Sunday, June 29, 2008

How to Avoid Developing Chronic Joint Pain If You Are a Dancer Or an Athlete

It is vital to understand the role of inflammation in the body, for anyone, but especially would-be ballerinas, men in ballet, and athletes. Whether you are looking for a career builder or just enjoy the challenge of training, it is important to know how to maintain the soft tissues of the body that get worn out on practically a daily basis. To prevent ballet and sports injuries, good training and good work habits are required. For better rehabilitation, once an injury occurs, adding omega 3 oils to your nutrition is a tremendous help to diminish the natural inflammation response.

Inflammation occurs naturally as a response to injury or immune attack. It is temporary, and we recover. In a healthy body, damaged tissues are removed and replaced with new tissue.

In a body that has a low grade chronic inflammation, in the blood and soft tissues, better recovery may not be as speedy, and may never be complete. Joint injuries are supposed to give you trouble for the rest of your life, although maybe not until you are older, then you are to expect arthritis in a damaged joint, if not in every joint. Why is this?

What causes chronic inflammation in your body? Why would a young vibrant person in a developed country who has access to good food, good water, vitamin and mineral supplements have a low grade (or not so low) chronic inflammatory condition?

Sugar is one issue. And artificial sweeteners. Don't eat them. Sorry.

Bonnie C. Minsky has an excellent article with more detail about this.

Andrew Weil, holistic health M.D., Nicholas Perricone, M.D., an anti-aging expert, Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D, an allergy nutritionist, all write about inflammation as a major cause of disease. But you can avoid it.

Think a moment about all the good stuff you eat - lean beef, chicken, cold water fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines. Salads, vegetables - are you not doing everything right? How could you not rehabilitate quickly and completely from a minor dance or sports injury? You are eating all the right stuff! You are working out in pointe shoes or shooting baskets daily. Why would you not recover one hundred per cent?

Here's the reality. We eat beef and poultry and eggs from the poultry, that are grain fed. That means that the fats from those foods are predominantly omega 6 fatty acids. They are not bad fats. However, omega 6 oils in the body support pro-inflammatory pathways. They promote inflammation.

But grass fed beef and poultry do not fill us with so much omega 6 fats. And as lean as you want to eat, for weight loss, or weight maintenance, some daily animal fat is crucial for your health. Eat the grass fed as much as you can.

More bad news - fast foods and processed foods contain omega 6 oils. So much for that convenience.

More bad news - you cannot eat too much cold water fish because of the pollutants in them, mainly mercury. But the good news is, you can now get ultra purified or pharmaceutical grade, fish oils as a nutritional supplement.

You can also decrease your ingestion of omega 6 fats by avoiding all the bottled salad dressings and most bottled vegetable oils that you find at the grocery store. Except for olive oil, avocado oil, walnut oil and flaxseed oil, (and I'm only including here the more typically available oils, there are more), vegetable oils too are omega 6 oils and will promote inflammation in your body.

This sounds pretty hopeless, but here is the good news. Omega 3 oils are anti-inflammatory and are also readily available. If you are willing to make a small lifestyle change, or get your mother/child/wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/cook, or whoever does the shopping and food prep at home to do so (they will thank you big time), you can switch to omega 3 oils,

If your current training is a career building plan, this information is crucial. If you are training for personal enjoyment, it is important for health too. Being athletic doesn't make arthritis a given in your future. Joint pain can be relieved by decreasing inflammation. Inflammation can be decreased by diet. It is really pretty simple.

I hope that if you are a young ballerina, among the men in ballet, or a young athlete, that you will have your parents read this article. I can only touch the tip of the iceberg here, in the topic of omega 3 oils and their anti-inflammatory properties. But the facts seem to indicate that balancing omega 6 fatty acids in your diet with omega 3 oils, would affect your family health for the better. Dance and sports injuries may be in their past or present too.

Bonnie C. Minsky's article is at http://www.consciouschoice.com/2004/cc1706/healthconscious1706.html.

For an excellent source of omega 3 ultra purified fish oils, click here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Does Recreational Ballet Dancing Exclude Dedication in Dance?

Recreational dancing and recreational ballet dancing come up in the top ten of many national sports and recreational lists. World wide, people love to dance. There is intense dedication in dance with students, including adult ballet students, that adds quality to their lives, and quality to our cultures in general.

