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Fueling Up for Your Dance

PBJ - the surprising pre-show meal on the run.

PBJ – the surprising pre-show meal on the run.

Some days are just crazy. The universe sends you multiple gigs, and maybe you have to do them after you’ve spent hours at your day job. Or maybe you’ve signed up for a full day of workshops. Whatever the reason, you’ll do your best job performing or learning if you are properly prepared for the experience. There are several ways you can prep for the best. For starters, keep yourself in good physical condition to handle this kind of workload. A regular cardio and strength exercise schedule to supplement your belly dance is your best long-term preparedness plan, and is, of course, a benefit to your overall health. Additionally, be sure to get plenty of rest in the day or two before your marathon dance day.

When your engine is primed and ready from exercise and rest, the next part of the puzzle is to know how to fuel it up to go the distance. 2 hours before your activity, plan to eat a meal that has a combination of protein, carbohydrates and a little fat to keep you from getting hungry again too quickly. If lots of fibrous veggies makes you feel bloated, you may want to avoid overdoing the salad or other vegetables. For me, eggs really do the trick – they keep me full for hours. How about a scrambled egg burrito or a frittata? In case you think you can’t do this – you can.  Cheese, whole grain crackers and a piece of fruit. Some hummus with pita and veggies. I always have hummus in my fridge! Are you really in a time crunch?   A peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread takes one minute to make and  is portable!

If you are going to be doing back to back shows or workshops, refueling is key. Your muscles run on  by the glucose in your blood, and also glycogen stores in the muscles themselves. These get depleted as we dance. They do restock when we eat again, but they do a much more efficient job of it in the 30 minutes after we stop activity. In other words, if you have a little snack that includes some easy to absorb natural sugars during this time frame, you will be better prepared for the next round. Adding a little protein here can help too. My favorite pick for this job is nuts and dried fruit. It’s easy to pack, not messy to eat in a costume and doesn’t feel bulky in my stomach. A half of an energy bar could be a good choice too – but be choosy about your bar. The Nutrition Diva has an excellent post on how to pick a good bar here. and while I’m at it, I highly recommend her podcast and blog for well-researched and very practical nutrition advice.

What I do not recommend, however, is the use of energy drinks and elixirs such as Red Bull, 5-hour energy and the like. These can make you spike and crash. Stick to real food, people. You’ll be sweating so drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.  There’s also no harm in a good old fashioned cup of coffee or tea. In fact, there is scientific evidence showing that caffeine 45-60 minutes prior to activity can help the body tap fat stores for endurance exercise. It was once thought that caffeine had a diuretic effect on the body, but we now know this is not true. Yay for coffee!

So keep up the exercise, get some sleep and plan to fuel up with good food and plenty of water and you’ll be ready for your next belly dance bonanza!

What’s your favorite pre-show meal or mid-gig snack? Share it in the comments below…



February 15, 2014 3 Comments

Holiday Stress – A Balancing Act for Dancers

You can balance a sword or a tray of burning candles on your head – but can you balance your life for the next few weeks? The holiday season is upon us and that means good times, good  friends and good cheer, right? Yes, but if you’re a working dancer, it can be a time of overwork and extra stress too.  You can be torn between taking advantage of the party performance season and the needs and wishes of your family and friends who want you around.  If that wasn’t enough, the physical stress of keeping up with your classes – whether you teach or are taking them – your workouts to keep you fit, and late nights performing make this a good time to talk about the antidote… rest and recovery!

Every serious dancer should have a supplemental exercise plan to keep up stamina, balance muscle strength and help prevent injury – and I hope you do! That’s what the Saturday Strength & Stretch DBQ is all about!  The schedule disruptions of holiday work and play can really throw a monkey wrench into your routine. If you’re anything like me,  when that gets disrupted, not only do I feel it physically, but I also feel guilty for “falling off the wagon”. Take a few minutes to step back and look at the larger picture. If your performance schedule is heavy for a few days,  give yourself permission to skip a day or do half the volume – for example, 1 set of each exercise instead of 2 or 3 and less cardio time. This is usually my approach on days that are just a time-crunch, even if it’s not because of lots of dancing. Some exercise is always better than none.

