band pulling at the side of the knee.


Jessica Johnson demonstrates a glute roll for gluteus maximus and the upper hamstring.
Jessica Johnson demonstrates a glute roll for gluteus maximus and the upper hamstring.

A common misconception is that tight IT bands are the culprit, when in fact poor or faulty musculature of the hip is often to blame. Plus, the IT band cannot simply be stretched out by foam rolling – it’s an incredibly tough, tight structure whose job is to stabilize the knee. In other words, even if you could roll out your IT band, you want it to be tight. A better approach is to combine SMR of the hip, glutes, and quads with some hip strengthening in extension and the lateral plane.



The article below from “hello healthy” gives additional insight on how to get the most out of foam rolling:

Are You Foam Rolling All Wrong?


The long and the short of foam rolling:

Will foam rolling make you less sore? Maybe.

Less tight? Probably.

But remember that soreness and tightness in small doses are a healthy part of the training process, and a signal to perhaps slow down a little bit instead of willing our bodies into submission with a softball.

There is a lack of convincing evidence to support long-lasting changes in muscle length by using SMR techniques on their own. In other words, SMR may not cause increased flexibility, per se, but can make traditional strength and flexibility training more effective by altering how the brain communicates with muscles to produce effective movement patterns.

There’s not enough research out there to definitively say whether or not foam rolling is “good” or “bad.” It just is. If it feels good (“good” being a relative term), do it, but understand that certain areas of your body are supposed to be tight. So go for it on your hips, butt, calves, thighs, and upper/middle back, and avoid the joints that are designed for stability: your knees, lower back, and neck. If you’re feeling pain in those places, spend time and energy seeing a doctor or physical therapist instead.


Additional reading:

National Academy of Sports Medicine: Why Should Foam Rolling Be Used in Group Training (Kyle Stull)


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Embodying a Magic Spell: Pilates Cross-Training For Dancers Mon, 03 Aug 2015 14:40:51 +0000 Creator of the Drexel Pilates training program, Jennifer Morley, describes how Pilates practice became a "magic spell" in her dance training, correcting inefficiency and imbalance for a more highly-functioning body.]]>

Jennifer Morley, in class and performance, has a deep iliopsoas connection that demanded I pay attention, when I first saw her dance. She flowed effortlessly and efficiently. Her center support radiated throughout her body. Artistry sprung from a deep understanding of the way her body moved and functioned. I was spellbound.

I was long-trained in classical ballet and from an early point, focused on creating a shape-in-space more than moving from an internal spring. Jennifer, or JMo as most everyone knows her, embodied the inward-outward dancing I craved to understand.

JMo practicing Pilates.
JMo practicing Pilates.

JMo is an educator, choreographer, performer, and community creator in Philadelphia, PA. She is the Director of the Drexel Pilates Studio, creator of the Drexel Pilates training program, and an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Drexel University Dance program. Like many dancers, JMo discovered Pilates as a supplement to her dance training and practice. It was Pilates that became her “portal to embodying a myriad of somatic concepts.”

Journey to Pilates

“I chose the Pilates method because while I was pursuing my dance degree in college I found myself observing certain patterns in both my body and in my dancing that were not being addressed in my dance classes. In Pilates, I connected with both the clear biomechanics and the deep, clear, sense of embodiment I found…. It became a magic spell. I would go to Pilates sessions and the following day dynamic and physiological challenges that had been immovable for years were dissipating or gone. I remember my teachers noticing right away. I had a sense that the system was something I could rely on and ‘go home’ to,” JMo shared with me.

Pilates is a movement practice developed by Joseph Pilates, and “designed to stretch, strengthen, and balance the body,” as described by the Pilates Method Alliance. I’ve experienced it as a way to deeply align my body and mind from the inside out, using carefully designed exercises that can be performed on the mat or one of the many Pilates apparatuses, under the careful guidance of a trained Instructor.

For more info on the Pilates Method Alliance visit

“I remember my #dance teachers noticing {my #Pilates practice} right away.”
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Pilates and Dance

JMo recommends this method of cross-training for dancers because “the resistance offered by the equipment coupled with the tactile cuing offered by the Instructor, the dancer can feel, sense, and re-pattern in a very specific way.”

Each dancer can utilize the many exercises, elements, and levels of Pilates to his/her unique needs. Traditional Pilates wisdom suggests practicing Pilates three times a week, but dancers can adjust that based upon their personal, cross-training needs. JMo reflected, “One of my teachers, Karen Carlson, often talks about our goal of moving all clients toward a highly functioning body. However, high function for a dancer means something very specific. I will, without question, slow down to help a dancer replace inefficiency or imbalance with success and integration. It is one of, if not the, single most important thing to me about this work. However, it is also really exciting to share the body of the classical work that I learned from Romana Kryzanowska.” (Romana Kryzanowska studied directly under Joseph Pilates and his wife, Clara).

Anyone, at any age, can engage in Pilates, but JMo suggests “that anyone with ostepenia or osteoporosis needs to be careful with flexing the spine against gravity….which is a huge component of the classical mat work. There are significant discussions in the field right now about how to develop the work with less spinal flexion.” She also recommends experiencing the equipment in addition to the mat work:

“You do not need any equipment to practice Pilates, but I don’t believe that you have really experienced the system in a holistic way until you have practiced on the equipment. Joseph Pilates built the equipment to support his clients in the mat work. The mat work is actually the boot camp of the method. The springs and pulleys and all of his other contraptions were invented to improve and deepen the mat work.”

When looking for a Pilates instructor or studio, JMo suggests “practitioners should seek out a fully equipped studio before coming to any conclusions about the system as a whole.”

All that is possible

I asked JMo if there was a specific moment or experience with Pilates that was particularly poignant for her.

“At this point, Pilates is so integrated into the landscape and tapestry of my life that it took a moment to choose a stand out. Then I remembered my private sessions with Romana Kryzanowska. She was very specific, militant really, about the way we comported ourselves in her studio. But when I was on the reformer with her, she was an artist. She brought me to new levels of depth in my breath, energy, and strength. This one day I got to the elephant exercise, a moment in the Advanced reformer where the practitioner has been flowing through really difficult material for at least a half an hour, and I remember feeling a concept Joseph Pilates called ‘the internal shower’. Its like an inner energetic washing of the self. It was a moment when I was exhilarated with all that was possible for my physically, but the response was fully energetic and emotional.”

I clearly see and am inspired by this energetic and emotional connection in JMo’s own dancing, teaching, and training. The clarity that Pilates offered JMo inspired me to further explore Pilates through my own training, and I became a Power Pilates Mat I & II Certified Instructor. I utilize many cross-training methods, but Pilates has provided a unique path to “go home” to my body also.

Drexel Pilates

And if you’re in the Greater Philadelphia area, JMo invites you to check out the community of Drexel Pilates at Drexel University.

“We are all about the love of movement. Pilates is the lens we look through. It has been really amazing to build this community within the Drexel Dance program and I hope to continue to connect with practitioners who are curious about what we do.”

Have you practiced Pilates? What did you discover?

