Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Great "Weight" Debate: The Ballet Body


The Great “Weight” Debate:  The Ballet Body

 

I’m sitting here trying to start this blog and already feel torn over what I am going to say about how to achieve the perfect “ballet body.”  The thing about the subject is I’ve got so many questions asking, “How can I get skinny for ballet?” or “I’m having weight issues, can you help?”  It already nerves me thinking about answering them because majority of the time they come from very young girls, typically 13-17 years old.  My blood actually starts to boil as I read them because I’m thinking to myself, how can a child actually be worrying about this?  Unfortunately, in our beautiful art form, how we look sometimes overpowers artistry and talent.  I am obviously not a doctor, but I am a high performance athlete who has managed to steer clear from any serious injury thus far in my professional career.  I attribute that to not only my physical activity but also my diet; and I don’t mean “diet” in the fashion magazine quick way to lose 10lbs way, I mean actually what I eat for nutrition to stay healthy.  I would like you to stop thinking about things in terms of getting “skinny” for ballet, but getting “healthy” for ballet.

 

I am going to be careful what I say here, because I do not want to offend anyone and I do not want to steer any young child who is reading this in the wrong direction.  People ask me about how I eat all time.  I reply that I do not really constrict myself from much and I get the old response of, “Well, you’re just lucky you have that body naturally.”  I could not disagree with that statement more.  I’ll tell you about the many “bodies” I have gone through in my 30yrs of life.  I was a string bean as a kid. When I turned 15 my body completely changed.  I grew to be 5’9” and I started to gain weight for the first time in my life.  If you’ve read my previous blog, you would know that during that time I was not dancing full time.  I had taken time off.  When I went back to ballet is when I started to become very VERY aware of how my body looked. It was when I was 17, turning 18 that I decided to go on my very first “diet.”  I thought I knew it all.  It was when the Atkins thing was taking off and I thought to myself it would be the perfect way to lose the 10-15 extra teenage baby pounds. I almost completely cut out all carbs from my diet.  The only carbs I was really eating were from vegetables.  Everything was going great at first; I lost weight fast and my muscle tone was really starting to show.  It wasn’t too long before I noticed that my energy levels were becoming low and I started to get very bad tendonitis in my Achilles, which I never had before.  It was opening week of the Nutcracker at my school and I was to be dancing the role of Sugar Plum Fairy.  My teacher flew in a professional male dancer from Ballet Arizona to be my partner.  We were in rehearsal and I remember telling my mom that I felt like my Achilles was a rubber band.  The next thing I knew, I felt a sharp and very hot pain in my leg.  I had torn where my calf and Achilles meet. 

 

The doctor was surprised that someone as young as me would sustain such an injury.  He started asking me questions and when he got to the bottom of it, he told me that a large part in the breakdown of my body was that I was not fueling it properly for the amount of physical activity I was doing.  NO CARBS was A VERY BAD IDEA.  After my injury I started to eat a well-rounded diet and felt great!  Then, I left for college the next year.  Freshman 15? That would have been nice, try freshman 25 for me!  I ate like crap, to be frank.  Pizza late at night and Snickers for a snack from the vending machine.  I was in college on my own for the first time and didn’t have much money.  It wasn’t until I was 23 and at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre that I finally started to figure out how to treat my body well.  I made two very major decisions— I was cutting out fried foods and cutting out alcohol (for all of you who are over 21 years old and up).  I started eating small portions of food, but at least six times a day, and was very religious about taking a multi-vitamin and B-Complex.  For the past 7 years of my life, I have really not changed how my body looks or my weight much.  I have figured out how to maintain a healthy and strong body for ballet through healthy eating and moderation.

 

So here are my thoughts.  If you are a young girl or boy reading this, you have absolutely no business depriving your body of anything.  A “diet” shouldn’t ever be in your vocabulary.  You can, however, start learning how to eat healthy to maintain an athlete’s body.  You will obviously need your parent’s help, but for example;  instead of eating french fries at school for lunch, consider packing your lunch with a nice turkey sandwich and some fruit and veggies.  It’s also OK to eat ice cream and pizza with your friends, but you don’t have to be excessive.  I truly believe that moderation is key.  One awful trend that I have seen from teaching around the country is being in front of a herd of 13 year old kids and halfway through barre struggling to get them to respond to combinations let alone get through them.  I always ask if they have had breakfast, and more often than not, I hear “NO.”  Breakfast is the most important meal of the day because it jump starts your metabolism and gives you energy for the day!  Try eating some scrambled eggs with cheese and avocado or oatmeal like I do EVERYDAY. 

Another problem I see is young students are not taught how to “snack” between classes and rehearsals.  I do not mean cookies and cakes.  I would suggest bringing some crackers or fruits and veggies with ranch to have on breaks.  It keeps you energized in the body but also the brain!  I always drink a high protein shake after every ballet class I take.  I wouldn’t suggest that for young kids, but an alternative would be to pack a 2% chocolate milk with you.  When you get older, maybe 17 or 18, drinking a protein shake would work!  For a major meal like dinner try to be as balanced as you can be.  Eat a protein like chicken or beef, a vegetable and maybe a bit of pasta.  I promise you that if you maintain a well-balanced diet your body will respond in the way you want it to.  Like me, pass up the French fries for a salad or soup and maybe eat 1 cookie instead of 5, but do not totally restrict yourself from foods that will feed your mind and body.

