Dancers balance physical and mental health

April 17, 2018

Kimmie Prokurat feels her best when fully rested, prepping plant-based meals for the week to align with her vegan lifestyle and writing in her gratitude journal.

Mark Burrell made the switch to a vegetarian lifestyle about 10 months ago because he wanted to have a better, sustained energy throughout his busy days as an assistant dance professor.

Taylor Eriksen stays energized, happy and focused by cross-training outside of her ballet classes, snacking on smaller meals throughout the day and reminding herself of her best qualities often.

Dancers have a demanding schedule that can wear on both physical and mental health, but Conservatory of Performing Arts (COPA) students have found many ways to stay positive and healthy through methods that work best for their personal lifestyle.

“Your diet is one of the first things that can lead to better living,” Prokurat, senior dance major with a jazz concentration, said in an interview last Wednesday. “Once you really value your food and what’s coming from your environment means you’re valuing yourself. It leads to a greater sense of self-confidence and appreciation for all the things you have. More gratitude equals happiness.”

Prokurat has been dancing since she was eight-years-old and has had a plant-based diet for the past two years. She tries to incorporate a balanced diet through oats, seeds, greens and even energy-boosting supplements like adaptogen maca powder.

“Overnight oats are my go to,” Prokurat said. “I do about half a cup of almond milk or hemp milk, the oats and a teaspoon of flax seeds or chia seeds… a banana and peanut butter. Maca powder is actually great for women to help regulate their estrogen levels. It’s not caffeine, but a different kind of energy booster I like to have in my breakfast.”

Lindsey Clements, dance major with a senior ballet concentration, has been dancing since she was five, and also incorporates vegetables as a central part of her diet since her freshman year.

“For health reasons as well as the ethical and environmental reasons, I decided to become a vegetarian,” Clements said in an interview last Friday. “It’s been an incentive to eat more fruits and vegetables but also become more knowledgeable about sources of protein and cleaner ways of eating. It’s given me more energy. The key is just to find foods that work for your own system.”

Burrell, assistant COPA jazz professor, said he started to notice a difference in his energy levels around three weeks in. He’s learned a lot from his students in preparing vegetarian meals. Overall, Burrell feels that conscious eating habits are becoming more central in society than ever before.

“I think it’s just become more of a topic of conversation now,” Burrell said in an interview last Tuesday. “It’s trendy to be called organic, it’s trendy to be called farm-to-table, whatever that means. I call it sustainable, educated human beings that are finally catching on.”

Meal prepping is another major way dancers are able to stay healthy whilst being so focused on their studies and training.

Chelsea Raymond, junior dance major with a jazz concentration, started dancing when she was three-years-old. She recognizes that school can make it a challenge to stay conscious about her dietary choices as a vegetarian.

“I meal prep on Sundays for things I can take with me to school,” Raymond said in a phone interview last Friday. “I get a lot of inspiration from the tasty video recipes on Facebook and actually get a lot of ideas from my friends. My new favorite is a quinoa or brown rice dish with peppers, onions and paprika.”

Bree Springer, junior major with a jazz concentration, has been dancing for 19 years. She also relies on meal prepping to stay healthy, finding inspiration from Pinterest.

“I use a lot of grilled proteins in my meals,” Springer said in a phone interview last Friday. “I’ll pair grilled salmon or steak with quinoa or brown rice. Sometimes meal prepping can be difficult to find different ways to mix it up. I love Pinterest, especially in finding new ways to cook my vegetables.” 

Prokurat said meal prepping is one of the best way to make a dietary shift.

“Meal prepping is like my best friend,” Prokurat said. “I think making a grocery list for yourself and planning what you want to eat for the first week is the best way to start. On Sundays I’ll take the shuttle and do the whole Trader Joe’s thing. I pair everything [ahead of time] so they are ready to grab quickly through the week.”

In addition to balanced diets, dancers also rely on cross-training to keep their bodies in shape outside of their daily dance classes. Eriksen enjoys exercising with others when she can. She likes to do water aerobics with her mom when she’s home. Despite the long days, morning gym sessions help her get focused.

“My roommate and I made a goal to get up and go to the gym in the morning before class and I loved it,” Eriksen said in an interview last Wednesday. “It was an awesome way to start the day. I could focus more instead of trying to wake up my body as I was going along.”

Prokurat finds cross-training essential to her regime as well.

“I’ll do a power yoga class to strengthen my muscles, do a high intensity interval sprint session on a treadmill or lift weights in the gym,” Prokurat said. “I sprinkle little workouts like that throughout my training so I’m not neglecting certain parts of my body.”

Dancers utilize a plethora of methods to keep their bodies, the instrument of their craft, in prime condition. In addition to their bodies though, keeping a fresh mind and positive body image is essential to their discipline. 

Burrell said he encourages students to take time to rejuvenate.

“You have to take care of yourself and with that comes rest,” Burrell said. “I am such a believer in a mental health day. If you just need to have a day for you, then damn it, do it. So many people forget the mental health aspect of living.”

Prokurat said reflection helps her keep a healthy mindset.

“Mental health is top tier, I even put that ahead of nutrition,” Prokurat said. “For me personally, it sounds kind of hippie, buopt meditating has helped me a lot with those issues. I also keep a gratitude journal. I jot down a few things that went right in the day to stay positive.”

Eriksen reminds herself to not linger on a critical body image, but celebrate her strongest features.

“Wearing a leotard and tights is not flattering at all,” Eriksen said. “I’ll pick leotards that match my mood that day. So I’ll think, ‘This one makes my legs look good so I want to emphasize that today.’”

Raymond likes to take some time for herself to refresh and reflect.

“One thing I do to stay mentally healthy is journaling a lot to get all my thoughts out,” Raymond said. “Another thing that I find important is to spend time with myself. Having ‘me time’ is always important for a healthy, stable mind.”

By staying aware of maintaining harmony between both body and mind, dancers are able to remain focused, energized and confident throughout their busy days, according to Burrell.

“In every walk of life and every job, you have to put the best part of yourself forward,” Burrell said. “You look different when you take care of yourself. There’s a glow to you, a light to you, an air about you, a presence.”

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