“Pilates has provided a unique path to ‘go home’ to my body.”
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5 Simple Strategies for Improving Body Image (that you can start doing right now) Mon, 13 Jul 2015 14:47:01 +0000 Dancers deserve to cultivate a good relationship with their bodies. Here are five strategies to improve your body image that you can apply right now to your dance practice.]]>
"Trinity College Ballerina 6" by  Punting Cambridge. Licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.
Trinity College Ballerina 6” by
Punting Cambridge. Licensed under CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

The concept of “Body Image” is both challenging and crucial to dancers. As dancers, our bodies are our instruments. We sculpt our bodies through our training to perform at their best, and we are constantly assessing ourselves in order to perfect our craft. Body Image becomes challenging for dancers since, when looking at one’s body so closely, it seems far easier to scrutinize and berate our “flaws” than it is to acknowledge and praise our beauties. Cultivating a positive body image, where one can assess and critique their body, without berating it, is crucial for success as a dancer.

“Body Image” refers to how you “see” your body – both literally as you see the reflection of your body in a mirror, and as you see your body represented in your mind’s eye. Generally speaking, there are two types of body image – positive and negative. Someone with a positive body image feels content in and about their body, exactly how it is, while some one with a more negative body image tends to feel unhappy with, and uncomfortable in, their body. For most people, their body image lies somewhere in the middle, oscillating between the two, depending upon their current circumstances. That being said, if you find yourself experiencing drastically greater instances of negative thoughts and feelings about your body than neutral or positive thoughts about your body, you may well have a negative body image.

The interesting thing about a negative body image is that you can’t exactly just get rid of it (much as we would like to) or even necessarily “heal” it. All you can do is try to cultivate a better one. And, slowly, through a committed practice, you can shift your tendencies towards negative thoughts and feelings about your body to more positive ones.

With that in mind, here are 5 Simple Strategies, that you can start doing right now, to help improve your body image:

1. Go on a “negative-thought” diet.

Since body image is a result of how we see, feel and think about our bodies, changing our thinking and self-talk from negative to positive is essential for cultivating a more positive body image. The first step is to simply start observing your thoughts. Notice what you think and say to yourself about your body.

If you find yourself having unwanted negative thoughts, the next step is to rationally challenge them. Ask yourself, “Is this negative thought about myself reasonable?” Chances are the answer is no. Once you’ve determined this, try replacing the negative thought with a more positive thought or affirmation. Positive affirmations are shown to be most beneficial when they are specific, expressed in the present tense and have strong emotional content. For example, rather than thinking “I’m doomed to be fat” restate to yourself, “My body is beautiful as it is, and I have all the tools I need to make any desired changes if I so choose.”

It may sound hokey, but positive affirmations such as this are proven to work. When creating your own affirmations, be sure to use common sense and create statements that allow you to work towards rational and realistic goals for yourself and your body. Another option is to ask yourself, “Would I say this negative thought to a 5 year old?” Hopefully the answer is no. And, if not, think of what you might say instead and say that to yourself.

2. Externalize criticism and critique.

As dancers, we must get comfortable handling criticism and critique. But, when the criticism and critique are pertaining to a subject so closely linked to our identity as our actual physical bodies and appearance, it can be challenging to not take it personally. Here is a simple plan for removing your “self” from the critique so you can look at it objectively and take the feedback in a constructive manner, allowing it to help you improve, rather than leaving you feeling poorly.

First, take a deep breath and calm down. Let your initial gut-reaction pass. Then, imagine that the criticism or critique is directed at someone else (someone who happens to have your name and look just like you!) Next, try to stay open – listen with out defending. Hear the person out. Do they have a point? Do you agree/disagree? Discuss it – either directly with them, with yourself or with a good friend. Use the feedback to improve in the ways that resonate with you, otherwise, just smile and nod, and let it go.

3. Use the mirror as a helpful tool, rather than a hindering one.

Have you ever taken a stroll across a dance studio while checking yourself out in the mirror and felt like your body shifted its shape from “thin” to “fat”, “lean” to “squat”, in mere seconds as you traveled from one side of the room to the other? Ah, mirrors. The mirror can be considered an important tool for dancers. Dance mirrors have the ability to give us immediate feedback that we can use to improve our dancing. They can also cause us to feel poorly about our bodies.

When choosing to use your reflection as a tool for self-improvement, it’s important to keep in mind that mirrors are not accurate. They are literally “mirror-images” of yourself, reversed left to right, that you see and then decide look a certain way (usually some version of “good” or “bad.”) If you start to notice that you are unable to use the mirror productively, immediately stop looking in the mirror. Look above it, squint your eyes, or even close your eyes if you have to. Try to shift your focus for that class or rehearsal towards being in your body – dance bigger, stronger, freer and with more abandon. Allow yourself to not let the mirror define you, your body or your dancing.

4. Stop comparing yourself to others, and start comparing yourself to your self.

Just about everyone, at some point in their lives, has compared themselves to another person. Comparing oneself to another isn’t always bad. It actually can be a useful tool for goal setting and self-improvement. But, it can also lead into a downward spiral of self-loathing and self-hatred, and ultimately, a negative body image. If you can safely use comparing yourself to another as a positive tool for self-improvement, then, by all means, go for it. If not, stop. Now. Please. It’s not worth it.

Remember, dancers are people. All people are different. All people have strengths and all people have weaknesses. And, most importantly, there are no “perfect” people. If you absolutely insist on pursuing comparing yourself to another, even if it tends to leave you feeling poorly, try to choose someone with a similar body type to yours. Compare apples to apples, rather than apples to oranges. It will be a far more accurate representation and allow you to use comparison as a tool to work towards a concrete and realistic goal.

An even better tool is to compare yourself to your self. Where are you now compared to a week ago? A month ago? A year ago? Also, where are you now compared to where you want to be, and what actions might you realistically take to get there? Chances are, you have come a LONG way, and it’s important to keep this in mind as you try to achieve your future dreams and goals.

5. Get IN your body, NOW.

When we start to scrutinize our body, we actually leave our body. We literally “dis-embody.” One of the best ways to cultivate a better body image is to “embody” your body. Simple acts, such as mindful movement (dance, Pilates, stretching, yoga, etc.), breathing/meditating, listening to music, and anything and everything that allows you to experience being in and connecting with your body in ways free of expectations, judgments and demands, are crucial for cultivating a positive relationship with your body. And we all deserve to cultivate a good relationship with our bodies – especially when they do so much for us as dancers. So, commit to taking time every day to be in your body in an encouraging and nourishing way.

We dancers all deserve to cultivate a good relationship with our bodies.
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"prima ballerina" by  Roberto Trombetta. Licensed under CC Attribution 2.0 Generic.
prima ballerina” by
Roberto Trombetta. Licensed under CC Attribution 2.0 Generic.


Badillo, Grace. “The Use of Constructive Criticism in Dance Education.”

NEDA. “What is Body Image?”

Nordqvist, Christian. Medical News Today. “What Is Body Image?”

Orloff, Judith. “How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others.”

Mokhov, Oleg. “How to Take Criticism.”

Radell, Sally A. “Body Image and Mirror Use in the Ballet Class.” International Association for Dance Medicine and Science, Vol 4:1, 2012. “What is Body Image?”

Real. “Body Image: What’s the Big Deal?”

