Category Archives: fitness

DancerLife: Food (Part 1)

Upfront disclaimer/disclosure thing: I am definitely not a nutritionist, as you’ll probably realize if you read the rest of this post, which is mostly about stupid food-related mistakes I made last season. This post is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition, nor should it be taken as advice, unless the advice is: If you have questions about feeding yourself as a dancer, maybe go ask someone who really knows their stuff.

I’ve written about food before. Probably a lot. I like food, though I struggle with food sometimes. I also generally quite like eating[1].

  1. Except, apparently, when I don’t. I’ve recently experienced a baffling lack of interest in food itself: I’ve been in this place in which I would be perfectly content to live on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, or really whatever requires the least thought or effort, day in and day out.

On the whole, I’ve felt like I’ve had a pretty good grasp of basic nutritional science (hard to get through a Bachelor’s of Science degree that includes Anatomy & Physiology without understanding at least a bit).

I’m sufficiently equipped that I mostly manage to steer clear of trends based on junk science or poor data and to regard with equanimity the ones that might, in terms of their originators’ ideas about science, be based on shaky logic, but which still work well for people in practice because they’re motivating in whatever way and manage to get the various nutrients in.

What I haven’t had, as I discovered over the 2019-2020 ballet season, was the slightest shade of an idea as to how to actually feed myself for performance while dancing 30 hours per week, teaching about six hours per week, and driving an extra 80-90 minutes per day 2-3 days per week between those two gigs.

This was especially difficult on days when I left my teaching job at 8:30 PM and didn’t arrive home until after 9, chronically underfed (though I usually didn’t realize that) and with little time to eat, shower, prepare food for the next day, and wind down before I had to be asleep.

The best lunch decision I made all year, probably. Too bad I kept forgetting to buy more.

To a great extent, this was my own darned fault.

I extrapolated as follows:

  • P1: I have a fairly sound working knowledge of basic nutritional science.
  • P2: An awful lot of the nutritional advice I know how to find runs contrary to basic nutritional science.
  • P3: I am broke and can’t afford to go see a nutritionist.
  • Therefore, I should just stick with what I’m doing.

Or, well, something like that.

Yes, y’all, I am an idiot. Sometimes, anyway. Even often.

I think I also wasn’t sure who to ask: like, let’s be frank. Dancers are mostly paid what is known, in the technical language of economics, as “bupkis.” Or possibly “peanuts.” (In fact, since I have volunteered at events where one of the perks was free access to peanut-based trail mix, I can literally say that I’ve worked for peanuts. Hmmmm.)

Against a background of grass, a squirrel eats a peanut while sitting next to a squirrel feeder full of peanuts.
A dancer making a withdrawal from the bank. (Via Pexels)

Regardless, dancers be broke, and qualified nutritionists who have adequate knowledge of the nutritional requirements of full-time ballet dancers be … not cheap. (Nor should they be. They train for years to master their specialty, just like we do.)

So you had better believe that when I learned that LouBallet’s MindBodyBalance program was hosting a Zoom-based nutrition workshop with an actual qualified person who actually understood things about how to feed dancers, I jumped right on that enroll button.

Anyway, today, Becky Lindberg Schroeder of Lindberg Elite Nutrition (she’s also on Insta!) gave us a really solid talk, with time for discussion, about how to feed ourselves for performance as dancers.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I realized I’d been going about things … well, not all wrong, but wrong enough.

The two most important things I’ve been doing were basically:

  • Not eating enough
  • Not eating often enough.

Somehow, I felt like I shouldn’t be eating during the 5-minute break between class and the beginning of rehearsal. I would usually surreptitiously scarf an apple, but I felt like I shouldn’t.


Honestly, I think I just noticed that few of my fellow dancers shoved a snack into their faces during that interval. Outside the studio, I’m fairly resistant to peer pressure, but life inside the ballet studio is different, especially as an apprentice who doesn’t feel super confident about his place in the company.

Now that I’m writing that “out loud,” of course, it seems kind of dumb.

