EMBRACING WELLNESS

BY JASON A. ZWIKER | PHOTOGRAPH BY COREY TENOLD

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Stephanie Burg, a lifelong professional ballet dancer, knows the importance of nutrition and positive body image. Through coaching, classes and workshops, she creates custom paths to wellness for the overstressed and undernourished (stephanie burgcoaching.com). Her specialty is helping women learn to love the bodies they live in. After being awarded a grant by the prestigious organization Career Transitions for Dancers, Burg studied under leading experts in health, nutrition and wellness. Her professional dance credits include Charleston Ballet Theater, Dance Kaleidoscope, Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance, Lexington Ballet, and Ballet Internationale. In addition to running her health coaching practice, she is a vital part of Charleston’s arts community— performing, choreographing, teaching and writing about dance.

What led you to your current work in nutritional counseling and coaching?

I’ve always been passionate about nutrition and cooking. My maternal grandmother taught me this early on. As a dancer, I learned that the higher quality food and nutrients I ate, the better my rehearsals and performances. When I experienced my first major injury as a professional dancer, I spent part of my recovery working with an organization in New York City called Career Transition for Dancers. They guided me to the field of nutritional counseling/ coaching and, now, here I am.

What makes your work rewarding to you on a personal level?

Watching a client clear up struggles with food and her body, coming home to herself and achieving what she truly wants for herself, her family and her life. That might mean leaving a toxic job, earning a starring role on Broadway, going from a size 14 to a 4, or having a successful, healthy pregnancy. Without love and respect for our bodies, nothing else is solid. A dysfunctional relationship with our body ripples outward into every other area of our lives, including our relationships and career. Reconnecting to our bodies creates a deep sense of joy and presence that allows us to really go for the things we want the most.

You’ve spoken about your own struggles with a negative body image. How common is this problem?

It’s extremely widespread, especially in young women and even more so in the dance world. Every woman I’ve worked with seems to have something she dislikes, or even loathes, about her body. We have very unrealistic ideas of beauty placed upon us through the media in our culture. There’s a lack of education and a lack of emphasis on our individuality. Common beliefs about dieting are outdated and don’t work long term. We end up viewing ourselves, our bodies, as failures. When we understand and partner with our bodies, we’re much more likely to experience a positive body image.

Your coaching work includes stress management. How do stress and nutrition interact?

Many of us are in a constant state of fight or flight. This is far from an optimal state when it comes to digesting and metabolizing food. Learning to manage stress is essential to creating a healthy relationship to food and our bodies.

You’ve been a dancer all your life. How has your approach to dance changed over the years?

From childhood to my early 20s, dance was life! I didn’t separate my identity as a person from my time in the studio. I felt that if I weren’t a dancer, I wouldn’t be me. In my early 30s, I was injured several times and had to begin exploring life and work outside of the studio. In doing so, I realized that this identity I’d created for myself was very limiting. As I started to get to know myself better, I realized how deeply I wanted to also be of greater service in the world outside of the studio.

What are some of the most exciting things happening with dance in Charleston right now?

We’re seeing an increase in collaborations, not just among different artists, but among the different local dance entities. Dancers are creating their own choreography and bringing it outside of the theater’s proscenium for site-specific pieces. Charleston’s dancers have always worn various hats and cultivated many talents, which they are now integrating into their projects and performances.

Describe a perfect day in Charleston for you. What would you do? Where would you eat?

Pretty much any day in Charleston can be a magical one. We’re so lucky to live in one of the most beautiful places in the country. The more I can immerse myself in nature or visit one of our historical locations, the better. Middleton Place and Mepkin Abbey are two of my favorites. A perfect day in Charleston, for me, might include catching the sunrise on Folly Beach, wandering downtown in the neighborhoods near Broad Street or dropping into some of the various shops to browse. I do most of my cooking at home, but for this day I might head to The Park Cafe for breakfast or St. Alban’s for tea/coffee with a girlfriend. I’d end with dinner at The Ordinary followed by a dance, music or art show with my main squeeze, Jack, and some of our friends.

What are some of the things that make Charleston a great place to have a healthier lifestyle?

We’re blessed to have many local farms and amazing restaurants that emphasize quality, locally sourced ingredients. Also, it’s easy to get outside, explore and move your body in an incredible natural setting. Charleston’s progressive nature allows us to embrace health and well-being on an even deeper level. The collective culture truly seems to be one of positivity, community and connection. Healthy relationships, a positive work-life and our connection to others are what create whole-person health, and I’ve never experienced this more than in Charleston.

Jason A. Zwikeris a freelance writer
in Charleston.