Dancing is generally considered a medium-low effort physical activity, but it can become very challenging, especially when dancing to certain kinds of swing music, such as the back in fashion lindy hop. Swing dance is practiced on famous jazz standards of the thirties / forties with a fast pace and rhythm and it requires a considerable physical effort, due to the rapid changes of position and the continuous and rhythmic bouncy movements of the legs. The expert male dancers use the free spaces in the dance floor to launch their partners in rapid openings, creating various figures with sudden closures, taking few pauses during the dancing night. The physical effort becomes particularly hard during the so-called swing festivals, when for a few consecutive days four or five hours a day of dancing classes are added to the dancing nights. In this respect, “Policoro in Swing”, the annual festival that takes place at the end of August, is a real dance marathon, with its whole week of daily classes, live-music dance parties before and after dinner until 2 AM and the so-called “after party”, when people continue to dance by the sea, close to their accommodations, at least until dawn. Although it is not compulsory to participate in all the events, swing dancers do not want to miss a single moment of music and they experience a frenetic dancing euphoria that minimizes the hours of sleep and rest. Such a week-long physical effort in the summer heat, even when it is possible to cool down by bathing in the sea, requires careful training, combined with adequate nutrition, hydration and supplementation of minerals, just like you would do for a normal marathon.
Nutrition must provide sufficient carbohydrates to give energy to the muscles, and it must ensure adequate hydration. The latter can be improved by regularly drinking water and a lot of juices (made by using either a slow or a fast juicer) from watery fruit (melons, watermelons, grapes). The meals should be complete, yet small and frequent, in order not to overload the digestion and to avoid blood sugar drops, characterized by extreme tiredness, bad mood and irritability. Even if dancers do not have much time for sunbathing, let’s not forget to eat orange and yellow-flesh fruits, containing skin-strengthening beta-carotene. Proteins are essential for rebuilding muscles during the few hours of rest and they should always be present, especially in the evening and before going to sleep: legumes combined with cereals provide alkalizing plant-based proteins, helping the elimination of lactic acid from the muscles. The excellent local cuisine also provides good quality fish and the ubiquitous pizza that should be chosen with simple toppings, not to overload digestion too much to the detriment of muscular efficiency. Fried foods, sauces and gravies might hinder concentration and physical efficiency, even with serious effects.
A SNACK TO RECOVER ENERGY
Put 50 grams of mixed nuts (for example pine nuts, walnuts. almonds and cashews) in a bowl, add a banana cut into pieces, a tablespoon of goji berries, a tablespoon of Corinth raisins or three dates, the juice of half a lemon, two teaspoons of honey, a teaspoon of cinnamon, a few thin slices of ginger and blueberries to taste. Mix together all the ingredients. Enjoy while drinking a juice made of watery fruit, such as watermelon and melon.
During a festival dancers must not forget to take with them a much-needed bottle of water, possibly enriched with minerals, and drink regularly also before dancing, to prevent any dehydration. The above-mentioned blood sugar drops (hypoglycaemia) happen frequently, are characterized by a sudden loss of strength and can be worsened by dehydration. Sugary drinks raise blood sugar too quickly, making insulin lower it just as quickly, thus creating highs and lows of energy, which are not always easy for the body to manage. In this case it is better to stop, rehydrate and have a snack, not to make the situation worse or fall victim to some minor injuries, which frequently happen when you are too tired. It is important to snack on nuts, such as almonds, pistachios, walnuts and pine nuts with raisins and goji berries, together with a banana and cereals and perhaps a fruit juice, which is a far better choice than sugary drinks and softdrinks.
If you wish to face the Policoro Swing Marathon without problems, it is important to start training for it at least two / three months before, with three intense dance evenings a week alternated with a bit of cardio training, such as running or cardio dance classes; these activities can be easily practiced on the beach. Practicing swing dance for at least half an hour every day by reviewing the classic group (shim sham, big apple, tranky doo) or individual (jazz roots) choreographies is an excellent training to enhance endurance and improve agility and style in the execution of the steps. Water gym can be a useful workout too, especially for those who are overweight or have circulatory problems in the lower body.
