Restless Creature: A Review of the Documentary and Q&A with Wendy Whelan

"Restless Creature," a documentary about Wendy Whelan, former NYCB Principal Dancer - Balletomanehk.com

This past Saturday, I went to see a documentary about former New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Wendy Whelan, the acclaimed ballerina known for being the greatest American ballet dancer of our time. I remember seeing her perform in “Dances … Continue reading

Dancers, Go out in the Sun!

Louisa_PointeShoes_Rocks

Summer is here! Dancers, what are your plans? To many of us who are in love with the barre, the prospect of taking a summer break without any dance class is just a torture, isn’t  it?

Pointe-Shoes-on-the-Rock-5

Well, let’s take a look at the issue from a different perspective. Dancers spend most of their waking hours indoors, inside the studio, away from exposure to natural light. Without the benefit of the sunlight, our skin would not be producing enough Vitamin D, which is a vital hormone that aids the absorption of calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, among hundreds of other benefits it brings to the body. I referred to Vitamin D as a “hormone” instead of a vitamin, because it functions differently from vitamins,  in that it can actually be manufactured by the body itself without the help of food. Its production is triggered by exposure to sunlight. Knowing that it helps the absorption of the important minerals that contribute to bone health, it is therefore of utmost importance for dancers to get adequate amount of Vitamin D.

A study presented at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine’s Annual Meeting has linked too little vitamin D in the body to an increased risk of muscle injuries in athletes. While the study involved football players, you have probably seen the list of the most demanding athletic activities, in which ballet ranks higher than football (sorry I can’t find that list now). So the warning from the research can definitely be applied to ballet dancers and students alike.

Louisa_Dancing-on-the-Roof

Practicing barre on the rooftop

By now, you probably have guessed what the best way to get Vitamin D is. Yes, get out in the sun! But do so without those horrendous “visors” ubiquitous in Asia, and sans the carcinogenic sunblocks. In case you haven’t heard, most commercial sunscreens contain questionable ingredients that could lead to cancer or hormonal disruption and other terrible long-term health issues. In the reference section below the article, you can find a link to how to choose sunscreens that are safe. Personally, I do not use any sunscreen at all, except for a thin layer of tinted moisturizer by 100% pure on my face. My body likes getting the tan. I have a lot of natural pigments (melanin), which protects me from the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays. I also eat a lot of vegetables in a rainbow spectrum on a daily basis, which serves as a natural protection from sunburn. I have read that people in tropical countries apply coconut oil to protect their skin (http://bit.ly/1gHJJfL). I haven’t tried it myself but you might want to give it a try (best to use extra virgin coconut oil).

I have once overheard a conversation involving the parents of a girl who hopes to become a professional dancer when she grows up. The parents were asked about the summertime activities they have planned for the girl. They replied: “She wouldn’t be going outdoors much. It’s best for her to keep her skin color fair, as it would be ideal for ballet dancers. She’ll be swimming in indoor pools and mostly playing indoors.”

I balked at such a suggestion. Not only is this a most unscientific approach to their daughter’s health, it also reinforces the stereotype that ballerinas should have fair skin (read David King’s blog post about the idea of “passable white” in ballet, http://bit.ly/1SuWrdC). Why can’t we, Asians, maintain our natural skin color and create our own ideal for ballet dancers?

Well, I’m way past the age of becoming a professional dancer, but in my whimsical way, I like to think of myself as an “outdoor ballerina”—having fun in the sun—and I am not ashamed of my brown skin. Let’s have some fun in the sun this summer, shall we?

 

 

References:

Vitamin D: Health Benefits and Recommended Intake

Vitamin D Deficiency Links to Risk of Uterine Fibroids

Lack of Vitamin D Leads to Muscle Injuries

The Environment Working Group’s Guide to Sunscreens

Classical Ballet: An Art or a Sport?