Health and Wellness
Growing up, I had no issues with my body. I, frankly, never thought twice about it. I went to gymnastics and dance and ate when I was hungry and what I desired. All of that changed when I was 18, and a director of a children's theatre made several comments about how "real dancers don't eat". It started to be ingrained in my brain that I wasn't a "real dancer" unless I was doing just that.
Let me tell you from past experiences, I danced worse the less I ate. I shamed myself for eating even when it was healthy food. My body changed drastically for years because I would eat little, and then eat a lot to make up for it. Bottom line, it wasn't worth it. So, how did I get to where I am today? I started to bring my focus back to the important things: "How straight is my leg? Are my muscles engaged properly? Is my arm where it's supposed to be? Do I have enough fuel and energy to produce my best work?" For several years those important DANCE questions would slip my mind in class and the questions popping into my head were: "How can I make my thighs skinnier? Why did I eat that muffin?" I wasted so much time worrying about my physical appearance, when I should've been focused on how to squeeze that extra pirouette out, or how to battement my leg higher.
It's natural to worry about your physical appearance. We stare at a mirror all day, every day as we watch ourselves dance. Feeling good is important, but I promise the fewer calories you eat will not make you feel better. Your brain won't have the power it needs to be happy, and no matter how much weight you lose you will never feel satisfied. Try feeling good with your favorite dance attire, a new hairstyle you spent time on, working hard in class so that you enjoy watching yourself dance in that mirror.
Learning to love yourself is a powerful tool. As your dance teacher, I'm here to be your biggest cheerleader, and also push your dance abilities. Dance is not just the hours you spend at the studio. It's everything in the classroom and everything you take home.
Here at Refine, we provide a safe space for everyone.
Hi everyone at Refine Dance Studio! I am so excited to be writing to you guys. I am a certified nutrition and wellness coach, and also a professional musical theatre dancer. I’m going to jump right in and tell you all something that I wish I heard while I was a young dancer: Unless you have a health condition, there is absolutely no need to go on any type of diet. Truly. I feel like around middle school/high school is the age where you always see fellow dancers going on certain types of diets as their bodies start to change and develop. Because we are all so used to staring into the mirror from such a young age, we get used to how we look. Then, as our bodies change, we think we need to do something to fix it. Rest assured, you do not.
It is imperative at this age to be eating enough nutrients to sustain you throughout the day, and as dancers, you must eat even more! You are constantly pushing your body to its limits, and in turn, it needs the right amount of nutrients to give you the energy you need to dance and to also recover. You actually need more food per day than your average adult needs, because your body is growing so much right now! So what I’m getting at is -- any type of diet or restriction to your diet is only going to harm you. I’ll get into that a bit later.
So you’re probably thinking, do I eat whatever the heck I want then? Not necessarily, but I’m not saying no either. It’s important to eat as many fruits and vegetables as you can (you know, the same old boring talk your parents have probably given you a hundred times). It’s also important to eat a solid breakfast filled with protein, healthy fats, and carbs. A great example of that is scrambled eggs with a side of avocado toast. Yum! Another important thing is to eat constantly throughout the day. Pack snacks for school, for in-between dance classes, or for whenever your stomach starts rumbling. Greek yogurt with fruit is an awesome snack because it is filled with tons of protein and the fruit adds some carbs to keep your energy going.
As long as you are eating a general diet of foods that are more on the “healthy” side, you are also more than allowed to have some pizza, chips, or Mcdonalds every week. It is not going to kill you! The only time you need to worry about eating “junk” food is if your doctor tells you to cut down. It is definitely not the best choice to have those things every single day, but having pizza every Friday and Mcdonalds every Monday is not going to hurt.
Now, what happens when you don’t eat enough food? When we do not feed our bodies the nutrients that it needs, it actually holds on to the food that we are giving it, storing it for later use because it knows that it will need those nutrients for survival. Then what happens is our body is not effectively using nutrients to sustain us throughout the day. You will have a difficult time concentrating, dancing, and sleeping. It could affect your mood incredibly, causing you to have dramatic mood swings. It also could prevent you from gaining muscle, which in the long term will not make you into a strong dancer.