You can’t stuff yourself with a huge breakfast before class if you want to get through class without, at best, being miserable or, at worst, puking … but if you eat a lighter breakfast at 8:30, by the time class is over at 11:30, it seems entirely reasonable to assume that you’re going need to top up your fuel tank.

If you try to hold out until lunch break at 1, you’re likely to be hangry before you get there. (Regarding which: yes. On days that I’ve failed to eat any kind of snack at all, I’ve usually been deeply hangry before lunch break rolled around.)

A carnivorous dinosaur silhouetted against a night sky.
Me, just before lunch break. (Photo by ~ swinone on

Becky’s suggestion that we eat every 3-4 hours made that all make sense. In fact, it makes so much sense that I’m now wondering how I failed to grasp it before. Then again, that’s why she’s a high-performance nutritionist, and I’m not.

Perhaps even more importantly, I don’t think I really understood the effects of chronically low blood sugar on both performance and body composition.

Becky showed us a diagram illustrating the point that the range in which the human body works best falls between 80 and 100. My fasting blood sugar is rarely higher than 70 (I forget what the units in question are right now, sorry). I’m impressed if it’s 72; the one time in my life it was as high as (GASP!) 74, I wondered if I’d randomly awakened and eaten something in the middle of the night and forgotten about it.

Anyway, <70 is low. The typical response that garners during a medical exam is basically, “Cool, no need to worry about diabetes!”

But it turns out that when your blood sugar level is low, your body really does burn muscle and hold onto fat. I kind of knew that: we’ve all heard of “starvation mode.” What I didn’t know was that your body doesn’t wait around for a couple of weeks before heading down that road.

So, in short, I probably wasn’t doing myself any favors by avoiding carbs in the morning.

This certainly explains why I’ve felt better on the rare morning that I impulsively threw a donut into the mix because I happened to stop for gas, or had to use ACTUAL SUGAR in my coffee because I ran out of stevia, or whatever.

If you’re starting with basically an empty tank, putting anything in it is going to help. It’s not like you’re body’s going to ignore fuel simply because it’s not Eleventy Octane Super Premium Ultra Plus, Now With Scrubbing Bubbles.

Your body, at that point, just wants ANYTHING. And if you don’t give it something, it’s going to assume that it should hold on to its emergency stores and tap the muscles instead.

That might also explain why basically surrendering to chronic disorganization, purchasing an immersion blender, and just making huge smoothies with some protein stuff (usually pasteurized eggs) and a handful of trail mix (peanuts and almonds … protein and fat in one happy little package) for breakfast and packing more of said trail mix to eat with lunch correlated with an unexpected drop in my body fat percentage.

Obviously, without a controlled experiment, causality is danged hard to determine–but in retrospect, it seems like maybe one way of accidentally starving myself was worse than the other. The one that gave me some carbs, protein, and fat, while still not ideal, was probably less bad.

I also made the mistake of thinking that my other frequent snack choice–inexpensive protein bars, because broke–was somehow … not good enough. Again, that seems silly now. The protein bars in question may be fairly processed (though they’re still mostly made of things that are recognizeable as food, albeit in small chunks), but they do the job of being quick and easy to eat when “quick and easy” are probably the most important criteria. You might have the best apple in the world, but if that’s all you’ve got, and you can’t finish it in 5 minutes, it’s not going to do the job.

Anyway, the most important takeaway for me was that I need to eat more, and to eat more often, than I did last season. Well, that, and to not eschew nutrition in bar form, because that’s often going to be my best bet.

My breakfasts, snacks, and lunches were uniformly underpowered last year (I’m not going to say “too small”), while my dinners were … spotty. I didn’t have time for a full meal between rehearsal and teaching, so by the time my classes let out, I was both incredibly hangry and in no position to drive for 40-50 minutes without eating.

Since I would, inevitably, have also run through the woefully-inadequate supply of food I had packed for the day, I typically resorted to drive-through dining, but usually (in an effort to reduce the artery-clogging effects of fast food) I’d get the smallest meal I could find.

Then I’d be mad at myself when I was starving at 10 PM, or wonder why I was so hungry at 1 AM that I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep without eating something.

