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Food for Thought – Fueling the Dancer – Focus on Hydration


by Janine Bryant for The Dance Journal

To perform at their best, dancers need to be well fueled for classes, rehearsals, and performances and need the right balance of carbohydrate, fat, protein, micronutrients, and fluids. {1} Spending the day in a hot studio is normal for dancers. Therefore, hydration is an important topic for the dancer-athlete.

During the summer months, dancers want to pay special attention to fueling the body with particular focus on fluid intake. Because dancers are athletes as well as artists, we can look to the research available on sport performance and hydration as many parallels exist between dance and sport. There are a few schools of thought on hydration for performance.

A recent and vigorous discussion regarding hydration amongst colleagues comes to mind! While athletic trainers and dance teachers agree that hydration is an important component of both training and performance, I was not surprised to see the many varied responses involving electrolytes, sugar, vitamins, juices, sparkling water, Emergen-C, coconut water and even milk!

Let’s examine the facts. As a dancer works, muscles produce heat, which activates the body’s cooling system in the form of sweat on the skin via evaporation. Sweat losses during a hard class or long rehearsal can be substantial-up to 2 liters/hour. Fluid loss results in dehydration that can impair performance and mental functioning, such as the ability to quickly pick up complicated choreographic combinations and execute them effectively.{1,2}

Dancers should have quick access to fluid during class or rehearsal and should be encouraged to drink during breaks. The thirst mechanism does not keep up with the body’s need for fluid so a water bottle should be part of a dancer’s ‘gear’. The recommendation is an 8-ounce cup of fluid every 15 minutes. {1}

Exposure to prolonged exercise in the heat can induce water deficits due to profuse sweating, resulting in hypohydration (excessive loss of body water). This water deficit lowers both intracellular and extracellular volumes and results in plasma hyperosmolality (increased urine concentration) and hypovolemia (decrease in blood plasma); both of which impair sweating. During this process, if a dancer does not drink, the sweating mechanism slows down or stops completely. Once fluids are taken again, the sweat rate immediately increases. {2} The body is an amazing machine and dancers are well aware of this! Following class or performance, dancers should continue to increase fluid consumption. {1}

How can a dancer check for dehydration?

A simple way to monitor hydration is to check urine color: clear to light yellow is hydrated; yellow to dark yellow means dehydrated. One caveat, vitamin B supplements will result in yellow urine and make this dehydration “test” inaccurate. {1}

What is the best fluid for dancer-athletes to consume?

This question is debatable as the many schools of thought hinge on intensity. If the dance day is long and intense, lost nutrients and electrolytes need to be replaced. In addition to water, some athletic trainers and professionals recommend simply drinking water and eating a banana, while others lean toward electrolyte and greater potassium replacement via either coconut water or an electrolyte replacement drink.

What about energy drinks and energy shots?

More controversial, however, are the subjects of energy drinks and energy shots, so much so that sports organizations have published official stands on this. The International Society of Sports Medicine lists 9 points in their position statement on energy drinks and shots. The statement includes concerns for caffeine level intakes and blood glucose and insulin levels around the higher calorie energy drinks. They also state that athletes should consider the impact of these levels with regards to motor skill performance.{3}

As I have said before, dancers know their bodies! The most intelligent choice for hydration is water. Beyond that, dancers should consider their work day and work out intensity levels, check in with their bodies and find what works best in each situation.

Until next time, friends, dance healthy and strong (and drink your water)!

Janine Bryant

  1. Clarkson PM. Fueling the Dancer. Position Statement, International Association for Dance Medicine & Science, 2002.
  2. Shibasaki M and Crandall C, Mechanisms and controllers of eccrine sweating in humans, Front Biosci (Schol Ed). ; 2: 685–696, 2011.
  3. Campbell et al.: International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: energy drinks. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2013 10:1.

photo credit: totallycoolpics.com

- Janine Bryant

Janine Bryant, Director of the Eastern University Dance Program, or 'Prof B.', as her students call her, teaches courses for Dance, Kinesiology and the Loeb School of Education, as well as the Campolo College of Graduate Studies. She has been teaching technique and choreographing classical and contemporary ballets for more than thirty years.

Janine received her B.F.A. in Modern Dance from the University of the Arts in 1986 where she studied with Pat Thomas, Judith Jamison, Milton Meyers, and Ruth Andrien to name a few. In the early 1980's, Janine was a scholarship student at the Martha Graham School under Martha Graham, Diane Gray, Kevin Keenan, Yuriko, Pearl Lang, Peggy Lyman, Ethel Winter, Jacqueline Bulglisi, Don Foreman, Marianne Bachmann, and Armgard Von Barteleben. While in New York, Janine danced with the Pearl Lang Dance Company and appeared in the cast of Ms. Lang's "The Beloved", filmed at Brooklyn College. Janine also worked with Lynne Lesniak and Dancers, an offshoot of the Alwin Nikolai Company.

In addition to her studies at the Graham School in New York, Janine received a scholarship to the Peridance Center where she studied with Igal Perry, Miguel Moore and Zvi Gottheiner. Independently, Janine studied under Finis Jhung, David Howard and Madame Gabriella Darvash (Kirov technique). She also worked with Kathy Grant in New York to learn the Pilates method. During this time, and as a member of Philadelphia Dance Theatre, Janine was chosen to dance the solo role of Doris Humphrey's, "The Call and Breath of Fire", and was personally coached by Ernestine Stodelle for the role.

In the fall of 1990, Janine was one of two Americans accepted to The Royal Academy of Dancing, London, where she earned her Elementary Executant Certification and her Pre-Elementary Teaching Certification. Both of these prestigious certifications are recognized in 52 countries worldwide. In 1991, Janine founded The Professional School (TPS) in Turnersville, NJ, and directed the school through 2002. TPS was a technique-based studio training many of high school seniors to win college scholarships. Several TPS graduates won the University of the Arts' Presidential Merit Scholarship worth $20,000. Janine has been a frequent guest lecturer at The University of the Arts and also received their prestigious Silver Star Alumni Award in 1996. The Silver Star Alumni award has been bestowed upon nearly 100 graduates of the University's College of Art and Design and College of Performing Arts. The honorees are selected because they are role models and represent educational and artistic excellence that the University's faculty works hard to achieve.

Janine was a visiting guest artist for the Black Rock Dance Company in Reno, Nevada, where she created new works and taught master classes. In addition to her regular instructional post at Eastern University, Janine was recently added to the Summer Intensive faculty of DeSales University.

Janine is an active member of the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science and was recently added to their Peer Review Board, Poster Judging Committee and Education Committee. Janine also is a member of PAMA (Performing Arts Medicine Association) and is currently earning her PhD (ABD) in Dance Medicine and Science from The University of Wolverhampton in the United Kingdom. Janine is excited to be a syndicated writer for The Dance Journal. The column aims to focus on training protocols, injury prevention and general information on dancer wellness. In addition, the column will provide a resource page for dancers who wish to seek medical care, specialty training or somatic therapies from local physicians and practitioners. Janine is passionate about teaching solid technique grounded in sound anatomic and biomechanical principles at a university level.

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