Dance teachers are on the frontline of a dancer’s journey through audition season. Celebrating successes, navigating rejections, and formulating backup plans are just some of the responsibilities that many educators experience alongside their dancers.
But audition season is also a vulnerable time for dancers who may be feeling, more than ever, the pressures of an industry inundated with restrictive dieting standards and unrealistic body ideals. Supposedly healthy habits, such as “clean eating,” are often a guise for obsessive behaviors that can lead dancers to disordered eating and negative body image.
Brooke Robyn Dairman, co-director of The Dance Loft in Long Beach, New York, explains that “dedicated dancers are often highly motivated ‘doers’ who want to excel in everything they take on. Because of this, they’re stressed and overscheduled.” But it’s not only the dancers who are overscheduled. Dairman adds: “It’s overwhelming when I’m teaching five to eight hours consecutively. It takes time and energy to prepare enough fuel for these busy days, and if I struggle to prepare this fuel, how can I expect my adolescent and preadolescent students to do the same? We all need more tools.”
So how can educators help their dancers navigate a strenuous audition season despite such struggles? Here are five tips for educators to support both themselves and their dancers during audition season.
Prioritize Fueling Stations
If a school is encouraging refueling, it’s a sign that nutrition and self-care are prioritized. Fueling stations provide convenient access to food for the purpose of maximizing their dancers’ energy and post-performance recovery. Offering snacks and rehydration therapies not only provides dancers with the tools needed for an energized audition, but it also helps to destigmatize a dancer’s need for refueling.
For your fueling station, consider convenient options that are allergy-friendly, shelf stable and rich in carbohydrates to help replenish energy stores. Individually wrapped granola bars, pretzel bags and raisin packs are examples.
Get Parents Involved
To lessen the burden on your students, encourage parents and guardians to get involved. Families can help to organize and execute fundraisers that support the various nutritional needs of their dancers. Planning fueling stations at on-site auditions and prepping snack bags for dancers who are traveling are both creative examples that benefit from fundraising efforts. Remember: Any level of involvement might not be accessible to all families, so it’s recommended that this be optional and judgment-free.
Model Sustainable Habits
Dance teachers should reassess their own relationships with food as a framework for supporting their dancers’ sustainable habits. Choose a nonrestrictive and intuitive approach. This involves rejecting the dieting mentality in a way that removes the moral judgment around food and reduces feelings of food guilt, especially at the studio. Avoid comments like “I should not be eating this!” and actively prohibit judgmental food comments among dancers. Also, support snack breaks during long audition days for both dancers and staff.
Provide Professional Support
Without a proper fueling plan, dancers risk having low energy levels and sub-optimal recovery—two factors that can negatively affect their audition. While dance teachers can act as models of sustainable habits, professional resources are encouraged for a more specialized approach. Registered dietitian nutritionists who understand the unique demands of a dancer’s schedule can help to provide specific audition fueling plans and continued education.
Support the Basics
While professional resources, such as registered dietitian nutritionists, are highly suggested for evidence-based nutrition education, dance teachers can support several basic habits to optimize pre-audition energy levels and post-audition recovery. First, prioritize balance among the macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fat). Packable meals like sandwiches and wraps offer convenient and balanced options for audition day. Next, remind students to plan with multiple grab-and-go snacks that are easy to consume, even during a quick shoe change.