Food. A topic that dancers focus on pretty heavily! Today dancer/instructor Emily Kate Long shares some of her personal favorites with readers, along with some thoughts on eating. We’d love to hear from you too, so please feel free to add your own “go-to” foods in the comments section! – Catherine
by Emily Kate Long
Dancers can be an interesting breed when it comes to what we put in our bodies. As elite athletes, our brains and bodies require a lot of fuel to get through long days of rehearsal and performance. Our busy schedules, however, often limit the amount of time and thought we can but into meal planning. And we all have our vices—I know a few dancers who would subsist on chocolate and kettle chips if they could! But, as the saying goes, garbage in, garbage out. Content, quantity, and timing are all things to consider when fueling up for the day or replenishing calories after a performance. Here are some inexpensive, easy, nutrition-packed dishes to power mind and body. In the words of the inimitable Julia Child, bon apetit!
If you’re not a morning person, it can be all too easy to grab your coffee and pointe shoes and run out the door. When I was in high school taking 8 a.m. ballet classes, a friend introduced me to Swiss oatmeal. Talk about an easy and nutritious breakfast. There are a lot of fancy recipes out there, but you basically take two parts yogurt to one part whole rolled oats, stir in a little dried or chopped fresh fruit, and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. The yogurt “cooks” the oats and softens the dried fruit. Before serving you can add nuts, frozen berries, or honey (or a few dark chocolate chips!) for crunch and sweetness. What you get is an awesome shot of textures, flavors, complex carbs, and complete protein to start the day. It’s my first choice for a go-to power breakfast, and a batch will keep up to three or four days in the fridge.
For daytime fuel, it’s important to have energy-dense foods that aren’t bulky in your dance bag or your stomach. A lot of dancers rely on protein bars, which are great in moderation if you find ones like Barre, Kind, or Larabar, that are minimally processed. Hard-boiled eggs are another really good choice—a portable complete protein in convenient single serving. Cut-up fruit and vegetables with nut butter are also valuable fuel. As a bonus, the water content of fresh fruit and vegetables helps you stay hydrated.
I enjoy cooking as a way to unwind and get creative with culinary science experiments, but I don’t usually have time except on my day off. That’s when I cook a few meals’ worth of something and save the leftovers. Often, my base is homemade stock, a flavorful and wholesome staple I can use on its own or in recipes.
Stock is easy to make in big batches and can be super nutrient-dense, no matter what your level of skill in the kitchen. You need good-quality meat with bones, some water, and whatever vegetables you like. A whole or half chicken works well, or beef soup bones. High-quality meat can be pricey, but cuts of stew meat or soup bones are considerably more affordable, even if you’re looking for grass-fed or free-range.
As for equipment, all you need is a large pot. Throw in the bones, vegetables, and seasonings. I like to use celery, carrots, onion, and the tough stems of leafy greens, plus a ton of cracked black pepper and oregano and a little salt. Add enough water to fill the pot, bring everything to a boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer for at least an hour. The longer you wait, the better it tastes. Once it cools, take out the bones and you have a tasty base for soup, pasta, or whole grains that’s packed with vitamins, minerals, and important proteins. Refrigerate some for up to a week and freeze the rest for up to a few months.
Last (and maybe least, depending on your taste) I want to mention sardines as a power food for dancers. They’re inexpensive (under a dollar a serving, depending on where you live) and rich in omega-3s and protein. There’s also little concern about heavy metal toxicity from eating sardines, which can’t be said for other fatty fish like tuna and swordfish. The downside is that these little guys smell and taste pretty fishy. They’re definitely not a good choice to eat between rehearsals if you want your partner to come within ten feet of you!
These are my no-brainer superfoods. They work for me because they’re energy and nutrient-dense while still being inexpensive and convenient. I hope you give them a try. If you do, please share in the comments section, or add your own favorites.
Assistant Editor Emily Kate Long began her dance education in South Bend, Indiana, with Kimmary Williams and Jacob Rice, and graduated in 2007 from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School’s Schenley Program. She has spent summers studying at Ballet Chicago, Pittsburgh Youth Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, Miami City Ballet, and Saratoga Summer Dance Intensive/Vail Valley Dance Intensive, where she served as Program Assistant. Ms Long attended Milwaukee Ballet School’s Summer Intensive on scholarship before being invited to join Milwaukee Ballet II in 2007.