Kathi MartuzaKathi Martuza is a former professional ballet dancer who spent 15 years dancing with the San Francisco Ballet as a Corps de ballet dancer and with the Oregon Ballet Theatre as a Principal dancer. Kathi holds a BA in Performing Arts with an emphasis in dance, is a Certified PEAK Pilates instructor, Certified Health Coach, and licensed True Body Project teacher. She is the owner-operator of Empowered Health and Movement, LLC- dedicated to empowering girls and women to feel great IN and ABOUT their bodies through nutrition, movement and self love. Kathi helps her clients with weight loss/management, improving self-esteem and body image, and body conditioning. Kathi believes wholeheartedly in the innate power girls and women possess and she hopes to empower them towards becoming their happiest, healthiest and most-fulfilled selves. Find out more about Kathi and her work at

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Alexander Technique: Connecting The Dancer’s Multi-Purpose Body Mon, 20 Apr 2015 15:22:33 +0000 Our Monday morning body isn’t different from our Friday night body and it’s connected to our Math class body and our Modern Dance body. How Alexander Technique helps dancers connect to their one body.]]>

Dance holistically integrates the many facets of our life in a beautiful way. Therefore, it is logical to think that the many facets of life would influence our dance, for better and for worse.

Cross training refers not only to developing strength and flexibility, but also developing our awareness and alignment. This is especially important for dancers who need to focus on both the physical and the emotional details of movement in class and performance.

Why Alexander Technique for Dancers?

Professional dancer, choreographer, educator and AmSAT (American Society for Alexander Technique) certified teacher, KC Chun-Manning explains “The Alexander Technique (AT) has affected EVERY aspect of my life and how I live in my body, allowing for increased skill, clarity, integration and better choice-making. Since it teaches a holistic and supportive approach to ‘thinking in activity’, it is with me all the time, and has been essential in how I experience, understand, observe and see the body’s potential for movement.”

What is Alexander Technique?

The Alexander Technique is based upon understanding and developing the natural alignment of the body and moving from that source (when dancing, walking, driving, typing, or doing any type of activity).

One of my Alexander Technique teachers compared the process of alignment and “stacking the bones” to the delicate practice of stacking rocks on top of each other. Both processes require practice, attention, awareness, mindfulness, and balance. Once achieved, both also create a sense of peace and harmony.

How does one practice Alexander Technique?

Initially, it is best to have the instruction of a certified teacher to guide you in the process. Instructors facilitate the underlying principles of the technique using both imagery and a helpful hands-on approach to gently guide the body out of poor postural habits and into more natural alignment patterns. Classes can be one-on-one or in a small-group.

Alexander Technique2
KC Chun-Manning guiding dancer Marcie Mamura through an Alexander Technique practice


How has Alexander Technique aided KC as a dancer?

For dancers, this focus on proper alignment can assist in many genres. KC’s initial training was as a gymnast which, for her, meant “I had this notion of myself as being super strong and relatively indestructible,” a trait not uncommon in young dancers and teens.

Of her transition out of gymnastics and into pursuing dance in college, KC says, “I brought my habits of overuse, muscular tension, hyperextending my knees and swayback with me–which was a perfect recipe for injuries. Even with all my attention to alignment in dance class, I just could not avoid the constant knee injuries, which included swelling behind the knees, as well as lateral ligament and meniscus discomfort.”

KC continued her re-training through the MFA program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign which had developed a relationship with the Urbana Center for the Alexander Technique.

“From my first lessons with master teachers Joan and Alex Murray and Luc Vanier, I felt that my whole nervous system, reflexes and spatial pathways were gently, but profoundly responding. With this methodology of postural re-education, I had a new experience of clarity and being in my body that informed every moment of my day.”

“Simultaneously subtle, yet radical, I had begun the unraveling process of do more and work harder with do less, with increased clarity.”

As dancers, sometimes we think that the harder we work, the more we will achieve. Alexander Technique teaches that how we work becomes just as important as the level of physicality at which we work.

“Re-training the body and un-doing old habits are a constant process of the dancer. Our bodies are always changing and growing. We need to learn how to adjust to these new developments or risk injury.”

Alexander Technique helps the body adjust to stress in dance and in life

This ‘how,’ in addition to the execution of the steps, also refers to how we respond to stress in the moment and how we approach being fully present in the process of dancing. For example, do you perform better during rehearsals than during a performance? This might be because your body is responding to the extra stress of an audience.

If your director is watching class, are you more tense and therefore not as proficient at your technique and performance practice? Just as we rehearse and practice for the performance, Alexander Technique helps and prepares dancers (and other people) to acknowledge and adjust tension within their/ our bodies when in stressful situations.

KC refers to this stress as “excitement.” Performance, class, and rehearsal certainly are exciting!

“Given that dancers are the ever perfectionists, it is quite common that dancers get over-excited and in their own way in this pursuit for perfection. This response pattern of prioritizing outcomes over means is what F.M. Alexander called ‘end-gaining’. Through this method (AT) we can become better at learning how we respond to excitation, so we can make better choices and shift attention to those magical, intrinsic spaces in between.”

Those spaces in between – the moments when you make eye contact with your audience, understand the non-verbal communication of your partner, or add your own emotional component to the combination in class – are true magic! (These are some of the reasons why we return to dance!)

KC Chun-Manning performing in Jessica Warchal-King’s “Embedded Layers”. Photo by Bill Hebert


KC suggests that “The Alexander principles of sensory awareness and how we use ourselves in all activities can be awakened with simply a thought, so in effect, it can be practiced at any, and all, times. The more the dancer practices and applies the AT principles in their daily life, the easier it will be to embody its principles within the classroom, rehearsals, performance, [and daily life] with more consistency.” (brackets my own)

One Body; Many Experiences

Personally, I appreciate Alexander Technique for its focus on the whole body. I believe that our Monday morning body isn’t different from our Friday night body and that’s connected to our Math class body and our Modern Dance body.

We have one body and through that we experience the world.

We bring those experiences to our dance. Practicing Alexander Technique allows us to understand how we carry our bodies and how our environment affects our physicality, and therefore, our dance.

We have one body and through that we experience the world.
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For more information on KC Chun-Manning, please check out For more information on the Alexander Technique and where to find a teacher, please check out


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Nutrition Labels: How To Choose The Right Dancer Fuel Wed, 15 Apr 2015 16:51:01 +0000 It's finally here: the 411 on the nutrition behind the numbers. Decipher all those percentages and categories on nutrition labels, complete with advice from the pros. ]]>

Maybe you have a competition this weekend. Possibly an audition, or an extra-long rehearsal. You know you’ll need to have snacks on hand for this all-day affair, preferably one that will give you energy and won’t feel heavy in your stomach whether you’re in a kick line or doing jetes across the stage. But when you get to the grocery store to stock up on this extra sustenance, products shouting everything from “Low Fat!” to “High in Protein!” to “Gluten Free!” stare back at you. How are you supposed to know what is truly good for you – and will benefit you most as a dancer?

Welcome to your guide to nutrition label reading.

This little label on the back or side of food products holds an abundance of useful information to help you get all the nutrients you need to dance and feel your best. The key is learning to understand what you’re reading on this label and how to apply it to your meals. So first off…

Where do I start?

