Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Pet Peeve: To Diet or Not to Diet (Part I)

I've always firmly believed Garfield's description of dieting: diet is "die" with a "t." As I started taking nutrition, physiology, and other science classes in college, that idea seemed to reaffirm itself time and time again. I've been arguing with my parents about what's "good" and "bad" in the food world, but everything seems to go in circles! On the other hand, who doesn't want to lose weight, have more energy, and feel great?

I have been comparing all of the facts in my head for quite some time now. DanceSpirit recently did a great article on 5 Reasons Not to Diet Through Your Teen Years, which brings up some really good points. I'll try to list out my own reasons with the science behind them:

  1. Extremes are bad: moderation is always the key. Love bacon, or coffee, or chocolate? Have one piece, or one cup - not five. One can't hurt that much, but five can. In the same way, extreme dieting like the Atkins diet (all red meat and green leafies, no carbs) or the Master Cleanse (lemons, water, maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and a laxative) can hurt more than they help for the reasons listed in the article. Technology may have advanced the human race, but the human body is almost exactly the same as the caveman's body was centuries ago. Your body is simple and stupid.
    • note: some people consider vegetarianism or veganism to be extremes. They can be for some people (my mom has terrible stomach problems if she doesn't eat meat), but for some people, it can be the right choice. Everyone has a different body chemistry - not everyone is cut out to be vegan, and some vegans are very healthy.
  2. Never, ever starve yourself: you're a dancer! Food is literally what fuels your instrument. If you try to diet by not eating enough, your metabolism will ultimately slow down because your body is tricked into "survival mode," thinking you're starving and can't find food. This will trigger cravings for starchy or sugary foods like fries, chips, and sweets because they are a quick way to get glucose, the only fuel your brain can use, into your bloodstream.
  3. Too much of a good thing: I'm repeating myself a bit, but extremes are bad. If you eat only celery and tomatoes because they're "safe," think again. You'll be missing a lot of vitamins and minerals you need that you'd get with a varied diet. Supplements aren't an answer - your body absorbs natural nutrients much easier and they're much more compatible with your body chemistry. Likewise, it's good to drink water, but it's possible to drink too much! You might be flushing out some of those important vitamins and minerals that you need, and in extreme cases you can thin your blood too much and pass out!
Of course, you have to do good things too, not just avoid bad things.
  1. Variation is key: Another repetition, but varying your diet is a way to diet! If you eat the same thing every day, your body will become very efficient at processing and storing that food. For me, I was eating a slice of whole grain toast with almond butter and a banana for breakfast every day. It started out as a very filling food that would last me hours, but within weeks, I was starving just 45 minutes later after eating exactly the same breakfast! Eating different things at different times each day will keep your body guessing, working, and burning more calories. Don't let it get lazy!
  2. Eat breakfast: Have you ever heard people tell you to work out first thing in the morning because it jumpstarts your metabolism and helps you burn more calories all day? Breakfast does the same thing - it starts your metabolism and helps regulate your appetite and hunger/thirst hormones for the day. Studies show that people who don't eat breakfast regularly (or forgo it for a cup of coffee) eat more throughout the day and are prone to making poorer health choices.
  3. Exercise!: As much as we all hate to hear it, the only way to truly "diet" is a lifestyle change, and that means food and exercise. I came up with some ways to stay in shape this summer, and remember that something is better than nothing! If you want to lose weight, you have to do more than you're currently doing (yes, even dancers). More muscle burns more calories even when it's sitting doing nothing, so pick up some strength training and tone up!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Youtube Best of the Best: Updates 29

Sorah Yang and Young J - Hold On
**WARNING: explicit lyrics. These two move so incredibly fast. Blink or breathe and you've already missed something spectacular.

Ricky Ubeda - Slide
I think I've been dancing this wrong my entire life (although middle school me would never have pulled out a tilt at a school dance). Those competition judges must have a great sense of humor.

tWitch and Allison - on Dancing with the Stars
Old news, but admit it: none of us can get enough of this couple.

Shaping Sound - Bohemian Rhapsody
When you combine one of the best songs ever written with one of the premier companies in the US, a fantastic lighting designer with an eye for the theatrical, a rock concert set-up, and screaming crowd, you get one of the most epic performances ever created for contemporary dance.