INTENSITY OF THE DANCING PRACTICE
The pace of the dancing practice must be adjusted to the fitness level of each and every participant, but the incredible enthusiasm that animates the festival can lead dancers to exaggerate in the first days and inevitably feel too tired or exhausted at the end of the event, missing out on the best moments. For this reason, it is better to start slowly, just like marathon runners, who never stop, but are always careful not to overdo at the beginning of the race risking to collapse along the way.
Magnesium and potassium supplements might be taken together with creatine, carnitine, coenzyme Q 10, arginine, carnosine and glutamic acid. All these are widely used by athletes and can be found in ready-mixed sachets to be dissolved in water and taken daily to support muscular effort, before and during physical activities. If you prefer natural products, you can take supplements with spirulina and klamath algae, which are rich in proteins and minerals, and combine them with tonic herbs such as eleutherococcus, tribulus terrestris, royal jelly and vitamins. If you want to improve concentration and memory to learn rapidly from the dancing teachers, you can take a rhodiola tablet, associated with gingko biloba and guarana in the morning. When you feel hot, you can have a mint or hibiscus tea, adding in some chili if your blood pressure is too low.
If the summer heat affects the veins and the blood circulation in the legs, it is good to drink a cold infusion of horse chestnut, with ruscus and centella asiatica, garnished with lemon, ginger and fresh blueberries.
If you gain weight easily, you can take the opportunity to get back in shape by limiting the intake of sugars and carbohydrates while you are burning more calories during the week of the festival. If you are skinny, you can increase your intake of carbohydrates and supplement your diet with a protein shake in the evening. These products are easy to find and thirty grams of plant-based protein powder, enriched with vitamins and minerals, are enough to prevent further weight or muscle mass loss. In exceptional situations, for example before performances or the classic “Jack & Jill” contests or when feeling especially tired, three or four tablets of branched amino acids can be taken to boost energy; these can be beneficial also for the many dance teachers that come from all over the world to be engaged in classes, events, new choreography and performances. If you wish to prepare a natural drink to improve physical recovery and help dissolving lactic acid, mix half a liter of natural mineral water, 1 to 3 teaspoons of honey (depending on how much energy you need to get from your drink) and a pinch of bee pollen in grains (which has strong energy-giving and revitalizing properties). Then add the juice of half a lemon, a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (containing vitamins and minerals, including magnesium and potassium) and half a teaspoon of baking soda (to balance out sodium losses and lactic acid). Mix well, pour it into a bottle and take it with you on the dance floor.
Alcoholic drinks are obviously not recommended, because they drastically reduce muscular efficiency and coordination, fundamental while dancing. A light beer can be had, because it is hydrating and contains some calories to keep your strength up. It will also give some courage to more shy dancers.
SLEEP AND BIO-RYTHMS
Finally sleep, so neglected but so important. Dancing has a doping effect and the euphoria produced by the serotonin and adrenaline released when practicing lindy hop might worryingly reduce your perception of fatigue and your need to sleep. My advice here is to try and find the time to sleep and recovery regularly. This will avoid your energy to drop or feel the typical “post-festival” exhaustion and it will allow you to enjoy the magic of swing music better and feel in perfect shape and full of enthusiasm at the end of the week.
YOGA AND MEDITATION
Stretching improves recovery, gives elasticity to muscles and significantly reduces the incidence of tendinitis, trauma and injuries. After classes and before dinner, some restorative yoga and a bit of meditation can give a spiritual dimension to the prevailing emotional and passionate sides of the festival, thus incredibly enhancing its positive effects. The euphoria of music, channeled and correctly directed through the practice of yoga and meditation, creates a magic combination that can significantly enhance personal growth, helping to find safety, energy and wisdom, essential to overcome the daily battles of our lives. After yoga, it is the perfect time to bathe in the sea at sunset; you can enjoy a perfect moment of peace, watching the sun plunging into the sea, breathing in the light sea breeze deeply, enjoying the restorative effects of nature and merging with its elements. A precious moment of magic in which you can release tensions and worries, letting them go and slip into the sea…
dott. Luigi Torchio
sport medicine specialist and natural medicine expert
yoga teacher of Policoro in Swing