diet for dancers

The Aesthetic of Dance

Dance is a performance art form that involves a series of movements that can sometimes match the rhythm of music. It is practiced in many different forms for many different purposes. Dance can be perceived differently for these purposes, which include social, educative, therapeutic, and aesthetic purposes. It is important to touch upon the aesthetics of dance in order to understand why and how it does or does not matter to us. It is when we come to this conclusion that we can connect to the dancers themselves and how the world of dance can ultimately affect them.

The overall essence of dance is representative. Dance can represent a story, an emotion, or a person, but I will be focusing on how dance can misinterpret the role of the dancer themselves. The relationship between body and mind depicts the misrepresentation of the overall aesthetic of a performance and therefore, the aesthetic of the dancer.

I believe the aesthetic of dance is generally subjective because the sense of emotion evoked by a performance can and will vary amongst the group of people that comprise the audience. What can be interpreted as fear by someone can be interpreted as happiness by another. “The Aesthetics of Dance” by David Best opposes this idea. Best criticizes the argument that “my impression is precisely my impression and no one else’s and therefore, my impression of the dance is purely subjective” (12). However, I believe this is a completely valid argument. An audience will be forced to approach and perceive a performance in a certain way if dance is supposed to be purely objective. By saying that dance should not be subjectively interpreted, the general public will feel inclined to accept limited aspects of the performance. All aspects of the performance contribute to the overall message the choreographers are attempting to convey, not just selective aspects of the performance.

A performance in its entirety consists of intricate costumes, spacing, lighting, and choreography. The choreography refers to the way a body moves to portray a message or feeling. Choreographers are looking for specific bodies to fit into the costumes of their choice and portray messages very specifically. For example, one can argue that ballet is not about the meaningful expression, but instead about the beauty of the body performing. If this entire performance as a whole should be objectively interpreted, people will believe the performers need to look a certain way. Dance is indeed subjective because if only certain bodies and movements can cause certain effects, then dancers will try to fit into this societal mold and possibly end up with eating disorders.


Best, David. “The Aesthetics of Dance.” Dance Research Journal, vol. 7, no. 2, 1975, pp. 12–15.

Dancers VS. Athletes

Dance is an essential but overlooked component of the athletic world. Although dance is an art form, dancers are athletes. There are many physicality, motivational, and social aspects that differ between dance and other typical sports. However, that physical component is what primarily affects the qualification that defines a typical dancer and an athlete. To maintain these physical qualifications, overall nutritional habits vary among these two groups of people.

It is necessary for athletes of all sorts to train in order to progress and ultimately achieve perfection. In “Ballet as Sport: Athletes on Pointe,” Pamela Patrick refers to the hours of training at the barre in ballet class similar to any other athlete training. Physical training for dancers typically consists of stretching, aerobic exercise, such as jumping, climbing, swimming, cycling, and repetitive dance movements. Physical training for a typical athlete consists of conditioning, weight training, and cardio. Although the physical training may be different between athletes and dancers, the motivation, endurance, and coordination is necessary to be successful in both areas of activity. Coordination is needed to move several parts of the body at once and in unison. The movements of dance clearly depend on coordination whereas other sports, such as swimming, inadvertently depend on coordination.

Performance is the result of extensive training in all areas of activity. When performing, dancers may not need to use as much force as another athlete would. The performance is about the carrying, spinning, and flexibility of that body. However, dancers need to carry the force of their own bodies. The force used in dance is used to control and create beautiful and graceful movement. The force used in a typical sport relies heavily on strength and aggression. As a result, dance has become a form of expression that welcomes audience members. Other sports focus on the competition between opponents and essentially the victory.

Dance affects the body differently than another sport would. In order to control these movements, proper dance technique is vital. This technique helps to elongate the muscles, which will then result in a leaner body. This idea creates a problem. This is when people begin to think that only those who are lean possess genuine dance technique and therefore, those are the only true dancers. In order to become that “true dancer,” dancers are motivated to obtain this lean stature any way that they can.

Once again, there are major differences that distinguish dancers from athletes. Some of these differences can further encourage disorder within a dancer’s diet. For example, the dance industry emphasizes the appearance, weight requirements, and muscularity of its dancers, whereas other sports aren’t so focused on the athlete’s appearance. This is mainly because dance usually focuses more on the individual performer, while other sports focus on the performance of a team as a whole. As a result, dancers are more inclined to have the desire to meet these requirements and the likelihood of obtaining eating disorders increases.  


Patrick, Pamela. “Ballet as Sport: Athletes on Pointe.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 3.1 (1978): 20-21. JSTOR. Web.

