There’s no dancing around good nutrition
A dancer’s life can be exhilarating and exhausting.
Follow Kerri Smith around for a day – if you can keep up – and you’ll witness grueling hours of ballet, modern and jazz technique accompanied by weight, cardio and core training at the gym. On many days, the Radford University dance major gracefully grinds through even more hours of show rehearsals.
Throw in a rigorous academic schedule and it can be a chaotic, yet poetic, fusion of events that leaves the performing artist, and others like her, physically spent and searching for proper nutrition to fuel a demanding lifestyle.
“Nutrition is so important to any athlete, including dancers, that it is almost a necessity to know how your body is fueled if dancing is something you want to continue throughout your life,” Smith said.
One night during the fall semester, nutrition majors Lauren Sigmon and Cory Toler offered some words of advice to Smith and a small group of dance majors who were eager to learn more about powering their bodies through proper nutrition.
A class project for Associate Professor Jyotsna Sharman’s Community and Cultural Nutrition course led Sigmon and Toler to speak with the dancers about “making sure they are getting adequate nutrition to perform well in the classroom and also through their long hours and late nights,” Toler said while speaking about the experience at the Scholar-Citizen Initiative (SCI) Symposium Nov. 29.
Sigmon and Toler engaged with the dancers about a variety of nutrients that could improve their performances in and out of the classrooms and dance studios, and they urged the dancers to drink plenty of water and get adequate sleep.
“The talk really helped me to realize how I have not been properly helping my body work through these exhausting days,” Smith said.
In Sharman’s course, Nutrition and Dietetics seniors study various nutrition programs that exist at local, state and national levels. They also examine healthcare systems policies. Students analyze the different socioeconomic, cultural and psychological factors that influence food and nutrition behavior in different communities.
Additionally, they learn to assess and meet nutritional needs of communities, and then develop and present an appropriate nutrition education program to a target group.
The idea behind this class project, Sharman said, is to give her students an opportunity to apply their nutrition knowledge and presentation skills in a community setting.
“It involves planning, preparing and delivering an educational lesson targeted to the specific needs of the communities,” Sharman explained. “It is followed by an evaluation of the students’ presentation by an external evaluator. And finally, students complete a reflective analysis of their experience and learning.”
The community project benefits students on two levels, Sharman said.
“On a personal level, the experience gives them exposure in a community setting, helps them build communication skills and confidence in their abilities and it will certainly boost their application for the highly competitive dietetic internships,” she said.
On a professional level as future dietetic professionals, students “experience how to apply their classroom learning, nutrition knowledge and communication skills to benefit local community, and also learn how to counsel and educate specific groups of communities to give sound nutritional advice consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” Sharman explained.
Many of the students, all seniors, delivered their presentations at local schools.
Alex Harris took her message to a familiar group, introducing women at her church to ways they can make lifestyle changes as opposed to dieting. She talked to the women, who ranged in age from 18 to 70, about healthy snacks, interactive food labels and she made tasty protein pancakes.
“They really wanted to hear about how to lose weight and make healthy snacks,” Harris conveyed to the SCI symposium audience. “I talked to them about how to make a healthy lifestyle change and about the problems with many diets. I just wanted to talk with them and help them understand.”
The project presentations benefit community members by teaching individuals more about healthy food choices, adopting healthy nutrition-related practices and changing their eating behaviors, which can “enhance their nutritional well-being,” said Sharman, a registered dietitian.
All of those can be difference-makers for dancers.
“Our instructors constantly stress the importance of keeping our bodies healthy and properly functioning to better handle the heavy physical activity we perform daily,” said dance major Reagan Mihailoff.
“I learned about what foods to eat to fuel my body and where on campus those types of foods are available,” said Mihailoff, a freshman from Stuarts Draft by way of Flint, Michigan. “I found the presentation to have incredibly vital information, and I was glad to have participated.”