If you work a day job, getting up early and performing late are not an ideal mix. In a perfect world we’d all take an afternoon nap! Look ahead at your week – if you can see that early/late scenario coming up, get some extra sleep in the 2 or 3 days preceding it and plan on catching up afterwards. Rest, both as sleep and as a refrain from exercise, lets the body make those small repairs to keep you going. Just like your house or car, if you let those “small repairs” go unattended, you can count on a big one down the road. Rest is as much a strategy for injury prevention as your supplemental exercise.

The other healthy habit that falls through the schedule cracks this time of year is good nutrition. I know I haven’t touched my stove all week and it’s not because I don’t love to cook! If you know you’re the type to make a frantic run for the golden arches when you’re pressed for time, think ahead. Pre-made hummus , pita and baby carrots in my fridge have saved me more than once from fast food! Keep fruit in a bowl in your living room, and grab one on the way out the door. (I learned this from my Mom – thanks Mom!)

Got back to back gigs? Yes, you need to fuel up in between. All that dancing depletes the stored glycogen in your muscles and it needs to be replaced before you hit the stage again. What happens if you don’t? You may find yourself passed out in your dressing room after your 1 am show.  Ask me how I know this….

My solution is to keep a ziplock bag of dried apricots and raw almonds in my gig bag – and of course always some water.  The apricots  (or any dried fruit)  are a compact source of carbohydrates for energy and the protein in the almonds (or other nuts)  helps slow down the sugar rush to keep you from spiking. Of course, diabetic dancers will need to pay special attention and follow their physician’s advice.

Balance your activity and plan ahead to keep your stresses from getting the best of you. I hope you are set up for a fantastic holiday with lots of bookings and fun shows as well as  plenty of fun with your loved ones!


What stresses you out during the holidays? How do you deal with it? Tell us in the comments below…


December 3, 2011 2 Comments

Developing a Taste for Belly Dance

It’s no surprise to anyone reading this blog that my first love is dancing – but what you may not know is that I am an avid cook too! I love all kinds of ethnic foods and have amassed a cookbook collection that has well over 250 titles.  Years of hanging around Middle Eastern restaurants for gigs have transformed my diet. Hummus, tabouleh and the like are “normal” food in my house – no more unusual than peanut butter and jelly. But it’s the long-time friendships I’ve enjoyed with two Lebanese women in particular that have introduced me to delicious dishes not usually found on the typical Middle Eastern restaurant menu.  One of these is Burghul bi Banadoura or Bulgur with Tomatoes.  My friend Nadia whips this up like it’s nothing and it smells and tastes so heavenly I can eat bowl after bowl.  It’s as good warm as it is cold. She never wrote her recipe down for me so I have adapted one from Claudia Roden’s “New Book of Middle Eastern Food” to be more like hers.

Burghul bi Banadoura (Bulgur with Tomatoes)

1 large onion, chopped

5 Tbl olive oil

3 cups coarse bulgur, rinsed and drained

1-14 oz can of diced tomatoes, drained and juice reserved

1 Tbl tomato paste

2 tsp sugar

1 tsp allspice

salt & pepper to taste

Water added to reserved tomato juice to total 1 1/2 cups

Fry onion in half the oil till golden. Add bulgur and stir well.

Add diced tomatoes, paste, water and juices, sugar, allspice, salt and pepper. Stir and cook covered over low heat for about 15 minutes. Check after 10 minutes to be sure it isn’t drying out.  If  there isn’t any liquid left in the bottom and the bulgur is still too chewy, then add a little water and cook 5 minutes longer. If it’s too wet, then cook uncovered to let liquid evaporate.

Let sit covered 10 minutes after it’s done cooking. Stir in the other half of the oil.

Serve warm or cold as a side dish. I like mine as a main dish with a green salad. Yum!

Has being involved with belly dance brought new foods into your life? What’s your favorite Middle Eastern dish?
Tell us in the comments below…

July 15, 2011 4 Comments