You guys. In retrospect, I’m really trying to figure out … like … how I didn’t figure it out -.-

Part of the problem was my tool set. Basically, I was whacking away with a hammer, mentally screaming, “Why is it so hard to saw through this log???!!!!” I kept focusing on how to eat better at dinner time, when I would’ve done better to just eat a little more and a little better across the whole day.

Anyway, one of Becky’s smart, actionable suggestions was to literally write out your daily schedule (not too obsessively: sometimes lunch break is at 12:53; sometimes we get really into rehearsal and at 1:30 Mr D looks up and goes “OMG, sorry, you guys! I haven’t given you a lunch break!”) and figure out how to feed yourself around it.

Which … oh, my G-d. That’s brilliant.

Becky’s presentation also introduced Team USA’s Athlete Plates[2]–three useful visual guides to adjusting nutrition for the demands of your day. They’re less about telling you specifically what to eat than suggesting how to proportion your meals to keep yourself well-fueled. This is exactly the kind of information delivery I’ve been yearning for: visual, so you can use it at a glance, but with lots of deeper information readily available.

  1. You can find PDF guides to the Athlete Plates, along with lots of other great information about nutrition for athletes, on Team USA’s Nutrition page.

In short, I came away from this workshop with a much better sense of how I, a broke-ass dancer with ADHD and time-management challenges, can make a plan to keep myself well-fueled that actually fits into my life.

So that’ll be Part 2 of this post … because right now it’s dinner time, and I’m hungry.

Random Extra Post: WTF

I’m having a very up-and-down first week back, and I want to write a little about it. Mostly about the body image end of things.

Yesterday, I felt like I looked like a stocky-but-fit[1] dancer. Today, I think I look like an elephant seal attempting to dance[2].

Besides my clothes, nothing much has changed. I’m not super into the particular pair of tights I’m wearing (I have the same ones in a smaller size and I love them, oddly enough).

I’m working on doing the cognitive-behavioral stuff to try to alleviate some of this: reframing my thoughts, etc. But it’s tough.

Objectively, I am the chubbiest guy in my company. Meanwhile, I’m super-duper lean by Kentucky standards. It creates a unique species of cognitive dissonance: the people amongst whom I spend most of my time are almost all leaner than I am. Spending 4 hours in the car every day isn’t helping.

Anyway. This is really just kvetching, to get it out of my head so I can get through my day without imploding.

I really wish I understood why I feel like this sometimes, so I’m working on observing my thoughts and my circumstances to try to figure it out.

Also, last night I dreamed that I was sentenced to jail for one hour, but I can’t remember why. The jail in question was more like a locked group home for adult screw-ups, but it had a lot of books, so that was good?

Anyway, that’s it for now. I think I’m going to write about balancés, the hardest thing that’s actually easy, tomorrow, before returning to my meditation on first position (the easiest thing that’s actually harrrrddddd) next week.

  1. Fwiw, ballet stocky is not really stocky in any other context, except maybe Twink Night.
  2. Don’t worry, my terrifyingly judgmental body issues are me-specific … I think other people can look great (or awful) at any size, but I can’t seem to extend that to myself :/


We got the first 30 or 40 seconds of our dance last night.

I like it—it’s completely different in feel from last year’s, very Tango-influenced, rather than neoclassical. Both TS and I are videoing everything from different vantage points, so I was able to see that I dumped my shoulders and core on this wee en dedans turn with the working foot just brushing the ground. It’ll be better next week!

On the whole, though, rehearsal was good. There are 13 of us thus far, and I’m still the Onliest Boy.

I also had a good night in class. Beginner 1 is right before rehearsal, so we arrive in masse and take B1, which means some of us might be a wee bit intimidating to some of the B1 regulars. Still, I enjoy B1, because I don’t have to think about any of the steps at all ever, so I can concentrate on dancing beautifully instead.

Today I hooked up with my friend CP, who is a photographer, to get some headshots and dance photos done. We shot outside, which was interesting: the temperature was okay, but the ground was damp, uneven in places, and (of course) hard, so adjusting was challenging at times.

