Backup dancer career information can help you make the right choices when it comes to creating a plan for working toward a successful career as a dancer. It will also provide you with the facts you need to figure out if this job path is right for you.
- Agents and Managers
- Build Your Career as a Dancer
- 11 Secrets of Backup Dancers
- 1. THEY DON’T NEED FORMAL DANCE TRAINING, BUT THEY DO NEED TO CONSTANTLY BE LEARNING.
- 2. SOME WILL CHANGE THEIR LOOK TO BLEND IN BETTER.
- 3. THEY LEARN HOW TO ADJUST TO AUDITIONS TO AVOID GETTING CUT.
- 4. THEY OFTEN HAVE TO MAKE LIFE-ALTERING DECISIONS ON THE ROAD.
- 5. IT’S NOT A PARTICULARLY LUCRATIVE CAREER.
- 6. THEY HAVE TO KNOW HOW TO GO WITH THE FLOW.
- 7. THEY’LL SOMETIMES WEAR IN-EAR MONITORS ON STAGE.
- 8. TWO CAN SOMETIMES BE BETTER THAN ONE.
- 9. EVEN WITHOUT A SIBLING, DANCERS CAN FEEL LIKE FAMILY.
- 10. FOR DECADES, DANCERS HAD NO UNION OR HEALTH CARE ASSURANCES.
- 11. THEY ALWAYS HAVE A BACKUP PLAN.
- Dancing is the Get in Shape Workout
- Healthy eating habits/Effective Eating for Dancers: Eating for Energy, Concentration and Focus
- Why is Eating Important for Dancers?
- Combining carbohydrate and protein
- Useful resources
- THE DANCER DIET
- TIPS for your dancer diet:
- A Dietitian Weighs In On Three Dancers’ Rehearsal-Day Diets
- 5 Easy Workouts For Dancers To Improve Your Dancing
- 1. To dance stronger and faster:
- 2. To increase your stamina:
- 3. To dance stronger:
- 4. For easier hip and leg movements
- 5. To improve coordination
- 4 Exercises to Steal From Misty Copeland for a Strong Ballerina Body
Education is a key element of developing the necessary skills and knowledge you need in any field. As a dancer, you’ll need basic training in a variety of modalities.
- Classical training in ballet, tap, and jazz to improve your overall understanding of technique, such as proper body alignment.
- Style-specific instruction based on the type of backup dancing you plan to specialize in, such as hip hop or latin dance.
- A consistent exercise routine, complete with cardio conditioning, strength training, and flexibility work.
Some employers may also require a four year degree and look for skills related to acting and singing. For this sort of work, diversity and versatility is key. What else do you have to offer? Seek out opportunities for enriching your skills whenever possible and continuously practice your technique so that you are ready when your moment comes along.
Agents and Managers
Although working with an agent is not required to secure backup dancing jobs, having one can be invaluable in supporting your career.
How an Agent Can Help
An agent can help:
- Negotiate contracts
- Guide you to available auditions
- Ensure that you are properly paid for your work
Most agencies have enough potential clients without seeking out more, so be wary of agencies that approach you. They typically take on new dancers through a formal audition process or by accepting headshots and resumes. Avoid agencies that ask you to pay upfront for services. Instead, Agents should get paid when they find you work by receiving an established percentage of your income from dance.
Take Responsibility for Your Success
However, dancers should realize that an agent will have dozens, if not hundreds, of clients, and is not solely responsible for their success. If you want someone to devote herself totally to you, then you’re really looking for a personal manager rather than an agent.
The term “cattle call” is often used to refer to large-scale auditions with hundreds of dancers hoping for their chance. Auditions offer you a chance to show casting directors what you have to offer. The process looks something like this.
- Search your local listings or online sources, such as Backstage, for casting call notices.
- If applicable, check in with your agent. He or she may be able to secure a spot in smaller, more exclusive casting calls.
- Create an online portfolio with a collection of videos showing your work. Include that with any materials you send to those casting. The more evidence you can provide of your skills before the audition, the better.
- Arrive to your audition ready to perform, with a headshot and full body photograph, if requested.
- If you are successful, it can be a long day of callbacks as you progress from one stage of the audition process to the next.
No matter what technical skills you bring to the dance floor, backup dancing also requires a certain amount of style. Overall, this can be the personality and spirit that you bring to your dancing, showing everyone that you love what you’re doing and you feel the beat of the music.
Be an Adaptable Dancer
On another level, this also means presenting the right style for a particular performance. If you look too casual or too chic for the director’s vision, audition staff may not even give you a second glance. Experienced dancers recommend bringing additional clothes with you, including shoes, so you can make last-minute changes once you’ve had a chance to scope out the audition scene.
Backup dancing is hard work. The experience on the job my seem glamorous and exciting from the audience, but for dancers it takes immense physical effort and dexterity.
There are a few types of jobs that are common for backup dancers.
- Music videos/film – If you’re working on a video, you may spend the entire shoot repeating the same 30 seconds of moves. You will also likely work long days and nights, with lots of time sitting around waiting for your turn in front of the camera.
- Performing on tour – Dancing for tours is the best way to secure steady, well-paying work. This means, however, that you may spend long periods of time on the road and away from home.
- Live events – Trade shows, fairs and festivals, live television spots, etc. are one-time gigs.