Christopher Scott for SYTYCD Top 10 guys - Sand
Flawless. I have no words for how much I admire Christopher Scott for this concept, choreography, and creativity, and equal admiration for the guys who partnered the sand (and each other) so effortlessly. So many things could have gone wrong (slip, sand in the eyes...), but it was perfection. Nigel may be onto something about wanting his ashes to be danced with when he dies...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Pet Peeve: Decisions, Politics, and Drama

Making decisions is a really terrible, hard part of life. Sometimes you make good ones, and sometimes you make bad ones. The worst, though, is when there isn't a clear difference between the good and the bad.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I decided that dance was going to be a big part of my future. I wanted it to be a double major or minor in college (which, by the way, it is part of my double major/dual degree now). I went to an extremely academic college prep, and there are only so many hours in a day. I had to decide how to most wisely spend my time dancing: at school, or in a real dance studio. I was spending over 15 hours a week dancing, but less than half of that was training at a studio, and I needed to progress faster if I wanted to dance in college.

So I had to make a decision: stay with the high school dance team, have the opportunity to choreograph and be one of the "best" dancers, and become team captain my senior year while not improving my technique, or spend more hours in my studio honing my skills and possibly joining a studio group. The clear choice for my future was to quit my school team.

But nobody quits the school team. Everyone expected me to become team captain and choreograph for our annual dance show, and being on the school team was an unspoken contract to stay until you graduated. I was basically a local celebrity. All of my friends were in the school team, and there was no way to leave without there being bad blood. And I liked the school team, I didn't know many girls at my studio. I would have to burn my bridges to do what was right for my future, or stay with what was fun and comfortable and risk my future.

I made the hard decision: I quit the school team and spent more time at the studio, and I'm so grateful to my younger self that I did. My relationship with all of the girls on the team was never the same: one girl still won't speak to me or acknowledge my existence to this day, many years later. Even my teacher didn't approve, she didn't let me choreograph my junior year (but she did my senior year) and I wasn't cast in as many pieces in the annual show. Also, joining my studio team so late meant that I never really fit in the two years I was with them. It wasn't exactly fun, but I learned so much.

I hate politics, but for some silly reason, it isn't possible for dancers to live without drama. Even now, in my college dance department (which is possibly one of the least cutthroat and internally competitive departments out there), there's so much unnecessary political drama that even the teachers get caught up in it.

In the end, do what's right for you. Always consider others and the possible ramifications of your actions, but remember that you don't owe anybody anything and that your life is the most important thing to you. You shouldn't ever sacrifice your own future for anybody or anything. The most rewarding decisions are sometimes the most uncomfortable to make, but they'll be worth it. Look at the decision from all angles. It doesn't matter what they'll say about you in the weeks to come if more people will look at you and applaud in the years to come. The easy decisions rarely amount to anything, and the best decisions are never easy.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Cheaper Ways to Stay in Shape This Summer

Training to be a dancer is expensive! Classes can range from $10-$30 per session, and then there's summer intensives, costumes, shoes, dancewear, rehearsals, and gas money! It's the summer, and you've got plenty of things to spend your money on besides classes.

Hold on, I'm not saying you shouldn't take class. Please do - if you can, take at least ballet (preferably multiple times per week) and one other style (jazz, modern, contemporary, lyrical, hip hop, ballroom, etc) to keep your technique up. But for those of us who are strapped for cash, I've got a few free and/or cheap ideas to keep you in your best dance (and bikini) shape.

