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Advice for dancers.

AN ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR AT FORDHAM UNIVERSITY, LINDA HAMILTON, PH.D., IS ALSO A LECTURER, A PSYCHOLOGIST, A FORMER DANCER WITH NEW YORK CITY BALLET, AND AUTHOR OF ADVICE FOR DANCERS (JOSSEY-BASS).

I saw you on a recent television program called "Dying to Be Thin" [see Presstime News, Dance Magazine, December 2000, page 32]. It was inspiring to know that dancers are finally receiving professional help from people like you to manage their weight and, hopefully, prevent serious eating problems. As a new dance teacher, I also want to make a difference by helping dancers stay fit and healthy. Do you have any suggestions?

Michelle From Rockland County, New York

I always have ideas when it comes to dancers becoming healthier. As you saw in the Nova documentary (which has aired several times since it premiered in November 2000 on public television), it's best to prevent eating disorders because they're extremely difficult to treat. Dance teachers can play a significant role by helping dancers develop a positive body image, especially during puberty.

What can you do? First, be aware that teenagers are hypersensitive about their changing body shapes and weight--so the less you focus on this, the better. Instead, gear your comments to your students' dancing while emphasizing the importance of healthy eating to maintain energy. Once they're ready to audition, you can bring up the topic of weight management in the privacy of your office, with a referral to a nutritionist. Teachers who make emaciated dancers sit out class also send a clear message that dancers' health comes first.

Ever since I injured my back last year, I've been feeling really bed about myself. I try to do what my doctor says and skip certain steps, like arabesque, but I feel like I'm being lazy unless I do everything full out. My back is getting worse. Will I ever be ready to audition for a ballet company?

Going Nowhere in New Jersey

I know how hard it is to be injured. But the only way to get better is to listen to your doctor. To keep from feeling lazy', why not investigate safe ways to stay in shape (with your doctor's permission), such as doing floor barre and Pilates exercises? I've known many dancers who actually improved their technique this way. You'll also be more likely to get a job in a dance company if you let your injuries heal.

My daughter went through a difficult anorexic stage this year that had me worried sick. She pulled out of it with professional help. The problem now is that she seems to be going in the other direction, eating extra portions for lunch and dinner. Should I say something to her? I don't want her to get fat.

Concerned Mother

Mum's the word! It's natural to overeat for a few months after a period of starvation. If you draw attention to it, your daughter may revert to her old ways. Your best bet is to have lots of healthy foods around, such as fruits and vegetables, and encourage her to stay active. Once her body adjusts, she should ease into a more normal eating pattern, as long as she's still in therapy. You might also contact your daughter's therapist (with her permission if she's over the age of 18) to check on the situation.

This summer I sat in on one of your lectures at The Alley School on how to make the most of your summer dance program. I found your advice very useful--in particular, the part about ways to handle competition. I used to compare myself to every other dancer in class and feel like I should quit. Now, I try to keep my attention on me and what I can do every day to be a better dancer. It's really helped boost my confidence. Thanks se much.

Grateful Dancer

You're very welcome! There's nothing more important to me than helping dancers achieve their goals. And the more you know about ways to deal with problems in dance, the easier it will be to succeed. Besides dealing with the competition, dancer also need to know how to manage weight requirements, injuries, unemployment, and early retirement. Having a positive attitude helps, but it only gets you so far. It's also necessary to have strategies to handle the potential pitfalls along the way.

This summer I took four ballet classes every day and worked harder than almost everyone in my class. The first week of my dance program was great, but then I started to feel weak and my tendons acted up. It's time to go home and my biggest fear is that my teacher will think I look worse than before. Is it possible that I haven't made any improvement after all this work?

Jenny From Denver

I hate to say it, but sometimes hard work doesn't pay off, particularly if you've developed a bad case of burnout. Dancers who take four or more technique classes a day often develop problems such as fatigue, injuries, and lack of progress. Burnout also occurs when dancers dramatically increase the number of weekly classes, rather than easing into a more demanding schedule. Dancers who develop these symptoms during a summer program need to back off for three days, and if the injury continues for a week or more, they should see a physical therapist or orthopedist. It also helps to get weekly, massages and spend the weekend in bed rather than sightseeing. Once the summer is over, take three weeks off to give your body a rest. If this is impossible, then try to get at least ten hours of sleep a night. Your body needs time to recover.

SEND YOUR QUESTIONS TO: Linda Hamilton, Ph.D., at 2000 Broadway, PH2C, New York, NY 10023 and read her answers exclusively in Dance Magazine.
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Author:Hamilton, Linda
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2001
Words:970
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