As you can see, there are benefits and disadvantages to each one, but there’s nothing quite like getting paid to do what you love. You might find that you have a preferred type of job or that you a mix provides the variety you need to make a good living. Los Angeles and New York City are the key locations for backup dancing gigs. Serious dancers will be afforded more opportunities if they relocate to one of these cities.
According to Pay Scale, dancers make an average of $33,154 per year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average hourly pay is about $17. However, this is just the middle of the spectrum, with the low end sitting around $15,000 and the high end at about $100,000. These numbers include a variety of dance careers, including choreographers, teachers, performers, and others. Bizfluent notes that backup dancers in particular tend to get paid per gig, which can range anywhere from one to eight hours.
Have a Backup Plan
As in many creative fields, you may not be able to support yourself on dancing alone, especially when you are first starting out. It’s a good idea to find employment as a dance teacher, so you can share your love of dance in between auditions and gigs.
Build Your Career as a Dancer
Backup dancing can be a fun and exciting career path, as long as you understand the reality of the field. With some planning, dedication to your craft, and a commitment to finding jobs through social networking and other means, perhaps you can be the movement behind a future musical sensation!
11 Secrets of Backup Dancers
What would “Thriller” have looked like without Michael Jackson’s army of dancing zombies? What if Madonna had to preen and pose her way through “Vogue” alone? And how could the hype of Hammertime ever be conveyed without the high-kicking energy of those parachute pants-clad b-boys?
Backup dancers add depth and dimension to live performances and music videos, and though you might not always know their names, chances are you’ve practiced quite a few of their moves. But what is it really like to work in the industry? From the audition circuit to backing superstars on tour and in music videos, we got the answers for anyone who thinks they can dance.
1. THEY DON’T NEED FORMAL DANCE TRAINING, BUT THEY DO NEED TO CONSTANTLY BE LEARNING.
“I was late to the game,” says Lori Sommer, a dancer who has worked with Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, and Eve, of her start in the dancing world. “I was a martial artist, and that discipline and training gave me the ability to pick up choreography.” Sommer says she was out dancing with friends at a New York club in the mid-’90s when she was scouted and encouraged to audition to be a club dancer at the popular house music venue Sound Factory Bar. There she befriended resident DJ Louie Vega, house music legend Barbara Tucker, choreographers, and others who could help her get her name in with bookers. Based on those connections, she landed her first tour with Reel 2 Real (best known for their dance track “I Like to Move It”). “That club really opened the door for me, but dancers have to constantly take classes and learn new things,” she tells Mental Floss. “There’s always a new style or move that will help us improve our abilities.”
Dancer Mark Romain, who also had no formal training beyond joining college dance teams but has built a career dancing with Britney Spears, Katy Perry, and Ke$ha, agrees. “You have to work your craft. Like going to the gym to maintain your strength, you have to work out your creative muscles and skills regularly,” he told BuzzFeed in 2013. “There is a big difference between doing well in dance class and being able to perform on a stage; it’s important to get performance experience. If you start late, that’s okay, but train, train, train.”
2. SOME WILL CHANGE THEIR LOOK TO BLEND IN BETTER.
Though backup dancers need to have enough personality and style to stand out at auditions, they often learn they can’t draw too much attention away from the main performer or the theme of a shoot. When Sommer was working on Whitney Houston’s 1999 video for “It’s Not Right But It’s Okay,” she realized her blonde curls stood out too much for the video’s dark set. “We were all dressed in these army fatigues, and once we started shooting, the director was like ‘she’s standing out,'” Sommer remembers. They pulled her hair back and tried again, but the director wanted it toned down even more. “They ended up putting hats on all of us to cover my hair, which is how we look in the final video. After that, a friend recommended I darken my hair, and I realized if I wanted to work more consistently, I needed to make that change to be more uniform. That was the last video I did as a blonde.”
3. THEY LEARN HOW TO ADJUST TO AUDITIONS TO AVOID GETTING CUT.
Often, dancers will show up to auditions with only a vague idea of what the artist really needs. So they learn to read a room. Dancer Pam Chu, who has done everything from being a Radio City Rockette to Cirque du Soleil to touring with Demi Lovato, told Cosmopolitan that when she went to audition for Britney Spears’s Las Vegas residency, she was apprehensive because she didn’t know any of the people involved. So she psyched herself up and figured it out as the day went on. “From the way the choreographers were teaching, I knew they wanted people who had technique, style, and would dance full out—all the time,” Chu says. “I knew not to sit down in the audition—ever. We were there for nine hours.” After a round of callbacks, Chu got a contract.
4. THEY OFTEN HAVE TO MAKE LIFE-ALTERING DECISIONS ON THE ROAD.
Because their lives are often dictated by demanding tour schedules and opportunities that feel impossible to turn down, dancers regularly have to miss family events and other personal milestones. “I sacrificed a gig and a tour once because I didn’t want to miss my goddaughter’s birthday,” Sommer recalls. “I’d missed her first birthday because I was in Europe, and I said I couldn’t miss her second. It’s hard because you put yourself at risk of being replaced.”
And for others, an opportunity can change their whole trajectory. Ashley Everett, Beyonce’s longtime dance captain, was just 17 when she made the cut for her first-ever tour. The timing seemed impeccable—The Beyonce Experience tour would wrap up the week before she was supposed to start classes at her dream school, Juilliard. But then, the tour was extended. “I had to make a decision,” Everett told Refinery29. “Go after the lifelong dream that had been on my bucket list my entire life, or stick it out with a legend, with no idea of what would happen next. I took a leap of faith and stayed on the tour. Obviously, it paid off!”
