Ask Amy: Getting a Cold for Christmas

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

I always get sick during Nutcracker. Help! —Emily

Long days, late nights, chilly weather and overworked bodies make the perfect recipe for disaster during Nutcracker season. I’ll never forget burning up with a fever backstage in my Arabian costume, or the time when a flu outbreak caused major casualties in our Snow and Flower corps. Staying well requires a combination of nutrition, hydration and sleep—not to mention preparedness and discipline.

Your meals should include a combination of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats to ensure you’re receiving essential vitamins and minerals. Use your days off to stock up on groceries and prepare meals for the week to minimize late-night cooking, and keep lots of healthy snacks, like fruits and vegetables, in your bag to stay fueled throughout the day. Most importantly, hydrate. Water oxygenates the blood, flushes toxins, wards off inflammation and keeps the lymphatic system working properly—all keys to a healthy immune system. You may also want to take a daily multivitamin.

Use common-sense precautions: Wash your hands frequently, especially after partnering and after barre, and avoid sharing utensils or drinks. Consider getting a flu shot before your Nutcracker run starts.

You also need to make sleep a priority. Studies have shown that six or fewer hours of sleep a night can make you more susceptible to illness—so going out every night after performances isn’t a good idea. Once you’re home, eat, ice and start winding down (no Netflix binging). Use free time at the theater for the essentials: Sew shoes and take naps. On your days off, rest. 

I’m in a second company and I’d like to use my summer layoff to do an intensive elsewhere. Is there a tactful way to bring this up to my director? —Simone

This is tricky, and depends on your director. When I was a trainee, we were free to go elsewhere until the season started again—my director only requested that we stay in shape. But others may require that you stick around, or frown upon training at another school, so make sure you know where they stand. You should be able to ask a member of the artistic staff about an official policy. Understand that there may be consequences for going behind your director’s back.

Still, I think you can be honest about attending another program if you frame it the right way. Directors know that smart young dancers (especially those who haven’t received a corps de ballet contract yet) need to make connections. But you want to choose language that doesn’t make it seem like you’re seeking other opportunities and looking to jump ship. Instead, play up the learning factor—you want to expand your skills, work with a specific teacher, practice a different style. It shows that you’re a go-getter and committed to staying in shape. Hopefully your director will see your interest in expanding your horizons as a good thing.

I feel like I’ve lost my love of dance. I dread going to class and rehearsal and I think my director is starting to notice. Does this mean it’s time to quit? —Payton

We all go through rough patches. But quitting entirely is a big decision—and one you shouldn’t make without getting to the bottom of why you’re feeling so uninspired. I had three periods over the course of my career when I considered giving up. I was able to work through them, but it took a lot of soul searching.

Start by assessing your work environment. Do you like the repertoire you’re performing and the person you’re working for? Do you feel challenged enough? Being underutilized or pigeonholed in the same roles over and over again can be a serious motivation killer. But so can feeling overly comfortable. You may want to talk to your director (schedule a one-on-one meeting) about how you’re feeling. Or, consider making a change—a new company environment may be just what you need to rejuvenate your enthusiasm.

Or, maybe there’s a larger issue at play. Losing interest or pleasure in activities you once loved can be a sign of depression. I know from experience—in the months after my father died, it took every ounce of willpower to get myself into ballet class. But you don’t need to undergo a tragic event to develop depression. If you’ve been experiencing feelings of hopelessness and anxiety in your daily life, you may want to seek counseling to help understand why. 

It’s also possible that your priorities have simply changed. A dance career requires an enormous amount of sacrifice and commitment; it’s easy to resent ballet if you’re restless to experience other things. It may be time to move on—and there’s nothing wrong with that. 

Click here to send your questions to Amy. She may answer one in an upcoming issue!

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