Ballet training is a kind of boot camp. Especially a summer or other holiday intensive. There is no complaining about heavy schedules, schedule conflicts, demanding teachers, sore toes or aching legs. Everyone is jubilant to be there.

No one has to explain to another dancer why they are there, why they love dance. Everyone else understands the blood, sweat and tears of it. The agony and the ecstasy...shall I go on? The good, the bad and the....nitty gritty.

I spent many years in ballet schools where the chosen very few got picked to be trained. In fact, as time progressed, the ballet staffs I worked with knew less and less about how to train all but the very few, because it was no longer required of them.

Gradually evolution swung back again in favor of the recreational ballet dancer, and as schools grew, non-professional courses were accommodated better than before. And the fact that there are now so many full-time teachers' courses, that shows the cultural appreciation for well-taught classical ballet and other dance styles.

Many adult late starters choose ballet for fitness classes. They get a full-body workout, a kind of pace, or interval training, and stretching. Along with all of that, women and men in ballet get to experience their own capacity for artistry and elegance.

Dedication in dance shows up in all of these individuals who make the base of dance in our cultures. After all, who is putting out $150+ for the tickets every season? While I occasionally read a snarky comment on the fans' forums, the general attitude toward the favorite ballerinas and premiers danseurs is more like worship.

I went to a local dance recital and saw the most amazing accomplishments on stage, by students who would have been considered totally unteachable in a more elite school. Which proves the point I've always made - if you don't tell someone they cannot do something, they will, in their ignorance, go ahead and learn how to do it.

It takes special teachers to draw the talent and finer details of artistry out of a highly strung, perfectionist, self-doubting top-talent professional student.

It also takes special teachers who will get a whole school of lesser or "ugly-duckling" ballet students, motley crews of physiques and late starter men in ballet, to perform excerpts from the classical ballets in their recitals with considerable polish.

If you love ballet or dancing in general, how to dance ballet your best is what matters. If you study recreational ballet dancing, your dedication in dance is your dedication to yourself, and the inner world where you dance. Thanks for letting us catch a glimpse of it.

Friday, June 13, 2008

How to Define Talent Vs Knowing Your Talent

There is a great deal of argument on how to define talent. When investigated, the topic is more discussed amongst management (whether artistic or business) than among artists. For an artist, the thoughts on this topic are very personal. Between awareness of their gift, and awareness of functioning in a huge arena of gifted colleagues, the challenge for you, the artist is one of knowing yourself and knowing your talent.

I believe that humans all have a part of themselves that is "In reserve". It is a part of us that not everybody sees right upfront, and often we don't either. But as life demands unexpected things of us, "more of us" shows up to meet the demands. Part of this is growing up and learning, but part of it is our own unique energy, or personal power, that comes forth to deal with life in a new and creative way.

I think that for some reason artists know about this part of themselves more than other people. Usually as a small child, an artist starts to either drift in a certain direction, or KNOWS exactly what they want to do, and won't do much else. Adults can be quite impressed - or distressed! - when a child is focused this way.

You, a dancer, you have a special challenge. A dancer must learn all the corps de ballet roles and blend into the style of the company she or he is in. And at the same time, the dancer must be able to show that she/he is somehow "more" unique than the other dancers in the corps. How is that supposed to be revealed?

Usually the talent shows up when a child is selected for training. Being physically gifted helps, but teachers and choreographers spot talent because some students you just can't help but watch. There is a magnetism present.

Many teachers instruct students to project out to the audience - what does that mean? I would say to a student performer, just completely do what you are doing - if you are dancing Giselle, it is your whole world while you are doing it. In other words, you are not a dancer in front of an audience, you are totally Giselle, where she is. You are completely young, naive, and defenseless with this sophisticated prince, and you can't hide it. You create this anew, every time, and the audience is enthralled.

If you are dancing an abstract part - say like the corps de ballet in Balanchine's Serenade - you can dance the steps like everyone else - but you can also give yourself a story - who are these ladies dancing behind the leads and why are you with them? You are physically not going to do anything different, but what you are thinking and being while you are there, your intensity and focus on that, is magnetic.

