Danseur Ignoble: Ballet Bonque 2: This Time, It’s Personal
I think I’ve written about the phenomenon of “ballet bonk” once before,
but since bonking makes the old brain a bit foggy, I’m not going to try to find that entry and link it.
So what, you might ask (since not all of you are endurance athletes as well as dancers, and I’m too cooked to link), is “ballet bonk?”
In short, it’s the almost completely avoidable phenomenon that occurs when your muscles run out of fuel. in an endurance sport context, it’s just “bonk” or “the bonk,” sometimes with various adjectives (dreaded is a good one). When it happens in ballet class — which it only will if you are, as I am, a complete idiot — it seems fair to call it “ballet bonk.”
The physiological explanation for bonk is that the muscles have depleted their “reserve tank” — the glycogen stores that they tap when you make them do things like run or ride a bike or fondu. Normally, at that point, they switch over to using the fuel you’ve recently added in the form of caloric intake, but (and here’s where the “idiot” part comes in) not if you have grossly under-eaten and there’s basically no fuel for them to tap.
When that happens, your muscles will firmly and politely refuse to do frack-all until such time as you top up. Unfortunately, unless you can afford to take a break of a couple hours, a full-on bonk spells the end of your race or brevet — or, in this case, your ballet class.
The chief symptom of bonk is that your muscles just say no. They don’t usually stop responding entirely, of course — but you can kiss speed and alignment and power good-bye. On the bike, your legs will make occasional, pathetic efforts to turn the cranks; in ballet class, meanwhile, your grand battement week suddenly be less than grand. All your efforts will feel inconceivably weak. You will wonder what is wrong with you.
And then you’ll figure it out, and graciously bow out after barre (which, today, was an hour long), and go eat some food. Or, at least, that’s what I did.
I should point out that there are contributing factors, here.
Derp the first: I am having the usual summer uptick, which makes falling asleep very difficult, and Denis keeps leaving the shades drawn, which makes waking very difficult. Thus, I woke up today with fifteen minutes to get out the door. That’s plenty of time to brush my teeth, get dressed, and grab a water bottle, but not enough time to make food.
Derp the second: I didn’t eat enough yesterday, so I was already starting from behind.
Deep the third: I over-estimated how long it would take to ride to the bus stop and, as a result, rode too hard and fast, using up more energy than I should have. At an easy pace, the ride in question burns about 300 calories. At molto prestissimo, of course, it burns more.
Derp the herp: for some reason, at the bus stop, I ate the little 90-calorie snack thing I’d packed instead of the 190-calorie one. I couldn’t eat both because we have already established that it is a bad idea to ingest 40% of your day’s fiber RDA in one sitting half an hour before class … a very bad idea.
Add to all this the fact that A) Brienne’s class is always demanding and B) it was really hot in the studio, so my body was working overtime to cool itself, and you’ve basically for the perfect storm, so to speak.
The worst part is that bonk is not something you can work through. You can get stronger, you can build endurance: but bonk is bonk, a lack of available fuel is really kind of an insurmountable problem. Sure, you become more efficient through training — but no matter how fit and efficient you are, of you don’t plan well, you can set yourself up for a bonk.
Thus, I quit while I was behind to avoid hurting myself … or, for that matter, anyone else; nobody needs a bonking flailer (flailing bonker?) crashing into — or worse, onto — them mid-adagio.
So how, one might wonder, can ballet bonk be avoided?
That, friends, is (fortunately) simple.
In endurance sports, you avoid bonk by eating-on-the-run (or on the bike), taking feed breaks at regular intervals, etc.
In ballet, of course, that’s not really possible: fortunately, most people can handle about 90 minutes of sustained activity before they deplete their glycogen stores, and most ballet classes are about 90 minutes long. Dancers can avoid bonking simply by, like, remembering to eat, and remembering to take into account how much energy getting to class requires if they use “active transportation” like cycling or walking.
I would have been fine if I hadn’t ridden the bike this morning and/or if I’d fueled appropriately. Instead, having taken in only 90 high-fiber (and thusly slow-digesting calories), and having already burned upwards of 300 on the bike, and having started the day with an energy deficit in the first place, I set myself up for a bonk.
So there you have it, gentles: remember to eat. Then you won’t bonk during barre.
And if you do ever experience The Dreaded Ballet Bonk, consider ducking out after barre so you don’t injure yourself.
That’s it for now. Remember: eat food and avoid the bonk!
Today’s message brought to you by the letter B and the number glaaaaaargh.