With the Philadelphia Wings dance team, columnist Cary Carr keeps her diet and exercise in check.
Imagine being magnified on a Jumbotron in front of hundreds of people, wearing little white shorts and a red sparkly top and baring your entire midriff.
But that’s only part of the responsibilities involved with being on a professional dance team. I’m constantly watching my diet, fitting in as much exercise time as a full-time student possibly can and learning new choreography every week.
When I auditioned for the dance team, I was at a healthy weight, regularly went to the gym and watched what I ate, but I took a day off here and there for the occasional soft-serve splurge.
When I got the call that I was a member, the daunting fact that I would soon be sporting tiny outfits in front of a large audiences pressured me to tone up.
Add on the pressure of countless pictures posted online – which aren’t always the most flattering – and weekly practices in a sports bra, and I was about ready to move into the gym full-time.
Like most professional dance teams, the Angels have body evaluations at the beginning of each season where coaches make sure dancers are in shape and eating right. We show up to evaluations in sports bras and booty shorts. We’re given tips on how to improve our diets and recommendations as to what areas of the body need an extra bit of attention.
For the average girl, this process might have been horrifying, but as a rookie on the team, it was understood as part of the job description. I knew my trouble areas I had to work on, so instead of completely crumbling under the pressure, I adjusted my workout routine.
I run harder and faster on the treadmill instead of using the elliptical. I spend an extra 30 minutes at the gym everyday. I cut out late-night bowls of cereal and replace them with veggies, and I don’t keep tempting treats in the cabinet.
Plus, during our semi-weekly practices, the whole team works out together. I get to the gym 40 minutes before practice to do cardio, followed by boot camp-style workouts with the team for at least a half-hour, before moving on to choreography rehearsal for upcoming games.
Even though gulping down an extra-large Frosty and burning my gym sneakers sounds tempting, the exercise pays off. I toned up and lost a couple of pounds just in time for the team’s next big hurdle – a calendar shoot.
When I found out I would be sporting a bathing suit for a close-up photograph that family, friends and strangers would see, I felt a nervous breakdown coming on. The fact it was finals week, leaving me little time to physically prepare, didn’t help.
The gym became my best friend. I would go between classes with study guides in hand. That week, burning an extra calorie took priority over sleep, and I put myself on the strictest diet I could physically operate under.
I know, I know: That may sound extreme. But I had to represent my team the best I could. If that meant dancing harder, running longer and eating healthier, I was going to suck it up for one week, one very long week.
I ended up making it through the physically exhausting week all the way to Blue Mountain, where I sported a bathing suit on a ski lift, which was just as cold and terrifying as it sounds. After the shoot I returned to my normal eating habits and gave myself a short break from the gym.
My coaches don’t necessarily want us to be stick-thin, but they do want us to be in great shape for our appearances and performances. Dance isn’t just about looking pretty and shaking pompoms around. We’re also athletes who can relate to the physical requirements a team commands.
Most athletes can also relate to the love and dedication they have for their sport – the pressure, the long hours at the gym, the strict diet – it’s all worth it.
When I think about how much I love to dance and how much I care about the 13 amazing women on my team, the extra work doesn’t seem so bad.
Cary Carr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.