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Advice for dancers.

I'M AN INFANTRYMAN IN THE U.S. ARMY WHO IS DEPLOYED IN IRAQ FOR AT LEAST A YEAR. I WAS A DANCE MAJOR, BUT AFTER 9/11 I DECIDED TO SERVE. I WANT TO FINISH MY DEGREE, BUT BEING ON ASSIGNMENT, IT'S DIFFICULT TO MAINTAIN MY DANCE FITNESS. HOW CAN I KEEP MY DANCER'S FORM, TECHNIQUES AND MENTALITY WHILE DEPLOYED IN IRAQ?--N. OMAR REYES, MILITARY ADDRESS I want you to know that our hearts and thoughts are with you. Not only have you chosen to enlist during a particularly turbulent time, you've also put your country's needs above your own aspirations. Needless to say, it helps to leave something to look forward to upon your return, such as resuming work toward your dance degree.

Dance medicine specialists tell me that staying in shape in Iraq may not be as difficult as it sounds--especially during downtime. While I understand that only certain camps have gyms, the fact that military units set aside an hour three times a week for a demanding fitness program will help you maintain your strength and endurance. You'll also need to stretch the major muscle groups used for dancing, including your hamstrings and Achilles tendons. See if you can find something that can double as a barre, plus some ankle weights to maintain your technique. It will also help to keep an eye on your caloric intake during sedentary periods, since MREs (meals ready to eat) can pack on the pounds at 3,000 calories a meal. The army's emphasis on rehearsing in a multitude of adverse situations can teach you how to perform under any circumstance. Afterward, give yourself time to adjust before jumping back into a dance program. It's important to deal with residual stress reactions, such as flashbacks. The military has trained professionals who provide this service. Just ask.

I FEEL COMPELLED TO SHARE THAT MY YOUNG DAUGHTER WAS SEXUALLY ASSAULTED BY A 21-YEAR-OLD MAN AT A BOARDING DANCE PROGRAM. THE DIRECTORS EXPELLED THE MAN BUT BLAMED THE TEENS FOR "NOT FOLLOWING THE RULES," EVEN THOUGH MY DAUGHTER WAS ATTACKED WHILE SHE WAS ASLEEP. NOW A CLOSE FRIEND TELLS ME THAT HER 15-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER WAS SEXUALLY ATTACKED AT A DIFFERENT BOARDING SCHOOL FOR DANCERS. HOW CAN A PARENT FIND GUT ABOUT VIOLENT INCIDENTS BEFORE ALLOWING A CHILD TO BOARD?--LOOKING FOR ANSWERS, ADDRESS WITHHELD Your story is horrifying. While I have no idea how common this scenario is in boarding programs, dance schools need to be forthcoming about these problems to prospective students and parents. Ideally, there should be a student handbook outlining the school's policies on a variety of issues from sexual harassment to substance abuse, intimate relations, hazing, visitations, and curfews. Parents should ask if there have been violations and, if so, how they were handled. Equally important are the quality of supervision, whether the school conducts criminal background checks on all administrative staff, and resources, such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.4673). Finally, it helps to know whether 24-hour security is in place during vacations/summer when the regular college security personnel are off.

WE ARE PARENTS CONCERNED WITH OUR DAUGHTER'S WEIGHT. FOR A NORMAL TEENAGER, WE WOULD SAY SHE'S FINE AT 5'4" AND 120 TO 124 POUNDS. AS A DANCER, WE THINK SHE COULD STAND TO LOSE TEN POUNDS SINCE SHE WANTS A CAREER AFTER SHE GRADUATES FROM HIGH SCHOOL NEXT YEAR. SHOULD WE SAY SOMETHING TO HER ABOUT HER EATING HABITS OR HAVE HER DIRECTOR SPEAK TO HER? WE JUST DON'T KNOW HOW TO TACKLE THIS ISSUE WITHOUT HURTING HER FEELINGS.--CONCERNED PARENTS IN THE MIDWEST It's nice to hear from parents who want the best for their young dancer. However, you're treading dangerous waters if you tell her to lose weight. Teenagers are notorious for picking themselves apart, particularly as their bodies begin to change during puberty. It's also normal for girls to gain weight during this period, making them hypersensitive to even the most benign comments. Last but not least, young dancers who diet excessively risk developing the female athlete triad, which is characterized by disordered eating, menstrual problems, and brittle bones.

Why not set the stage for a sensible eating and exercise plan? Many teenagers will eat healthy food, such as fruit, if their parents have it around the house in place of candy or cookies. Offer to get your daughter a membership at the local health club, where she can cross-train just like many professional dancers; the focus should be Oil increasing her physical fitness, not on losing weight. If and when she asks for your help with weight loss, suggest talking to a nutritionist. Make her aware of talents apart from dance that can lead to a successful career.

SEND YOUR QUESTIONS TO: Linda Hamilton, Ph.D., at 2000 Broadway, PH2C, New York, NY 10023.

Former Now York City Ballet dancer Linda Hamilton, PH.D. is a lecturer, a psychologist in private practice, and the author or Advice for Dancers (Jossey-Bass). She has been offering advice to DANCE MAGAZINE readers since 1992.
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Author:Hamilton, Linda
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2004
Words:842
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