Finding Balance

For Dancers: Recipes For Fuel And Recovery

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

IMG_0519Dancers 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.

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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.

Screen shot 2014-04-16 at 10.09.53 AMStock 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.

Screen shot 2014-04-16 at 10.05.14 AMLast (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.

dancer doing arabesque

Emily Kate Long, Photo by Avory Pierce

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.

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Finding Balance – “Funnies” For Dancers

by Emily Kate Long

With March upon us, and no end in sight to Mother Nature’s blustery hostility, is it redundant to even mention winter weather?  The aching cold of drafty studios, the slushy trudge to rehearsal, and the stale film of salt laying everywhere are enough to dampen anybody’s spirit.

For this late-winter installment of Finding Balance, I offer you a collection of dance humor. It’s my hope that these comic nuggets will bring some sunny distraction to your day. Enjoy!

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“Mistake Waltz” by Jerome Robbins

First up is the “Mistake Waltz” from Jerome Robbins’ 1956 The Concert (Or, the Perils of Everybody). From start to finish, hilarious flubs in this five-minute dance for six women get me laughing every time. Every dancer can relate to wrong arms, wrong timing or that one member of the corps who never quite knows what’s going on. Do yourself a favor and watch all the way to the end—Robbins saves the best for last as the music ends and the mistakes continue.

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“The Concert” by The Ballets Trockadero

The errors in The Concert will elicit laughs of recognition. The Ballets Trockadero give us another kind of laugh in this parody of “The Dying Swan.” The Trocks know how to do funny, and this piece stands out for just how far they take irreverence for the iconic Fokine solo. From the molting entrance to limb-by-limb paralysis and campy curtain calls, Maya Thickenthighya really hams it up. What’s best is that for all the silliness, his (her?) pointe work and port de bras are actually lovely enough to do justice to the original.

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“Swine Lake” with Rudolf Nureyev and The Muppets

Last on the list is none other than Rudolf Nureyev and the Muppets in “Swine Lake.” I laugh at this clip for several reasons. I love the Muppet renditions of everything from Bizet to Queen, so of course I take delight in their customary butchering of a ballet. The irony of a life-sized pig dancing with an international ballet star is wonderfully ridiculous. The other irony here is time. As much as Nureyev revolutionized male ballet dancing, the feminine affectations of his style that some audiences in his time found objectionable stand out even more when compared to today’s best male dancers.

So there you have it, readers…some light-hearted treats to brighten up a winter’s day. If you have other funny favorites, please share them in the comments section!

dancer doing arabesque

Emily Kate Long, Photo by Avory Pierce

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.

 

 

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Finding Balance: Transitions In A Dance Career

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by Emily Kate Long

A career in dance is full of transitions of all kinds…the exhilarating first leap from student to professional, the lapse between seasons, and the final (or in some cases, not so final) move from dance to another career. Some of these emotional transitions happen smoothly and with grace, some are rocky and uncertain.

Hearing my older friends’ stories of professional life when I was still a student put stars in my eyes, but it also made me wonder if I would be tough enough to handle a professional career. Since landing a job, I’ve seen friends transition from the stage to take on other pursuits. I’ve also been lucky enough to see some of my students enter the field and give it everything they’ve got. All that inspires me to make the most of every moment I’m given to dance. In this first Finding Balance post of 2014, change is the focus: in life, in habits, in attitude. Happy New Year!

Let’s start with a big one: landing that first job. The amazing thing about an occupation that flies by so quickly is that there’s no reason not to get the most out of every single second of it. That’s an incredible opportunity, and a huge challenge. Every moment wasted is a moment that you—or someone else—could be getting closer to the job or role you want. Five short years into my career, I sometimes catch myself forgetting that competitive hunger. It’s one thing that helped get me from wanting a job to having one, and I never want that to change about my dancing. What has changed now that I’m out of the scramble of trainee-ships and endless auditions is the extent to which the responsibility to stay eager falls on the individual. The more experience and freedom I gain, the more I realize there is to explore inside myself as an artist, and in movement and performance in the broader sense, if I’m willing to go for it.