Eating Disorders in Dance

The dance industry is notably known for its aesthetic and appealing qualities. Some of these qualities include the lighting, staging, costumes, music, spacing, and bodies of the dancers themselves. As per societal standards, dancers are required to look a certain way. They are supposed to be attractive, tall, graceful, slender, and have long legs. This ideal dancer’s physique was brought about by a man named George Balanchine, a famous ballet choreographer in the 1900s. He came up with what is referred to as the “Balanchine Body,” which is the “young, tall and slender” body (Kiem). According to Suzanne Farrell, a dancer rising to fame in the 1960s, “Balanchine liked to see bones. He liked to see ribs. He liked hyperextension and strength that was mechanical yet lithe. It is Balanchine’s obsession with this impossible “structure” that is often blamed for the destructive eating and body disorders that plague the dance world” (Kiem).  As a result, dance studios and dance teachers around the world have adopted this distorted way of thinking and therefore, many dancers’ nutritions have been detrimentally affected.

The “Balanchine Body,” or the body that consists of small breasts, narrow hips, long legs, and a short torso, is the body many dancers struggle to attain and ultimately maintain. It is made to be believed that without this “perfect” body, a dancer can not necessarily make a career out of dance. It is harder to get positions in dance companies, ballet schools, performing arts schools, dance studios, etc. when dancers essentially do not “qualify” to be dancers without that body. As a result, dancers become so wrapped up in attaining the ideal body that they adopt eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia.

Young women in the ballet world tend to be heavily affected by these eating disorders. Women who identify with dissatisfaction of body weight are usually those who experience decreased qualities of life. For example, young Australian women who had been diagnosed with eating disorders are studied using self report measures, such as questionnaires and surveys. The surveys showed that the women who reported having eating disorders had lower physical and mental quality of life scores (Lee, Wade, & Wilksch). Overall, body image was ranked to be the highest personal concern to forty percent of the females aged twenty to twenty-four year olds (Lee, et al.). It is arguable that the majority of young female dancers are those who belong to this age group. Body image seems to already be very important to these dancers who are experiencing pressure from the dance industry to maintain the ideal body.

Ultimately, the world of dance has encouraged the adoption of eating disorders in efforts to maintain the ideal physique George Balanchine once established. Eating disorders decrease the overall quality of life and as a result, the dancer is affected even outside of the dance world. Dancers may understand that these disordered eating practices are not healthy yet they continue to engage in them because there is no other option than to be the “best,” ‘healthiest,” and most slender individuals they can be. These malnutritional eating habits can then result in the lack of performance and an even greater risk for injury.


Kiem, Elizabeth. “George Balanchine: The Human Cost of an Artistic Legacy.” The Huffington Post., 23 Jan. 2014. Web

Lee Christina, Tracey D. Wade, and Simon M. Wilksch. “A Longitudinal Investigation of the Impact of Disordered Eating on Young Women’s Quality of Life.” Health Psychology 31.2 (2012): 352-59. EBSCOhost. Web.

The Effects of Nutritional Imbalance in the Dance World

Due to the pressures from society to maintain this “perfect” body, dancers experience imbalanced nutrition. In order to fix this problem, it is important to first understand what the body desires for proper nourishment and how harmful it can be to not satisfy these bodily needs. Poor eating habits can include over or under eating, imbalanced intake of calories, consuming too many sugary drinks and foods high in fat, sugar, and carbohydrates. According to SA Health, “These unhealthy eating habits can affect our nutrient intake, including energy, protein, carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals as well as fibre and fluid.” Without the proper nutrient intake, living daily can start to feel like a chore. Ultimately, the ability to live an active life may quickly diminish. Therefore, the disordered eating habits dancers may adopt can detrimentally affect their lives in and out of the dance world.

In order to achieve excellent performance, dancers need proper nutrition. According to Sousa, Carvalho, Moreira, and Teixeira, dancers need to consume at least 30 kcal/g fat-free mass/day. Because of their energy intake, dancers should become concerned with their micronutrient levels. Iron, vitamin D, and calcium are commonly deficient among dancer’s diets (Sousa, et al.). It is important dietary needs for dancers are met in order to ensure successful performance, proper hormonal counts, and overall healthiness.

Nutritional aspects, such as dietary intake, body composition, and caloric intake, have become a lot more prevalent because dance related injuries are becoming a lot more common. Ballet dancers are typically known for having low body fat. Low body fat can result in osteoporosis or the thinning of the bones. Low body fat can also result in the lack of oestrogen, which also results in the lessening of bone mass (Khalouha, Koutedakis, Pacy). Anorexia, which tends to be commonly found in dancers, also leads to osteoporosis. Since from about three to thirty five percent of dancers are diagnosed with anorexia, they are at a higher risk for injury (Khalouha, et al.). The lessening of bone mass can ultimately lead to the fracturing of bones, which then means the dancer’s incapability to perform.

