Creating a Transformative Health Coaching Program for Dancers with Jess Spinner

Today, I’m honored to bring on our special guest, Jess Spinner to talk about how to create a health coaching program. She is a health coach for dancers but she’ll be more comprehensive and detailed about what she specifically does and who she helps moving forward, thanks to our work together

In this blog, we talked about mindset, beliefs, thought work, and knowing where to spend your time and energy. We also touched on the topics on becoming aware even of where your focus is, does this serve you best in both your life and your business, and how all these can really fuel the actions that you’re taking.

Question to Jess: When Dancers Come To You for health coaching, How Do You Help Them Specifically And What Are The Results They Usually Get When They Work With You?

I am a health nutrition and lifestyle coach. That is a distinction I’ve come to after years of health coaching and just feeling the people whom I help would benefit from knowing a little bit more within my title and what I can help them with. Then I work with aspiring and professional dancers because that’s my background. I was a professional ballet dancer and I struggled through my dancing years and through my professional dancing years and it really came around for me once I transitioned careers that I wanted to change the trajectory for these dancers. 

Question to Jess: Specifically, You Don’t Have To Get Too Personal, However Much You Are Comfortable With It, But What Are The Struggles That These Dancers And/Or Yourself Really Go Through?

My biggest personal struggle always had to do with food and body image. Those things obviously tend to be quite closely intertwined and I got a body comment as a dancer, as a young 14-year old dancer, and that sort of set me off on this dieting path and just being restrictive with food and it stayed with me my entire dance journey and dance career. 

I do find that a lot of dancers have, if not consistent insecurities with their bodies and food, most dancers will at some point face even just temporary challenge or insecurity in those areas. So those do tend to be primary things that I work with dancers on. 

Our Take And Observations On Food And Body Image

Alison: I think sometimes too in the adult population, maybe it started in more of their youth or adolescent stages – dance is for sure I think more common because of so many reasons. If I was a diver who is always wearing swimsuits or in gymnastics for another sport where body image is a huge issue, it might have seem a little thing at a time because it’s just so common and it’s so prevalent these talks about our bodies or talks about food. 

I remember one time, after practice, being in the little side pick-up parent wait area and there was a vending machine and one gymnast was hungry. She was really hungry because we’re in practice and sometimes in the summer for many hours and the mom was like, “Oh no. You’re not eating that,” and I said to myself, “Wow.” I don’t even remember what she said, but I remember the reaction on my friend’s face about food. 

Jess On Moralizing Food

There is so much danger in moralizing food and it’s so common – so common. From the time we’re young, we are taught that sugar is evil. While perhaps sugar is not the most health-promoting thing that you can consume, to have that sort of blanketed statement or mindset around it is incredibly dangerous for everyone.

My Experience With People Who Have Strict Diet And Exercise

Alison: When I had my brick and mortar physical therapy yoga healing clinic, I would get some ambitious adults that would come into the clinic and these patterns that started in their youth for whatever reason that they would be so rigid in their diet and so rigid in working out that it would lead to so much stress and tension in their body. 

Question to Jess: When Dancers Come To You, How Do You Help Them Specifically And What Are The Results They Usually Get When They Work With You?

I always like  to work in the frame of a six-month commitment or a six-month health coaching program because in my experience, you can start to make progress in specific areas after a couple of months but really, I think for a lasting change that you feel confident in and sustainable and that you can manage on your own, that’s sort of a minimum starting point. 

It starts off with very basic health coaching jumping of point which is just filling out a health form about their history with multivitamins, with food, and when they felt they were at their best or their healthiest. From there, I sort of let it unfold organically based on where they happen to be within their own journey and where their biggest struggles are and making sure that we put attention in the areas that may need greatest focus from them. 

Some of them, it’s mindset in the studio, because that specifically is then making them leave the studio and question food or not feel great about themselves, so sometimes it starts there. A lot of my clients are younger people. I say this but the fact is most of us, regardless of age, probably would benefit from putting more attention on sleep and sleep habits and routines. Even I have work that I’ve brought up to do in those areas, and most of us do. I feel that for young people, they don’t necessarily recognize the impact of poor sleep habits, or not enough sleep on their levels of stress or their ability to cope with challenges. Whereas, I’m very cognizant of that for myself personally, even though it’s still sometimes a struggle to put the action there. So, sleep is a big thing that I work on with dancers, and is often one of the starting points as well. 

Our Take On Sleep And Personal Experiences Regarding Sleep

Alison: Sleep has always been invaluable to me. I’ve always just been asleep or go to bed early and I could still sleep late. But my sister, however, she was the normal, adolescent youth where in high school, she rarely slept, went to bed super late, got up early. I remember my parents being not concerned about it, because it was the normal thing that “kids did.”