Two women looking at food label
Photo courtesy US Department of Agriculture

Before you even glance at the numerical details of a food label, dietician Emily Harrison, who works with the Atlanta Ballet at The Centre for Dance Nutrition, says that the important thing to remember is that food is fuel and can give you an advantage or put you at a disadvantage in dancing, athletic activity, or even academically.

“I think when we read that food label, we’re educating ourselves on what is going to be best for our bodies,” Harrison says. “I think any time we’re honoring our body, when we’re recognizing that food used as healthy fuel source, then reading a label can be a really good way to figure out what’s the best thing for [you].”

With that in mind, Harrison recommends looking at the ingredients list before anything else. It can usually be found beneath the actual table of nutrition percentages.

“If the ingredient list is a whole paragraph, or if it is so long and there are a bunch of words on there that you don’t recognize as an actual food, then maybe you need to rethink eating it,” Harrison says.

Health coach and HT Chen and Dancers alum Joanie Johnson says she tells clients to look at the first ingredients and ask themselves if those ingredients are good for them.

“Ingredients are listed in the order of their amount in a food – the food is mostly made up of the ingredients that come first, and less of the ingredients that come last. If those first few ingredients aren’t good for you, or worse yet, chemicals instead of real food, don’t eat it!” Joanie says. She also notes not to be tricked by any of the buzzwords on the front of the package, such as “high in fiber” and “whole wheat.”

“Think of the “health claims” on packaged foods as commercials.  They are strictly there to entice you to buy the product.  It’s often the unhealthiest foods trying to convince you they are healthy.  A sugary cereal box is the perfect example.  They often say things like “high in fiber”, “whole wheat”, “packed full of vitamin___”.  When you read the nutritional label, you’ll find these things to be untruthful.  There are MANY loopholes when it comes to food labeling laws in the US.  Never trust anything in bold print.”

Take it to the top.

At the very top of the label, you’ll find the serving size, how many servings are in the container, and what many people tend to notice first: calories.

Calories, according to the FDA, are a measure of the amount of energy you get from a serving of a particular food. How many calories you take in of that specific food depends on your serving size. So if you want an accurate interpretation of how many calories you’re consuming while eating a certain food, keep in mind the amount you’re eating. If you have two servings, for example, you’ll need to double the amount of calories and all other nutrients.

While many people shy away from a food item when it appears high in calories, Harrison stresses that what matters is what is in those calories.

“Something without calories isn’t automatically better,” Harrison says, referencing certain sports drinks that have no calories but are full of artificial sweeteners. Instead of obsessing over the number of calories, she recommends considering the activity that you’re about to do.

“If you’re about to go off to another class and then you have a pointe class right afterward, having a granola bar that has 200 calories in it is no big deal. That’s light,” Harrison says. “But if you’ve just eaten a big lunch and you’re just kind of bored and snacking, 200 calories in gummy bears right before you’re about to go stand in the back of a rehearsal because you’re an understudy is obviously not what you need to be eating, where your calories need to be coming from. So calories are not an evil thing, but they’re tools to help our body have energy.”

Getting technical

"Spongebob Kids Breakfast Cereal" by Mike Mozart is licensed CC BY 2.0 [cropping, color alteration]
“Spongebob Kids Breakfast Cereal” by Mike Mozart is licensed CC BY 2.0 [cropping, color alteration]
As you progress down the chart, you’ll start seeing something on the right listed as % Daily Value. According to the American Heart Association, the % Daily Value (DV) tells you the percentage of each nutrient in a single serving, in relation to the recommended daily amount of each nutrient. These percentages are typically based on a 2,000 calorie diet (the asterisk sign after “Percent Daily Value” will lead you to a footnote at the bottom of the label that will tell you this little detail). Your recommended daily calorie consumption, however, depends on numerous factors, and may be more or less than 2,000.  Your age, gender, and your activity level – which, as a dancer, is especially important – all play a role in this magic number.

If you want a truly accurate calculation of the number of calories and the amount of each nutrient you should be taking in daily, Harrison encourages working with a registered dietician. “Different people have different needs…If you’re like, a nine year old boy, they’ve completely different iron needs than a twenty year old female who has already started menstruating.”

She also shares this piece of advice she learned from Dr. Dan Benardot, a sports dietician she trained under during graduate school: More than enough is not better than enough.

“What he means by that is when you’re getting over and above what your body needs, you’re not doing yourself any favors. It’s not better. So figuring out what your needs are as an individual is really what we need to be doing.”

For a general way to ensure you’re consuming a balance of nutrients, health coach Kathi Martuza, a former company member at Oregon Ballet Theatre, suggests planning your meals and properly dividing your plate between fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates and protein. See for more info.

Moving on…

Following the calorie and serving size, you’ll see these details for the items Americans tend to eat in adequate amounts (or in some cases, over consume): fat, cholesterol and sodium. While your body does need these things, experts recommend you limit your consumption. In this area, Martuza says to particularly avoid trans fat.

“The only thing to look at in terms of fat is really trans fat. Stay away from that. Otherwise, don’t freak out necessarily if there’s fat in there. And definitely I would say don’t look at the calories,” Martuza says, noting again how the ingredients list is the first place to look.

Next, you’ll find the total carbohydrate (including dietary fiber and sugar), protein and vitamin amounts. Dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron are all subcategories in this area and are among these particular items that the FDA says you should make sure to consume in adequate amounts. Again, it’s about where exactly all these nutrients come from – and about balance.


Martuza says that dancers have a tendency to avoid carbohydrates, when they actually need them.

“They don’t need carbohydrates in the form of cookies, muffins and bagels, necessarily, but healthy grains, vegetables, just carbohydrates in the right foods. But especially in whole grains is a great way to get carbohydrates… But there’s a little bit of a carbohydrate craze, low carb craze, definitely affecting the dance world. Dancers need protein for sure, but when staying away from carbohydrates they can get more protein than they actually need.”


Harrison supports Martuza’s observation about protein. She says it’s one thing a lot of her dancers tend to worry about, thinking the more protein, the better.

“Really, protein should only be 12 – 15 percent of all calories. People are way too obsessed about protein. So we know that there is a max, there’s a threshold, over which we can’t really use protein for building muscle or repairing tissue. So a protein bar, or a protein smoothie or a protein beverage that has more than 20 grams isn’t really doing you much good. So more than 20 grams in one amount at one time is excess. The body likes to take in somewhere between 12 and maybe 15 grams at a time.”


Harrison, Martuza and Johnson all noted how sugars often tend to have different names, such as high fructose corn syrup.

“It’s a processed type of sugar that our body doesn’t know how to properly digest and store. Other fancy names that mean sugar: dextrose, glucose, lactose, levulose, fructose, sorbitol, mannitol, malitol, xylitol,” Johnson says, though the list of code names doesn’t stop there. “Choose natural sugars instead: pure maple syrup, honey, molasses.”

Harrison also notes how some foods, such as raisins, may appear very high in sugar – but since that sugar is natural, it’s not something to be worried about.

“So not all sugars are created equal. Some of the sugars can actually be quite good for you,” Harrison says.