5. IT’S NOT A PARTICULARLY LUCRATIVE CAREER.
Despite the jetsetting lifestyle and getting to work with superstars, most dancers are essentially independent contractors. That means booking gigs piecemeal, working long hours, and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, making roughly $14 an hour on average, or $34,000 a year.
“Yes, longer-term jobs like a tour or a TV show or a movie might keep us busy for months straight, but the reality of the situation is that eventually that job will end and we have to start back over—gigging or auditioning for something else,” Everett wrote in a 2016 HuffPost piece. “I’ll be in 12-hour rehearsals for two months straight, then on other days I’m left not knowing when my next job will come. It’s the business. We always have to stay on our toes and stay grinding.”
Sommer agrees. “It can be a struggle,” she says. During their time between shoots or tours, dancers frequently have more steady side jobs. Sommer worked as a dancer-for-hire for entertainment companies, where she would go to bar mitzvahs or weddings along with the band or DJ and encourage guests to come out on the dance floor. Many others do projects as choreographers and teachers, and look for commercial work, which is usually short on hours but long on pay (think dancing in Gap, Target, or car commercials). “You gotta work when work is available,” Sommer says. “There’s a lot of eating on a budget, a lot of ramen noodles. But every dancer I know wouldn’t change it for the world.”
6. THEY HAVE TO KNOW HOW TO GO WITH THE FLOW.
While many artists are known to tweak routines between tour stops or switch up sets or transitions to keep things fresh, sometimes a dancer’s hard work will get sidelined because the artist just isn’t feeling it. That can be devastating, especially for major award shows like the Grammys or the VMAs, which are extremely sought-after roles with multiple auditions and rehearsals that can last for 10 hours a day.
Sommer recalled that at her first VMAs in 1999, she snagged a spot dancing for Jay-Z, who was also making his first VMA appearance with a medley of his recent hits like “Can I Get A…” and “Hard Knock Life.” “My friend Ray had choreographed this great piece, and it was a huge opportunity for him,” Sommer says. “And on the day of the VMAs as we were rehearsing, all of a sudden Jay said he didn’t want anyone dancing backup.” Instead, he wanted his crew, which included DJ Clue, Amil, and 15 or so other friends, to hang on stage where the dancers were meant to be. The dozen backup dancers were moved to the side stages and were allowed to dance there, but it didn’t have the same effect as the choreographed routine they were preparing for. “I mean, I got paid for my time,” Sommer says. “But not to do what I’d practiced and really, really wanted to do.”
7. THEY’LL SOMETIMES WEAR IN-EAR MONITORS ON STAGE.
It’s common to see singers use earpieces during live shows in order to hear themselves or their band better. But dancers will often wear in-ear monitors as well, especially for large arena shows when the roar of the crowd can drown out any chance of staying in sync with the music. “It’s an interesting experience … because we can’t hear the audience,” dancer David Shreibman told W Magazine about wearing “ears” while touring with Justin Bieber. “All you’re hearing is Bieber’s voice and the choreographer talking to us throughout the show. I took my ears out last night … and it was SO loud. When he goes into ‘Baby,’ it’s crazy. I had to cover my ears.”
8. TWO CAN SOMETIMES BE BETTER THAN ONE.
Sometimes having a built-in dance partner can help get dancers noticed and book gigs. French dancers Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, already known in their home country as “Les Twins,” made a splash in the States when they started working with Beyonce in 2011; they’ve since toured with her multiple times, appeared in numerous videos, and recently won Jennifer Lopez’s new competition show, World of Dance. Mark and Donald Romain often appear together as dancers at awards shows and have been in videos like Britney Spears’s “Till the World Ends.” And up-and-coming Korean twins Kwon Young Deuk and Kwon Young Don, who have backed Psy and other KPop acts, are getting plenty of fan attention and calls to upgrade them to “idols” in their industry.
But for Canadian sisters Jenny and Jayme Rae Dailey, who have done music videos, TV shows like Smash and X Factor, and movies like the Step Up franchise, sometimes working together just isn’t in the cards. “For us, it’s not really competing because we go in together as twins. We are a team when we audition,” Jenny told the Montreal Gazette in 2013. “Our mentality is, ‘If it’s not both of us, it’s none of us,’ although it doesn’t always work out that way.”
9. EVEN WITHOUT A SIBLING, DANCERS CAN FEEL LIKE FAMILY.
For all of the stories of artists who date their backup dancers (Mariah Carey and Bryan Tanaka, Jennifer Lopez with Cris Judd and Casper Smart, Prince and Mayte Garcia, Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, etc.), those long hours rehearsing and traveling together can really cement a familial bond. “I became very close to those who danced with me, but even closer with who danced on tour with me,” Janet Jackson told an audience in October 2017 before she brought out a number of those dancers to perform “Rhythm Nation,” a staple at her shows since the song and its iconic video took the world by storm in 1989. One those dancers who returned was Jenna Dewan-Tatum, who got her big break touring with Jackson in 2001-02.