Jess: But at that age, you might need 12 hours of sleep still if you’re active. It amazes me, because there are teen dancers, whom I work with, and they’re getting five or six hours of sleep a night. They’re so busy and so active, and part of it is stress, and they can’t fall asleep. So that’s something to work on, as well. 

Alison: That’s amazing. It’s so needed. I think the work that you’re doing with these dancers can not only benefit them in their dance career, but these are new habits and patterns they can carry with them for the rest of their lives. It can help their productivity in their career, whatever they choose. 

Question to Jess: What Are The Results You See When Dancers Finish Your Health Coaching Program 

One big thing that I always speak about, because I think it’s really important for people to realize, since lot of times when dancers begin this work, or when dancers are considering this work, they just sort of put off the benefit of caring for themselves, mentally and physically in those ways. So much of dance culture is about just pushing through pain and working harder and ignoring what your body is telling you, honestly, which is kind of crazy to imagine for such active and athletic people. 

But I have a huge rate of success in terms of career goals. The dancers, whom I work with, are getting jobs, very consistently. They are doing well on auditions and then getting to the next level in their career, the next phase in their career. The dance world is very challenging as far as working up the ranks. 

Probably over a decade ago, there’s about a decade or so, people or companies started having this structure where the first level, you’re in training still, so you’re at the start, you may be still paying them to participate as a company member, or you’re not being paid for a year or two or more. And it can feel very challenging to move up through that process and to feel like you’re worthy of going to the next stage. 

But I do find the dancers who I work with have an extremely high success rate. And when you consider how competitive dance is to make it to those paid positions, I think that that’s really one of the biggest things to talk about  as far as results go, because that’s what the goal is for so many of them. And yet, like I said, this isn’t necessarily work that they all make that connection with, they don’t necessarily see if I work on my mind and body and caring for myself differently, and how I’m approaching these things that that’s going to help me get the job, or that’s going to help me actually succeed in this career. So that’s one of the biggest stuff I would say. 

I also see a huge transformation in how they’re relating to food. So many of them come in with restrictive mindsets, whether they recognize it or not, just because there is such a diet-centered conversation in our culture. So there’s a huge change in the way they’re relating to food, they are able to eat food without it being something they’re stressed about. They are able to improve body image so that they’re no longer distracted by their bodies in class, because that’s what can happen so easily where you want to be in a dance class and a technique class, you want to be focused on your growth as an artist and your growth as a dancer, but it can get to a point – which is what happened for me, and when we’re many of my clients are when we start – where all you’re thinking about is how your body looks. And you’re not able to put the thought and focus and attention on how you’re actually dancing and performing and like how it feels. And that’s joyful. 

More Of Our Take About Body And Food

Alison: That’s huge because, it’s that saying, what wolf are you feeding. But it’s from an unconscious place, like a place of wanting to be better, a place of wanting to succeed. But the energy and the focus is just in solving the wrong problem, essentially.

Jess: Yeah, it’s a problem in the dance world becuase many of them need to work through the thought process that tells us as dancers, “Oh, if only I were thinner, I would be better,” “If only I were thinner, I will be more successful.” That’s a lot of where the mindset goes and it is not true. Again, just exactly as you said, it’s definitely feeding the wrong wolf. 

Question to Jess: So If they Believed That Thought For So Many Years – “I Have To Be Thinner, I Have To Do This, Or I Should Be That” – How Do You Teach Them To Shift That Belief If It Was Ingrained? 

I think for many of them, it is in seeing the difference in their experiences and dance. And to be honest, for some of them, it is allowing them to come to the realization that they’re not in the right dance environment. Because some dance environments are still so extremely toxic that this dancer with her body type is going to continuously be taken down by the teachers or artistic staff at that company/ Those people are going to continue to tell her, “You’re great, you’re good dancer, but you would be better if…” and so they’re going to be reinforcing those stories she has about her body needing to be different. 

So part of some of the work that I’ve done with dancers is getting really honest with themselves, if this is the best place for them, if they’re going to be better off or happier or more fulfilled or have greater success if they open their eyes to other options. And I get to see that, like I said, with them getting jobs where they’ll go out and audition for these different companies.  

Sometimes, even just the experience of auditioning for companies that are more open minded to various body types who are willing to nurture, who want to see you at your strongest and healthiest, even just that process of auditioning can have a huge impact.

One of the dancers, I was working with her audition, she shared, “Even if I don’t get another job at a company that’s going to be better for me, I’m not going to try to stay here. I’m not going to try to stay where I am. But I do know that this is never going to be the right place for me.” So I think a lot of it is even allowing them to get to a place where they believe that and see that and see that the best possibilities for them are potentially outside of their current environment.