There are many ways nutritional imbalance can occur. Once again, some of these poor eating habits include over or under eating and improper caloric and nutrient intake. Without the proper 30 kcal a day and micronutrients, such as iron, calcium, and vitamin D, dancers are more prone to injury. Poor eating habits lead to osteoporosis, which then leads to the easy breaking of the bones. Therefore, if dancers do not initially take care of their nutrition, they can find themselves in the vicious cycle of poor health and injury.


Khalouha, Magita, Yiannis Koutedakis, and Paul Pacy. “Body Composition, Weight Control, and Nutrition in Dancers.” Dance Research: The Journal of the Society for Dance Research 14.2 (1996): 93-105. JSTOR. Web.  

Sousa, M., P. Carvalho, P. Moreira, and Teixeira VH. “Nutrition and Nutritional Issues for Dancers.” Medical Problems of Performing Artists. U.S. National Library of Medicine, n.d. Web.

“The Risks of Poor Nutrition.” The Risks of Poor Nutrition :: SA Health. N.p., n.d. We

Dietary Recommendation for Dancers

It is especially important for dancers to lose weight the “healthy way”. In order to do this, you can follow these not so simple steps:

  1. It is firstly important to consider how many times you are eating a day and if and how there is a way to alter your eating schedule. Some people prefer to eat about 3 times a day and others prefer to have a meal about 5 times a day. 5 smaller meals equate to 3 larger meals. These habits are both healthy habits. It is just a matter of deciding what works for you and sticking to that schedule.
  2. It is important to avoid all junk food. This includes processed foods, baked goods, foods you cannot pronounce, salted snack foods, fast food, carbonated sugary drinks, etc.
  3. Sometimes it can help to also avoid a lot of gluten and sugar. According to Amy Green, health problems that are linked to excessive sugar in the diet and therefore, excessive gluten in the diet, include obesity, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and hypoglycemia (Gluten-Free Living). However, it is important to note that we are speaking about refined sugars here. The sugar from fruits is very natural and therefore, very healthy. It is actually important to maintain a consistent amount of natural sugar in the diet in order to survive.
  4. It is important to monitor your caloric intake. According to Kathryn Morgan’s video, “Diet for Dancers,” it is normal to eat around 1500 calories a day. However for an active dancer, it may be beneficial to eat around 1800 calories a day.
  5. A healthy breakfast for active dancers can be some cereal or oatmeal with fresh fruit, a hearty omelette, or a smoothie with almond milk.  Lunch can consist of a soup and salad with grilled chicken or half a sandwich. The salad should not be paired with a dressing too high in calories and sodium, such as caesar’s dressing. If you are going to use dressing, the healthiest choice is oil and vinegar. For dinner, a dancer could have some chicken with any vegetables of their choice.
  6. Another important component of losing weight the healthy way is exercise. When you exercise, you burn calories, you tone muscles, increase your metabolism, etc. Different methods of exercise are acceptable. For example, you can do cardio about 3 times a week and toning 1-2 times a week. You can tone your muscles in many ways. These include pilates, zumba, weight lifting, yoga, etc.

Snack Recommendations:

Some good snack recommendations for dancers who perform regularly are:

  1. Nuts
  2. Yogurt
  3. Fruit, especially bananas. The potassium found in bananas prevents muscle cramping.
  4. Popcorn
  5. Cheese sticks
  6. Hummus with veggies
  7. Banana ice cream

Dancers are partaking in vigorous exercise very often. As a result, it is important for them to maintain healthy diets that enhance their capabilities and performance. There are also ways for these dancers to lose weight fast and healthfully. Ultimately, it is important for them to carefully watch salt, sugar, dairy and gluten intake. Each of these ingredients tend to make you feel bloated and uncomfortable. This is not ideal for dancers who need to be performing their best at every rehearsal and performance. It is also important to drink a lot of water throughout the day in order to prevent retaining water. With the help of these few steps, dancers have the ability to healthfully obtain the ideal bodies they so desperately long for.


Diet for Dancers. Dir. Kathryn Morgan. YouTube. N.p., 31 Oct. 2014. Web. <>.

Green, Amy. “Gluten Free and Sugar Free – Gluten-Free Living.” Gluten-Free Living. Madavor Media, 2 May 2013. Web.

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