Another thing the past five years have taught me is how and when to back off, something that’s hard for most dancers to do. Work—especially work that feels like play—is easy to get lost in. Both in my professional dance life and here on 4dancers, I’ve had the privilege to do work I love. I’ve also had to make the tough choice to put on the brakes sometimes, whether it’s staying out of the studio and resting my body, or posting less frequently to give my ideas time to take shape. Bodies don’t last forever, but I hope not to wear mine out for a long time yet.

Wendy Whelan, Photo by Christopher Duggan

Wendy Whelan, Photo by Christopher Duggan

The expenditure of one’s body, emotions, and nerves, or simply the decision to change one’s focus in life, are all reasons dancers choose to retire. It seems such a personal and difficult choice, whether a dancer stops at age twenty-five or age forty-five. Some dancers retire from full-time work but still perform occasionally; some leave the field altogether; still others bring up the next generation of artists as directors, teachers, or coaches. Wendy Whelan is one great example of an older dancer continuing to explore performance in ways other than classical ballet.

This article on Career Transition for Dancers makes an interesting point about second careers: they may not—in fact, probably won’t—provide the same degree of fulfillment as dancing, and that’s ok. That’s why dance was the first choice.

And here, in essence, was the pill that many retiring dancers find hardest to swallow, and that Career Transition is nearly alone in dispensing: the sober recognition that, at least momentarily, a dancer might need to stop expecting a new line of work to match the deep fulfillment of professional dance.”

This line captures the feeling that hits me big time whenever I’m on a break from rehearsals and performance. There is just nothing that gets me going like dancing does, so it’s hard to take a rest even though I know it’s good for me. I guess some things really don’t change over the course of a dancer’s career, even after retirement!

dancer doing arabesque

Emily Kate Long, Photo by Avory Pierce

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.

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Finding Balance: Expectations And Dance

by Emily Kate Long

Screen shot 2013-11-04 at 9.18.48 PM(1)My last Finding Balance post discussed balance and alignment in the physical sense. I talked about how misalignments in the body can bring about sensory dissonance. In this post, I’ll look a different kind of alignment and dissonance: when our expectations of ourselves don’t line up with our work. Today I want to share some items that are not dance-specific, but very readily apply to the setting, meeting, and letting go of our expectations.

Labors of love come with high expectations, and high expectations demand a high workload. Dancers know this. Anyone who pursues art for a living knows this. The rewards can be huge, so the work is not easy. The first treasure I have to share is a list of ten rules for students, teachers, and life by Sister Mary Corita Kent, an artist and educator who gained reknown in the 1960s and 1970s. Merce Cunningham kept a copy of these rules in his studio. They are well worth hanging. Here’s the full list, from Kent’s Learning by Heart:

Corita Kent

Corita Kent

  1. Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for a while
  2. General duties of a student: pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students
  3. General duties of a teacher: pull everything out of your students
  4. Consider everything an experiment
  5. Be self-disciplined—this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.
  6. Nothing is a mistake. There is no win and no fail, only make
  7. The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all f the time who eventually catch on to things.
  8. Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.
  9. Be happy whenever you can manage it. It’s lighter than you think.
  10. “We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” John Cage

Hints: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything—it might come in handy later.

This list sums up just about everything needed to pursue excellence. What I really love about it is the emphasis on allowing room for errors and questions, and leaving no stone unturned.

As a complement to Kent’s list, and to illustrate a challenge I and many other dancers face, I also want to share Sheri LeBlanc’s essay, “The Perfectionist Dilemma.” In it, LeBlanc sensitively teases apart excellence pursuit and perfectionism, which, as she puts it, are similar only as far as the results each can produce. One gives us a healthy relationship with our efforts and achievements, while the other sets up for feelings of failure and inadequacy, no matter what we achieve. Expecting perfection from ourselves or from anyone around us automatically misaligns expectation with outcome.

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What we have so far are guidelines for the pursuit of excellence, and thoughts on the damaging effects of perfectionism. My third offering is a tool to help us let go of our attachments to any unreasonable expectations we may have of ourselves. If our creative work is inherently experimental, as Sister Corita’s list suggests, it requires us to throw out unsuccessful outcomes continually. If it is to be enjoyable, it requires us to experience our successes as fully as we can. A talk by Matthew Brensilver on clinging and letting go from Zencast gives a ton of insight on letting go of beliefs, identities, and the need to be right. It’s a forty-minute, free podcast that I highly recommend. To summarize wouldn’t do it justice, but the angle he takes is the Buddhist teaching that all things and states of being are impermanent, so all can be let go when they don’t align with the present moment. I feel that approach is apt for dance, a living art.

