“Food is fuel.”
These are the words every Guru, mentor, instructor or coach I’ve ever had, constantly drilled into me and the many others I grew up dancing with.
They typically came when we were flaking out, famished and finished, in classes that were pushing us far out of our comfort zones, into territories of movement our bodies were only just getting a taste of. We’d be told to “take 5”, tear open a packet of biscuits or peel a banana or simply chug a glass of milk because the dancing couldn’t stop just yet. In the same breath, we couldn’t and wouldn’t be allowed to go on unless we had refuelled.
As dancers, our bodies are our biggest and sole instruments to deliver art. Dance is a visual art form, where the body must feel fit for the part it is playing. For a practice as physical as Dance, nutrition is not only crucial but the very phenomenon that keeps us going and makes dance possible.
Classical Dance, of any sort, is a measured mix of athleticism and artistry. Every dancer is an athlete first who dedicates years and years towards improving agility, mobility, flexibility, strength, limb function and length, expressiveness and body conditioning into building a complete artiste. Developing such a strong and nuanced practice compels considerable, if not obsessive thought upon what you’re putting into the body that enables and executes it.
We inhabit a world of contrasts. There are countless food options, variations, classifications that allow us to consume nutrients irrespective of our choices to be vegetarian, vegan, non-vegetarian or otherwise. Unfortunately, these remain inaccessible to the many talented, tenacious yet misled and misinformed dancers for reasons aplenty – primarily economic, intellectual and psychological.
Some dancers simply cannot afford a rainbow on their plate. The correct combination of foods – energizing nuts, fruits, dry fruits, dairy products, shakes, smoothies, bars, vegetables, lentils, meat, eggs, carbohydrates and hydration – juices, water, milk – simply isn’t the lot of too many.
In so many parts of the world, where art in itself is gradually finding a place, practitioners of dance are simply unaware of what they should be eating to compensate and set themselves up for the long brute hours and strain they put their bodies through.
As dancers, we sometimes admittedly, fall prey to feeding the vision our bodies are expected to create. Ironically (and tragically), we end up not feeding our bodies commensurately so as to realize that vision, thereby jeopardizing the future mobility of our bodies and setting ourselves up for injury. We begin to cater to the mechanical need of forming correct lines and perfect shapes in space which we falsely believe may not occur if we are “overfed” (an erroneous assumption for what is actually: well fed).
All the physical practice and rigour we undergo – to prepare, strengthen, lengthen and condition our bodies that perform the art – can do nothing for us without the sustenance that will hold it out.
Balance is a word most relevant to a dancer, in multiple contexts. True, we must put in the work; we must look the part; we must possess the strength of rugby players whilst looking and moving like elegant, effortless dolls; we must be the athletes that dancers inevitably are, it might be unforgivable to think we may be able to do or be any of those things without the right and consistent nutrition.
Classical Dance takes herculean energy to practice and perform. The human body, which dancers try enormously hard to live outside of despite themselves, can only churn out miracles in movement, if it is adequately filled and refilled.
Our gurus and coaches forced those glasses of milk and bananas down our throats because they wanted us to be unstoppable as Classical Dancers are wont to. We need to share that wealth of resources and wisdom so we may have more movers dancing well into many more tomorrows.
Mythili Zatakia is a Classical Dancer who dreams to carry Classical Dance everywhere it is not and everywhere it can be rooted, fostered, protected and furthered.
Her Junoon can be found at junoonart.com and @junoon.official
Translations and detailed descriptions are provided to give a better understanding of the story to people from different cultural backgrounds across the globe.