I got to see the on-camera previews of a few shots (CP shoots on a DSLR), and some were really cool.

One of my favorites, though, is a mostly-beautiful pas de chat Italien with ridiculously effort face. It’s hilarious and honestly pretty cute. (In related news, TIL that executing pas de chats from a standstill often evokes effort face!)
I’m looking forward to seeing the finished pix. They should be pretty cool.

I also snagged a few pix to update my Topless Boys Live! series (even though I don’t go back to Modern ’til next week).

So, here:

This looks like something you’d see on Grindr … Hmm


Please try not look at my kitchen, which lies in ruin.

As you can see, the scars are quite a bit paler now.

More grindr fodder, if I was on grindr, which I’m not.

So, there you have it.

I’m at that phase, fitness-wise, in which one says to non-dancers, “I’m still pretty out of shape right now,” and they give you this look:

But dancers will understand, probably.

Cue Predictable Spasm Of Self-Doubt

Every time I’m forced to take a break of more than a couple of weeks from class, the re-entry period is an exercise in grinding self-doubt.

First, taking a break almost inevitably involves gaining a couple of pounds–generally a sum that the average person would barely notice, but which is all too visible when you return to the studio and are constantly surrounded once again by people with less than 10% body fat.

I may be all about body positivity, but I’m not very good at applying it to myself. I’m also entirely aware that I have somehow stumbled into working in a field in which the folks who decide who gets hired and who doesn’t tend to lean strongly towards lean bodies. Toss in the fact that, given my build, a little more size in the thighs interferes with my fifth position, and you’ve got a recipe for Dancer Meltdown in 3 … 2 … 1…

Worse, it always takes a few weeks to re-awaken and rebuild the muscles responsible for correct execution of classical technique–and even as people who don’t dance continue to harp on about my “natural” grace, I wind up feeling like a half-grown stirk in a dressage ring until things start working together again.

This week has been all about finding my core, not dancing like a swaybacked wildebeest, and remembering how the hell to do turns[1].

  1. Though, bizarrely, whilst I was not dancing, my chaînés improved dramatically–regarding which, WTactualF?

Predictably, the resultant emotional fallout has been a constant stream of thoughts like WHY DID I THINK I WAS GOOD ENOUGH TO AUDITION FOR THINGS?! and I’LL NEVER BE READY!

Me on Thursday, via Wikipedia, link to follow.

So that’s where I am right now. Off to my last week of sandbagging in Saturday beginner class, which I hope will leave me feeling like I can actually dance, and then Jack O’Lantern Spectacular,in which I’ll attempt not to dance like a swaybacked wildebeest before a captive audience of so freaking many.

Poco à Poco

Bit by bit, I’m regaining range-of-motion and resuming my “Activities of Daily Living,” as they’re known to PhysioBots® from the future and their human counterparts.

This includes collecting small objects at a street festival whilst everyone else takes down the aerial rig and going to parties, not to mention catching up on the six million loads of laundry that are waiting for me because I was wary of schlepping large loads at first.

Anyway, it’s been surprising to observe my own healing process. Each day, I’m able to move my arms a little farther without yoinking anything, even though I’ve specifically been avoiding moving them beyond a pretty restricted zone. I can now get them into a languid “Romantic 4th,” basically, without irritating anything.

Practically speaking, that means I still can’t reach anything higher than the surface of the second shelf in the cabinet where the dishes live unless I stand on something, but at this time last week I was barely making it to the first shelf, so that’s good progress.

Also, it means I can at least put the plates away, though the soup mugs and pasta bowls will just have to wait a bit longer.


This weekend, I also realized how very strictly I avoided actually standing up straight outside of the ballet studio prior to my surgery.

Like most guys with moobs, I used to wander around with my shoulders sort-of rounded in on themselves. It makes you look like defensive and also makes you shorter.

It’s really still very weird for me to realize that when I actually stand up straight, I’m pretty much average in terms of height. Heretofore I guess I’ve known that rationally, but in a practical sense I still thought of myself as a little of the small side.