Igor Stranvinsky

Igor Stranvinsky

The final item I want to share is an episode of Radiolab (another podcast) that provides a thoughtful and humorous look at misalignment of expectations in history. “Musical Language” takes a look at what happens between the ears and the brain when we hear unfamiliar or dissonant noises. I’m including it here because it features, at around 26 minutes in, the legendary riot at the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The whole episode has to do with how the brain orders unfamiliar sounds and looks for patterns. I think there’s a parallel here for the way we try to make sense of our bodies and physical capabilities each day, or seek patterns to learn new movement. It’s also pretty funny to listen to, if you need a short science break to liven up your day.

Readers, I hope these four treats provide some new perspective on the subject of measuring up to expectations. They are thoughtful, entertaining, playful, stark, challenging—words that also describe the artist’s work.

dancer doing arabesque

Emily Kate Long, Photo by Avory Pierce

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.

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Balance, Proprioception & Alignment: On Stage & In The Dance Studio

by Emily Kate Long

Picture 4You stand on a dimly lit stage. The murmur of the audience on the other side of the curtain swells and then settles. The music starts, the curtain rises, the lights go up…and suddenly you feel completely disoriented, like you’re on a different planet. You’re blinded from the sides by brightly colored light. In front of you, the darkness seems endless. Where are the walls? How far away is the floor? Are you even standing straight? How are you supposed to dance when you can’t tell which way is up?

No dancer wants to be caught in such circumstances. If this scenario is familiar to you, your balance organs and proprioceptive sense may need a tune-up. For this installment of Finding Balance, I’m going literal and taking a look at the relationship of balance, proprioception, and alignment onstage and in the studio.

In her book Dance Mind and Body, Sandra Cerny Minton defines balance as “a body feeling of being poised or in a state of equilbrium. If you are balanced, you are centered and will not fall by giving in to the force of gravity.” The International Association of Dance Medicine and Science (IADMS) tells us that proprioception is the physical sense or feeling of your moving body. Sometimes it’s nicknamed the “sixth sense.” In a very simple way, you could think of balance as the feeling of the still self, and proprioception as the feeling of the moving self.

In the scientific sense, balance happens when an object’s center of gravity is placed over its base of support. A larger support base and lower center of gravity equal more effortless balance. To illustrate, think of the ease of balancing barefoot in a second-position grand plie with the hands on the hips and eyes looking straight ahead—wide base and low, compact center. Now contrast that with a balance on pointe in a back attitude with asymmetrical arms and a turned and inclined head—small base, high center, plus a lot of extended limbs to complicate things.

Another concept to consider in the discussion of balance is alignment. Correct static alignment is the stance featuring left-right symmetry in the body from a front or back view, with a vertical line passing through the earlobe, shoulder joint, trochanter head, kneecap, and the front of the ankle joint from a side view. Dynamic alignment refers to the body’s parts relating to one another in a balanced way when the body is in motion. Good alignment is inherently balanced.  Essentially, it’s good biomechanics. You could say that proprioception is the feeling of one’s dynamic alignment. (Interestingly, these two alignment terns are also commonly used in mechanical engineering. I love the paradox that we can only appear to transcend the laws of physics by adhering to them!)

One last idea we’ll look at is centeredness, both as a physical feeling and a mental image. Centering is equally physical and psychological, according to Minton. Bodies have a center of gravity (located in the pelvis) and a center of balance (the solar plexus) and the relationship of these two physical centers affects balance. Minton’s defnintion of psychological center is roughly akin to the IADMS definition of proproiception: a mental awareness of what the body is doing as it moves. The key difference is the confidence aspect of being mentally centered. Minton notes that “skill in balancing is tied to the less concrete concept of body awareness and the psychological aspects of center…Body awareness involves having an accurate sense of where you are moving in space and what parts of your body are moving.”

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