“Janet asked her ‘kids’ to come back and perform rhythm nation at the Hollywood Bowl,” Dewan-Tatum posted on Instagram. “I dreamt of dancing with her since I was a kid and literally pinched myself every night of the All for You tour. And here I am pinching myself again last night. She created a legacy for her dancers and she personally began my career! It all begins with Jan. Thank you for this my love!!!”
(Another person who worked as a backup dancer for Janet before making it big on her own? Jennifer Lopez, who was in the 1993 video for “That’s the Way Love Goes.”)
10. FOR DECADES, DANCERS HAD NO UNION OR HEALTH CARE ASSURANCES.
The lack of health coverage and union benefits for dancers was widespread until very recently. Dancers Alliance, a group working to negotiate equitable rates, healthcare options, and ensure dancer safety, launched campaigns in 2011 to get contracts for work on music videos and in 2013 to unionize tours. “I believe dancers who have trained themselves to a professional level should be treated—and compensated—as professionals,” Dancers Alliance board member Dana Wilson told Dance Magazine in 2015. The group had worked out a contract with SAG-AFTRA for music video shoots in 2011, but Wilson, who was dancing with Justin Timberlake at the time, pushed for a union tour contract so that the dancers would be eligible for health care and other benefits while on the road. It worked. In 2014, Timberlake became the first artist to protect his backup dancers under a SAG-AFTRA contract.
11. THEY ALWAYS HAVE A BACKUP PLAN.
As with most athletic careers, dancers know that eventually they’ll have to back away from their sport. Injuries, from muscle strains and spasms to various tears and sprains, can take their toll. Many performers, like Paula Abdul and Lady Gaga, have discussed their issues with chronic pain.
“The wear and tear on body is tremendous,” Sommer says. She would know—a herniated disc sidelined her dancing career in 2002. “Most dancers are going to find ways to work through injuries. A lot of Epsom salt, Bengay. It’s a beautiful life that enables you to travel and see the world, but there was the point in time when I couldn’t walk.”
Many dancers find ways to stay active by teaching or going into the fitness industry, developing exercise and training careers. Some, like much of the staff of New York’s Westside Dance Physical Therapy, were professional dancers who turned their specified knowledge of dancers’ bodies into careers in the medical field.
In fact, the variety of post-dance careers can be as varied as those of non-dancers. Sommer went into comedy, becoming a mainstay stand-up in New York City and now managing the West Side Comedy Club. And at least one former ’90s dancer became a football coach: One of M.C. Hammer’s original “U Can’t Touch This” dancers, Alonzo Carter, is currently the running backs coach at San Jose State.
Dancing is the Get in Shape Workout
There are many reasons why someone will want to learn how to dance. One of the great things about learning to dance is you will get an invigorating exercise workout. If learning to dance does nothing else for you, it will get your heart pumping and may help you get into shape. If your goal is to get in shape then this mean a simple one week dance class will not do the trick. You should have at least 3 months or more dance lessons which take place 3 times a week or more for at least 1 hour or more per dance lesson.
It is important to take dancing serious and attempt to do every move with precision, oppose to a lazy dance move. You need to push yourself to get the most out of your dance workout. A good rule of thumb is if you haven’t worked up a good sweat then you can assume you haven’t danced long enough or you haven’t worked yourself hard enough. Before you start dancing be sure you stretch your muscles.
It really doesn’t matter which style of dance you choose to learn because any style will give you a good workout, regardless if it’s swing, ballet, ballroom, hip hop, contemporary, modern, etc. Dancing is such a popular workout that many exercise videos and exercise dance classes incorporate vigorous dance moves into their exercise regimen.
I sometimes wonder about the history of dance and the history of exercise, which actually came first or did they both initiate at the same time since they are so closely related. I would make the assumption that dance dates much farther back than exercise because exercise is actually a health related item and the history of health & medicine (in relation to living longer) is rather young. Dancing actually goes as far back to the ancient times when people will dance to entertain the royal family.
Learning how to dance makes your exercise workout fun and entertaining, plus you will learn a skill that can give you a lifetime of rewards. You will not have to sit out or keep the wall company at the next party, nightclub, wedding, or event. Additionally, your body will be toned and in shape while you seemingly move gracefully making you command stares from the crowd.
It is very possible for anyone to learn to dance. The resources are readily available as you have the option to join a local dance class, you can get independent assistance from a dance teacher, you can learn from the comfort of your own home using instructional dance videos, or you can get books which teach you how to dance. Whichever way you learn to dance you will also learn a lot about your body.
You will soon learn that learning to dance is not just a few slick and stylish moves. In fact the more you are in shape the better you will move and the less pain you will have. If you are not in shape you will soon find out when dancing. For the first weeks you will endure pain but you must continue to push yourself to get over the pain. The pain is simply a condition of your body and muscles getting acclimated to the stress dancing and exercise puts on your body.
Once you get past the first few days/weeks of pain your body will become well adjusted and it will be natural for you to move gracefully and feel vibrant. The health benefits achieved from dancing is overwhelming and should make anyone want to learn how to dance. So my advice to you is to get out there and start dancing.
Healthy eating habits/Effective Eating for Dancers: Eating for Energy, Concentration and Focus
The following page provides a simple guide in regards to nutrition and its role in boosting performance within the dance setting, in particular enhancing energy, concentration and focus. For further information about fuelling, hydration and recovery and how these parameters influence performance, visit the Ausdance factsheet page and the Australian institute of sport website.