For what it’s worth, both D and I have found the results of my surgery a little unexpected. He mentioned last night that I look less different to him than he thought I would in some ways; more so in others—mostly that for whatever reason my whole body looks leaner and narrower. He’s not alone, either—other people also keep asking me,”Did you lose weight?”

I can only assume it’s something about the way I’m carrying myself…? Because, in fact, I’ve gained a little weight, as inevitably I do when I have to sit on my butt for a while.

For me, it’s more nuanced. I can’t say that I really expected to perceive my build as kind of rangy and muscular, nor to actually like that about myself.

Anyway, it’s weird. You would think that having this sort of thing done would just result in feeling like, “Okay, cool—that’s just me without moobs.” Maybe that’s been how it does work for some people. For me, though, it’s made me realize that I only ever looked at parts of my body before: I thought I looked at the whole, but now I think I really didn’t. I can’t really otherwise explain how surprising my body is to me when I look at myself in the mirror now.


Anyway, I’m back to slowly catching up on the laundry and the cleaning. I’m also counting calories and opting for a low-carb approach to food until I’m clear to Resume All The Things. That seems to be helping to keep my blood sugar levels a bit more steady, as it generally does.

I might stick with it once I’m back in action, but I might not. I’ve made a pact with myself: I’m not going to get hung up on any specific approach to eating, period. My normal schedule burns a lot of calories and makes it quite difficult to eat enough, let alone to eat enough whilst also largely eschewing an entire nutrient category.

On the other hand, the inability to lazily wrap everything in a a tortilla does mean I’m eating even more veggies than usual, since cabbage rolls (and shredded cabbage in place of noodles) are basically the order of the day right now.

Speaking of which, I should go assemble some kind of … brunch, I guess, since it’s 11:30 and I still haven’t eaten anything.

Topless Boys Live*!

*For values of “live” meaning I was alive when I posted this 😛
No actual live footage implied or guaranteed 😉

…I mean, not that I’m back in Modern class yet. Modern is probably going to have to wait ’til the 6-week mark, since it usually involves getting into and out of the floor and using your arms and so forth.

It’s not like ballet, in which you can say, “I’m just gonna do the gentle stuff today, and I’m going to keep my arms in 2nd.”

But, anyway, I realized that I haven’t posted updated pix in a couple of days, so here:


Super Hipster Filtered Edition[1]

  1. Honestly, forget my chest, check out dat shoulder


Uncropped Smoldering Ocular Seduction Edition[2]

  1. D keeps giggling at me about acting like a 14-year-old. He may be on to something, but I maintain that I’m acting like a 16-year-old. 14-year-olds have nothing to flex. Like OMG EVRYBODY KNOWS THAT.

So, as you can see, things are healing up quite nicely.

As you can also see, I’m standing on top of the toilet, and I didn’t really bother to put anything away before I shot these. Which, in fact, maybe does imply that I’m acting like I’m 14, because NO IMPULSE CONTROL.

As you can also, also see, I have indeed been mostly sitting on my butt and eating for the past couple of weeks. And I was too lazy to take my shirt all the way off, but I kind of like it?

Anyway, peeled the tape off a bit today and noticed that my suture lines look quite good. The left one is really, really nice; there are spots where there’s no scar at all right now. I put the tape back after because I’m not taking it off ’til Wednesday, because that’s when my surgeon said it would be okay.

The right incision is a little redder, probably because I sleep on the right side of the bed so I wind up using my right hand to reach for stuff on the nightstand, which is problematic because the nightstand is roughly 6″ lower than the bed and beyond the range I can reach without extending my arm just above shoulder level while lying down (the first five nights I didn’t have that problem because we weren’t home yet; then for a couple I was really careful … now I’m kind of over that, since it doesn’t feel like I’m tugging or injuring anything).

Anyway, the lines on both sides are very crisp and clean; totally acceptable in terms of my long-term goals.

