The Dancer’s Way – Linda H. Hamilton

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I borrowed a book from a dancer who lives in my house to use for research for an article I was writing and ended up reading the whole thing. The Dancer’s Way, subtitled The New York City Ballet Guide to Mind, Body and Nutrition, is written by a former NYCB dancer, now a clinical psychologist who consults with the company and writes frequent wellness columns. It’s a serious wellness guide and something of a bible for local (NYC) dancers–the information covers everything from cross-training to stress management with tons of suggestions, worksheets, resources, detailed descriptions of muscles you can pull or tear, and even cooking advice. Want to set up your kitchen like Wendy Whelan? Read this book. (Just kidding. There is a kitchen guide in the book but I have no idea whose culinary habitat it is modeled on.)

You might or might not be hungry for information on patellar malalignment but you could get some useful tips about dealing with hamstring tightness. How about exactly which carbs to eat for what activity level? (You did know fruits and veggies are carbs, didn’t you?)  Here’s insider knowledge that will depress you. Skinny ballerinas who are working members of a company often put in so many hours of rigorous physical exercise that they have to work to keep weight on.  Very, very tough. So sad. But dancers deal with flab like anyone else and they have fewer ways to hide it so the weight management advice is very thorough and sensible. I write about nutrition for a client fairly frequently and Hamilton’s advice follows most of the accepted guidelines but has the advantage of being sport-specific.

You can learn all about the best stretching and strengthening programs–Pilates gets a high-five–dancers love the way it lengthens and strengthens without bulking up muscles. Somewhere in the distant past I studied Pilates with a dancer who was a superb coach and I can say that was the best shape I have ever been in–not an ounce of fat anywhere and strong as steel. Do Pilates. (Note  to self: resume Pilates.) Cardiovascular fitness, flexibility, muscle strength–it’s all in here. So are cognitive-behavioral therapy, sleep deprivation and meditation.

There are many mini-stories scattered throughout the text with examples of real NYCB members and their fitness dilemmas and coping strategies. This is no lightweight tutu tutorial–it is a very readable fitness guide for anyone interested in healthy exercise, injury prevention, a Zen attitude and sensible nutrition.

The Dancer’s Way: The New York City Ballet Guide to Mind, Body, and Nutrition   Linda H. Hamilton | St. Martin’s Griffin   2008

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