My Take On Loving Yourself And Knowing That You Are Worthy

Alison: This work also fits a lot of the movements, I guess you could say, of what’s happening in the world right now, of inclusion and acceptance and just your birthright of how you come into the world that you are worthy enough, you are enough, embodying your uniqueness, celebrating who you are, and not trying to force yourself to fit a mold. 

Jess On Changing A Whole Dance Movement

I want to be part of that. I want to be part of helping things shift and opening eyes to the realities. There are a lot of people in the dance world who are still in denial of the damage that’s done, even just with words and comments.

Question to Jess: How Do You Embody Some Of These Practices Into Your Own Life As An Wellness Entrepreneur? 

I asked this question because when Jess and I started working together, she came to me and I noticed she already has a strong following and a great foundation for her business. So I wanted her to share more about some of the work we do together to embody some of these principles into her own life as a mom and business owner.

I think some of the things that have helped the most is sometimes feeling that permission and turn it off, to turn off the business-related thoughts, because that’s something I struggled with before. When I became a mother, I really thought if I wasn’t spending all of my free time on creating content, or growing the business, or even just like sending, writing emails, checking emails, doing all those things, that I was somehow going to not be able to continue to grow, or I wasn’t putting in the time that was necessary to see the growth that I wanted. 

So I think, part of it was just that permission to create those boundaries for myself where it’s okay if my work time is not as many hours as it used to be. That doesn’t set limits on what’s possible in terms of abundance. So that’s been huge. 

Question to Jess: Have You Seen The Impact In Your Life With Those Boundaries As A Mom, For Your Family?

I think we’re still early in our work together, it’s relatively new. But I would say, in the feeling more than anything else, and the mindset around it, and the ability to shut it off or tell myself, it has been fine. Checking your email, again, is not going to make any difference than what is going on here. And things are moving and growing, regardless of how many times you’re touching it or checking it, or seeing it on the computer. 

Question to Jess: If Someone Was On The Fence, Or In Your Position, Where They Have A Good Rhythm In Their Business, And They Want A Little More Revenue, Time Freedom For Their Family, Time To Care For Themselves A Little Bit More, But They Don’t Want This Pressure Of Going Through The List Of All These Things They Feel They Should Do And They Don’t Know The Impact Of Working With A Coach As Well As The Benefits They Could Get From Having One, What Would You Say To Them?

I started my business in 2013 when I became a health coach and started working with clients. The whole dancer and working specifically with dancers was in 2015. But especially in 2013, I knew nothing about online business space. I knew a little bit about business because technically my degree was dance and arts administration, so I had to take some like marketing classes. 

So I knew some things but the online business space is a whole different animal. And definitely my coursework in college had nothing to do with online business. So I felt like I didn’t really know anything, but I fully believe and believed even then that there is very good and valuable reason to invest in yourself and your business, if you really want it to be something, if you want it to grow from a financial perspective, if you want it to grow and have a bigger impact, you have to see the value of investment in yourself. 

So for coaching, I guess partly, as a coach, I’ve always really believed in the impact and value of coaching, you have to believe in what you do. So I do, and I believe that other coaches and business coaches can have some of the biggest support and impact for you in seeing growth. 

Sometimes, when I was earlier in business, I had my first business coach in 2016, when I was working with her, I needed a lot more hand holding. And that’s kind of what she provided. And at times, she almost like a boss, she would give me deadlines for things. At this point in my business, that’s not what I wanted but I knew I wanted someone who clearly had gone beyond where I was in this moment, but knew how to convey how to get there. 

That was the energy that I got from you. In our initial call, I got the confidence that you knew the path and could support me and finding my path, it doesn’t have to be exactly the same as yours, but allowing you to see what’s possible and believe. And I think the coaching aspect to that sometimes people underestimate the value of is the necessary mindset for success and the necessary mindset to reach your goals. I think mindset work kind of never ends because I’ve done a lot of it over the years. But I think that there are layers and layers and layers to it – whether that’s money mindset, or just mindset around what you can accomplish in a limited time, or mindset around what you’re even still able to give to your clients. I think sometimes even that needs to be continuously bolstered and that belief has to be continuously fed.

My Take On Growing Wellness Business and Having A Business Coach

Alison: You know, the other day, I was thinking, because the Facebook memory post came up of my diving day, “You know what? Why is it that it’s like normal – in fact, it’s required to have a coach as an athlete or a dancer?”

Sometimes it’s called different things. Maybe not a coach, but in a lot of athlete and performance world, it’s coaches. If we’re not going to a professional or Olympic level, where we’re in the sport for our life, we go on into adulthood, and a coach becomes a luxury. It’s so interesting to me. 