Why is Eating Important for Dancers?
Dancing is physically vigorous and requires a great deal of focus and stamina. Constant rehearsal and performance takes a toll on muscles, joints and bones. In order for dancers to perform at their best, it is very important that they are well fuelled. A balance of nutrients will not only improve energy, concentration and focus, but also will also assist in injury and fatigue prevention and promote longevity within the dance industry.
Grain and seed bread
Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the muscles during training. After digestion, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose. Glucose is then taken up by our cells and stored as glycogen and converted to energy when it is needed. A dancers diet should typically be 55-60% carbohydrate. During intense training and rehearsal, carbohydrate should be increased to make up 65% of all calories consumed.
The best sources of carbohydrates for dancers are complex carbohydrates, such as wholegrain cereals, breads, rice, starchy vegetables, fruit and pasta.
Protein is required by dancers to build and repair muscle that has been stressed through continuous use. It is also a fuel source for the body and plays an important part in metabolism. Dancers should consume between 1.4-1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
The best sources of protein for dancers come from lean meats and poultry, tofu, beans and dairy
Fat is a predominant fuel source during prolonged, continuous activity over 20 minutes, so it is crucial that fat is consumed. Dancers should aim to consume around 1.2 grams of fat per kilogram of body weight.
The best sources of fat come from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources including oils (olive, canola, sunflower), nuts (almonds, walnuts, macadamia, pecans), avocado, fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines) and olives.
I’m sure you have heard it numerous times, but yes, it is true, breakfast is the meal that kick starts your metabolism and provides you with energy for the day. Dancers should consume a breakfast adequate in calories that is rich in complex carbohydrates, moderate in protein and low in fat to prepare them for the activity that is to follow. Although you may not feel inclined to eat that early on in the morning, it is important that you at least eat something to fuel your mind and body.
More often that not, eating breakfast is a case of habit, that is we don’t feel like eating it because we don’t usually eat it; we have trained ourselves not to want or feel like it. This can be easily overcome by simply tempting our taste buds with a little bit of something. Even drinking a glass of water with squeezed lemon first thing in the morning will awaken the taste buds and get those digestive juices flowing.
Suitable breakfast options
- Scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast: good source of both carbohydrate and protein
- Greek yogurt and berries: Greek yogurt has almost twice the protein of regular yogurt; berries are a good source of antioxidants and vitamin C
- Banana and blueberry soy shake: convenient for on the go; also a good source of both carbohydrate and protein
- Wholegrain toast with sliced tomato, cheese and turkey: good source of both carbohydrate and protein
Not so suitable breakfast options
- Bacon, fried eggs, and hash browns on white toast: high fat breakfast, digests more slowly and often leaves us with a sick stomach feeling
- Pancakes with maple syrup, icing sugar and ice cream: lots of simple sugars here, which are broken down quickly by the body, causing an energy spike, followed by an energy crash shortly after.
- Store-bought blueberry muffin: quite convenient, but is sugar-rich and will also cause a rapid energy spike
Combining carbohydrate and protein
Carbohydrate is the body’s preferred fuel source. It is the most easily broken down for immediate energy. It is important for dancers to consume enough carbohydrate to keep them afloat. Consuming carbohydrate with a little bit of protein is beneficial, as it causes a more slow and sustained release of sugar into the bloodstream. It also prevents energy spikes and rapid energy crashes from occurring. As a result, you will feel fuller for longer and have a prolonged release of energy throughout class or during performance for improved focus and concentration.
DriedFruit & NutsMixed
Good carbohydrate-protein meals/snacks
- Tuna and beans on wholegrain crackers
- Fruit and nuts
- Yogurt and fruit
- Cheese on crackers
- Rice and chicken
Extended class or rehearsals require dancers to refuel every 2-3 hours. Snacks that are most available for on the run however are usually not the best choice. Foods such as chips, lollies and chocolate do not provide dancers with the nutrients they need for building muscle, staying mentally focused and keeping energy levels sustained. When choosing snacks, think about consuming ‘meal type foods’ such as sandwiches, veggies with humus, leftovers, and tuna on crackers, but in smaller amounts. This will ensure you are getting a better array of nutrients. If you can, make sure you get some protein in, even if it’s a small amount, with every snack.
- Health and lifestyle video by the Australian Ballet School
- IADMS resource papers
- Australian Institute of Sport Factsheets
THE DANCER DIET
How to eat is a common question among dancers. Non dancers usually also ask about the dancer diet, because they associate the beauty and health of some dancers’ bodies with what they eat.
That association is only partially true. As you may know, that healthy and efficient body needs to be cultivated through a balanced diet and a healthy dance practice that suits each person. There is no ‘magical dancer diet’ or ‘secret way of eating’ among dancers. Instead, the so acclaimed ‘dancer’s beauty’ is gained through a general healthy way of living, of which the dancer diet is a part.
You might be thinking about ballet, because many people admire the thinness of its dancers. It is not a rule, but trying to be so slim implies a high risk of acquiring feeding disorders. That is a real threat for the health of anyone, so it is very important that dancers understand that a deliberate diet should aim to give them health and efficiency over aesthetic goals.
One important value of contemporary dance is the fact that it has an immense field of creative and expressive possibilities, which include and accept the human body in its multiple sides. Therefore, the search for ideal, stereotyped or according-to-fashion bodies is not a rule and is even often rejected.