The little red spot inferior/lateral to my nipple (which is actually the left one, because I still haven’t remembered to un-mirror my phone’s camera and didn’t think to flip these before I uploaded them, feh) is a bug bite. Turns out that’s why I’m so itchy, at least on that side. On the other side it’s because I keep forgetting to snip off the loose end of the tape, so maybe I should do that now?

There, done.

Also turns out that when you wander around in a nice, airy tank top, the mosquitoes take advantage of those arm holes :/

I had really pretty much forgotten about that.

Also, in the Uncropped Smoldering Ocular Seduction Edition, my feet look like chimpanzee feet. From time to time, I’ll notice that happening, and occasionally it leads to a brief episode of cognitive dissonance in which a part of my brain goes, “MY FEET ARE HANDS: REPEAT MY FEET ARE HANDS OMG =:O”

OTOH, in part of my line of work (aerials, specifically) good toe separation is an asset. Of course, I make up for that by having weirdly tapered duck feet with a whole lot of sweep from second toe to least toe.

Guess you can’t have it all (my hands are sweepy, too).

In other news, today I took the Subaru to the tire shop to get its leaky tire fixed. It turns out that the tire was screwed—literally: as in, it had picked up a screw.

Anyway, they were able to fix it, so now the car is happy again and D is happy again and I was already happy, so…um. Everybody’s basically pretty happy.

Except the cat, probably, because his food bowl and my lap are too far apart, but he’ll just have to tug on his big-boy trousers and cope.

Lesson Learned

Tonight, BG posted a bit of video from one of last week’s classes to our community group on the Facebag. 

It’s a simple Sissone combination, the kind you do to build endurance:

Sissone fermé x3, sissone ouvert landing in 1st arabesque, pdb, changement X2, back and forth until you either drop dead or run out of music.    

Watching it was illustrative: at the beginning, I’m carrying my arms, my eyes are up, my jumps are high and elastic, and I return to an acceptable fifth. I can tell I’m a bit tired by the pacing of the jumps, but overall the effect is decent. 

By the end, I look like I’m flapping my arms in an effort to fly away, my face is frozen in a thousand-yard stare, and my working leg has given up on the whole concept of fifth position. 


So I guess the emphasis on endurance will continue. 

I’ve felt better the past few classes, though. It’ll come.           

The Illusion of Effortlessness is Just That: an Illusion

Apparently ballet-as-fitness is a thing right now, but some who’ve tried it find that it’s “slower-paced” and possibly not as demanding a workout as their fitness level requires. 

To them, I say, “Come try Killer Class, and if you live, we’ll talk it over.” 

So, here’s the thing: the ballet classes to which good ballet schools steer true beginners are, out of  necessity, introductory classes. 

And, under the right teachers, introductory classes aren’t designed as exercise classes(1).

  1. I’m not commenting on “fitness barre” here—I haven’t tried it. The closest I’ve come was a class at the Joffrey which was labeled “Keep-Fit Ballet” that turned out, in fact, to be essentially Killer Class crammed into one hour.

A good introductory ballet class is designed to teach you how to use your body in a way that is fundamentally different from anything you’re likely to have done with it thus far (unless you’ve had good instruction in ballet in the past).

It’s designed to incrementally strengthen and stretch muscles that likely haven’t been doing much for a while.

It’s designed to impart the basics of sound technique so that when you level up, you’ll be able to learn harder, faster-paced stuff without compromising your technique and injuring yourself.

As such, the pace will by necessity be slow. It’s hard to learn sound technique when your brain is actively on fire and your body is sounding its air-raid sirens.

If you’re pretty fit, you’ll probably make it through barre (or even an entire class) in Intro to Ballet without so much as breaking a sweat.

If you’re using good technique, you almost certainly won’t “feel the burn” in the muscles where you, as a person with fitness experience, expect to feel it(2).

  1. Pro tip: if your quads are on fire after a développé-heavy Adagio, you’re doing it wrong. If they’re on fire after a long fondu or little jumps, you’re probably okay as long as your deep rotators are also ready to rise up and last waste to their oppressors.

If you stick around long enough to nail down the basics and get green-lighted for Beginner and then Intermediate class, though, you’ll discover that ballet is not by any means all gentle repetition and slow stretchy stuff.

