In my last blog post, we talked about the futility of having goals based on a magic number on the scale. Today, I want to follow that up by telling you how to have body weight goals without putting all your attention on the scale. It sounds a little ironic, but bear with me here. While your ideal weight may not and should not be determined by a number on the scale, there is a weight for your specific body that will maximize your performance as a dancer (and as a human being). This is what your body weight goals should be based on.
When working with clients through nutrition coaching and personal training, the question often comes up as to what their goal weight should be. This is a tough area to navigate because it is useful to have a more specific vision to motivate them, but we often don’t know what their ideal weight will be until they feel it for themselves. And while we do use a scale as a tool to ensure we are on the right track, the actual number on the scale is not an end point or goal in itself.
As dancers, the “perfect ballerina body” is imprinted in us from the moment we first tie our hair up in a bun. We are made to believe that we have to look a certain way to meet some preconceived aesthetic. The current waif-like aesthetic that many dancers aspire to was mainly determined by one man in the mid 1900’s. And because he was an incredibly talented choreographer who made a huge impact on the dance world, his opinion of the ideal dancer body (a.k.a. the Balanchine Body) became accepted as a truth through the years. Because one influential guy said, “this is what beauty is,” we all bought into the vision, despite the negative impact on dancers’ health and well-being. Clearly this one man's opinion should not be the definitive standard for beauty in the ballet world. (Balanchine is of course not solely responsible for this shift in aesthetic. In the effort of not turning this into a research paper, I am oversimplifying things here. Forgive me.)
So, if your ideal body weight isn’t determined by a number or a preconceived aesthetic, what should your body weight goals be based on? Let me introduce you to the concept of the size to performance ratio. A famous quote by Albert Einstein that you’ve probably seen floating around Instagram these days is, “Dancers are the athletes of God.” It is often debated whether dancers are artists or athletes - but why not both? Of course, artistry is an essential element to the dancer, but we’ll save that for the focus of another discussion. As for being athletic, there is no question that dancers are called upon to endure some pretty grueling physical demands and push their bodies past the normal capacity for movement and control.
That being said, why don’t we consider training like athletes where we focus on maximizing our performance rather than molding ourselves to a particular aesthetic? The top athletes in any field don’t have any rules when it comes to aesthetics but build their body goals around this size to performance ratio. Take track and field stars, for example. They don’t looked ripped because they are going after a certain track star aesthetic - they are ripped because it is what allows them to perform at their highest capacity. Sprinters strive for massive muscles in their legs because they need the power to drive into their sprints. While distance runners tend to have less bulk because too much muscle mass causes them to gas out. At a certain point, the benefits of having more muscle power don’t make up for the extra energy expenditure it takes to carry around the extra weight. Likewise, football players aren’t going for a “football look.” They have body goals based on bulking up because that is what gives them the greatest chance of excelling in their sport.
Just like these top athletes, wouldn’t it make sense if your goals as a dancer also revolved around what would allow you to excel in your art? You can’t be too thin because you won’t be able to improve past a certain point. You’ll need more muscle power to get you to your next level. Even worse, if you are not nourishing yourself properly in an effort to be thin, your body will start cannibalizing its own tissue for “nutrients.” Not only will this impair your physical ability to dance, but it will have severe mental effects such as memory loss and the inability to focus and comprehend choreography.
On the other side of the spectrum, you don’t want to have too much excess weight either because your body will burn up precious energy carrying that around. At a certain point, you will sacrifice stamina and lack the strength to support your own body, no matter how much muscle you have. You want to find the sweet spot that is just right for your body where your level of leanness perfectly enhances your muscular power. This size to performance ratio is not determined by a number on the scale, but rather by a feeling in your body. It’s a feeling of power that can’t be denied - you will know it when you feel it. And, if you are questioning whether you are there or not, then you most likely haven’t found it yet.
This ideal weight, this sweet spot, looks different on everyone…which is part of what is so beautiful about it. For example, one of my friends is a muscular powerhouse. And boy can she slay when she is on the stage. The energy coming out of her is unparalleled, and I can’t take my eyes off her when she dances. This woman is the embodiment of “fierceness” in her ballet. Another friend has a more floaty, ethereal quality to her dancing and is mesmerizing in her own way. They both have found their ideal body size that allows them to maximize their unique performance potential.
When I talk about my sweet spot, I refer to it as my “fighting weight.” Being the girlfriend of a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu guy and MMA lover, we often talk about the training camps and diets fighters go through leading up to their matches. It’s all in an effort to peak on their fight day, their performance day. So, my fighting weight is where I am in top condition, my peak performance state. It’s where I have the most power in my body without any excess baggage weighing me down. And, while I now know the weight on the scale that is associated with my fighting weight, it’s not determined by this number. It’s determined by an undeniable feeling – a feeling of power and control in my body. While I can’t stay at my fighting weight all the time, I have a formula of how to get there when I need to. And having that knowledge is half the battle.
So, if you are struggling with body goals or performance goals with your dancing, consider this size to performance ratio. Perhaps you need to experiment with adding more muscle and power to your frame. Maybe you need to work on the nutrition aspect to clean out the junk from your diet and ensure you are getting the proper nutrients to fuel your art and physicality. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with you right now where you are at. But, if you are wanting to get to another level with your dancing, consider this when striving for your goals. Instead of picking a random weight on the scale or someone else’s preconceived aesthetic as your end goal, find your unique sweet spot that allows you to feel the most powerful in your body and therefore your art. Just making this small shift in mindset for your goals can lead to a lifetime of fulfillment versus failure.
Want to talk more about reframing your goals and finding your sweet spot?
Photo credit: Steve Vaccariello