So, I will be describing a dancer diet that focuses on the maintenance of health and an effective capability to perform. Yet in the long term, the beautiful bodies that people want to have, may appear as a secondary effect of its proper application.
Feeding, together with breathing, is one of our two ways of acquiring the basic energy to be alive. But, the way in which that energy has an effect on us does not only depend on what we eat. It is also affected by the moment in which we eat and by the amounts that we ingest:
WHAT – HOW MUCH – WHEN
Now, it is very important to remember that the effects of feeding are not restricted to giving us physical, brute force or making us slim or fat.
The general way in which we feed determines our mental skills and mood as much as our different possibilities of physical expenditure of energy. So, it is even more important to be careful about it, for the dancer needs the three of those to be able to perform difficult choreographic routines or bear long working days (class – rehearsal – performance…).
I believe dancers should maintain a diet which is similar to the one of any other person. Adjustments should only be made in the amounts of food, in order to fit the extra spending of energy each dancer accomplishes.
The main rule of a healthy diet with which the majority of nutritionists agree is BALANCE.
Balance means that:
1. You eat foods in the right amounts from each one of the food groups.
2. The amounts are adequate to the specific person and her/his spending of energy.
Balance is the appropriate WHAT, HOW MUCH and WHEN for you. This means that the amounts of food should always be relative to your size and to the amount of energy you spend.
The following are the five main food groups, as generally recognized, and in their respective daily proportions:
– Fruits and vegetables (30%)
– Carbohydrates: found in foods such as bread, pasta, potatoes, rice or corn (30%)
– Proteins: found in meat, fish, poultry or eggs (20%)
– Milk and dairy products: like cheese or yogurt (15%)
– Fats and sugar: butter, oils, sauces and all type of candy (5%)
That’s for the WHAT and HOW MUCH.
Now, WHEN to eat those:
According to the majority of nutritionists, it is recommended to break feeding in five or six meals during the day, instead of eating great amounts of food, for example just in three meals a day. This should help maintaining more stable levels of sugar in blood and therefore would help to avoid huge appetite attacks or weakness, caused by long fasting periods.
This means that you can have the three common main meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) in a moderate and balanced proportion so that you can still eat two or three smaller snacks in between.
Ideally, we should eat something at least every three or four hours during wakefulness time. This is even more important if you will be training and rehearsing hard, so remember to carry healthy small snacks with you, to avoid low and high peaks of your metabolic rhythm.
TIPS for your dancer diet:
-Water is a necessary complement of the balanced dancer diet. Remember that being thirsty is a sign of being dehydrated already, so you should not wait until then, but drink measured amounts regularly. Drinking water is recommended before, during and after rehearsals as well as at least one glass when you wake up. If you want to stay environmentally friendly, remember to avoid buying water bottles each time and choose to carry your own…
-Think ahead and plan to bring along what you need for the long days of class, rehearsal, and performance.
-Take a good breakfast, even if you don´t feel hungry when you wake up. It doesn’t have to consist of big amounts, but you should have at least a bit of each one of the main groups of food. This will help you avoid great appetite urges, dizziness or weakness later during the day.
-Include protein in every main meal. Not only this will regulate your appetite greatly, but you will assure your iron reserves (this is very important for girls, for they have monthly losses of blood during the period).
-Don’t forget: 5 serves of fruits and vegetables daily.
– If sticking to this dancer diet is too difficult for you, implement it gradually. Trying to change feeding habitudes in a radical way might give you too much stress and creates the risk of getting an eating disorder syndrome.
– Give yourself a small treat from time to time. It is said that the inclusion of this practice might help to gradually assume better feeding habits.
– Portion sizes: if you think you’re keeping a balanced diet, but still feel overfeed or overweighed, it might be a matter of the size of your food portions. Think of ‘down-sizing’ everything proportionally and gradually, until you feel you have reached a healthy state.
– If you can afford medical blood and clinical tests from time to time, invest on them. Following medical advice can always be a good guide to measure your understanding and good use of the balanced dancer diet.
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Return from The Dancer Diet to Contemporary Dance Home Page
A Dietitian Weighs In On Three Dancers’ Rehearsal-Day Diets
Patricia Zhou, L.A. Dance Project
Patricia Zhou saves her biggest meal for dinner. Photo by Jacob Jonas, Courtesy L.A. Dance Project
- plain yogurt
- paleo granola
- black coffee
“I usually make Bircher muesli using plain whole-fat yogurt, shredded apple, oats, raisins and a touch of cinnamon. I’ll make a big batch that lasts through the week. But this morning I ran out, so I just had plain yogurt. For the granola, I like to avoid added refined sugars, and picking paleo-friendly foods is a good way to do that.”
Class and rehearsal: 10 am–2:15 pm
“If I’m really peckish, I’ll snack on nuts or popcorn in addition to the banana. As for water, we have a five-minute break every hour, and I try to drink a bottle each time.”
- farro with homemade mango salsa (mango, corn, cilantro, onion, lime)
- half an avocado
Rehearsal: 3:15–6:15 pm
Yoga class: 7:30–9 pm
- butternut squash noodles with curly kale, feta cheese and two fried eggs
- Four Sigmatic mushroom hot cacao with reishi, at bedtime
“I save my biggest meal for dinner, and tend to have my main protein at night. I cook simply: I use olive oil or butter, and season with salt, pepper and crushed pepper flakes. The reishi mushrooms in the hot chocolate are supposed to help with calming down for a better sleep.”
