5 things being a professional ballet dancer taught me about my body

Many of you may not know that my first career was dancing professionally in a ballet company. I grew up in a very small logging town in Canada where the town physician did house calls and treated the entire family from birth throughout life. My father was a stone mason and my mum was a stay at home mum making wonderful home -made food for us, though I did not appreciate it at the time.

I started taking ballet when I was nine and by the time I was fifteen I had moved to Seattle, was renting a room with a family and dancing in the professional division of Pacific Northwest Ballet. This was the beginning of my dance career and the start of a complete change in the way I treated my body. No more wholesome food made from scratch by my mother. A new relationship to food and my body began and changed and evolved to what it is today.

Here are the 5 most important lessons I have learned about my body

1. Pain and fatigue are messages.

Dancing on pointe, contorting our bodies into un-natural positions often led to pain. Frequently I did not know if a pain was an injury or part of the process of pushing myself. Either way I pushed on, which at times resulted in serious injury. The body is an amazing machine designed to do wonderful things but also sends messages when things are not right. I now know that pain or fatigue are my body’s way of telling me to rest so it can do the repair and recuperation it needs. We all push ourselves in various ways. Listen to your body when it is tired, hungry or hurt. Our body is designed to be in balance if we give it what it needs and get out of the way sometimes.

2. Whatever you focus on, grows

In ballet we are often focused on what is wrong and try to make it better. The trouble with this is that our brains are literally trained by repetition. If you focus on what is wrong all day at work, you will find all the things that are wrong in your relationships, yourself and your life. Positive Psychology has shown that you can train your brain to see positive or negative by what you focus on. I have learned that nothing is ever all bad (or all good) but I choose to change the channel of my brain to the positive station whenever I can. Writing down specific things you are grateful for has been shown to make people more happy. Start a gratitude group and email each other for accountability. Whatever you do makes a difference.

3. Habits are more important than talent

There are many dancers with innate talent but unless they work hard and develop it, it will not flourish. Ballet is a series of repetitions in order to create improvement. The repetitions become habits over time. This repetition was fantastic training for medical school. I often say that the reason I did so well in my medical training was not because I was the smartest, it was simply because if I did not understand after reading it the 10th time, I would read it an 11th! All success is simply a series of repetitions done until it is a habit. It is that way with nutrition, exercise, work and more. Given enough consistency, you can do more than you think.

4. Food is information, not just simply fuel

The focus of being thin when dancing in a ballet company is real. The foods I choose were based upon the least amount of calories with no thought to how the food would feed my cells and give me the strength to be my best. Diet Tab and an apple were a common lunch. But nutrition is so much more than calories in versus calories out. The nutrients in food literally create all the cells, organs, chemical and hormones that affect how you look, feel and function. I have adopted the 80/20 rule. Eat 80% nutrient dense foods throughout the day to feed your cells and then allow 20% to feed your satisfaction. You will find your energy, sleep and mood will improve by focusing on the information of the food rather than just the calories.

5. Self care is not self-ish

Taking care of yourself is important and not indulgent. Getting a massage, cleansing your skin with a luxurious skincare that smells wonderful, going for a walk, these are all things that heal your adrenal glands from the stresses of the day and allow you to re-charge. Even doing small things add up over time.

My body is strong and healthy at almost 50 and has forgiven me for all the abuse I put it through. I am grateful for the education and awareness I have. I spent so much of my life “getting by” on bad nutrition, “getting by” on too little sleep and too much stress.

Please share with me what you have learned and what you still want to learn to make this part of your health journey the very best it can be.

It’s your life. Your Health. Your turn. I am grateful for the opportunity to help guide you along the way.

15 thoughts on “5 things being a professional ballet dancer taught me about my body

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