Developing a Dancer’s Toolbox: Find a Fork

Guest Writer: Jaclyn Youngblood, Academy Intern

“Food is fuel,” says Dr. Roberta Anding. “Food helps you meet your goals.” And for the 260 dancers taking nutrition classes with Anding at the Summer Intensive, that goal is to dance and perform at the highest level of excellence.

Students in levels 5-8 take a nutrition course once a week. Anding, who specializes in pediatrics and sports medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said she has been part of the nutrition program at Houston Ballet for 10 years, though she thinks the nutrition program this summer is the best it has ever been.

With the help of ARAMARK (who provides the food at the University of St. Thomas dorms), the nutritional science that is being taught in the classroom is translated to the plate at the students’ dorms. Anding said there’s often a disconnect between what students learn about nutrition and how they subsequently engage nutrition. That makes for a healthy partnership between Anding’s class and the food being served to dancers who live in the dorms.

Anding stressed Houston Ballet’s commitment to giving dancers life-long tools and foundational knowledge, which certainly extends to the realm of health and wellness. In class, she helps students focus on hydration, how food works in their bodies, and what “healthy eating” really is. Anding said she believes it has more than one definition: it means encouraging consumption of “everything you might think” such as whole grains and vitamins, while taking into account personal preferences, cultural or religious restrictions, and realistic attitudes toward less nutritious options like desserts and fried foods.

Another portion of class is devoted to a question-and-answer session of mythbusters about nutrition and the media. Anding said she aims to educate “savvy nutrition consumers” who will take the contextual knowledge they’ve learned at the Summer Intensive and apply it throughout the year, and throughout their lives.

Brigit (OR) is a level 7 student who is taking Anding’s nutrition class. She said the class is interesting and helpful, and because of it, she is becoming more pro-active about the food she is eating. The novelty of the class is another highlight. “I’ve never taken a class like this at an intensive program,” Brigit said. “I’ve learned so much already.”

Anding said one of her goals for the class is to do a better job talking about natural body types of athletes. “Every single sport has a preferred body type,” she said. Anding drew an analogy to basketball: while a professional women’s basketball player might be in the best physical condition for her sport, she probably wouldn’t make it in the dance world. Through nutrition education, she tries to help people see where they fit along the body type continuum and then help mold their bodies to the best of their personal range.

Another key emphasis Anding pointed to was the difference between lean and skinny. “The former comes from doing Pilates training, focusing on strength and grace; skinniness is a result of restrictive dieting,” she said. Performing takes muscles and stamina and through the nutrition class, she works to create sophisticated dancers who understand that.

“Dancers across the board know that how they use their fork can extend their career,” she said.

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