I strongly urge you to not think of foods as “bad” in any way. It is there to fuel us, and although there are definitely better choices than others, actually stressing about food choices will do much more harm to you than actually just eating what you want at the moment. I know there is so much pressure around you to look a certain way and to compare yourself to everyone around you. Every body is different, and everybody IS a dancer body. As long as you are fueling yourself to have the energy to dance, your body is meant for dancing. I know it is so much easier said than done. I’ve definitely compared myself to other dancers around me and wondered why I don’t have certain features that they do. I still do sometimes. But just keep reminding yourself that you were given this body for a reason, it is absolutely beautiful, and you are perfect the way you are. Please shoot me a message on Instagram, @notsostarving.artist if you have any questions at all. I also post content every week with nutrition and wellness tips.
“You have to wear tights and just roll them up, I can see your thighs jiggling”. This sentence haunted me for years. I was 15 at the time and performing in a piece I knew the choreographer didn’t want me to be a part of - but that’s a different story. Up until that day I never took issue with my body or my relationship to food. But that sentence was my tipping point. For years I struggled with not only food but workouts, class outfits, and especially - costumes.
The costume in question was a stretchy unitard, not entirely form-fitting, that ended at the knee. To roll up my tights for a full act of a ballet felt like I was losing circulation so I ditched them - the wrong choice. Without even realizing it my attitude towards how I dressed for dance class changed. I hated taking a class without a skirt or better yet “trash bag” shorts and felt self-conscious in every fitting from there on out. I was already the tallest person in the room, and now I just felt like a giant. I don’t even have a photo of myself in this costume or many others I wore because I just didn’t want to document it. I thought I looked wrong.
I left that studio a few months later and never looked back. Upon graduation, I switched from ballet to musical theater and REALLY never looked back. Since then I’ve gotten a lot stronger physically and mentally, and there are a few things that I wish I could tell that 15 years old who had to swallow her tears and go stand in the back row of a ballet she knew no one wanted her in.
First and foremost - trust your gut. Dance is a beautiful thing and if you’re surrounded by people who make you feel anything less than that leave - especially if you’re there just for fun. Dance educators are there to teach you and to lift you up, not tear you down.
Second - food is fuel. Beyond that though, find the fuel that makes YOU feel good. I have pasta for dinner probably 5 times a week, but my friend who has celiac definitely wouldn’t want to do that. Carbs aren’t a bad thing, in fact, your body needs them! Try new things and see how it makes you feel. And don’t let the experiences other people have dictate your experience and opinion. I like to start every day with a huge mason jar of water with a greens powder and hydration boost. It just makes me feel good. You only get one body, you gotta take care of it, and sometimes that means having a waffle with a scoop of ice cream for breakfast (definitely did that today).
Third - cross-training is so cool. My favorite fitness quote comes from Elle Woods herself - “exercise gives you endorphins, endorphins make you happy”. As a kid, I was told not to run, not to do push-ups, not to lift weights, etc. That’s silly! Lately, I LOVE running, actually as soon as I finish this post I’m going on a run. But I hate weight lifting and no amount of being told I should do it will make me enjoy it. Finding joyful ways to move your body will only ever help your dancing and your mental health. Also, fitness isn’t one size fits all. Don’t be afraid of doing something because you “won’t look like a dancer”. News flash dancers can look like anything they want! Personally, my favorite fitness class will always be The Limit (@thelimitfit on Instagram). It was founded by a friend of mine so maybe I’m a little biased, but it kicks your butt and the focus is always on performance, not aesthetics. Plus, it’s really hard. Also, I have to recommend @ali.nance on Instagram for the best yoga/stretch classes I’ve ever taken. She also has a website spacemvmtco.com where you can check out a ton of different classes.
Fourth - recovery is important. One thing I’ve been sure to invest in our tools to help my body heal. My nonnegotiables/best friends are my acupressure mat, hyper volt, yoga toes, and an episode of Schitt’s Creek while using them. Again, you only get one body.
I spent years using exercise as a way to justify eating more food and eating more food than the feeling that I HAD to go and exercise. And while I legitimately did love working out through all that, it wasn’t healthy. Dance class will always be a source of joy for me, and it only gets more joyous when I’m doing it at peak performance - physically and mentally.
Finally, know that what’s right for you and what makes you happy might not be the same for other people. Products I love and will forever swear by are things that other people say they’ll never use - and that’s okay. We’re all built differently and that’s a wonderful thing. While this post has been mostly sunshine and rainbows, that’s not always realistic. But by choosing to wake up every morning and do the next right thing I’ve found it can at least be partly sunny with a chance of a rainbow.