If you stick around long enough, you’ll discover that a good class at an intermediate or advanced level can leave a flotilla of professional ballet dancers—arguably the fittest humans going—drenched in sweat.

See, ballet is all about the illusion of effortlessness—and the only way to achieve that illusion is through sound technique harnessed by a body trained in a highly-specific way. You must do a million tendus because those tendus evolve into dégagés, which evolve into grand battements, which evolve into grand jetés. 

(So, basically, ballet is like Pokémon for the human body?) 

In short, some of the most crucial muscles in ballet are ones that the average fitness buff probably doesn’t even know about, and that even the most skilled athletes in other disciplines(3) rarely think about at all.

  1. Notable exceptions: really good huntseat and dressage riders use the deep rotators constantly, which is unsurprising given that a good basic “seat” is essentially a modified plié; figure skaters also use their deep rotators in a very ballet-like way at times. For cross-country skiing, the ol’ turnouts are good for herringbone climbs; downhill, they come in handy in for stem turns and when you eff things up and need to get yourself out of a bind, but not necessarily out of your bindings.

As such, the physical training part of ballet can feel very unlike other forms of exercise, especially when you first begin. The focus isn’t on Mad Gainz; it’s on itty-bitty incremental gainz. 

Likewise, the dancer’s long, lean physique isn’t achieved in one hour a week (as a matter of fact, the standard ballet class is 1.5 to 2 hours long by itself), or even in one hour a day. 

Professional ballet dancers look the the way they do because they spend five to eight hours (or more) each day dancing—taking class, learning choreography, rehearsing, learning more choreography—and they cross-train via conditioning classes, cardio, and good old-fashioned lifting. 

To give you an idea, with a heart-rate monitor keeping tabs, I burned nearly seven thousand calories on my most recent five-hours-of-class day. That’s counting class and everything else, not class alone, but still! 

Presumably, this is why I came back from my summer intensives rather spectacularly lean and ripped: I was putting in the equivalent of a century on the bike every single day. I could not physically eat as much as I was burning. I didn’t have time. 

Simply put, it’s really hard to shove 6,000+ calories into your face on a schedule that involves eight hours a day of dance. There just isn’t enough time in the day. As such, professional dancers tend to be lean—but do remember that ADs tend to select lean dancers, and that not all dancers are, in fact, Balachinian in proportion.

Likewise, dont forget that professional dancers largely also cross-train for cardio (though some companies and schools of thought still discourage it): six hours of class may turn you into a beast, but it is unlikely to prepare you for the two or four or six minutes of non-stop redlining you’re going to do on stage (seriously, this was one of the astounding things about LINES—long-ass demanding variations in which nobody died). 

Dancing a demanding variation is like making the insane choice(4) to big-ring sprint up a long, steep climb to catch the breakaway group. Only, like you can’t even decide halfway through the sprunt that it’s a terrible idea, pop it down a couple of gears, and let your buddies in the flailing group catch your wheel.

  1. I feel particularly qualified to make this comparison. Insane climbing sprints are kind of my thing on the bike. Albrecht’s variation is pretty much like sprinting up the categorizable climb nearest to my house, including the fact that there’s a little extra “gotcha!” sprunt right when you think you’re in the clear. 

You have to keep the hammer down and gogogo, or the whole audience and the whole company and the whole dance world will be like, “WTF?” (More importantly, you have to do this because you’re a dancer and, when you’re dancing, it doesn’t occur to you to do otherwise.)

So dancers cross-train for cardio (and strength!) in addition to all that fecking about(5) in tights. 

  1. “Feck” is a long-standing favorite quasi-curse of mine; more so now that I know its canonical meanings include “throw/toss”—which is often an appropriate description of what we’re doing in class, really (jeté also means” thrown/tossed!”). 

This doesn’t mean that the workload of ballet is too light to qualify as exercise—rather, it means that class occupies an unusual hinterland between body-weight strength training and high-intensity interval training. Bike racers who specialize in sprinting also cross-train for cardio: to a dancer, bouncing on a trampoline might be the equivalent of a bike sprint specialist(6) logging her base miles.

