Sway, swing, and do sit-ups

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A dancer and a fitness guru talk about what it means to be fit and healthy for an artiste

Dancer Srinidhi Chidambaram, Vice President – Health Communication, Apollo Hospital and convenor of the recently-concluded Natya Kala Conference, met fitness expert and lifestyle consultant Dr. Sheela Nambiar, three years ago. Srinidhi, who has been learning dance since the age of four, has pursued dance through the various stages of her life. But it was only recently, she felt she needed help with her fitness, as she was going through her middle age and was putting on weight. “I wanted to be more flexible, stronger and toned. Years of dancing, repeating the aramandi posture and stamping hard on the floor puts pressure on your back and knees. There was a lot of wear and tear. I wanted to strengthen those parts,” she says.

Sheela, the author of books like Gain to Lose and Get Size Wise: Training for Life for the Indian Woman, devised an entire schedule with strength training and diet for Srinidhi, who after “following it sincerely” realised an improvement in her fitness.

Excerpts from their conversation:

Srinidhi: I don’t think classical dancers undergo any fitness training — like athletes do. It’s not part of the training. When I started learning dance, we did not even have the concept of a warm-up. We just jumped straight onto the dance floor. However, I do think that a lot of dancers are now aware of the importance of strength training. Most of us are well past our 30s and 40s, some of them into their 60s and 70s, and you can’t just dance if you do not do some kind of fitness.

Sheela: I have felt artists always tend to live up in the clouds; they forget to take care of their health. For them, it is about dancing well and looking thin. But at what cost? You may look thin today because you almost starve yourself to death. But what happens 10 years down the line? How does your body react to that kind of abuse? The starvation, yo-yo dieting and weight loss of seven to eight kilos in a short period — all this has a severe detrimental effect on your health. But when you are performing, you hardly think about what will happen in the future.

Srinidhi: That’s true. Dancing on stage is not like dancing in movies, where you take several shots. It’s strenuous and is like any athletic activity. You have to develop endurance and stamina, be thin and beautiful and smile, and you can’t pant. You have to look fresh and happy, think about love, and cannot look tired and pale. Senior artistes also have to talk in between. So, you have to build strength. We have learnt it the hard way. There is nothing more torturous than going to stage without knowing whether your body is going to give up on you. The earlier you start training, the better.

Sheela: Earlier, there was a misconception that children should not train for strength; it was thought that children who trained for strength would get stunted. This was based on a Japanese study – they observed that child labourers who carried loads remained stunted. But the fact is that they were malnourished. Even children as young as eight can train to develop various muscles in their body. Not with heavy weights, just those enough to build muscles to their optimum. Also, body exercises such as push-ups, quad, sit-ups are highly recommended. Hanging and pulling yourself up on the bars is also encouraged. Any individual should have enough muscle mass to handle his or her own body weight.

Also, in your case, we must consider that you have a regular job. You also have to be alert and functional in your job. Which means you have to have the right kind of nutrition for your brain to think straight. You can’t be tired, fatigued, hungry. How many times do you practise in a week?

Srinidhi: Thrice a week.

Sheela: Since you have been doing it for ages, it will be considered as a regular activity for you, not something that would help you lose weight. It becomes a routine. It is not an exercise. For freshers, it would be a calorie burner. World over, all sportsmen do an extra something apart from their sport. Since your body is acclimatised to her dance, another aspect of fitness has to come in to improve your strength and stamina.

Srinidhi: There is a general myth that dancers, who stop dancing after a certain age, put on weight.

Sheela: This is only natural for anyone who is burning, say 200 calories a day, and suddenly stops. Excess calories build up because you are eating the same amount but not burning it. I have also heard people say that they do not want to go to the gym because if they stop they will put on weight. But what they do not realise is that it is not the exercise which is to be blamed, just that your body would have toned down and would later bloat, making the change a little stark. You have to do some kind of exercise throughout your life, so where is the question of starting and stopping?

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