Sarah Leaf RD, LDN
1. What is your background in both dance and medicine? Why did you decide to pursue these two disciplines? (This is more of an introduction, so feel free to expand on these topics!)
While I have trained in multiple styles of dance, ballet was always my favorite. According to my mom, they started me in ballet at the age of 3 because I was “always bouncing around the house.” What was initially intended as an outlet for my energy soon became an obsession. Starting in grade school, I competed in the Youth American Grand Prix, qualifying for the finals in NYC seven consecutive years. During high school, I was among several students from around the world invited to attend the year-round program at the Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia and subsequently went on to dance professionally. Ultimately, my ballet career was cut short due to injuries. I returned to school to study nutrition after seeing the widespread nutritional concerns found in the dance community. After working as a registered dietitian for a few years, I decided to pursue medical school to not only better myself, but to simultaneously be able to better contribute to my community. I am currently finishing my 3rd year of medical school.
2. When was the first time you performed, and what part of that experience do you still carry with you?
I technically believe my first performance was a recital dance titled “Ants in My Pants” at the age of 3 at a studio in Decatur, IL. Slight embarrassment is perhaps the only thing I carry with me from that performance, and I hope there’s no video documentation anywhere. The first performance where I felt as though I may have a chance at dancing professionally was when I performed the Blue Bird variation from Sleeping Beauty at age 11 in the Youth American Grand Prix and received the Hope Award. I trained daily for several months for the performance that lasted only a few short minutes. This taught me the value of dedication and commitment.
3. Such creative journeys often face great challenges and successes. What event(s) inspired or challenged you personally to pursue dance and incorporate that practice into your medical training?
Through experiencing several injuries during my time dancing and seeing the role of nutrition on performance, I have developed a special interest in sports medicine and nutrition. I feel as though my prior experiences give me an advantage into understanding the unique medical needs of dancers and other female athletes, who I would love to work with after medical school.
4. What is one concluding piece of advice you would share for those individuals who aspire to merge their passions for health and the performing arts?
Upon entering medical school, I was under the false impression that the sciences and the arts were two very distinct entities. I soon realized that not only can the two coexist, but they thrive together. I would encourage any performing artist who is interested to pursue a health career. From first-hand experience, I know that we need more health professionals who truly understand the demands, pressures, and needs of performing artists.