Ask Amy: Degree Dilemmas

(Photo by Nathan Sayers)
(Photo by Nathan Sayers)

Should I turn down an apprenticeship to finish my dance degree, or should I put my education on pause? —Ashleigh

Congratulations on receiving an apprenticeship offer! They don’t come every day. If you think you’re ready for company life, and will be full of regrets if you turn the offer down, you can always resume school later. However, make sure you know what the position entails.

Not all apprenticeships are paid, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll be promoted to the company’s corps de ballet at season’s end. Are you comfortable entering the dance world without the security of a college degree? And are you motivated enough to return to school if you put your education on pause now?

If your answer to either is “no,” or if you think you need another year or two of training, consider staying put. A company environment is fast-paced; the focus is on the work that needs to be done in rehearsals more than training. And you’ll have very little time to develop other skills you may be exploring in college, such as choreography, pedagogy or modern dance.

If you’re still torn, seek the best of both worlds. Can you receive credit for professional experience, or finish courses online? Can you defer school for a year, or negotiate to start your apprenticeship next season? Be open and honest with both the company director and your professors—you won’t know what’s possible unless you ask!

I’m dropping meat from my diet. What can I eat to replace protein, iron and other nutrients? —Madison

Vegetarian diets definitely have health benefits: They tend to be higher in fiber and lower in saturated fats. But it’s not enough to eat a few slices of cheese and say you’ve gotten your protein for the day. “Vegetarian athletes need to be balanced in their protein, fat and carbohydrate choices so that they’re filling and satisfying,” says Marie Elena Scioscia, a registered dietitian and nutritionist who works with The Ailey School.

Depending on the type of diet you follow, alternative protein sources can come from dairy products, soy, nuts and eggs. However, Scioscia warns not to overly rely on soy products and cheese. Soy can elevate estrogen levels in the body, which, according to Scioscia, may increase risk for breast cancer in certain individuals. Avoid eating more than three servings of soy per day. And since cheese is often loaded with saturated fat, stick with low- or non-fat varieties.

Other plant-based proteins include seeds, quinoa, spirulina and beans. “Plant protein doesn’t digest as well as animal protein,” Scioscia says, so she recommends increasing your intake and combining plant proteins with other foods to get all the essential amino acids to aid absorption (for instance, eating rice and beans together). A good guideline is 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight—so a 120-pound dancer should eat 82 grams of protein daily.

You can find iron in foods like fortified cereal and bread, spinach, apricots, prunes, raisins, nuts and seeds. Vitamin C helps increase iron absorption, Scioscia says, so cook veggies with a splash of lemon juice or sip orange juice while you eat. As for calcium, milk, fortified soy milk, fortified almond milk and yogurt are the most obvious choices. Vegetables such as broccoli, kale, turnip greens and Brussels sprouts are also excellent sources. “However, calcium will be bound up in fiber, so the amount your body can use is cut in half,” Scioscia warns. If necessary, you can supplement with 250 mg of calcium citrate or calcium carbonate to reach your daily goal of 1,000 mg.

Can overexercising be an eating disorder? My friend says she’s not anorexic, but she’s obsessed with cardio as a way to be skinny. —Emma

Most dancers do some form of cross-training outside of ballet—and that’s okay. But obsessive overexercising can be a sign of an eating disorder if your friend’s behavior interferes with her personal and professional life. Dr. Constance Quinn, DSW, site director of The Renfrew Center of New York (an eating disorder treatment facility), says that while there’s no formal diagnosis for it, compulsive exercising fits into the composite of an anorexia-binge-purge disorder. “The idea that you can’t eat unless you exercise afterward, and the obsessive/compulsive drive behind it is harmful,” says Quinn. “What at one point was an exercise routine can become something completely disruptive, to the point where the person can’t live without it.”

If you decide to approach your friend, choose your words carefully. “We often assume we know what’s going on,” Quinn says, but that’s not always the case. Keep questions very general, and be supportive and compassionate: “Is everything okay? I’m here if you want to talk.” If she doesn’t admit to having a problem, don’t push. But if she doesn’t improve, be more direct: “We never see you anymore, and I’m worried about you.” Eventually, you may need to tell a trusted adult what’s going on. 

Do you have a question for Amy? Click here to send it to her, and your question may be answered in an upcoming issue!

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