 
My belief is that, while training as a young dancer, we should not be programmed to think “skinny” but rather, “healthy.”  Lay off the scales kids.  Crying over a stupid number will not make anything better and most of the time it means nothing!   Start to focus on your health and strength so you can dance until you’re well into your 40’s injury free!!!!!

 



Xoxo

Allison

20 comments :

  1. Very sensible and honest advice!
    Thanks for sharing Allison!

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  2. Hi Allison... this is such a beautiful and honest post. Great advice, not just for ballerinas but for young people struggling with body image issues. Thanks for sharing!

    - Donna

    http://donzwebb.wordpress.com

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  3. Excellent blog post. Thanks Allison.

    One small suggestion for your blog though. Please consider changing the color scheme. The white font on black background is painful on the eyes.

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  4. Beautifully said! I shared with all my fellow dancer moms to share with their children!!

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  5. I hope teens and young dancers read your blog because you really give Good and Healthy advice about something as important in a dancer life as "diet", if this is the right word... Thanks for sharing your experience!

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  6. Great advice for any age or situation. I have had talks with my 13 year old (and she is not an athlete) about moderation. We talk about "being healthy" when we exercise and we try to avoid ever bringing up weight and we don't talk about the weight of others. Thanks for this!

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  7. Hi! Great article but sadly in the ballet world there are also external pressures ove the weight like teachers or even company directors. For example in the company where I dance,they weight us after long weekends,vacations or if the directives see that we look "bulky" And if we gain weight we get fined. The fine is 200 pesos per every Kilo (about 23 dollars for every 2 and a half pound) For example in christmas break I gain 2 kilos so when I returned to work I was fined with 400 pesos.

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  8. Thank you Allison. My daughter dances in the BW Academy and is already concerned about her body weight (11 years old). My husband and I try to drive into her the importance of building muscle so that she can develop a healthy body to move up (and for her future). I will have her read this. I know it will help her. A problem I see is that between classes most of the girls eat cookies and candy. I hope someday they are caught doing this and get explained to them why they should not do this. Thanks again and, you are a beautiful dancer!!

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  9. This was so helpful! Thanks Allison!
    I was wondering if you could talk about how you made the jump from a college dancer into a professional dancer. I am only a sophomore so I have two more years till im out of highschool. I know I want to pursue ballet as a career, but I don't know if I should try going for it right after college or if a dance major would heighten my odds of getting into a company, or would it lower it because I would be older? I don't know, it would be great if you could talk about that. Thanks! :)

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  10. What a wonderful, wonderful blog! As the mother of a ballerina, I hear all the "I'm fat" comments and panic. At 5'8" and 115 pounds, she is not fat, nor are her dance friends.

    She is learning to eat right, which isn't always easy when you are running here and there between school and dance. But, it is so very important. I love that you admit the weight changes and the less than perfect eating habits that all young people have at some point. But, I really love that you can say you learned from it and dealt with it in the healthy way. And I more than love that you say, don't restrict everything...but do it in moderation. Those are some important key tips.

    One of my favorite things from "Breaking Pointe" was seeing you all eat...real food...and quite a bit of it. It showed my dancer that food is not the enemy!

    Keep up the great work! I'm going to definitely recommend your blog on mine!

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  11. So well said! A dancer's body goes through so many stages as we age so diets and trying to be 'skinny' are just plain bad. It's wonderful to see a role model like you give such great advice on a sensitive topic like this. The body a dancer has is a result of how they eat, think and dance. I can't give enough kudos you for this well written blog!

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  12. Bless your amazing talent for inspiring a healthy lifestyle change for girls instead of a "diet". My niece is interested in dance now and at 9 is obsessed with her weight. I danced until I was 19 and like you made good and bad food choices. I have had talks with her about nutrition and healthy choices instead of "diets". The candidness and the open way that you share your struggles is magnificent. I will read this to her the next time I see her so that she will know that a professional dancer agrees with her silly old Aunt Chrissy.. I know it will make an impact because she loves holding my old pointe shoes (24 years old now) and dreaming of dancing someday. Thanks so much for your blog and inspiration.

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  13. Great post I must say. Simple but yet entertaining and engaging... Keep up the good work.

    Perfect Body Weight

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  14. Thanks for this useful information, nice blog.

    Perfect Body Weight

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  15. Its very helpful i like your post .
    bcoz most of people like ballet .
    i hope you will post more great information in future .. . . .


    Ballet business | \A\Rachel Withers

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  16. Bless your amazing talent for inspiring a healthy lifestyle change for girls instead of a "diet". My niece is interested in dance Thanks so much for your blogs and inspiration..............

    Ballet business |
    Rachel Withers

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  17. Smoothly done even in images. Any one who knows a ballet program Phoenix. Maybe nearby here in my place.

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  18. Share great information about your blog , Blog really helpful for us . We read your blog , share most useful information in blog . Thanks for share your blog here .เพิ่ม น้ำ หนัก

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