I first stepped into a gym with my freshman year, college roommate. Up until that point, dance had been the backbone of my being; occasionally, I was part of school swimming and tennis teams. Needless to say, I had always maintained an active lifestyle (especially in comparison to today's youth). Never before had I run on a treadmill, lifted anything other than my own bodyweight (rackets don't count!), or thought about what a macro was and how it pertained to my physique. Naturally, the more I went to the gym with my roommate, the more I felt we bonded and the better I felt about myself! I made it out of college, one stint in physical therapy under my belt, and thankfully all of my limbs still attached.
When I moved to New York City in 2014, the gym took a backseat as I adjusted to the budgeting of a newly graduated dancer trying to "make it big" in the Big Apple. For a while I was doing well! Enjoying runs outdoors and fervently trying to beat my personal best for pushups and planks in my bedroom. Once the colder months hit, my restaurant job took over, and so did the weight gain. It was inevitable, and almost necessary as my once willowy frame really did need some extra insulation.
I landed my first contracted performing gig at a theme park; six shows a day, three to six days a week depending on the season. Being back in a higher level of activity meant my stamina built back up and I felt some energy returning to my body that NYC had seemingly depleted me of! The momentum of my theme park job pushed me onto cruise ships, where maintaining physical appearance as well as strength were equally paramount. I was rearing and ready to take full advantage of my first time at sea, and I have to say it was life changing! I made the best of friends, got to perform across the seas and around the world, trained heavily in ballroom and Latin dance. What else did I come home with? A very upset gut microbiome. Months onboard, not knowing how to utilize resources to make healthful meals for myself, being in unfamiliar countries with unfamiliar foods- it all stacked up in my gut. I had no idea what was going on; moreover, I didn't know how to reverse it either! I spent months after that contract, trying to heal my gut and trying everything under the sun to heal it as I headed through another hectic audition season, trying to book the next gig.
I encountered my first injury at 24; a sesamoid fracture in my right big toe. Who knew something so small could be so painful? I chose to do what I could to keep my strength up, so that the minute I was cleared to return to dance I would be strong enough for that moment. While movement had to take a backseat, I knew that my nutrition would be paramount in healing my body and coming back just as strong and energetic as the last time I had stepped onstage. I found that eating a large variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, full fat dairy, and lean protein kept me going so that I was avoiding not only losing muscle mass and alignment, but my gut wasn't suffering from such long days of...sitting! Four weeks later I was back, with some residual pain, but still able to hold my own and perform. It's one thing to "get back into shape" after a break; it's another thing entirely to "get back into shape" when you're halfway through your contract and needing to jump right back in at the same level as your fellow performers.
Strength training would further come in handy when, on the following ship contract I was assigned to, I was assigned to the "specialty dancer and aerialist" category. Holding my own weight was one thing, but climbing silks and flying around holding onto a partner in the air proved another test of my own willpower and credibility. Another facet of the importance of being stronger than your show was right before my eyes, and in my hands, many many nights on stage! I was equally grateful for the knowledge I had given myself in nutrition; what works for my body, what doesn't, what to come prepared with as I headed for another stint at sea. It was a much more pleasant experience than the first time around. Having a happy belly makes SUCH a different when you're in a costume, flying through the air night after night!
Needless to say, there have been countless times in my performing career where I have thanked myself for knowing I need to pull my own weight and training as such. This inspired me to pursue my personal training certification through the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) in 2018. Furthermore, in the spring of 2020 I completed my nutrition coaching certificate through the Irish Institute of Nutrition and Health. As you can see, I am so passionate about what I learned for myself in my own internal healing and injury prevention. The biggest lesson I learned? One size truly does not fit all. Except in a feather boa you frantically grab after quick change #3 of seven in that one show....
A lot of trial and error over the years has enlightened me to the fact that you truly are what you eat; you can't outrun or out-train poor diet choices! Of course, I also don't believe that supplements are the cure all to a perfectly operating body either. You have to work, and eat, smart. How does that start? By turning inward, evaluating every aspect of yourself and your lifestyle, and creating a game plan that consists of small, barely noticeable changes that add up to a stronger self care and self confidence that is ALWAYS brought to our industry and professions. Accountability, outside support, and knowing why certain things work better for you than for others are also crucial in my coaching.
The coordination of strength, stability, clean fuel, and mindful appreciation for what makes my body sing (and dance, for that matter!) is what led me to where I am today. You need to be stronger than your show; you need to prioritize yourself so that you are ready for whatever life brings you on a daily basis.