Everyday when you go into class, you work as hard as you can, and the teacher sees a student working hard. But, just as an example, if you are thinking as you work "Giselle, Swan Queen, Coppelia", or "Siegfried, Romeo" (etc. etc.) "all are inside of me just waiting to get out!" - the teacher is looking at something else besides you - but she/he doesn't know what it is, it's that "extra" thing. You are building up an energy and an intention, and one day the situation will be able to accommodate it. Ambition may be present, but this is something else.

This may sounds like it's confidence I'm describing, but I'm not. If confidence is present, it's still more than that. (and many gifted students lack confidence). It's an energy in you that you almost have to restrain, until you get into one of those big roles. The audience, and an experienced director knows exactly what they're looking at when they see it.

If you are not physically capable of becoming technically adept to do the roles that your talent, or gift, can accommodate, you should go into a field of performance where you do not need that technique. Why waste yourself?

I trained with two students who each had an almost perfect body for ballet. Flexible, long legs, nice arches and all that. One was spotted as a prima ballerina when she was 12, it was so obvious. The other was capable, and became a soloist after a few years, but didn't really shine. She was well trained and could do everything, but - not special. A few years before she retired she decided to take acting lessons. After that she came out on stage and everything disappeared but her, when she danced her solo. She just stole the scene, so to speak. Something "got out" that she had not been able to release before. I don't know how she would describe it, but that's what I saw. I thought then, that if she had been able to do that as a child, she would have become a principal dancer before she retired. She learned how to "be more" and let the audience in on it. It's something that an audience feels. "She was just electric". "He is mystical".

The more you feel, the more the audience feels. If you feel SO MUCH that you restrain it, the audience feels that too. And they love it. Because they know about the "reserve", they have it too. And they have to restrain it sometimes too. But they experience its expression through you, the dancer. That's the reason someone will pay $200 a seat for the ballet. You allow them to experience themselves. Even in a non-dramatic role. Because we are all "more" but someone working in a non-creative field can't express it, or thinks he/she can't.

Of course there are those who are uniquely creative in a perceived non-creative line of business. They are known as "the talents", or "the giants".

If you stop for a few seconds before every class and just think about this, it is going to start becoming more visible. You don't have to push it. "She's just got this thing about her". Isn't that what people say? "He's got IT". There is no word for it, so we call it talent.

People who don't have that much ability or opportunity, love the arts and will do something on an amateur level their whole life. They are expressing themselves, though they may make their living doing something else.

How to define talent will continue as an ongoing discussion with those who have a requirement to describe it and measure it and link it to artists' prosperity (and their own). But knowing yourself and knowing your own talent is your private sphere.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Elegance in Ballet Depends on How You Build Strength in Core Muscles

Making classical ballet dancing look effortless and elegant is the goal of any dancer, including for men in ballet. Effortlessness indicates strength , and men in ballet must strive for elegance while showing muscular prowess as a rescuing prince or charismatic villain. Ballerinas strive for fluidity in their arms, upper back, and other movements requiring suppleness, yet depending on the strength of their core muscles.

Naturally, for both men and women in ballet, elegance also depends on the finesse and finer details of professional footwork and strong leg muscles. The whole body works as a coordinated unit, and this coordination depends more on the core muscles than any other area of muscles.

As a student is developing and learning the ballet body positions and the many port de bras (French words for arm movements) he or she must also have core muscles that can support the elegant and floating movements required, just like a tree trunk supports a tree when it sways in the wind. Or a swan's long neck is supported by its sturdy body weight. (perhaps that is a better metaphor!)

Classical ballet dancers easily have the abs of steel, buns of steel and all those things. But they don't want to look like it!

Daily routines in ballet training usually produce what is required to do classical ballet choreography. But unusual body proportions, starting training later, and other factors lead dancers to cross train to catch up, get ahead or get an edge on the competition. And, always, prevent dance injuries.

There are several Pilates gurus promoting their DVD courses so that anyone can work at home. Mat work courses, stretchy band work courses, and even Pilates machine courses are available, with small light weight home-version machines.

So if you are too busy to get to a Pilates studio, that is no problem. Pilates is a wonderful type of cross training for ballet dancers, as it produces the balletic elongation of muscle and builds strength. It also contributes to the fluid quality of movement that dancers strive for.