Ms Long has been a member of Ballet Quad Cities since 2009. She has danced featured roles in Deanna Carter’s Ash to Glass and Dracula, participated in the company’s 2010 tour to New York City, and most recently performed principal roles in Courtney Lyon’s Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, and Cinderella. She is also on the faculty of Ballet Quad Cities School of Dance, where she teaches ballet, pointe, and repertoire classes.
by Nel Shelby
We’re always excited to work with the magical Ballet Hispanico. Their work is so fluid, beautiful and moving. For this project, we filmed interviews with Eduardo Vilaro and AnaMaria Correa and filmed the company’s dance performance for young students. Then we edited together what we feel captures their dance education outreach and what makes it unique.
Ashli Bickford, one of our fantastic videographer and editors, was assigned to edit our video footage:
“It was so easy to put this dance video together, because the material I was working with was amazing! Not only is Ballet Hispanico such a high-quality dance company, but the students at their performance were so engaged and having a great time.
Eduardo and AnaMaria did an incredible job coming onstage between the dances and telling the students more about them in a fun and engaging way. Filming the performance, we could really feel and see the students learning more about Spanish culture and heritage and enjoying the excitement of dance!”
Contributor Nel Shelby, Founder and Principal of Nel Shelby Productions, is deeply dedicated to the preservation and promotion of dance through documentation of live performances, fully edited marketing reels, live-stream capture, and documentaries and films that encapsulate the essence of nonprofit organizations.
Her New York City-based video production company has grown to encompass a diverse list of dance clients including American Ballet Theater II, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, Gallim Dance, Gotham Arts, Kate Weare and Company, Keigwin + Company, Monica Bill Barnes Company, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Shen Wei Dance Arts, Wendy Whelan and many more. She has filmed performances at venues throughout the greater New York area including The Joyce Theater, New York Live Arts, Lincoln Center, Symphony Space, St. Mark’s Church and Judson Church, to name a few.
For nearly a decade, Nel has served as Festival Videographer for the internationally celebrated Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in the Berkshires. Each season at the Pillow, Nel’s responsibilities include documenting aspects of festival culture in addition to its 20 mainstage dance performances, filming and overseeing documentation of more than 100 free performances and events, managing two dance videography interns and an apprentice, and educating students about the technical and philosophical aspects of filming dance.
She also serves as Resident Videographer at the Vail International Dance Festival where she spent her first summer creating five short dance documentary films about the festival in addition to documenting its events and performances. Her longer-form, half-hour documentary on Vail’s festival, The Altitude of Dance, debuted on Rocky Mountain PBS in May 2013.
She has created four short films for Wendy Whelan’s Restless Creature, and she collaborated with Adam Barruch Dance to create a short film titled “Folie a Deux,” which was selected and screened at the Dance on Camera Festival in New York City and the San Francisco Dance Film Festival. She is making a dance documentary featuring Nejla Y. Yatkin, called Where Women Don’t Dance.
Nel has a long personal history with movement – she has a B.A. in dance and is a certified Pilates instructor. She continues to train with world-renowned Master Teachers Romana Krysnowska and Sari Pace, original students of Joseph Pilates. In addition to her dance degree, Nel holds a B.S. in broadcast video. She often collaborates with her wonderful husband, dance photographer (and fellow 4dancers contributor) Christopher Duggan on creative projects with dancers in New York City and beyond. They live with their beautiful daughter Gracie and son Jack in Manhattan.
by Catherine L. Tully
Dancing means sweating, and sweating means thirst. Us dancers tend to be a thirsty bunch, but ingesting extra calories from what we drink is something most of us would like to avoid. And while there’s nothing wrong with the occasional milkshake or cranberry juice, reaching for low or no-calorie drinks is usually a pretty good idea.
I’ve compiled a short list of my favorites here for you to check out, but please do feel free to share yours in the comments section below!
My go-to favorite is LaCroix sparkling water. I love the orange flavor, but there are many other varieties you can try, including lime, coconut, berry and lemon. This tasty drink isn’t sweet, but has some flavor (and it’s natural!). Drink from the can or over ice for a delicious drink option that has zero calories.
It’s also yummy when mixed with fruit juices, but that does add some calories to the mix.
Cucumber water is another favorite of mine. Simple to make and refreshing to drink, this no-calorie winner is one of the best picks for a cool drink on a hot day. Its silky texture is unique and you can add lemon or other fruit to the water to mix the taste up a bit.
Here’s a primer on how to make it (not like it’s that hard). Simply store it in your fridge and pour when you want some. Easy! It’s also extremely inexpensive since cucumbers cost next to nothing at the grocery store.
Herbal teas offer another no-calorie option for those looking for a flavorful beverage. I’ve recently gotten into Teavana tea, since they offer really cool combinations, such as the strawberry lemonade flavor pictured here. You can brew them hot in the winter and make iced tea in the summer. Win/win!