Last but not least…

Sometimes, if there is enough space on the label, there were will be further details along with the footnote that says, “Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.” These details are the Daily Values. These values are measured in grams and remain exactly the same from product to product because they’re dietary recommendations for all Americans and not centered on a particular food. Based on information from public health experts, they are the recommended daily intakes of things like carbohydrates, fat and dietary fiber based on both a 2,000 and 2,500 calorie diet. The FDA does a good visual explanation of how Daily Values relate to Percent Daily Values here.

Who knew that a box full of nutrients and numbers could have so much detail behind it? Nutrition labels can be a great reference to help you guide your food choices, and with this knowledge you’ll be able to decipher one in no time. Ultimately, Harrison says to honor what your body is telling you.

“We dancers are so in tune with our bodies. It’s such a gift to be that in tune with your body,” says Harrison. “But we dancers are also kind of abusive to our bodies in a lot of ways. And I think you have to treat your body well; treat it with respect. And that means fueling it well. So bottom line, listen to your body.”

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Will Irish Dancing Help or Hinder My Other Dance Training? Tue, 17 Mar 2015 14:00:00 +0000 When St. Patrick’s Day celebrations push all things Irish into the spotlight, you may start thinking about adding Irish dancing to your skill set. But will it interfere with your concert dance training? A dancer trained in Irish dance and ballet compares the forms.]]>

Traditional Irish step dance is an extremely technical dance form – I’ve heard Irish dance described as nothing if not technique. I don’t agree completely — Irish dance is rhythm and tradition as well — but the technical aspects of the form are hard to deny.

"Saoirse" by Jos Dielis is licensed CC BY 2.0  (modified with cropping)
“Saoirse” by Jos Dielis is licensed CC BY 2.0 (modified with cropping)


While much of the technique for Irish dance is similar to ballet, some of the skills do conflict and for some students could prove counter-productive. If you’re considering adding Irish dance training to your dance toolkit, it’s a good idea to explore these differences and consider the benefits (or consequences) of taking up Irish dance in addition to your other dance training.

Here are some of the major differences between Irish dance and concert dance forms:


Correct posture in Irish dance may seem similar to that of ballet, but is actually quite different.

While Irish dancers must support their core like ballet dancers, they dance with their ribs open and shoulders completely back. This can be one of the most frustrating crossover problems for ballerinas and Irish dancers because the concept of “knitting your ribs” is such a hard one for students to grasp. This posture problem is equally trying for Irish dance teachers – getting well-trained ballet students to open their ribs and squeeze their shoulder blades together while still engaging their core is tough work.


Young Irish dancer jumping
“Trinity School of Irish Dance” by John Benson is licensed CC BY 2.0


Another major difference in technique is the use (or lack of use) of plié in Irish dance.

Irish dancers strive to keep their heels off the floor and their legs as straight as possible even when landing from jumps and traveling across the floor. Because Irish dancers spend hours training their feet and legs to support this extreme technique, getting Irish dancers to plié in ballet class becomes the bane of the ballet teacher’s existence.



Though Irish dancers work in a turned out position and learn to engage the same turnout muscles as dancers of other forms, the placement of certain positions is significantly different in Irish dance. Fifth position, for example, is ‘overcrossed’ from the perspective of a ballet dancer. All extension happens from fifth position, and is therefore crossed as well.

Irish dancers do not pass through or use a passé in turnout, and ‘parallel’ is not a position that exists in Irish dance. Irish dancers learn to engage their turnout muscles and push across their bodies.


Though training in Irish dance alongside ballet or modern training can sometimes confuse dancers, there are benefits to being proficient in both.


While many dancers struggle to get enough cardiovascular exercise during class, Irish dancers rarely have this problem. Irish dance is incredibly athletic, and requires dancers to move at a very fast pace for extended periods of time. Every movement in Irish dance requires one’s feet to leave the floor so Irish dancers are, literally, hopping for entire class periods. If a dancer needs more cardio exercise and running or swimming just won’t satisfy, Irish dance can be a creative alternative.



Irish dance builds strength where dancers need it most. Because Irish dancers dance on the toes, they have the incredible foot, ankle, and lower leg strength that students of other forms sometimes struggle to build. This strength is evident when ballet dancers move to pointe. My Irish/ballet dancers are usually dancing in pointe shoes a full year before their non-Irish-dancing peers.

Irish dancers also build core control and strength in large muscle groups. Because they develop fast twitch muscle fibers to jump constantly, Irish dancers generally love the petite and grand allegro sections of ballet class and generally excel at them.



The most important aspect of Irish dance is rhythm and timing. My first Irish dance teacher used to say, “If your dancing doesn’t sing the song of the music, you aren’t Irish dancing.” Understanding of the music and the connection between movement and music are integral to even the most rudimentary Irish dance class. Of course, musicality is integral to ballet, but dancers who take Irish dance alongside other forms may develop musical skills faster or beyond that of their non-Irish-dancing peers.


Irish dance draws movers from many different backgrounds. Some dancers take up Irish dance for cultural reasons, for the intense technical training involved, or, yes, as a supplement to other forms of dance.

I can’t say whether Irish dance will help or hinder your other dance training. There are clearly many factors to consider. Hopefully this article gives you some information about what you might encounter as a dancer who wants to do both and help you come to your own conclusion.

For me, learning Irish dance alongside my traditional ballet training meant I had to dance smarter and understand the differences between the two forms. But, training in Irish dance and ballet made me a unique and versatile dancer, and ultimately added to my professional career.


Carlye CunniffCarlye Cunniff is a professional dancer and dance educator based in Seattle, Washington. She currently co-directs and dances in the Seattle Irish Dance Company, teaches all around the city and writes about all things dance.


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What This Ballerina Knows About Body Hatred Tue, 10 Mar 2015 01:45:00 +0000 Ballet led Kathi Martuza to develop an unhealthy body image - and yet saved her from anorexia. Read her story here. ]]>

I once told a guy about my mission to help girls and women who struggle with weight, body image and body-hatred. Scanning my body up and down, he retorted, “What on earth do you know about body-hatred?” I stared at him blankly, the wheels in my head turning as I tried to think of a socially appropriate response, all the while really thinking to myself, “Too much. Way. Too. Much.”

It all started when I was 11 years old. I hadn’t even started ballet yet. I didn’t actually know what I was doing at the time – I was in the 6th grade after all. But, after a blanket speech made by a teacher to my entire dance class – something to the tune of ‘Some of you might want to watch your weight before the Christmas Show’, I decided to stop eating.

Kathi Martuza and Ronnie Underwood dancing in "Almost Mozart."
Kathi Martuza and Ronnie Underwood perform in “Almost Mozart.” Photo courtesy of Blaine Covert.

For breakfast, I would have a half-cup of dry “Grapenuts” cereal. Or, if I was feeling wild, a “half-of-a-half of a bagel.” The rest of the day’s calories consisted of a few pieces of iceberg lettuce and shredded carrots from the salad bar at school for lunch and then I think I did the classic pushing my food around my plate at dinner. I didn’t realize how bad things were, in part because I was eating – just not much.

There was a girl in my science class. Her legs seemed the size of my arms, and boy, did I want to look like her. I would grill her about what she ate and how much she weighed, not knowing how annoying and weird I must’ve sounded. I was so jealous. I starved myself and I got skinny, but never Christie-skinny.