But I was thinking because there’s a lot of people, a lot of business owners that maybe I think that’s why it became so natural for me to hire a coach. In the very beginning phases of my business, because I’m like, “Oh, I get it. I remember, as an athlete, I would learn one thing, I would get to one level, I would achieve one success and you, my coach, helped me to get there. And so I knew to get even further, I would utilize my coach to help me to get to that next level.” But of course, the best coaching relationships are not what I’ve experienced, personally, me being completely dependent on my coach. It was me utilizing my coach, but also trusting my own resourcefulness, trusting my own abilities and intuition and knowing ultimately, “Oh, even though the coach tells me I should do this, or practice at this certain time, also, my body’s feeling really tired, and I might need to speak up and say, ‘Hey, I think I need a rest. I need to rest today.’”

Jess On Taking Consistent Action To Success Works Hand In Hand With Business Coaching

There’s definitely the element of action to become successful. I feel that the ones who are most successful are the ones who are first taking action consistently and that might be something that you can already do. That was something I did from the beginning because I was determined that I wanted this to be my path, this to be a successful path. So taking consistent action is huge and key in actually building upon. 

But then sometimes you need a little bit more support in terms of what’s going to be my next best action, what’s going to be the next best thing for me to focus on. Because otherwise, there are a lot of shiny objects in the online business space where there are courses you can take to learn about different things, there are ads, and different ways you can spend and invest in your business. I have found that when I work with somebody, one-on-one, like what we’re doing, it just gives me a higher level of action taking. Like I said, I’m already quite consistent, but it helps to believe that the direction we discussed me taking is about me and my business.

I’ve done group stuff, where I learned a lot, and there was a lot of value there. But as much as I know, I’m not a special snowflake, or that my business necessarily is, I still think there’s sometimes are actions that would be best for me that aren’t being discussed with the group, so I think that that’s one of the great benefits of the one on one scenario, as well.

My Take On Believing In Our Capabilities And The People We Work With

Alison: A topic that keeps threading its way through this conversation is belief – for the dancers. Belief in their own capabilities, and uniqueness, and as entrepreneurs belief in our practitioners’ skills and our programs and our ability to help people, and just belief in ourselves as an entrepreneur because many of us haven’t gone to entrepreneur school. 

Question to Jess: So If Someone Were To Ask You, How Do You Work On This Mindset Of Belief In Both Your Practitioner And Entrepreneur Skills, What Advice Might You Have To Share With Them? 

For me, it always comes back to your stories and the things that you have the shortcomings that you’ve created in your mind based on one comment or one experience. Then you start to collect evidence over time that leads you to this place of just questioning if you can do something again, like lacking that strong belief. I think that most of us or many of us aren’t super aware of those stories, or we are aware of some of them, but we have blind spots.

We don’t see all of them and I think, in coaching, both with my work that I’ve done with you, and even the work that I do with dancers, sometimes a coach, they hold up the mirror. When holding up that mirror, you would ask, “What’s going on here.” This is in my mind somewhere, but I hadn’t said it out loud ever to anyone so I wasn’t fully aware of it. So, if you don’t spend that time with someone, or do that work with someone, it can stay hidden and it impacts the way you do things, or it takes you off the path to success because you don’t believe that you can fully do that thing that you’ve set out to do. So you go in a direction that might feel safer, or just less scary. And then you end up all over the place – in my experience – where I feel like nothing is happening.

My Take On Jess’ Work

Alison: I can’t wait to see how the work you’re doing with your dancers and your own business. I really do feel like it has the potential to shift the trajectory of not only the whole future for the dancers that you work with, but for the dancing industry of what’s tolerated, what you know, what you can expect. As a parent, for our own daughters, if they were to choose dance, what they would tolerate and, hope to get out of dance for fun or for a career. 

Jess’ Parting Words Of Wisdom For Everyone  

I think the biggest thing is that you have to be willing and able to get out of what’s comfortable for you in order to achieve your goals. We stay in these spaces that we feel safe in because it’s comfortable, because it’s a survival thing. And the reality is when you go outside of that and take action in the face of fear or sign up to work with someone, even if you’re having to take pause about what that financial investment looks like, what that time investment looks like – look at what’s possible, look at what might lay on the other side of that work, and invest in yourself. 

We talked about worthiness and I think that that’s really something people don’t always believe. I think it’s really important to just take those steps and sit in your intuition and make sure it’s right from there and then just do it.

My Parting Words Of Wisdom For Everyone 

It’s also believing that regardless of who you work with or what program you do or what you offer is the belief that you can achieve success. That it will work for you no matter what you’re doing. 

You can find Jess on @thewholedancer on Instagram or her website thewholedancer.com if you have any questions for her. 

Connect with Alison by scheduling your free consultation call here: https://igniteurwellness.com/stress-reduction-plan/


Alison McLean

"I help the Entrepreneur reduce stress and live a more fulfilled and balanced life."