Staying Fit on a Cruise Ship
On a cruise ship, staying fit is the number one priority for an entertainer. Being fit does not mean going to the gym 24/7 but entails proper nourishment, rest, and conditioning. Dancing on a cruise ship is very difficult because it requires performing on a rocking ship, which results in altering choreography and sacrificing technique to avoid injury. Due to constantly moving on a ship, our muscles become more equipped to keep us balanced, causing our bodies to be more tense than usual.
Body alignment is super important and is considered one of the hardest things to maintain while on board. Personally, I’ve never experienced being on a cruise ship that has had a physical therapist or chiropractor. I have only been on a ship with an acupuncture specialist, which was not always the best solution when I pulled a muscle or was out of alignment. Additionally, the ship offers massages, but they are very expensive and are for relaxation purposes, rather than breaking scar tissue or flattening knots. The best way to seek help in alignment is if you book an appointment on land. Depending on the cruise ship itinerary, it may be harder to find a chiropractor, massage therapist, or physical therapist. That being said, performers must be smart and know how to take care of their bodies.
The first step to ensuring you are fit while on board is resting as much as possible. This statement does not mean hibernating in the cabin and never seeing the light of day. Rather, it means to take a nap when your body needs rest and receiving a full night’s sleep. There will be nights spent in the crew bars or dancing at a crew event, but that just means a longer nap the next day. Show days are a super important day to take a nap or be conscious of your own body. Usually, I will take an hour nap on a show day and go to the gym prior to the scheduled tech run to warm up. Depending when tech runs are schedule, I will alter when I can sleep in or take a nap throughout my day.
Proper nutrition can make or break a performer’s time while on board. Our bodies need a variety of vitamins and hydration on a daily basis. These two necessities are tricky to maintain while on a cruise ship. Many dancers purchase vitamins, protein powder, supplements, and other nutritional necessities to keep their bodies in tip top shape. Staying hydrated is key, as liquids flush out toxins in the body. I personally have a difficult time staying hydrated, having to change the flavor of my water in order to drink the proper daily amount. I use fresh fruits or lemon slices, as well as emergency packets (only when I’m feeling under the weather).
The food provided on the ship is buffet style in most aspects, and most of the food is not the healthiest. Dancers need to maintain a healthy diet to ensure they stay fit on board, so this means avoiding deserts and consuming as many fruits and vegetables as possible (this food category can be limited on ships depending on the itinerary and where they get imported goods from). Of course, you can have deserts in moderation as well as high-carbohydrate meals such as pizza or pasta, but falling into a pattern of eating these foods regularly can result in weight gain (if not going to the gym regularly). There are simple ways to exercise while on board that do not require going to the gym every single day such as:
- Using the guest stairs instead of the elevators
- Taking walks along the promenade/open deck
- Simple stretches and strengthening exercises in your cabin
There are even some healthier alternatives when living on board for longer durations:
- Drink coffee without sugar or milk/cream
- Drink water
- Make different types of salads; get creative and see how many things you can put in a bowl of leaves! I’ve found many things from mixed nuts to mozzarella slices with lemon as dressing
- Avoid soda/pop
- Avoid breaded meats; if needed take off the breading
- If there is a pasta station, ask for your ingredients to be cooked in less oil
- Avoid fried foods
- Fish is always a good alternative to chicken or beef; eat with variety
- Choose wisely for deserts. Maybe consider having ice cream in a bowl rather in a waffle cone with chocolate syrup and sprinkles or choose a cookie (or two) over a slice of red velvet cheese cake
- Ask for your salad dressings and condiments on the side so your food is not drenched in sauces
- Maybe have a gin and tonic or glass of red wine over a margarita.
Of course, the bullet points above are just suggestions and do not have to be taken word for word. Those are just some things I have experimented with during my time overseas.
I will skip breakfast on days I have an early tech run on the same day as a show, but if the tech run is in the evening, I will eat dinner after my shows. Making a protein shake is a great substitute for missed meals as well as excellent fuel before shows.
Lastly, a dancer needs to tone their body. I recommend going to the gym as an entertainer because exercising is different from performing shows through muscle memory. Exercising the body in a variety of methods is highly recommended, forcing you to engage in your practice mentally and physically. Some great ways to exercise are through Yoga, Pilates, Zumba, weight lifting (not daily), meditation, running, hiking, cycling, swimming, rowing, as well as cardio. All of these types of exercise can be done on a ship or while on land visiting certain destinations. It is important to have a healthy balance between cardio, strength, and flexibility when exercising. It is equally important to be mentally be aware of sore areas, making sure you’re taking care of those areas by icing, heating, and last but not least resting. Other things I do to recover sore areas are massaging with tennis balls/spiky balls, rolling out, eating a banana, and taking magnesium vitamins (very good for your muscles).
When going to the gym, it is important to properly warm up and cool down the body as it prevents injury. I strongly suggest that you stretch the targeted area you are working out, especially if you plan on doing a couple reps with no breaks. This will allow the targeted muscle to go back to a resting position, creating better mobility for the muscle after the workout.
Throughout my time on cruise ships I have tried many different ways to exercise. I started off by running on the treadmill or doing a thousand crunches. Taking that path made me unhappy as I became very bulky, actually gaining muscle mass too quickly. To this day, I am still trying to find new ways to exercise, as I have not found a favourite method yet. Currently I am really into hot Yoga as well as following this pattern when I visit the gym:
- Cardio for 15-30 minutes (elliptical, stairs, treadmill, or bicycle)
- Strengthening for 15 minutes (Abdominals, legs, arms, gluteal region or lower back)
- Cool down for 10 minutes (stretching, rolling out or meditation)
When I’m living on board, I will go to gym just to stretch because I feel super tight, due to trying to stay upright or from the air conditioning blasting. Evening stretching is also something I have done in the past, which improved my flexibility as well as my sleep.
I do want to distinguish the difference between being fit and trying to lose weight. Losing weight can be a part of your goal to becoming more fit, but does not make you a fit person. To be fit you need to challenge the body with more mobility and strength than usual, as well as rest and proper nourishment. Barley eating and trying to be skinny does not mean you are fit, that is just someone who is dieting or starving themselves. I have known many dancers who weigh more than they look and try to convince themselves that they need to lose weight. Truth is that they have more muscle mass and actually are better off weighing more than a regular person of that height. As a dancer, it is important to be physically strong rather than fragile, because it can prevent injuries. On the other hand, being too muscular can also have cons, as it will inhibit a dancer’s mobility, also potentially leading to injury. Therefore, it is all about having a balance between the two.
I hope this blog was helpful, not only to those who are considering working overseas, but for anyone who is considering altering their lifestyle and becoming more fit. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any personal questions about this topic or want to know more about my experience as a dancer on ships. Remember that everything I share comes from a vulnerable place, and that my goal is to help my readers improve in any way possible. See you soon!