My mom had no idea. I’m pretty sure she just thought I was losing my baby fat – as many girls at that age do. But, then it became more than that. I grew fur on my arms and face. I got acne. She took me to a friend who was a dermatologist and he’s the one who said something. Fortunately, I then got the help I needed. “Lainie-the-Counselor” had me start journaling. I have consistently kept a journal since the very first one Lainie bestowed upon me. Journaling never fails to get what’s going on inside of my head out onto paper so I can see, feel and think about what is what. I am forever indebted to her for giving me this tremendous gift of self-healing.

After Lainie, I did begin to heal. I learned that what I had been doing to myself had a name – Anorexia Nervosa. I also learned that I was supposed to eat.  In fact, contrary to all the diet-related articles in my “Teen” magazines, eating was actually good for me. So, I did. I don’t recall having too much difficulty turning things around this first time around. I was diagnosed. I got help. I started eating. I gained weight and became “normal” around food. No big deal. Then I started ballet.

I feel like my story is unique, because, yes, in many ways, ballet created an environment that only helped to reinstate my anorexic tendencies. But, in the end, when all was said and done, ballet also saved me from my anorexia. No joke.

Ballet was the Turning Point

I started ballet when I was 12, and, after a relocation of my family from a small town in New England, to Washington, D.C., I began attending a “serious” ballet school. It was here that I fell in love with ballet. It was here that I realized one could actually have a career dancing ballet. It was here that I gained the training and support to pursue what ended up to be an amazing and cherished 15-year long career as a professional ballet dancer. And it was here that my eating disorder returned.

Martuza and Mathew Boyes perform in "Adin."
Martuza and Mathew Boyes in “Adin.” Photo courtesy Blaine Covert.

After starting ballet, I ended up reverting back to my anorexic ways off and on and off and on…and off and on. I continued to see a counselor when needed. I continued to fluctuate between starving and binging. I never purged – I couldn’t. But, oh how I sometimes wished I could.

It was during one bout of starvation that my ballet teacher pulled me aside and said compassionately, but frankly, “Kathi, NO ONE wants to hire a dancer with an eating disorder.”

I was shocked.

First of all, up until this point, I didn’t realize that anyone knew I had a true eating disorder. This is one of the biggest indicators of an eating disorder – the person with the disorder thinks they are fooling EVERYONE, and they are in fact only fooling themselves. Everyone else knows.

Second of all, I had been starving myself to be thin in order to BE a professional dancer. So, to then find out that because of all my hard work to be thin I may actually blow my opportunity? Impossible. But, thank goodness, I took her words to heart. I knew I had to figure this out, and figure it out fast.

It was this single interaction that shook me to the core and actually had an impact on my own decision to finally try to heal from this all-consuming disorder.

I wish I could say that my disordered eating ended there, but…nope. Alas, I carried it with me throughout my professional career, oscillating back and forth and back and forth between periods of starvation and periods of rebelling against the starvation. As I look back now, I feel like I hit rock bottom during the first few years I spent dancing with the San Francisco Ballet, and I then teeter-tottered my way out of the abyss. I attribute this to counseling for sure; to my then-boy friend and now-husband who helped me feel good about my body; to my frontal lobes finally connecting; but also, to a ton of work I put into healing myself.

You see, one day, I realized that, I did in fact have a pretty amazing body, and I got so sad, because it was clear to me that I could not appreciate it. And, if I couldn’t appreciate my body as it was now, then when would I ever be able to? Never – unless I decided to.  So I did. I decided to love my body. I decided to say nice things about it – to myself and even sometimes to others. I decided to treat it well – to feed it good food; to listen to my hunger and allow myself to satiate it; to exercise as self-care and training and not as a way to work-off “excess” calories. And, in time (a good amount of time), I began to heal.

And, you know what? It was totally possible. It was not easy and it certainly was not “pretty,” and I can’t even say it was fun. But, boy, was it worth it. I managed to go on to have a successful 15-year long career as a ballet dancer, who became known for her strength, sensuality and beauty.

Kathi Martuza leaping in "Concerto Barocco"
Martuza in “Concerto Barocco.” Photo courtesy Blaine Covert.

So, Random Guy standing outside the dance studio, what do I know about body-hatred?

I know how all consuming it is. I know how much pain, suffering and misery it can cause. I know how tortuous it can make one’s existence in this world. I know how pervasive it is in our culture, and not just the ballet culture. Ballet has an obvious aesthetic ideal that may encourage the attempt to achieve the impossible with one’s own body, but this idea of achieving “perfection” with one’s body is not isolated to the ballet world. Body-hatred is an idea created by the media…an idea that someone out there in the world has the “perfect” body, and that we must find it for ourselves through this product or that diet, or else we have failed.

I know the truth now. Our bodies are gifts. If you happen to be inclined to use your gift to dance ballet, then know exactly that. You are using your gift to create beauty in the world through this unique style of movement. Treat your gift well, and allow the natural beauty that YOU have to offer transcend the power of the false pretenses required of “perfection.”


Kathi Martuza - dancer, health and nutrition coachKathi Martuza is a former professional ballet dancer who spent 15 years dancing with the San Francisco Ballet as a Corps de ballet dancer and with the Oregon Ballet Theatre as a Principal dancer. Kathi holds a BA in Performing Arts with an emphasis in dance, is a Certified PEAK Pilates instructor, Certified Health Coach, and licensed True Body Project teacher. She is the owner-operator of Empowered Health and Movement, LLC- dedicated to empowering girls and women to feel great IN and ABOUT their bodies through nutrition, movement and self love. Kathi helps her clients with weight loss/management, improving self-esteem and body image, and body conditioning. Kathi believes wholeheartedly in the innate power girls and women possess and she hopes to empower them towards becoming their happiest, healthiest and most-fulfilled selves. Find out more about Kathi and her work at

Find help and support

The National Eating Disorders Association provides extensive resources throughout the United States. Visit the NEDA website or call the toll-free Information and Referral Helpline, 1-800-931-2237.

International eating disorder resources and information can be found via

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Why Dancers Practice Yoga Tue, 17 Feb 2015 04:30:14 +0000 After years of rigorous dance study, yoga was a palate-cleanser for Erin. She and fellow dancer/yoga instructor, Ashleigh, share the many ways yoga practice complements their dance life.]]>

NYC professional dancer and choreographer Erin Cella needed a “palate cleanser”. Erin found, that after hours, days, and years of training, rehearsing, and performing in a variety of genres and performances, “yoga provided me with a sense of evenness.”

Similarly, Ashleigh Penrod, a professional dancer and choreographer in Minneapolis, MN, turned to yoga to help ground her dancing and deepen her somatic understanding as a dance performer and educator. Through her yoga training, Ashleigh reflects that she better understood “mood management, reactivity (rather, non-reactivity) and how to better tune into my own systems,” – essential tools for dancers who are constantly on the go.

Erin and Ashleigh are both certified yoga instructors. We became connected through movement during our time together in Temple University’s MFA program in Dance. Erin and Ashleigh have graciously shared their yoga experiences with me for this series on cross-training for dancers.

What is Yoga?

Yoga, in its most traditional sense, is a branch of Hinduism. The asanas, or postures that are popular as a Western form of exercise, are just one of the many limbs of Yoga. Elements of meditation and breath awareness are also part of the Yoga practice, in the traditional and Western experiences.