“Granola, yogurt and fruit can be a good start to a dancer’s day. In general, I suggest choosing a granola or muesli that has a carbohydrate source (like oats), rather than just nuts and seeds. This may not be the case for Patricia, but sometimes paleo products can contribute to dancers’ unfounded fears of carbohydrates. We have decades of research that demonstrates the performance-enhancing effects of whole grains, starchy vegetables and carbohydrates from fruit. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that at least 55 percent of total calories come from carbohydrates. So enjoy those oats and fruit!
“Overall, Patricia’s meals are great, but I would suggest a wider variety of snacks. Dancers need adequate fuel to preserve muscle mass, prevent injury and help the brain remember choreography. A banana is a nice choice—potassium, vitamin C and phytonutrients are good for muscle recovery and soreness prevention—but she might benefit from having more than almonds before yoga. Maybe a half-sandwich of almond butter on millet/spelt bread?
“I am a big fan of all of the Four Sigmatic mushroom elixirs. The reishi one is good for calming the nervous system at night, and the ones that contain cordyceps mushrooms are good for an energy boost during the day.”
Inside a sunlit dance studio across from Lincoln Center in Manhattan, the ballerina Sara Mearns is stretched taut in a forearm side plank, one leg hovering above the ground. It looks easy enough—but that’s exactly the sleight of hand that professional dancers have perfected: transforming physical feats into visual eye candy, elegance over exertion. If she is breaking a sweat in this series of workout GIFs for Vogue, it isn’t showing.
A seasoned principal at New York City Ballet, Mearns is the sort of powerhouse technician who dares you not to blink when she’s onstage. But even that fine-tuned strength has limits—in her case, a back problem years ago that nearly took her to the brink, along with a series of sprained ankles that perpetually weakened her dominant side. “I was getting so fed up with it, and I didn’t know what to do,” she recalls. Fortunately, Joaquin De Luz—a fellow NYCB star, who, after being diagnosed with his own career-ending lumbar injury, rehabilitated his way back into performance shape—had an idea. Newly certified as a personal trainer, he would develop a cross-training regimen for her, designed to ferret out those imbalances. “Dancers are so strong that you can have an inactive part of your body and still do the shows,” he explains of such “broken links” in the muscular chain. His method is like “connecting the dots, so no muscle is strained and no muscle is underused,” he says. “You use your body more efficiently as a unit.”
Those experimental one-on-one sessions, conducted on their breaks between rehearsals, paid off in more ways than one. “I immediately felt the effects,” Mearns explains, citing newfound communication between her stomach muscles and back; an uptick in stamina meant that she sailed through the usually grueling Balanchine classic, The Four Temperaments. De Luz also received a green light from management to expand the program, called Dancer Fit, to the company, with an eye toward injury prevention and pre-season training. After a pilot launch with the men during last winter’s Nutcracker run, the ballerinas came onboard earlier this year.
Of course, De Luz’s approach isn’t limited to stage performers. A doctor who he trains on the side recently reported less fatigue in the operating room; another client is experiencing a turnaround in chronic back pain. “It’s not about sitting on a bench and lifting weight,” says De Luz, sounding a call for functional exercises that knit together key muscle groups (glutes, core, lower back) over bulking, one-note reps. “I think the human body is meant for movement.” With Mearns and her flawless arabesque line as inspiration, here are seven toning exercises to set you into motion.
Directed by Lucas Flores Piran
5 Easy Workouts For Dancers To Improve Your Dancing
Looking for easy workouts for dancers?
If you want to dance stronger, become more flexible, and have more control, then you need to condition your body properly.
Strength & Conditioning Coach and Dancer Karl Flores recommends these 5 exercises as the perfect, full-body workout plan for dancers!
1. To dance stronger and faster:
3 sets of 6 with 90 seconds rest
Targeted areas: arms, chest, quads, glutes, hamstrings, core
This high-intensity exercise is a great warmup because it works out your entire body!
2. To increase your stamina:
15 minutes a day
Stop being out of breath in class or when you freestyle! Build up your stamina to be able to dance all night~
Tips: Jump rope, jog, swim, or DANCE!
3. To dance stronger:
3 sets of 10
This builds muscle in our entire body. You’ll have stronger foundation in your legs, and be able to hit moves harder.
Tip: Start with just your body weight, then slowly add weights!
4. For easier hip and leg movements
3 sets of 12
Targeted areas: glutes, hamstrings, core
Glute bridges will increase your turnout by targeting your hips, and make all your leg movements look stronger.
5. To improve coordination
3 sets of 30 seconds
These will strengthen your glutes and improve stability. Skaters help with balance and posture, making your movements look smooth and effortless.
Watch our video with Karl for more tips on working out to dance better!
Want more ways to train?
STEEZY Studio has hundreds of different classes that will make you a better dancer. Learn choreography, do training drills, take grooves sessions, and more!
and start dancing the way you want.
4 Exercises to Steal From Misty Copeland for a Strong Ballerina Body
When you think of a ballerina body, you may picture a petite, slender physique. But many dancers have rejected that rigid idea of what a ballerina is supposed to look like—and instead, they’ve led a shift towards embracing a diverse range of athletic ballerina bodies. One woman who’s played a major role in that movement is none other than Misty Copeland, the iconic principle dancer at the American Ballet Theater.
