Former New York City Ballet dancer Linda Hamilton,
Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice, the
author of Advice for Dancers (Jossey-Bass) and
co-author of The Dancer’s Way: The New York
City Ballet Guide to Mind, Body, and Nutrition (St.
Martin’s Griffin). Her website is drlindahamilton.com.
Dr. Linda Hamilton
2000 Broadway, PH2C, New York, NY 10023
My girlfriend wants me to say “no” to extra work outside of the company.
During breaks, I typically teach master classes, do gigs and choreograph. I
love these opportunities, but I’m always tired and it interferes with our time
together. What should I do?
—Principal Dancer, New York, NY
There are many reasons for overwork, though not all are bad. Research
shows that one cause is the “curse of career happiness.” Most dancers feel
passionate about their work, whereas only 13 percent of the general
population is happy with what they do. This makes it easy for you to get
sucked into taking on more and more projects—even if it’s exhausting
and leads you to neglect loved ones. To create a more constructive work/
life balance and avoid burnout, try to reframe breaks as opportunities to
express different aspects of yourself through favorite hobbies, like painting
or travel, and enjoying the luxury of quality time for cherished relationships.
This approach will enrich your overall well-being and help you recharge
your batteries to be more productive at work. Of course, you can still take
on special dance jobs during a layoff. You shouldn’t feel guilty for doing
what you love or taking advantage of the chance to earn extra income. Just
reassure your girlfriend that you plan to prioritize and strive for moderation.
I’m naturally thin and have been living on fast food such as burgers, fries
and pizza. Now I’m trying to eat better to prepare for auditions. I know
the basics, like choosing good carbs, protein and fat, but it’s hard to make
smart choices when I’m grocery shopping. Any ideas?
—S.H., New York, NY
It’s great that you’re making a healthier diet a priority, especially since you
live in a city like New York, where takeout can be so easy. Focus on making
the majority of your diet real, whole foods. When choosing packaged foods,
there’s an app called Fooducate that gives a letter grade for quality and
content, based on everything from calories and fat to healthy ingredients,
vitamins and minerals. It also spots hidden traps such as empty calories,
lots of additives and high-fructose corn syrup, which lower a food’s grade.
Just scan the bar code of a product or search with a specific keyword, like
“bagel,” to see how algorithms created by nutrition professionals and
dietitians rate it. If you’d like help with a more comprehensive plan, you
can work with a registered dietitian nutritionist. Referrals are available
through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, at eatright.org/find-an-
expert. Either way, being aware of what’s in what you’re eating will help
ensure you have sufficient energy for dance.
I’ve had two stress fractures in my tibia over the last few years. Each time,
they were treated and healed with physical therapy. Now I’ve got a third
one in the same place. Maybe it’s because I do a lot of jumping, but that’s
what male dancers do. How can I keep this from happening again?
—John, Chicago, IL
While it isn’t unusual for a stress fracture to recur, three fractures in the
tibia represent a significant pattern of reinjury. You may have an underlying
vulnerability that could take a big chunk of time out of your career. A
metabolic disorder (which requires a workup by an endocrinologist to
diagnose) or the structural shape of your leg may make you more prone to
tibial fractures. In the latter case, dance medicine specialists say that only
surgery can fix this permanently. Typically, the two surgical choices are a
bone graft with a plate and screws or placing a rod down the shaft of the
tibia. Though both sound extreme, the recovery time is only 8 to 10 weeks. If
you dance on proper surfaces—not concrete floors—that’s usually the end
of the problem. Since tibial fractures are common in professional basketball
players, I’d recommend seeking out the orthopedist for your local team—
it’s likely that doctor has performed a large number of these surgeries. If
you don’t address the root of the problem, you may be facing yet another
fracture next year. ■
advicefordancers | BY LINDA HAMILTON
Taking home a nutritious grocery haul
requires a careful shopping strategy.
The Curse of
How to find balance when you
love your job, plus tips on
choosing healthier packaged foods