Yoga and the Dancer’s Body

Ashleigh suggests that yoga, as it has been integrated into Western culture, is a wonderful cross-training method for dancers because we often have imbalances in our bodies due to performance-specific training.

Eagle arms yoga pose

“People tend to fall somewhere between a spectrum of stability and mobility. The incredibly stable people tend to have strong, tight muscles, so while their joints may be protected from injury, they can experience quite a bit of pain – their tight muscles restrict range of motion and put pressure on the skeleton. On the other end of the spectrum are the “Gumby” people – they have the flexibility to bend, twist and contort their bodies, but they’re extra injury-prone, because they don’t have the muscle tone to support their motion. Yoga postures can bring everyone towards the center of this spectrum – encouraging the strong people to become more mobile and the flexible people to support themselves.”

Our bodies and the way we train them are unique and personal. Ashleigh recommends dancers take time to get to know how their bodies respond to yoga before jumping into an advanced practice. Beginner asanas and elements of yoga practice are also powerful tools for aligning and strengthening the advanced dancer.

Erin and Ashleigh have both found that yoga has helped them “untrain” some bad dance habits. Although not a substitute for regular dance classes to prepare for rehearsals and performance, having a regular yoga practice is a method dancers can use for cross-training.

“Yoga provides me with a movement practice without strings attached, which has proven to be essential as a professional performer,” says Erin. “I can practice movement linked with breath and presence, but without the added layer of a choreographer, peer, and/or audience watching.”

Training the body and the mind

Dance is a holistic experience – engaging the body, the mind, and the spirit. Erin observes that yoga is a complement to dance in this way as a cross-training method for not only the body, but for the dancer’s mental and emotional sides. “Because of yoga’s effect on my mind and overall feeling-state (it’s given me confidence and contentment with my dancing body), it’s transformed into a method of finding presence while moving, as opposed to just a training routine.”

Dancers also need physical and mental rest. The attention to mindfulness in the yoga practice can assist in achieving this. Erin practices yoga everyday, but does not necessarily engage in the physical postures. “Breathing and mindfulness are a HUGE part of the yoga practice, and I take time every day to simply notice presence in myself…. Over time (and in the present time) this insight has helped me to create a pre-performance movement practice for myself, which has led to more grounding.”

Read “5 Reasons Dancers Should Study Yoga” to further understand the benefits of yoga for dancers.

What do I need to practice yoga?

You only need your body! Props such as blocks and resistance bands, could aid the practice and be helpful in properly aligning the body within the postures. Additionally, some people use sticky mats, socks, and gloves to prevent slipping during the practice. There are many studios, personal instructors, videos, and online resources for finding the right yoga practice for you.

Dancers of any age can experience the benefits of yoga. Like any cross-training practice, Ashleigh recommends exploring some of the different types of yoga to see what works best for you. Two of the more popular practices are Hatha Yoga and Vinyasa Yoga. Ashleigh notes, “I think dancers connect with Vinyasa yoga in particular because of the specific attention paid to the movements flowing into and out of each posture, in addition to the postures themselves. The meaning of “Vinyasa” is “to place in a special way,” and that’s always resonated with me. It reminds me to notice connections and to be specific, not just with my breath and big movements but with each finger, toe, eye, – every part of the body.”

Special Moments

Ashleigh has had many special moments during her years of partnering dance with her yoga practice, and shares this particular moment: “I’m fairly long and gangly, and I find inversions to be particularly challenging. We were asked to move into headstand (in class). I inverted, floated my legs up, and tentatively held them angled forward case I started to topple backwards. The teacher stood next to me and cued to press down and up at the same time in order to shift my legs over my torso and align my body. I remember a very pleasing sensation of feeling stacked – like I was just as stable upside down as right side up. The reassurance that the teacher was near me but not physically assisting me gave me the confidence to move into the posture as it was meant to be experienced – rooted and elevated at the same time.”

Erin reflects that one particularly striking moment for her occurred during yoga practice when, “I realized I was balancing because I was focusing on my exhale, not because I was trying to lock myself into a position.” She continues…

“I’m realizing that yoga is teaching me how to appreciate my dancing body and its capabilities.”
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Has yoga helped your dance practice? Tell us how in the comments!

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Foot Care for Modern Dancers Mon, 02 Feb 2015 15:00:38 +0000 The feet of barefoot modern dancers can be every bit as gross as those of a ballerina. Find out how to relieve soreness and care for your calluses, skin splits, even floor burn. ]]>

Dancing barefoot is a calling card of modern dance training and has often been the footwear of choice for contemporary dancers on stage and in the studio, regardless of their training. (If they’re not wearing socks, that is.)

Modern dance founders chose to dance in bare feet because it reflected core values like connection to the body and representation of Earthly or human ideas and emotions. Barefoot dancing distinguished modern dance from ballet. It was also a defiant act during an era when it was scandalous for a woman to show even her ankles, let alone her naked feet.

Modern Dance Feet stand on a book
“sueños y obseciones 17” by Fausto Jijón Quelal
Danzanet (Choreographer: Vivían Cruz) used by permission.


Dancing barefoot isn’t exactly rebellious anymore but anyone that’s ever danced barefoot knows it still comes with risks. I mean, you think ballet dancers have it bad?

…well, they do.

But cracks, splits and fungi are no fun either!

So, if you are a barefoot dancer (or plan to be), here are some tips to help you care for your fantastically unadorned feet.

Callus Care

They aren’t pretty but, as long as they are not painfully thick or too dry, calluses for a barefoot dancer are actually a good thing. They help you turn and slide, yet really feel the floor beneath your feet. If they are mostly even with the surrounding skin, you can leave your calluses (which take a long time to build) alone. Use a pumice stone to shave them down if they start getting too big. Just be careful not to file too far. Soaking feet in Epsom salt, or using vaseline overnight can also help to keep the callus pliable and less likely to crack. If a callus does crack, care is similar to that of our next common barefoot dance concern.


The splits are ordinarily something dancers love (or love to talk about, anyway) but skin splits between or beneath your toes are the pits! Speaking from experience, there’s nothing more painful or annoying (think: dancing on a paper cut).

Splitting skin in and around the toes is difficult to bandage. Therefore, splits often tend to reopen and can deepen, or worse, become infected. For this reason, it’s best to do all you can to avoid this nastiness and prevent skin splits from happening in the first place. Again, a nighttime moisturizing routine can help greatly here, as can keeping your body well-hydrated. Also take care to keep your feet clean and dry.

If you are already experiencing a split, my condolences. Be sure the tear and surrounding skin is clean. Then, try to place a bandage (or half of one) across the split like a bridge. Use medical tape to hold the bandage in place on the top and on the bottom of your foot, if necessary. At minimum, change any bandaging daily. It is usually a good idea to wear some kind of foot covering (dance paws or socks) until the split is fully healed.

Some dancers use liquid bandage on splits. You may want to make sure there are no young children around when you try this as dancers have been known to utter obsenities during its application. This one stings, kids. You still need to keep the wound covered if you plan to keep dancing because liquid bandage is not a lasting fix.

Blistered, callused dancer foot
Photo by Elle Chyun used with permission.


