Many of us have been under quarantine since March. Some are still taking classes from home, while others are finally getting back to the studio. As a registered dietitian, I’ve been sharing this journey with my clients. My work isn’t all about nutrients and meal plans. It equally includes navigating the emotional, social, and cultural components related to food, nutrition, and dance.
Here are some of the things that dancers have to cope with these past months:
Dancers tend to be perfectionistic and live with very structured lives. Quarantine took that away. We’ve had to create our own structure or live without it, which has been a source of anxiety for many. Food sources may or may not have been the same. Whether you were limited because of food availability or finances, you may have been eating for survival rather than fitness. If you have a history of disordered eating, you may have leaned on those practices again as a coping mechanism. Emotional eating has absolutely been a source of solace for many dancers.
For some people, the break has been a welcome respite and opportunity to grow in ways that the usual structure doesn’t allow. They’ve been able to explore different interests, work on hobbies that otherwise remain dormant.
Even dancers who feel like quarantine has been an opportunity for personal growth, the limitations for training have certainly impacted their craft. Once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to take a virtual class from their favorite artists or companies has been amazing for some. For others, it’s felt overwhelming and brought on guilt that they aren’t doing enough, which may have triggered old habits or disordered eating.
As wonderful as it’s been to have virtual access to our favorite artists, taking a class via Zoom just isn’t the same as being in the studio with your friends and teachers. Emotional fatigue has left some dancers feeling apathetic, which in turn led them to feel guilty for not taking advantage of the opportunities. For those who have used food for comfort or restricted food for a feeling of control, it’s been tough.
We’re seeing areas of the country open up to allow dancers to go back to the studio. This can drive feelings of impatience to “get back” to where they left off in March. They want to “get back” their bodies as well as “get back” to the level of performance. It’s important for dancers, teachers, choreographers, and parents to remember that this should be viewed as a transition period, one that’s punctuated with a lot of grace.
What does that grace look like?
One of the benefits of the time away from the studio for many dancers was the lack of mirrors and comparison to other bodies since the Zoom lens tends to be a bit of an equalizer. Now, some dancers are worried about repercussions for gaining weight over quarantine which can lead to crash diets. The goal of crash diets are weight-focused rather than performance-driven. They tend to be deficient in meeting daily nutrition needs. If you don't meet your daily needs, your body begins to tire, you struggle to keep your body in good metabolic and hormonal health, and you increase risk for injury, sickness, burnout or over-training. Crash diets, even ones that seem healthy at a glance, like detoxes or juice fasts, can be gateways to disordered eating, something far too common in the dance world.
We’ve all been “in this together” and now we can continue to grow as a community by promoting dancer health. Emphasize the process of transitioning rather than the need to rebound, which sets unrealistic expectations that can lead to long-term consequences. If you or a dancer you know seems to be struggling with eating or nutrition, I suggest recommending they see a qualified registered dietitian nutritionist who works with dancers. They can help you fuel for performance, not just diet for aesthetics, and many work virtually. Not only that, dietitians who work in dance medicine have a network of other specialists that include physical therapists, physicians, trainers, and they can recommend to help you get back to dance safely, reach your goals, and maximize longevity.
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