Meet Jessica Cove. She’s a former dancer who found the courage to see a serious injury, which ended her incredibly successful performance career, as an opportunity to become a wellness coach who works with young dancers. I know many of our students are dancers so I really wanted to learn more from Jessica about health and wellness from her perspective and hear her advice for young aspiring dancers. I’m sure you’ll love her just as much as we do! Read our interview below and share your thoughts in the comments below…
What are the main concerns for dancers when it comes to body image and wellness?
I think most of the main health concerns for dancers often stem from one overriding issue, and that’s the need to stay very lean. This necessity for thinness is then further complicated by the need to maintain a high level of wellness in order to have enough energy to rehearse, perform and prevent injuries. Far too often dancers engage in unhealthy habits like crash dieting and disordered eating in order to achieve the required light frame, however, this sort of behaviour is all kinds of counter productive! By severely restricting calories we also restrict the amount of essential nutrients we consume, which in turn leads to deficiencies, injuries and a sluggish metabolism… and I should know, because it happened to me.
When I was in my teens my Mum jokingly renamed my calorie counter “the bible” because I read it so often… carefully scrutinising the calorie content of every morsel I ate. What I didn’t understand at the time was that all calories are not created equal! When you think about it, 100 calories of chemical laden, artificially sweetened, highly processed “diet” yoghurt is entirely different from 100 calories of fresh fruit and vegetables. Each of these foods will be processed by your body in entirely different ways and create entirely different results, not just physically but also emotionally.
Looking at it this way, suddenly calorie counting seems a little silly. Instead of focusing so much on the quantity, pay closer attention to the quality of your foods by basing your diet on fresh, organic whole-foods like vegetables, fruits, healthy fats and high quality protein.
Jessica Cove today
What are your top 3 healthy habits for teen girls?
1. Embrace healthy fats
Oh my goodness, this is a biggie! When I was dancing in the ‘90s and early 2000s the diet trend was all about low-fat/no-fat eating and boy did I get onboard. Years went by where I would consume less than a few grams of fat per day… thinking about it now sends chills up my spine. Fat is not only vital for many of our bodily functions (our brains are made up of 60% of the stuff!) but healthy fats also contain essential fatty acids that are necessary for our overall wellbeing. What are the healthy fats? REAL ONES! Organic, cold-pressed coconut and olive oils, avocado, nuts and seeds, etc. To learn more about the amazingness of healthy fats, I suggest you check out the website of Nutritionist Cyndi Omeara at www.changinghabits.com.au.
2. Escape the comparison trap
This is a huge one, for all teenage girls, but particularly for dancers. We spend nearly every day of our lives in front of a full-length mirror in a leotard and tights, constantly comparing ourselves to others in class… it can be brutal, but it doesn’t have to be! When we begin to understand the beauty and value of our own uniqueness, we open up our ability to transcend jealousy and instead find inspiration in those around us. By creating this shift in our thinking we not only help prevent negative thoughts of envy creeping in, we also enjoy better friendships and support networks with our class mates. It’s all about perspective, remember, if you sat 3 people down to watch the same film one may love it, one my hate it and one my feel completely indifferent… but the film doesn’t change. Perspective is everything!
3. Put down the iPhone!
When I deliver my workshops, one of the first things I explain are my seven essentials for health and wellbeing. One of the most important of these essentials is “Reconnecting.” By taking the time to disconnect from technologies (iPads, iPhones, lap tops, game consoles) we allow ourselves to reconnect with our friends, family and nature. The beautiful teenagers of today are the first generation to have grown up with access to smart technology and the internet from day one, meaning you guys don’t know any different! Trust me, you will do wonders for your overall mood, anxiety levels and relationships if you take time each day to get out in the sunshine, walk barefoot on the grass or sand and enjoy engaging in present conversations with your loved ones… It’s seriously life changing!
**DID YOU SEE OUR RECENT BLOG POST ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA & SELF-ESTEEM? CHECK IT OUT FOR TIPS.
What advice would you give for a girl wanting to follow in your footsteps as a professional dancer?
Nurture and preserve your body! When I was studying dance full-time as a teenager I over-trained to the point of burnout, and sadly, I still see it happening so often with dance students today. Of course it’s essential to stretch, rehearse and train many hours per week in order to reach an elite level, but it’s absolutely not necessary to train to the point of complete exhaustion. Something I highly advocate in full-time students is a full day off from dance mid-week. Particularly those engaging in a full-time dance load in their early teens. I used to think that by taking a day off I would fall behind my peers and somehow not measure up, but it’s quite the opposite. By taking a day off to be a kid, connect with family and allow your body to heal, you enable your mind and body to be strong, balanced and energised.
By honouring and nurturing your body from a young age, you are truly giving yourself the best possible chance to last the distance and enjoy an amazing career as a professional dancer. Get real with yourself about your energy levels and emotional state and ask yourself, “could you be over-training your way to burn-out?” Sometimes this means missing an eisteddfod here, or a competition there, but in reality, ten years from now no one will remember those competitions!
What do you wish you knew at 15 years old?
That your thoughts create your reality! This probably sounds a little like woo-woo territory to some, but I’ve absolutely experienced it to be true, not only in my life but also in the lives of my clients. As a young dancer I had some horrifying thoughts playing on high rotation: “I’m not good enough”, “I’ll never make it”, “I’m so fat”, “I hate myself”… pretty heartbreaking stuff. What I didn’t realise is that by allowing those thoughts to take over, I was setting my focus on gathering as much evidence as possible to confirm them. It’s like those days we accidentally sleep through our alarm, then stub our toe as we jump out of bed and trip over on the way out the door… we make a decision that it’s a “bad day” from the moment we wake up, and voila, we go right ahead and create a terrible day for ourselves by focusing entirely on negatives.
So in terms of our thinking, by focusing on these nasty thoughts to the point that we come to believe them, we simply attract more and more negative experiences into our lives. Now trust me, this can be a confronting nugget of wisdom to swallow. I remember the exact moment, years ago, when my own Health Coach explained this idea to me: I was dumbfounded! I found the prospect of taking full responsibility for my experiences so shocking that I literally couldn’t speak (a very rare occasion for me!). I have to say that understanding the power of my thinking was the single most important factor in turning my life around and I absolutely believe it’s the key element that creates lasting positive results in my clients and workshop attendees.
Jessica began her dance training on the Sunshine Coast at age 7. After being awarded her Solo Seal at 16 in 1998, she was offered places at The Australian and Royal Ballet Schools and granted a scholarship to the Vienna Opera Ballet School. During her time in Europe Jessica competed in a number of competitions, taking the gold medal at the Biarritz International Ballet Competition and Silver at the Aktzent International Ballet Competition (Vienna). Jessica also appeared as a finalist at the Adeline Genee Awards (London) and was offered a position with Jeune Ballet de France.
After returning to Australia to complete her Associate Degree in Dance at QUT, a serious knee injury ended her performance career. This fork in the road lead Jessica to undertake further studies in Integrative Nutrition. Jess now couples her experience as a dancer with her passion for health and wellness to offer specialised group workshops and private mentoring to dance students, teachers and parents. For more information and bookings, please visit www.healthologycoaching.com.au