Slow motion weight training can help dancers too. The slow motion speed is to trigger the best use of the muscles, and also prevent injury. No sudden or jerky movement is done, and this protects the joints and soft tissues around the joints. Slow motion weight training has also shown to contribute to a healthy metabolism and the release of enzymes into the body that is rejuvenating in many ways. It is a detailed and fascinating subject unto itself.

Whatever stage of classical ballet training you are in, or aspire to, you can achieve elegance in your ballet dancing. How well you build strength in your core muscles will also affect your work in pointe shoes, and for the men in ballet, your partnering skills and princely or villainous virtuosity.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

How to Stay in Shape and Keep Your Muscle Tone While on Vacation

For athletes and dancers (classical ballet and others too), time off without a daily class brings the double-edged sword of relief and anxiety. Relief to have relaxing time, and anxiety about not staying in shape and keeping the muscle tone they've worked so hard for. So without turning time off into a working vacation, here are some suggestions for daily routines to help stay in shape.

If you're staying at home and have a spot that you usually exercise in, then you are set to practice. If you are a classical ballet student, the challenge is great - there is really nothing to replace the demands of a ballet class. However, you can customize a daily routine to challenge your muscles.

If you are intermediate or advanced, it is easy to get a ballet class DVD to workout with. However, many are instructional with breaks in between the exercises. There are some ballet workout DVDs which are pretty demanding, but if you don't want to customize a routine that works on your particular ongoing corrections from class, you will get a good workout. Also, you'll get warmed up enough to stretch safely.

If you choose to do a regular barre routine, make a simple barre workout that emphasizes your weaknesses. For example, if you have any balancing problems, put in a slow rise and slow lowering into a demi plie in every exercise. And repeat without using the barre. If you understand where the shift in balance is coming from, you can correct, repeat super-slow-motion movements.

You can also include core muscle exercises every day, to help with the balancing problem.

You could sign up for local Pilates classes - they are wonderful for the elongating type of exercises, core muscle strength and stretching too.

If you are traveling in hotels or in homes, and will have a restricted space, take a stretchy band. With the floor space required to sit, move into second position, or lie down and lift your legs to the front back and side, you can do slow leg raises with the band, and developpes with the band. This challenges your leg and core muscles.

If you are preparing for pointe work coming up in your next session of classes, use the stretchy band for foot strengthening. Sitting, legs stretched out in front, pointe your ankles but not your toes. Run the band behind your flexed toes, and stretch your toes long against the resistance of the band. You increase the resistance as you need, and work out all your foot and ankle muscles.

This is good for men in ballet too. Strengthening the feet means you will not be over working your calf muscles, which pinch-hit for the foot muscles when they are weak. This leads to strain and tension, which in turn decreases the ankle flexibility and the degree of point that you have.

Swimming is great for endurance - if you enjoy it, swim a lot.

Stay hydrated, and eat good whole food to keep those electrolytes up. Dehydration affects your muscles tone, your energy, your brain function and leads to retaining water. Real food provides minerals you can digest, avoid those sugary sports drinks with a couple of token minerals in them.

I hope this has given you some ideas as to how to enjoy your time off without feeling like it is a working vacation, and with no worry about staying in shape or how to keep your muscle tone.

Get yourself a vacation DVD with flexibility exercises for working out and staying in shape.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Healthy Eating Habits During The Stressful Time of Ballet Rehearsals

Ah... the final realization of all that work in ballet shoes and pointe shoes, or your other dance styles. The ballet recital, lights, costumes, the audience. Healthy eating habits matter even more during the stressful time of the final ballet rehearsals. An athlete's food choice is critical for your long classical ballet rehearsal hours. And aching limbs can bring on sleeping problems without the intake of proper nutrients.

The gruelling repetition of staging, lighting and full out classical ballet rehearsals can be enjoyed more if you are well fed and well hydrated. For one thing, those sneaky self-doubts about your readiness to perform, your shape, your hair, etc., etc., will have lot less power if you keep up your energy in a healthy way.

For example, and believe it or not, celery sticks with peanut butter is a way better snack than the average power bar, full of useless carbs, processed protein and a few lab-made vitamins. Celery is one of the best salty foods we have. When I say salt, I mean all those mineral salts that you lose in perspiration. If your peanut butter is real (no added high fructose corn syrup, and hydrogenated oils) it is full of vitamins, minerals, protein, and a healthy fat. That fat will give you energy to handle the stress and demands on your muscles.