Blisters are a bit more common among ballet dancers but I’ve seen modern dancers form big blisters under the ball of the foot. Our contributor, Lauren Warnecke covered blister treatment and more foot maintenance tips in part one of her Meet Your Feet series, so I won’t rehash it all here.

The F-word (Fungus) and Infections

The dance studio floor is rarely the most sanitary of surfaces. Athlete’s foot isn’t just found in locker rooms and plantar warts are a viral infection. These contagious conditions can be aggravating, painful or cause other problems for dancers.

Some dance studios opt for a shoes and socks-only environment but there are many benefits of barefoot dancing for children and adults. Lucy Vurucic Riner describes why she loves dancing barefoot at 4dancers, and personally, as someone who has danced barefoot from a young age, I have to agree.

If you are a fervent bare feet fan, take heart. Fungal or infection outbreak among dancers can be avoided if dancers practice good hygiene. I’ve personally never experienced an outbreak in any dance program or studio. But learn to recognize symptoms and get treatment as soon as an issue is suspected. Don’t treat fungus and infections like dirty secrets.

Oh, Burn!

Floorwork too, has been a notable characteristic of modern dance throughout the decades. As contemporary dance requires increasing levels of athleticism, scrapes and burns on the ankles and feet of barefoot dancers become more common. So common, dancers may not think much about caring for these rather tame (though painful) injuries. It’s worth noting that even abrasions like floor burn should be treated with a topical ointment like Neosporin and covered with a bandage to reduce chance for infection and bacteria growth. You can relieve a painful floor burn by running cold water over the wound, but don’t use ice or lotions as these can make it worse.

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fascia is connective tissue that begins at your heel and extends to the base of your toes. It supports the arch of your foot. It’s constantly being used in movement of the feet. Because barefoot dancers lack arch support, they are prone to an overuse injury called plantar fasciitis that usually causes pain along the arch or on the inside of the heel.

As with most overuse injuries, treatment involves rest, applying ice, stretching, massage, and anti-inflammatory medications. You’ll want to catch and treat it early for an easier recovery.

As for prevention, be aware of and correct any tendencies to pronate the feet. Work to build strong feet. Wear shoes with good arch support or night splints when you aren’t dancing, and look into taping methods or arch band supports when you are. Plantar fasciitis can become a chronic problem. Don’t hesitate to see a qualified podiatrist to help you find the right solution.

Try a Little Tenderness

There’s no doubt barefoot dancers are hard on their feet. Make sure you give your feet some tender, loving care on a regular basis. Here are three ways to do that:

  • Practice good technique with proper foot and ankle alignment.
  • Spend some time with your feet daily to look for any potential problems — a great way to check in is with a daily foot massage. Use your hands, pinky balls, or ask your friend/partner.
  • Pamper your feet by soaking them in a foot bath — especially if your feet are tired or sore — and by applying moisture treatments like petroleum jelly, lanolin-based cremes, or your favorite lotions.

What are your favorite ways to care for modern dance feet?

What do you love (or hate) about dancing barefoot?

Tell us in the comments!

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Talking With a Tracy Anderson Method Trainer Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:00:00 +0000 Maybe you've heard of celebrity fitness trainer, Tracy Anderson via Gwyneth Paltrow. Dancer-turned-personal-trainer, Kelly Markos gives insight into the Tracy Anderson Method and talks about her transition to fitness instruction.]]>

A dancer’s life, much like a “normal” person’s life, takes many dips (undercurves)

…and turns (pirouettes).

It’s full of excitement and adventure. As dancers, I think that we are trained to deal with transitions (pliés in every class!)

…and dynamic changes (in artistry, in movement, and in life).

The performance practice challenges us to be constantly present and ready to improvise. One dancer who has transferred these skills into personal training is Kelly Markos.

Tracy Anderson blogKelly and I met while performing together at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. She had incredible technique and a personality on stage that would shine beyond the last row of seats. Off stage, she was generously willing to share her stories and experiences as a professional performer – an opportunity that I deeply craved and appreciated as a young professional. Several years later, Kelly was still willing to share her stories, mentorship, and moments of challenge and change with me as she transitioned from professional dance to personal training. Currently, she is a personal trainer in the Tracy Anderson Method.

Kelly was always interested in fitness – her mother was a fitness instructor and Kelly often would watch her teach. As an adult and professional dancer, Kelly would take fitness classes to supplement her dance training. She reflects, “auditioning and attending company rehearsals was slowly taking its toll. It occurred to me one day that I was taking more fitness classes then dance classes. That was when I decided it was time for a change.”

The Tracy Anderson Method attracted Kelly because of its relationship to the physical body, to dance, and to its constant movement. According to Kelly and the official website, The Tracy Anderson Method contains programs and classes that “are designed to create balance where there is imbalance in the body.”

As dancers, we’re constantly fighting with some muscular systems that are over developed in strength and flexibility and others that are underdeveloped. Kelly says that, with the Tracy Anderson Method, “Every ten days content changes so that one does not plateau. This system creates a leaner physique.”

Kelly also notes that, as an instructor, she’s constantly learning new content. Like learning choreography, this consistent change in content and personal learning hones her attention to detail and allows her to be more effective in helping other people (dancers and non-dancers) change poor movement patterns and develop efficient strength and flexibility.

“There are so many muscles that are worked by this method that help with dance technique and longevity. There are not different class levels because the content changes every ten days…. It’s not easy!”

Because of this, the method would be appropriate for dancers and individuals of all skill and movement levels.

As a dancer and fitness instructor, Kelly understands the body’s ability to atrophy, or to lose strength and flexibility when not utilized. Therefore, Kelly suggests engaging in the Tracy Anderson Method six days a week, specifically because “we do not tear muscle with this method”. (Many training methods apply periods of intense activity that encourage muscle fiber tears at the cellular level followed by periods of rest and recovery allowing muscles to be repaired with increased strength or flexibility).

In traditional dance class, we do this on a micro level. For example, do you notice the “rest”  that your body receives when a teacher is changing music, communicating with the accompanist, or confirming the combination in his/her own body before explaining it? These moments of rest allow muscles a moment to recover before engaging in strenuous activity, again, in short phrases and combinations. By focusing on the development of the strength of the small, deep muscle groups of the body, the Tracy Anderson Method helps an individual to re-define, re-align, and re-strengthen from literally, the inside out.

Tracy Anderson Water Mill Location

During training, the Tracy Anderson Method balances the body by developing relationships within the connections between the brain and the body.

There are online and in-person programs available.

Kelly reflected on her transition from professional dance to fitness: “I am pleased every time I see a client start to pick up dances. It makes me smile. Most of them have never danced before! To see them show confidence on the floor is amazing! … I know I made the right decision transitioning into fitness. I love people, I enjoy moving my body, I get to positively impact lives, and I can still have elements of dance in my life.”

Some personal equipment might be needed as designed by the specific programs of the Tracy Anderson Method. Kelly recommends light weights and good supportive shoes, especially for cardio vascular training.

As with previous article, I have not received compensation for exploring this option for dancers to cross-train. I am interested in exploring ways that professional dancers have continued to cross-train in order to feed their physical, artistic, and creative needs and appreciate Kelly’s willingness to share her experiences with the Tracy Anderson Method.

Have you tried the Tracy Anderson Method? Tell us about your experience.


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