Nutrition is so, SO important! With proper fueling, your body will be stronger and will set you up for success in dance class and other physical activities. Our bodies, as dancers, are our instruments for our careers and livelihoods, so taking care of them properly is priceless. I find it very important to also have a good relationship with food. I find thoughts of 'I can't have this or that' are not helpful when it comes to food and makes a person feel limited. I think everyone can enjoy and indulge in food, but with the mindset of 'That treat looks so good, I am going to have it as a reward after I accomplish a goal I have set for myself!' instead of having a treat 'just because.'
I love to prep my meals for a few days at a time and have a basic skeleton of how all of my meals will look for the week. Since NYC is a bustling city, this is an easy way to save some time in your week and also make sure you are fueled for class, auditions, and any other job/work you have when you are on the go. My breakfast usually consists of a tofu and egg scramble with half an avocado and some salsa (I will make a large portion in a pan and then split it between 3 - 4 containers for meal prep). Between breakfast and lunch, I like to make a smoothie for a snack. Any fruit is great! I like to mix it up with my choices, so one week might be a berry smoothie, the next week could be mango and peach. The possibilities with smoothies are endless, truly. I also throw in some kind of nut butter and seed to get healthy fats in my system for healthy muscle growth. As for lunch and dinner, super simple as well. Both are a salad with fresh vegetables, a turkey patty for protein, and some kind of complex carb (sweet potato, brown rice, etc.) These are also easy to have at the ready because I make a few patties in advance, have my vegetables cooked in advance, and can throw it all into a container to take with me on the go in the city.
I like to keep my fitness routine centered around dance class, strength training, and some kind of mobility routine. I go to Steps in NYC for ballet and jazz classes often. I think it is essential to keep up with dance technique, no matter what age. If I want to dance at my highest level, I need to make sure that my 'dance muscles' are strong. That means do your pliés and tendus, everyone!
I also work at a fitness studio in New York called Barry's, so a large portion of my strength training workouts is done there. It is based on High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and consists of half a class of cardio and half strength training with weights and/or resistance bands. I like to use this as cross-training to strengthen muscles that may not get hit in a dance class (since a lot of dance accesses turned out positions and muscles). Working muscles both turned out and parallel helps all of your muscle groups stay strong and also helps prevent injury. This is also where I can tone my arms, chest, and ab muscles that are also essential to a strong dance physique.
My final focus is on mobility. I like to make sure I stay flexible and limber after the exercise I just explained. I make sure to cool down and stretch after every class I take (I make sure to plan some extra time in my schedule after classes too because it is so easy to constantly be on the run in NYC and the first thing to go in a time crunch is the cooldown). Usually, something around 15 - 20 minutes to stretch my hamstrings, hip flexors, calves, shoulders, chest, and anything else that feels like it could open up after a workout.
I am not the biggest podcast person around but do love listening to 'Still Spinning' from The Joyce. It is a podcast that interviews artists that have shows going on at The Joyce in NYC. You can get some really interesting insight into people's artistic processes and personalities from this podcast. I also enjoy reading books by other dancers/choreographers. I am about to finish up Twyla Tharp's 'The Creative Habit', I highly suggest it!
Two very influential professors I had in college told me that if people live authentically and wholeheartedly as themselves, everything they need in their lives will find its way to them. I took this sentiment and have adopted it as a mantra. I am someone who consistently has an optimistic look on life, puts my best foot forward daily, and tries to be as true to myself as possible. With confidence, an open heart, hard work, patience, and faith, this has been working for me so far over the last 8 years.
I think another key to my success is that I continually try to align myself on a path that will get me to my goals. Do I want to be the best dancer I can be with a strong facility and also grow in technique in artistry? Gotta take a class to achieve that, gotta find somewhere that resonates with my soul, gotta find a teacher that unlocks my potential. Once I have that, the possibilities are endless and the sky is my limit. My dancing grows and helps me secure performance jobs at auditions. Do I need to get a job in NYC, save money to afford to live in NYC, and also find somewhere to keep my facility fit? Yes to all, so I found a job in fitness. I receive a paycheck, I don't have to pay for a gym membership, and can use that money saved to live in NYC. See the trend here? I know that with a little bit of careful placing of myself and A LOT of hard work, I can set myself on a path to achieve anything.