A light and energizing lunch could be a can of wild caught salmon with a little real, but unsweetened mayonnaise, and dark leafy greens. The omega 3 oil in the salmon is food for your soft tissues and joints. It also is great brain support. The dark green leafy salads or vegetables are full of calcium, vitamin A and trace minerals that support your metabolism and all of the extra nervous activity that the excitement and demands of the situation brings forth.

Hydrating means sipping water all day long. Popular sports drinks are extremely acidic. They do not hydrate you like water does.

Using sea salt instead of table salt keeps up your electrolytes. There are 12 mineral salts to replace - not just the one or two included in sports drinks. Lack of minerals can lead to muscle cramps that keep you awake. Also good salt is necessary to prevent water retention.

Lack of good fats increases pain in strained and fatigued muscles.

Eating breakfast is vital. Eggs with the yolks soft provides essential fatty acids. This is not the place to count calories and get rid of that egg yolk.....if you cook the yolks hard you will damage the enzymes needed to digest them. Protein is also provided by this wonderful food. A flourless sprouted grain bread will give you some B Complex vitamins without bringing on the swollen stomach caused by wheat flour.

Sugar weakens muscles. Instead of carbs and sweets, eat fruit. Fruits contain vitamins and minerals and natural sugars.

One thing from your fridge that you can't eat but can use, is a soft ice pack. When you get home from a stressful time at the theater, eat your good athlete's food, and bring out the ice pack to wrap around sore muscles and joints.

Find out how to get the right pointe shoe sizing and how to prevent dance injuries.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Professional Footwork, Muscle Memory For Ballet, and Neural Pathways

Improve your ballet dancing and pointe work, and even your tennis footwork. Tennis players learn ballet to refine their professional footwork, too. By understanding the part of the foot in finely reflexive movement, you will prevent muscle exhaustion in the lower leg. Muscle memory will be precise, and your neural pathways will be well built for all that ballet traffic.

The finer details for strong pointe work starts in your first ballet classes, years before most students progress to dancing in pointe shoes. If you are an adult late starter in ballet, this information will help you get ahead. Here are some items to review that pertain to you building strength:

1. The foot bearing the body weight, on flat and in demi plie, in a tripod balance of between the ball of the foot, the point between the little toe and fourth toe, and the heel;

2. The intrinsic muscles of the foot being strengthened so as not to exhaust the calf and tibial (shin) muscles. This allows the foot muscles to be capable of, for example, pressing up to full pointe, pressing back down to demi pointe and back up to full pointe for at least 8 repetitions before getting exhausted. And in turn, this creates a controlled and soft descent from pointe into demi plie or flat.

3. Keeping the toes long in soft shoes and pointe shoes, not buckled;

4. Always having the ankles in a straight line, never sickling out the supporting feet for the curved line dancers like in a working foot;in other words always being on the center of the foot in demi pointe, and fully on the platforms of the pointe shoes;

5. Getting exactly the right fit and type of pointe shoes so the feet are not fighting the shoes: this includes toe levelers or spacers if needed. Avoid dancing in pain!

I have to mention that the correct postural plumb line and turnout must be maintained, or the foot and ankle muscles will be exhausted and over compensating, fighting for balance. So dancing ballet in pointe shoes is a full body workout!

Consider a healthy diet to support your training. Healthy fats and oils must not be avoided. Omega 6/omega 3 balance is vital. These oils naturally help strengthen cell membrane integrity, repair cellular and tissue damage, help optimize neurological transmission and brain function, help improve heart and circulatory function, and ( a wonderful bonus anyone would want) help produce supple, moist skin. These oils also help in lubricating joints, and are anti-inflammatory - the exerciser's dream food.

Developing correct muscle memory and neural pathways is like building the best software program for your computer. Safe and agile movements become automated. This means you are much less likely to injure yourself if you are dancing on a day when you are tired or distracted.

Whether learning classical ballet or tennis, you can excel in professional footwork by understanding your brain and your feet. You can learn how to improve any aspect of your training.

If you would like to learn more about healthy oils read here.