It’s a teacher’s job to be 100 percent focused on her students. Unfortunately, this means that she often loses sight of her own health and wellness. DT spoke to three teachers who, despite schedules that leave little time for anything outside of the dance studio, have managed to develop fitness plans that work. Here’s how they do it.
FROM CHEESEBURGERS TO CHIN-UPS
“I am not one of those people who enjoys working out. In fact, it’s my least favorite thing to do,” says Kim McSwain. During the week, this Dallas, Texas–based mom is constantly moving, keeping up with her 4-year-old daughter Bella. And weekends are reserved for teaching, traveling to NUVO conventions and other gigs across the country. But after turning 35 this year, McSwain has made finding the time to buckle down on her fitness routine a priority.
Naturally thin, she has struggled throughout her life to put on weight. But she hasn’t always gone about it in the healthiest way. “I used to eat between 4,000 and 5,000 calories per day just to stay at 115 pounds,” she says. “I went to my trainer and told him that things have to change.” Now, she’s working out with him three days a week, and on days off, she opts for a two- to three-mile walk or run with her dog. In the gym, her focus is on staying fit, bulking up and keeping the weight on. “Twice a week, we do a circuit of full-body, high-intensity training exercises that are pretty brutal,” McSwain says, but not nearly as bad as their third session, which she refers to as “the torture treatment”: 13 different exercises done as quickly as possible, always trying to beat her previous time. “Most days I lie on the ground in between sets and act very dramatic,” she says. “It’s like an obstacle course of pain.”
Why does she put herself through it? “Staying in shape is part of my job,” she says. “When I’m in front of kids, talking about their core and doing ab exercises, I have to be able to do them myself.”
Her diet has changed, too. “I can’t tell you how unhealthily I used to eat: Red Bull to start my day, followed by Jack in the Box cheeseburgers,” she says. But meals now consist of hard-boiled eggs, hummus, fresh vegetables, salads with as much color as possible and tons of water. And she is constantly eating little handfuls of snacks throughout the day.
“I used to hear people talk about eating healthy and think, ‘That sounds awful; go eat a hamburger and get a life,’” she says. “But I would never go back to eating the way that I did or not working out. I carry myself differently now, and my energy level has gone up. Taking an hour or two a day to go for that walk or go to the gym, it’s worth it.”
Sheila Barker’s teaching schedule is jam-packed. Juggling classes from morning until night as adjunct professor of jazz at Marymount Manhattan College and teaching seven classes at Broadway Dance Center in New York City, she has to make some sacrifices to get her workout in, like waking up as early as 4 am.
Every morning, she does a series of exercises ranging from sun salutations to sit-ups. “I’ll do a meditation, some strengthening, yoga, breathing, whatever I can get in there,” she says. The routine ranges in length, but if she has the time, she’ll keep at it for an hour and might even add a full ballet barre. “Working out is something I love,” she says. “It’s been a part of my life ever since I’ve been in this industry.”
Yoga and meditation have let Barker do something she rarely has time for: relaxing. “It used to be hard for me to sit still,” she says. “I’m a New Yorker, always running to the next place, without enough time to get there. Yoga has helped me gain a little perspective and be able to just breathe.” She takes a vinyasa flow yoga class once a week. “It’s the best time of my life,” she says. “It’s my ‘me’ time.”
And students expect to see Barker in the studio 20 to 25 minutes before class to stretch and warm up. “I have to be sure I don’t hurt myself,” she says. “In class, I don’t just sit and point. I’m a full-out girl.”
She’s full-out when it comes to her diet, too. A vegan for about 20 years, Barker has also cut back on her sugar intake and tries to eat mostly organic foods. “But I’m not crazy about it,” she says. “If I’m eating out with friends or if I’m out of town and they don’t have organic options, I just work with what’s available.”
During the few years before Donna Silva’s parents passed away, she slipped out of her usually consistent workout routine while caring for them. And she felt the effects. “I was barely able to walk,” she says. “My knees hurt, my ankles hurt, my back hurt.”
At 65, this Boston-based teacher’s focus is on never letting that happen again. But amid a busy schedule teaching ballet, pointe, pedagogy and Pilates at The Boston Conservatory, Pilates at Mindful Bodyworks and ballet at The Gold School, it’s difficult to find the time to stay in shape. She exercises in doses, stretching or doing yoga between classes. Usually, she chooses Pilates, which she discovered about eight years ago when dancing became too hard on her knees. “When I started doing Pilates, I found that the pain in my knees receded,” she says. “I thought, ‘I should give this to my dancers.’ So I got certified.” A gym close to home has a reformer machine, so she’ll often make a pit stop to do a slow workout. Plus, she takes private Pilates lessons about once a week and weight trains with a trainer every two weeks. “I like to work with someone else, so I don’t get into any bad habits,” she says. “Sometimes it’s awfully hard to find the time, but I found out the hard way what happens if I don’t.”
When she’s feeling unmotivated, her students inspire her. “It’s important for me to guide them in the proper way,” she says, recalling how unhealthily she lived as a young dancer. “I did a poor job nutritionally. I ate practically nothing, and my body suffered.” She now sees a nutritionist, and her diet consists mostly of protein and vegetables. “My downfall is ice cream,” she says. “I indulge at the end of the week. You can’t just give everything up.” DT
Photo: Kim McSwain (by Brian Guilliaux, courtesy of Kim McSwain)