Dance is an art form that demands immense physicality, mental focus, and creative expression. Behind this lies a unique and demanding lifestyle that is essential for dancers to maintain and excel in their craft. In this blog post, we will explore what it truly means to be a healthy dancer and why I’ve devoted my entire career to teaching dancers how to become The Healthy Dancer®.
What is The Healthy Dancer®?
Empowering dancers with knowledge about nutrition and its direct impact on their performance is essential. Offering workshops or resources on nutritional education can help dancers make informed choices. As a dietitian for dancers, I created The Healthy Dancer® to deconstruct the myths and reconstruct the facts needed for a sustainable eating routine. As a bonus, dancers learn how to build a supportive relationship with food and a healthier body image.
The Healthy Dancer® framework encompasses 6 core principles:
- Dismantle Dancer Diet Culture
- Make Peace With Food
- The Road to Body Confidence
- Nutrition Without Obsession
- Implement Performance Nutrition
- Build Sustainable Habits
By embracing these principles, dancers not only enhance their performance but also, enjoy career longevity. It’s a supportive community for dancers seeking motivation, guidance, and a space to share experiences and challenges.
It starts with Redefining The Healthy Dancer®
I’ve had the honor of writing an article for Dance Magazine about what it means to be a healthy dancer. Here’s a snippet: “A healthy dancer has a healthy relationship with their body, food, themself, and others. They know when to take a break or rest and participate in key health behaviors, including sleep, hydration, nutrition, movement, and self-care.” For the full article in Dance Magazine, click here.
To be a healthy dancer, we must start by redefining It. Diet culture often pushes a dichotomous version of healthy— defined by an “ideal” body, shape, and size. However, true health is more complex and can be achieved regardless of a dancer’s size or capabilities. The Healthy Dancer® encompasses a holistic approach that integrates all realms of our well-being— physical, mental, and emotional. It is a continuous journey of self-discovery, involving conversations around nutrition, injury prevention, body image, and mindset.
“A healthy dancer is someone who knows how to live in balance, not only appreciates her colorful and nutritious dishes, but also knows how to enjoy a good oppurtunity with friends that involves food even those often consdiered “less” healthy.Brooke, a dancer in The Healthy Dancer® community
#1: The Healthy Dancer® seeks food and body balance
Creating a supportive relationship with food is critical. For many dancers, this can feel overwhelming— but it’s one of the biggest goals. The Healthy Dancer® embodies the integration between intuitive eating and proactive fueling, emphasizing a dancer’s need for nourishment despite a physically demanding schedule.
We focus on adequate meals and snacks, those rich in carbohydrates, protein, and fats, along with vitamins and minerals. In addition to this is the inclusion— not exclusion— of fun foods and food flexibility. Bottom line: balance spans beyond your work in the studio. It even means building a confident self-talk to support your body image. A dancer’s ultimate guide to boosting body image can help.
#2: The Healthy Dancer® also looks beyond their plates
Dancers engage in regular training sessions, including warm-ups, conditioning, and technique classes. The Healthy Dancer® understands the importance of building a strong foundation and maintaining their physical capabilities to prevent injuries and enhance performance.
But most important is recognizing that dancers are prone to overuse injuries. The Healthy Dancer® implements proactive measures for injury prevention. This might involve stretching and strengthening sessions, along with the need to seek professional guidance— dietitians, mental health therapists, and fitness trainers are examples. In case of an injury, The Healthy Dancer® prioritizes rest, rehabilitation, and following the advice of licensed clinicians to ensure a safe recovery.
“A healthy dancer isn’t one that looks a certain way or eats a certain way. Being healthy starts with your mindset around yourself and your craft (in this case, dance).”James, a dancer in The Healthy Dancer®
#3: The Healthy Dancer® wears multiple hats
The Healthy Dancer® is more than a dancer. Consider this: you might be a daughter, a son, a parent, a friend, a pet lover, a painter, a baker, a chef… Your experiences out of the studio will enhance your work on stage. The Healthy Dancer® maintains joy in the studio by understanding the significance of rest, relaxation, and activities that nurture their mental well-being, such as meditation, mindfulness, or engaging in hobbies outside the studio.
Being a healthy dancer means that you fuel your body with the nutrients you need for the work you are putting in, supporting your mental health because that is what is most important, and making sure you are doing things that feed your soul.”Sophia, a dancer in The Healthy Dancer®
#4: The Healthy Dancer® is supported
Fostering community is elemental to a dancer’s long-term success. Dancers thrive in an environment where they feel supported, encouraged, and understood. The Healthy Dancer® surrounds themselves with fellow dancers and teachers who foster safe spaces at the studio. In addition to this, The Healthy Dancer® recognizes the need for clinicians (like dietitians and mental health therapists) to help support individual well-being.
As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for dancers, I see first-hand the transformations that are made when dancers gain support. So many dancers gather information but struggle to implement it. With so much misinformation surrounding dancer health and nutrition, dancers are encouraged to rely on trusted individuals for this support and education.
#5: The Healthy Dancer® is attainable for all dancers
No matter where a dancer is along their career trajectory, healthy habits can be attained when practical and realistic. Understanding the role of different nutrients in energy, muscle recovery, and overall well-being fosters a sense of autonomy in a dancer’s relationship with food. Nourishment— whether it comes from a colorful salad or a packaged food, is the baseline goal and a judgement-free approach.
What makes The Healthy Dancer®? Here are additional strategies
- Build a sustainable cross-training routine (here’s help)
- Create a hydration plan (read about it here)
- Honor your need for rest.
- Practice injury prevention with a solid fueling plan.
- Prioritize injury recovery, even if it means sitting out when injured!
For me, “eating healthfully” is a topic that I feel passionate about. I love colorful and nutritious dishes. But as a pefectionist, it’s easy for me to fall into what Rachel calls unsustainable “clean” eating habits. Since starting The Healthy Dancer®, I’ve been able to enjoy dinner with friends (yup, and order those dishes not otherwise meant to be “clean.”) I feel liberated from so much confusion and misinformation.Ana, a dancer in The Healthy Dancer® community