“We are real women and ballerinas, muscular, feminine but also strong, lithe but also curvaceous,” Copeland writes in her new book, Ballerina Body: Dancing and Eating Your Way to a Leaner, Stronger, and More Graceful You ($30, amazon.com). But Copeland doesn’t pretend she always felt so confident in her skin. “None of it was easy. Not my climb in the ballet world, not my arrival at a place of personal contentment and peace, not my journey to the body I stand in.”
Her book is her way of helping other women reach the same state of body confidence that she now exudes to the world. “I dream of sharing what I’ve learned—of showing women everywhere how to reach their body goals and achieve what they see as their best selves,” she says.
For Copeland, that has meant prioritizing exercise, as an integral and positive element of her day. “Working out, so essential to our mental and physical well-being, can and should be woven through every part of our lives,” Copeland says.
Below are four exercises that she incorporates in her cross-training routine, to help maintain her ideal ballerina body—“one that is lean but sinewy, with muscles that are long, sculpted, and toned.” But you certainly don’t have to be a dancer to reap the benefits of these challenging moves. Try them out to get toned from head to (pointed) toe.
“Relevé” means “raised,” or lifted, and describes the position when you rise onto the balls of your feet (demi-pointe) or onto the toes (pointe) of one or both feet.
a. Begin in first position. Demi-plié, then stretch your knees and rise onto demi-pointe (relevé). Repeat this three times and old on the count of four. When done to music, the counts are to the timing of the music.
b. Repeat once. When you get stronger, you may do four repetitions.
Remember to hold your posture. The flexing and pointing also prepare and strengthen your ankles to allow you to stand on demi-pointe (or en pointe, if you are an advanced dancer).
“Adagio” refers to the slow movement in the ballet technique. As much as the adagio is about flexibility, strength, and fluidity in the movement, learning this exercise on the floor will give you an advantage before approaching it standing. On the floor you acquire a sense of balance and where your weight should be in order to leverage it to make you legs appear higher and more extended in opposition to our upper body.
This exercise should be done slowly to improve balance, alignment, abdominal strength, and stamina.
a. Start by sitting with your legs together on the floor in front of you.
b. Lift your legs into the air by bending your knees, holding the backs of your things with your hands with your legs still bent and parallel to each other.
c. Leaning back, with your back straight and the backs of your thighs (hamstrings) leaning into your hands, slowly lengthen both legs into the air until they are fully straight, making you into a V shape. Bend your knees so the tips of your toes touch the floor. Now do the same with each leg, alone, keeping the tips of the toes of your other leg posed on the floor.
d. Repeat the sequence, beginning with the other leg, when doing the single-leg section.
This exercise is great for freeing and lengthening the spine and for centering and strengthening the core.
a. Begin lying on your back, your legs together and parallel and your feet pointed.
b. Bend your legs slowly, bringing them off the floor, still bent, and lifting your feet off the floor as well, while your back hugs the ground.
c. Keeping your lower back on the floor and your shoulder blades drawn down toward your waist, curl your upper back off the floor, around your lower abs. Your arms should act like seaweed being moved by the motion of the tides, around and behind your lifted legs.
d. Float your upper back and arms down to the floor, legs still bent, body still energized.
e. Repeat four times, bringing your legs gently toward your head as your core and upper body lift, igniting the lower abdominal muscles.
f. After the last time, hold one hand or wrist (depending on the length of your arms) with the other, behind your thighs.
g. Lengthen your legs straight into the air, pressing the backs of your legs into your arms.
h. Propel your legs to the floor, arms still around them, until you get close to the floor. Then open your arms to the sides and move them forward toward your feet, over your head.
i. Your upper back should bend forward over your legs as you transition from lying to sitting, with the backs of your hands on the floor to help stabilize and keep the backs of your legs on the floor.
j. Roll down through your spine until your back is on the floor and you are in the starting position, with your shoulders relaxed. Repeat two to four times.
“Dégagé” means “disengaged.” When preparing for dégagés in particular, but whenever you’re lying on the floor, you should feel like you are standing or jumping—not lying on the sand at the beach!
This exercise is good for length, strength, and alignment. Be sure to press the parts of your back and body that are touching the surface of the floor to the floor, allowing your working leg to float up, initiating the movement with your inner thighs and the backs of the legs rather than the top of your thighs (quadriceps).
a. Begin lying on your back with your feet in first position (heels together and toes apart, feet pointed).
b. Place your arms at your sides with your palms facing down; you can vary the positioning of your arms depending on what makes you comfortable, as long as your arms don’t go above your shoulders.
c. Keep your legs elongated, straight on the floor.
d. Use your palms and arms by pressing them to the floor. This will help to strengthen â€¨your core and align the spine.
e. Lift one leg two or three inches from the floor, with your toes still pointed out, by pressing the standing leg (again, whether you’re standing or lying on the floor, the standing leg is the one that is not moving; it helps to maintain balance), your arms, and your head into the floor. This will help you to lift the working leg while maintaining stability throughout your body. Do four dégagés with one leg front, then switch legs and do four with the other leg front.
f. Now do four dégagés to each side. For these, your working leg stays on the floor, brushing along the floor as it extends to the side. Do not disturb the balance of the pelvis or the back as you move the working leg.