With all this being said, this mindset has taken years to get to. Sometimes my plan goes awry and things do not go my way, there are times when I feel completely defeated, days I do not feel like myself or I am doing something wrong, some days I look at my facility and do not see an extension or turn out that I like. Everyone has bad days. I find it important to take these bad days, feel them, and understand WHY these thoughts have crept into your mind. 100% of the time, they are just that: thoughts. The individual has the power in themselves to let thoughts have power over them. If I combat bad thoughts with 'Okay, I feel this today, but it is only today. Tomorrow is a new day and if I continue on with what I know I am doing right and live authentically as myself, I will come out stronger on the other side.' That always seems to do the trick for me and then I am off and motivated to take on anything that is thrown my way.
Food is fuel for our bodies. We don't live to eat, we eat to live! As dancers, our bodies are our instruments which means we need to take care of them at all times. To feel our best selves, we should be eating good, whole, nutrient-dense foods, yet still having some fun, and indulge a bit with our favorites, every so often. Moderation is key in order to stay healthy and to still have fun! When I was in high school, I followed a very strict meal plan, eating the same thing for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinners. I am very much of a routine person, so when I find something that works I stick with it! Although looking back, I was not eating nearly enough calories, specifically protein, to help get me through my long days of school and being as active as I was. I was also getting bored with eating the same thing every day and who wants to live life like that!? To be dancing close to 25 hours a week and only eating a salad for lunch and a cup of almonds for a snack was not the smartest meal plan looking back at it. It is so so easy for us as dancers, no matter what our age is, to compare ourselves to others. I have been doing it since I was a kid, and still, do it today! It is natural to look around and compare yourself to others in the studio, on the street, and especially in an audition room. But, instead of comparing yourself to others in a negative way, you should look around and appreciate how amazing it is that we are all made so differently, we all have our own insecurities, we all have our own battles we are fighting through personally, and yet still showing up to dance with each other because we love it. It doesn't matter what size you are, it is about being healthy and taking care of your own body. That means finding foods you enjoy that you actually want to eat! If you don't like eating apples, don't eat them! There are plenty of other fruits and vegetables, that you can enjoy and feel good about while eating them.
I was diagnosed with celiac disease in my sophomore year of college and it completely changed my body and also how I viewed food. Having such busy days during college and now post-college, I am all about meal prepping! It is my best friend and seriously changes my week for the better. Whether it's for an entire week or just a few days, planning out my meals and making them ahead of time always helps me stay on track and feeling my best physically & mentally. Having an allergy can be really tough to find food that will be safe for you to eat, especially if you're in a pinch for time or money. Follow some food vloggers on social media, check out some cookbooks, and get ideas on what sounds good to you! My biggest piece of advice though regarding nutrition, would be to avoid crash diets at all costs. Cleanses, programs you pay for, Whole30's, "skinny" teas, elimination diets: don't do them. I have done them all, and they are not worth it. For me at least, they are not sustainable and by the end, put your body in a worse state than when you started, because you'll reintroduce foods you took out during the diet that may be key to your weekly meals or a treat you love and don't want to live without. You can use it to spark ideas, but I highly suggest talking with your doctor or a nutritionist before you try a program. Remember, we eat to live!
I did not start working out until college so around 18 years old. As I said, I danced close to 25 hours a week in high school and was getting lots of cardio in, doing crunches/pushups, taking multiple ballet classes a week, but I didn't realize how important it was to cross-train as a dancer until my college days. Find a workout routine that you actually enjoy doing! Try everything and then see what fits you and your body! I always thought I would be considered "strong" if I was a runner. I started to train my body to run on the treadmill at my local gym in college...ended up getting Achilles tendonitis from it. That was a clear sign that said, "Kiley, running is clearly not for your body." I've done personal gym sessions, have worked with trainers to ask for tips/workout plans, but it wasn't until my senior year of college where I found the workout for me: Barre3. I loved it so much I started working the front desk for them in Philly at their Rittenhouse Location (while I was finishing up my senior year at The University of The Arts). Now, you can find me teaching it here in NYC at their Long Island City location! After my first few classes, I realized how much more I enjoyed working out with others than just myself at a gym. I am very much a group fitness person now, and absolutely love taking a class with other people! Barre3 is more than just a workout. It is designed to make you sweat with cardio bursts, gain strength physically and mentally, and move for your own body. I also work part-time at SoulCycle and love that as well! Because I am not dancing as much as I was in college or even high school, I look for group fitness workouts that can give me the cardio I miss in dancing every single day, and strength training as well. If I could change one thing that I didn't do growing up that I wish I did, it would be to work on strength training. From pushups to core work- feeling strong is so important not only as dancers but for your everyday life! Having a strong core can completely affect how you feel every day/influence how your body handles injury.