Of course, standard bag varieties are also a great choice. Another one I drink often is Bengal Spice, which has a little bit of a kick to it. The “spice” comes from a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom and cloves. Nice!
What are your favorite drinks? Let us know!
How did you get involved in dance?
Even before I started dancing, I wore a leotard and tights every day. Once my mom realized my obsession with ballet apparel was more than just a childish whim, she promptly enrolled me in weekly “Mommy and Me” ballet classes at The School at Steps when I was four. A few years later, I began ballet classes of my own with the Technique Program at The School at Steps, and by the time I was eleven, I knew dance was my passion and joined their Pre-Professional Program. I started taking ballet, jazz, and musical theater classes, and have since been dancing six days a week.
What is your current dance schedule like?
I dance Monday-Saturday for 20 hours a week. I participate in ballet technique five days a week, as it is the starting point and foundation for all other forms of dance. I also take pointe and variation classes twice a week, partnering, hip-hop, jazz, and musical theater one to two times weekly. My dance schedule includes a variety of styles, which combines aspects of performing and technique that have helped shape the dancer I am today.
What do you enjoy most about taking classes?
My favorite part is to learn variations or new choreography, because for me, these aspects of class are my reward. I work six days a week perfecting my dance technique, and variations and choreography allow me to take that technique and bring it to the next level. Here I am able to personalize my dancing and truly perform to my fullest.
What do you find the most challenging about dance?
I find getting frustrated to be the most challenging part of dance. When you get to the advanced levels of dance, you’re almost expected to look and dance effortlessly even when you’re in class. Sometimes I get so caught up and frustrated while learning new steps that I forget to really appreciate and enjoy what I love to do.
How do you think dance helps you with other areas of your life?
If dance has taught me anything, it has taught me to be passionate, focused, and dedicated—qualities that have become ingrained in me and have transcended into other important aspects of my life. For example, two years ago, I started volunteering at a program that helps autistic children develop basic life skills. While my volunteer work has been a rewarding experience, it has also proved itself to be both physically and mentally challenging. Dance instilled the understanding that true progress takes time and patience.
Additionally, I love school; I strive to achieve academic success. However, when I have innumerable assignments and don’t want to go on, dance helps me understand that I must persevere because it reminds me that with focus, I can succeed. Whether I’ve had a tough day at community service or received a bad grade on a test, I know I can come to class and dance away the stress.
Do you have any plans that include dance in your future?
I am currently in the process of hearing back from colleges. While I did not apply to any conservatories, all of the schools I applied to have outstanding dance programs. I plan to minor in dance during my collegiate experience and I hope that dance will always be a part of my life.
The School at Steps is a training ground for students, ages 2-18, who are interested in exploring various dance styles, as well as for those students already focused on a particular discipline. The school offers an Academic Year and Summer Programs, with classes in ballet, modern, tap, jazz, theater dance, hip hop, and Pilates. Students at the school are also given performance opportunities, and workshops on dance and career-related topics. Beginning with the Young Dancers Program and continuing through the most advanced pre-professional classes, The School at Steps provides children with an opportunity to explore the world of dance, to learn and experiment with technique, and to enrich their appreciation for the various forms of the art.0
Goodbyes with Grace
There comes a time in every dancer’s career where they think about moving on to another company or just away from the company they’re currently in. Or to a desert island where they lie on the beach all day and bartend at night… But there are a few things to keep in mind while you are contemplating the shift:
Why do I want to quit? Is it because I’m unhappy with the company, the dancers, or dancing?
What does my contract look like? If not, do I have a verbal agreement or understanding?
And most importantly, what relationships do I want to foster after my departure?
If I only ever gave one piece of advice to my friends it would be, “Don’t burn your bridges”. Then right after that, I’d say, “Take care of yourself”. The two go hand-in-hand and there’s almost always a way to take care of yourself without burning bridges. Believe me, I’ve learned this all by trial and error through many regional modern dance companies (sorry, no union experience, but “read your contract” will apply doubly, and you could probably safely toss in “talk to your representative” in there too), and hopefully my experience will spare you some of the error!
First, why do you want to move on?
Is it the choreography? Then yes, it’s time to move on. Every company has a mission and a vision that they’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and money into. Try writing an artistic statement of your own, forming a company around it, fighting for funding, and then see if you feel differently about their particular vision. If you find that you are not jiving with the company’s direction, that’s probably not something that is going to change until you’re in a new company.
In this case, you should be able to have a conversation with your director about your interests and they may be able to suggest avenues to investigate. Just be careful how you use your words. Make sure you steer the focus onto your interests and away from their choreography. After all, there’s an audience for everyone, and someday you may be facing a young dancer who “isn’t interested” in what you’re creating.