  1. Autocorrupt suggested “bike sprint socialist,” which is now totally the new name of my imaginary band.

Anyway, to sum this all up: if you’re pretty fit, it’s reasonably likely likely that an Introductory-level ballet class probably won’t “feel” like a workout. 

Don’t be too quick to dismiss ballet as “too easy,” though—that’s like deciding after jogging a 3k that marathons aren’t hard. 

Modern M….uesday

Modern class began at my primary studio today.

I think I might have mentioned that the instructor dances in Modern T’s company? Anyway, she does, and it turns out that I actually know her(1). We were like, “Oh! It’s you!”

  1. This is no longer surprising; the dance world is ridiculously tiny and intimate: it’s like 2.23 degrees of separation up in here. If that. It was extra-unsurprising this time, since I knew that the instructor was part of Moving Collective, but still neat.

Anyway, I was not just the Onliest Boy, but the Onliest Student—another Ambush Private Class! 😀

This was great for me, of course. We took it slowly today, and this and the student:teacher ratio of 1:1 gave LF a chance to really drill in and sort some of the details of my modern technique.

Like, for example, I have apparently never had the faintest idea how to release my neck. I never realized that. Sometimes it would happen on its own, and I would think, “Oh, modern feels good today!” without really understanding why.

Most of the time, though, my neck just didn’t release—and I didn’t know it wasn’t releasing. Then, in floor work, either my neck was always straining away, refusing to cooperate with the process, or I just shoved my head down onto (2) the floor rather than letting my neck melt.

  1. Note that I wrote onto and not into, here. To get into the floor, you really have to release. You have to feel gravity working on your body.

In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m your stereotypical flexible-but-very-tense Ballet Boy (another way in which I am, ridiculously and laughably, Central Casting Ballet Boy). I think this is one of the reasons that modern is so good for my ballet technique: it helps me relax and soften my upper body, which not only makes my dancing look better, but actually makes my dancing better.

Classical ballet technique—especially the Russian approach, perhaps—demands lightness and freedom in the upper body. In my experience, the funny thing is that once your upper body figures out “light and free” (while remaining engaged and disciplined), the lower body part actually gets easier.


The essence of classical ballet technique, via Pintrest

The hard part for me, though, is keeping the upper body light and free, instead of tight and bound(3). This is where modern comes in.

  1. Okay, so really, keeping any part of my body light and free, instead of tight and bound, is hard for me. Remind me to get back into meditation practice…

Floor work doesn’t, well, work if you’re tight and bound. Release technique doesn’t work if you don’t know how to release. When I’m not doing modern class on a regular basis, I forget how to relax and release.

This is the second time in my life I’ve had a private modern class, if I remember correctly. I feel like it was exactly the right way to jump (or, more accurately, ooze :D) back into Modern. It helped me figure out where some of my weak points in modern are (not just the “can’t relax” thing, but also the thing where I’m afraid of falling over sideways).

We touched on quite a few other things, many of which fit neatly into the “move like a human” concept that Monika discusses over at The Dance Training Project.

So I feel like I learned a lot today, and also like my body is coming back online.

That’s a good feeling. As dancers, we live in our bodies so much, and when we feel separated from them, it’s really uncomfortable—or, well, that’s my experience.

My fitness is starting to return, which is great.

Anyway, LT is a fantastic teacher, and she comes up with really amazing analogies that do a fantastic job conveying concepts central to modern technique and, really, to just moving effectively as a human being (which we Central Casting Ballet Weirdos don’t always do very well). She also described my legs as a long and powerful, which never hurts 😀

Anyway, that’s it for now. I’m really looking forward to Thursday’s class … and, of course, to Killer Class tomorrow!


Legs aren’t feeling too bad this morning, and I woke up feeling refreshed after 8 hours of pretty sound sleep.

Bonus: was sufficiently tired last night that falling asleep was not a problem.

New modern class today. I’m looking forward to it! 

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