Like most things in life, I make a schedule for everything. That includes my workouts. I know I am a morning workout person rather than an afternoon/evening workout kind of gal, so if I have to work at 10 am on a Saturday, I know I will feel even better if I get up a couple of hours early to workout and start my morning with some "me" time. That is how you should think of your workouts. You are taking time out of your day, to work on yourself. Be the CEO of your own life, which includes scheduling in some self-care time! Some days, that can mean resting. Maybe instead of just relaxing on the couch all day, your body may want a 10-minute yoga flow before vegging out. Stay connected, and make the time to workout, but also to rest!
Barre3 focuses a lot on mindset which is one of the reasons why I love it so much! At the end of every class, we always designate 10 minutes to Stretch & Breath. Just those few moments of focusing on your breath and becoming so present and aware of how your body is feeling in that very moment, helps me find peace and gratitude for myself and for others. It stays with me for my entire day. If I don't get a Barre3 class in, I'll try to take some deep breaths throughout my day or make time to journal and write down 3 things I am grateful for. As silly as it sounds, sometimes all you need to help push you through your day is to write down a few things you are grateful for. Whatever the reason is: a global pandemic, going out on auditions, trying to get out of bed on a Monday morning, we all need to remind ourselves why we should be so grateful that we got to open our eyes and live out another day. Journaling and talking to my therapist are my two favorite forms of focusing on my mental health
These books made me feel alive, inspired, and ready to take on the world as the best person and artist I could be
-Untamed by Glennon Doyle, You Are A Badass... by Jen Sincero, Actor's Life: A Survival Guide by Jenna Fischer
Podcasts: Armchair Expert by Dax Shepard
I LOVE this Podcast. So many amazing, talented, brilliant people, some of whom are actors, performers, inventors, politicians, etc. Hearing their personal stories and their journeys on how they got to where they are in life are so inspiring and remind you that everyone is on a different path. Success can look and feel different to each of us. We are each on our own path to success.
Bodies change A LOT, especially while growing up. I think that is important to remember because we are all constantly changing and evolving, and going through our own issues as I mentioned above. During the time I knew something was up with my body and would come to find out it was celiac disease, my body was going through it and changing immensely. I gained weight, I felt sluggish, I had no confidence in my dancing because I didn't like the way I looked in the mirror, comments were made by teachers, I was nervous to have costume fittings for our performances, etc. I tapped out mentally, all because I wasn't feeling good physically and it was out of my control. Since being diagnosed with Celiac Disease and having a few other autoimmune diseases that are also centered around digestion, I know that losing weight is always going to be a struggle for me. I know what I have to do to feel like my best self, and it is hard work! Definitely harder than what most people have to do as a young adult! Of course, I have my days where I feel defeated and like no physical changes are being made, or that I wish I could wear a big sign in dance classes or auditions that say "I promise I'm fit and a great dancer, I just have a few health issues that make things difficult to lose weight and gain strength", but I know that I am putting in the work and trying my best, and at the end of the day, that is all you can ask for!
I workout because it feels good, not to lose 20lbs as quickly as I can. I love eating salmon with roasted vegetables, but I also love a good bowl of ice cream! Moderation is key, listen to your body, be nice to it! We only have one!
Currently, we are going through a global pandemic! Our bodies are BOUND to change because our routines are off and the world is going through it! During the beginning of the pandemic, working out and eating clean was not my top priority! Right before COVID-19 became real, it was my first season of auditioning in NYC and the Boston area, and I was having a successful season: learning a lot, growing tremendously, making connections, and excited for potential opportunities. I was in it physically, mentally and was hungry for more auditions, callbacks, and "You got the job!" emails. Then- the world stopped. We all coped with it in different ways, and are still coping with it in different ways. My body is not the same as it was back in February and March of this year, and that's okay! Did it take me months to feel ready to dance again, or workout for me, or make an effort with my nutrition? Yeah. Was it okay that it took so long? Absolutely. Find the routine that works best for you, to uphold the best version of you you can be! Make smart choices, have some fun, listen to your body, and always remember to be kind to yourself, and be kind to each other.