As dancers, it might sound silly, but when we approach our diet, we don’t have the luxury of just focusing on getting lean. We also have to be concerned with having enough power, energy, and vitality to actually dance…and we have to engage in enough passion and pleasure to develop our artistry.
If you get caught up in dieting down and restricting calories to get skinny, your performance and artistry will suffer. Even if you get the ballerina body you want, it’s not going to make you a better dancer if you have no fire power to perform and no excitement to inspire your artistry. Trust me; I made this mistake for many years before finally changing my approach to eating. Once I discovered how to nourish these 3 components of peak dance performance, everything changed.
First, let's talk about what you need for peak performance in the first place:
1) Aesthetics - Nourish Fat Loss
The number one thing we probably search for in a diet is fat loss and control over our body aesthetics. Even though the dance world is making improvements on this front, we still personally hold ourselves to the rail-thin, frail looking aesthetics that we associate with the “ideal ballerina.” It’s a challenge to make peace with your body feeling the constant pressure to be leaner (even if that pressure is only coming from your own mental demons). But, as an athlete & artist, it’s not enough to hold yourself to a super strict diet in order to get “skinny.” Yes, it is important to optimize your body aesthetics. But, if you sacrifice your health and power for this single purpose, you actually will get further from your dance goals. You also need to be able to perform at an elite level – controlling and manipulating your body in ways the "normals" can't begin to wrap their heads around. Plus, you'll be absolutely miserable and lose your lust for life the more restrictive your diet becomes...which doesn't enhance your stage presence.
2) Athletics - Nourish Performance Power
It's also not enough for us dancers to be super strict with our nutrition in an effort to max out our athletic performance ability. A strict sports training approach that dials in the nutrition needs of athletes in order to allow them to perform at the highest levels in their sport sounds like it would be great for dancers. After all, we are elite athletes. But, this approach neglects the fact that you are an artist as well. If you get too regimented in your nutrition (considering most dancers are too rigid and strict as is), treating your body like an inorganic piece of machinery that you want to upgrade, you'll snuff out all the passion and inspiration from life – the fire that fuels your artistry. Plus, you'll risk losing the aesthetics that give you the appearance of grace and elegance.
3) Artistry - Nourish Pleasure
There's this third component that is absolutely necessary to dance success (not to mention happiness!) but often overlooked - pleasure! We are so quick to be restrictive and disciplined with ourselves in order to get ahead in our ballet that we end up squeezing the juiciness right out of our art. Do you ever stop to ask yourself if you actually enjoy dancing anymore? There was once a time long ago when ballet was fun, and expressive, and carried so much potential for exploring your body and emotions. But the more you tried to be a good bunhead and held yourself to strict rules, all that freedom & pleasure got locked away, turning your dancing into a dry, lifeless test of your worth. That's not very fun.
That's why it's vital to remind yourself to enjoy pleasure. Whether it comes from food, relationships, hobbies, environments, experiences, or friends, you need regular doses of pleasure to fuel your artistry. That's the stuff creativity and inspiration come from. Otherwise, your dancing turns into mechanical movement and tricks...instead of real art with the ability to touch and make a difference in the world.
There’s a reason my nutrition philosophy is called Fuel the Fierceness. It’s not just about fat loss. It’s about fueling your body to support your art with these 3 essential components for peak performance. You can enhance all three of these with your diet...but the dilemma is that you can't max out all three at once. You need to focus on one at a time, depending on what you need in the moment - aesthetics, athletics, or artistry.
Learning to listen to what you need and knowing which foods will give you the desired effects for each of these three components gives you control over your body and your dancing - a kind of control that doesn't involve starving yourself or strictly following arbitrary diet rules. This is the kind of knowledge that is priceless and so necessary for healing your relationship with food and your body. Instead of food being an enemy that makes you fat...it becomes a tool that gives you control over your body.
Your peak performance state requires all three of these components to be nourished. Rather than seeing your diet as something restrictive to cut weight, start seeing food as a source of nourishment for your aesthetics, athletics, and artistry.
For more information on my nutrition philosophy, grab my FAT LOSS GAME PLAN!
Photo credit: Steve Vaccariello