That being said, you did make a commitment to the company and they are putting oodles of time, effort and money into you, so look at your remaining commitments as a time to grow and expand your range of appreciation.
Is it the way you are being cast? That could be your own problem. My first inclination is to suggest sticking it out for a couple of seasons to see if you can’t improve your standing over time. If this is an ongoing problem over many seasons, it’s time to have a conversation with your director about your future in the company. They may not see you in a leading role…ever.
Is it the dancers? Are they just awful to be around? Are any of them planning on moving on? You might outlast them. On the other hand, the dancers ARE the company. Weigh your options carefully, you might consider getting advice from your director, or another person removed from the company dancers. They can help you figure out your options as well as gauge the current company climate against the whole history of the company.
Is it you? Some dancers just need a break. You might be there. Are you finding that you have the same problems no matter what company you are in? Are you consistently unhappy whether you’re dancing for your company or guesting? In rehearsal or in class? You might need to turn your attention to just training, just making work or your own, going back to school, or shifting your focus entirely, even if it is just for a couple of months.
You’ve decided to leave. So, what do you need to do?
Check in with yourself. Have you identified why really want to leave? What does that tell you about your future options? Write down those goals and what people you’ll need to reach out to to accomplish them.
Check your contract. Read it 10 times. Then have a friend read it and tell you what you’re missing. Figure out the minimum and maximum you need to do to fulfill your contract and have it at the ready for your next conversation.
Check in with your Director. Or the level of administration that is directly above your position. Talking with them first, before rumors get around will let them know that they are your first priority and leave the conversation open-ended. Then schedule a follow-up check-in. This is important. You need to let them know that you haven’t made any final decisions before you’ve gotten their opinion and had time to process it. They’re putting their resources into you now (no matter your personal feelings towards them), so the least you can do is show deference.
Assess your options. Get a second opinion from other professionals who can be discreet. Their experience and inside knowledge of the dance community can be invaluable. Every dance company and history is unique. Use that history to help you make a graceful exit.
Talk to your allies. These are the people who you will actively keep in contact with. You may want to dance with them, for them, or work with them in another capacity in the future, but that won’t happen without a little work on your part. We dancers are busy. It’s amazing how much we rely on rehearsal time to be the glue for relationships.
But, don’t talk to them about “that rotten so-and-so.” Here’s where the bad blood may come in. I have committed the sin of talking too much many a time. Don’t you do the same. Focus on the good, and remember, less is best. Tell your family and your trusted bestie about “that rotten so-and-so,” but don’t tell your coworkers.
After you’re gone, thank everyone for their time regardless of your personal feelings. I know, you had a terrible time and feel like a jilted lover. Well, pull up your superhero Underoos, and make sure that people know that you know that you appreciated the resources that were expended for you. The dance world isn’t the corporate world, it’s a family, and every show is Christmas. Don’t make Aunt Mary regret the time she spent knitting that horrid sweater for you. Just send her a freaking thank-you card. It’s just how we do things.
Contributor Katie C. Sopoci Drake, MFA, GL-CMA, is a Washington D.C. based professional dancer, choreographer and teacher specializing in Laban-based contemporary dance. Holding an MFA in Dance from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a Graduate Certification in Laban Movement Analysis from Columbia College – Chicago, and a BA in Theatre/Dance with a minor in Vocal Performance from Luther College, Sopoci Drake continues to take classes in as many techniques and practices as she can handle to inform her work and life as a curious mover.
Katie has been on faculty at The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Nova Southeastern University, Miami Dade College-Wolfson, Miami Dade College-Kendall, Carthage College, and Lawrence University. She currently guest teaches and gives masterclasses around the D.C. area and wherever her travels take her.
As a performer, Sopoci is described as a “sinuous, animal presence of great power; watching her dance is a visceral experience.” (Third Coast Digest). Company credits include Mordine and Company Dance Theater of Chicago, Momentum Dance Company of Miami, Wild Space Dance Company of Milwaukee, and Rosy Simas Danse of Minneapolis. Katie has also made appearances an an independent artist with many companies including Brazz Dance, Your Mother Dances, The Florentine Opera, and The Minnesota Opera.
Katie’s choreography, described as “a beautiful marriage between choreography, music and poetry” (On Milwaukee), arises from her fascination with the idiosyncrasies of daily life, and the flights of fancy that arise from ordinary inspirations. Her work has been performed by numerous companies, colleges and studios across the country and her latest collaboration, Telephone Dance Project, will take her to states up and down the East Coast while investigating long-distance creation and connecting far-flung dance communities.0