Free Ideas:
  1. Swim in your local community pool - swimming is absolutely fantastic cross training for dancers. It's easy on the joints, the water provides natural resistance (strength training!), increases your lung capacity, and it's intensely cardiovascular if you do laps.
  2. Jogging - great cardiovascular exercise, and you can listen to music, explore new places, and relax while you're at it. Jogging also trains your legs to move in a pattern very different from dancing - you get to spend a lot of time in parallel, learning how to be efficient and push off of your back foot. For even better training, do it on the beach!
  3. At-home workout - create a regimen of all your favorite (and least favorite) exercises and stretches. Be sure to alternate strength, endurance, stretching, and cardio, and choose exercises that will target various muscle groups.
  4. Exercise-ize your daily life - if you don't have time to devote to a daily ritual, add little things throughout your day. Park as far away as you can from the front door, use a basket instead of a cart in the grocery store, take the stairs instead of the elevator/escalator, push your chair back and do squats while you're on the computer, or pull out that shake weight you got as a gag gift for Christmas. Even better: wear ankle weights. You can easily make your own with a pair of old socks and some rice.
  5. Grab a yoga mat or towel and look up yoga exercises on Youtube - it's easy to follow along! You can put on some relaxing music and rewatch the exercises as many times as you need to get them right.
  6. Get a few friends together and teach your own dance classes - you don't need to be in a real studio to dance, especially if you're doing a ballet barre and center adage and petite allegro! Switch off who's preparing the lesson plan and playing "teacher" (don't want to lose your alignment, it's always good to have someone else watching). You'll be more motivated to follow through if other people are in on it, and you gain valuable teaching experience. I firmly believe that if you can teach your peers, you can teach anyone!
  7. Watch movies or Youtube dances and learn the moves - teach yourself some fantastic choreography! Or...
  8. Create your own dance film - I did, and it was so much fun! Choose a song, a theme, and flex your choreographic brain. Hey, maybe you'll get Youtube famous and I'll be posting your video on my "best of the best" posts (if you do make a film, PLEASE link me)!
  9. Bike or rollerblade wherever you go - if you live in a town small enough, or if you don't need to go too far, consider walking or biking!
  10. Instead of meeting your friends for coffee, go hiking - that'll save you the $4.95 you were about to spend on a latte, and you get some fun bonding time while working up a sweat and communing with nature.
  11. Do Pilates during commercial breaks - no one likes commercials. Even a few minutes of exercise interspersed will get your blood pumping instead of being a complete couch potato.
  12. Have dance parties in your own house - whether you dress up and invite your friend group over for a private club night or you're rocking out to Top 40 in your underwear, have fun while listening to great music and making a fool out of yourself.
Cheap Ideas:
  1. Find a fun exercise DVD or game - there are awesome Zumba, Pilates, and Yoga DVD's on the market! Make a trip to your local Target or Walmart and pick out a few fun ones to do with your mom or best friend. If you've got a Wii Fit, have fun while working out with games like Just Dance!
  2. Consider getting a gym membership - some people love gyms! If your parents don't have a treadmill at home, find a gym that's close to your home. They might be offering some great summer deals or student discounts. If you go a few times a week, it could cost you only a dollar or two for every time you go - loads cheaper than dance class. I know some gyms in the area that are offering deals that would cost me the price of two classes at my dance studio.
  3. Invest in your own small exercise equipment - over the course of my dance career, I've gathered lots of handy items that help me do a full body workout at home. It's not much equipment, but I'll have them forever. Other things like ankle or wrist weights, a Pilates band or ring, and light dumbbells could also be a good investment.
  4. Just take one class - if you want to get started in Yoga or Pilates and don't know how, find a great studio and take a class or two. Ask the teacher for a list of the exercises you do or for recommendations on a book or website to help remind you of how to do each exercise. Then carve out an hour or two every week and practice what you've learned!
  5. Go shopping instead of online browsing - grab a friend and hit the streets or mall! Bonus points if you take the stairs instead of the escalator or if you bike instead of drive. 
To help you save money: 
  1. Vow to stop drinking soda and other flavored drinks - these calorie and sugar-laden drinks can really subtract from your wallet and add to your waistline. Choose lighter options like tea, or try flavoring your water with cucumber or lemon.
  2. Choose classes wisely - if you are going to take class (good idea), choose classes you absolutely need. I'd take at least two or three classes a week, with at least one of those being ballet. Ballet isn't the basis of dance for nothing.
  3. Find studios closer to home - my studio is a good 45 minutes away in traffic. If you're not too attached to any one studio, I'm sure your wallet will thank you - gas is expensive!
  4. Don't eat out as much - eating out is expensive and unhealthy! Make your own meals at home with your parents or friends.
I'll admit I don't take a lot of my own advice. I've only done half of the things I've listed above. But hey, I'm trying! Maybe my ideas will help you. What tips do you have for staying active on a dime?