Why Do Dancers Smoke?

BY Bija Satterlee, Fitness Coach, 3 Times Representative to the World Senior Dancesport Championships.

Published in Dancebeat Feb 2005

IN A COMPETITIVE WORLD LIKE DANCING, people go to extreme lengths to improve themselves. The money spent on lessons, the dedication to long hours of practice, the intense focus and competitive mindset makes you think dancers leave no stone unturned to get ahead in their careers. Why then, would serious dancers take up a habit as self-destructive as smoking? From ballet dancers to ballroom dancers, you see them shivering outside in the rain, having a smoke. How does this compute?

Whenever you light a cigarette, the nicotine causes an increase in your heart rate and blood pressure, and the air passages in your lungs constrict, making it more difficult for you to breathe. From an athletic standpoint, it is like dancing with a 50 pound weight on your back. Within minutes of lighting up, carcinogens, and toxic gases, such as carbon monoxide, enter your bloodstream. This can cause chest pain and disturbance of your heart rhythm during physical activity or exercise, and it impairs your ability to perform.

We all have friends and loved ones who have the habit, and perhaps you smoke yourself. It’s such a frustrating subject because smoking is so intensely addictive. Current smokers hate to be reminded of it. They roll their eyes and say, “I KNOW, I KNOW...” and the discussion ends there. Because they DO know, and a large majority of them would like to quit.

Cigarette smoking remains the number one preventable cause of death in the Western world. The litany of negative effects caused by smoking are well documented, and yet every day millions of young people (and dancers) start smoking for the first time.

• Reduced athletic performance.
Need we say more...
• Increased risk of illness.
Studies show that smokers get more colds, flu, bronchitis, and pneumonia than nonsmokers.
• Greater risk of injury and slower healing time.
Smoking affects the body's ability to produce collagen, so common dance injuries, such as damage to tendons and ligaments, heal more slowly in smokers than nonsmokers.
• Expensive.
Smoking averages $1800. / year. You could buy a new tail suit every year with that money!
• Bad breath.
Decidedly unglamorous.
• Bad-smelling clothes and hair.
Hard to get the smell out, but since smoke diminishes your sense of taste and smell, you may not notice it yourself.
• Premature Facial Wrinkling.
Reduced blood flow to the skin and restricted collagen production. (We can’t have this!)
• Risk factor for Erectile Dysfunction. (This either!)

SMOKERS HAVE SIGNIFICANTLY ELEVATED RISKS of heart attack, stroke and cancer of many types including the throat, mouth, esophagus and lungs; kidneys, pancreas, stomach and bladder. Those who smoke the most have the highest risk of death and disease. Furthermore, the younger a person is when they start smoking, the more dramatic their chances of getting life-threatening diseases. A study of people with lung cancer found that those who started smoking before age 15 had TWICE as many cell mutations as those who started after age 20. And teens who smoked had impaired memory function.

SECONDHAND SMOKE is a cause of disease for those who are around it. Children of smokers are more likely to have asthma, allergies, and be prone to bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses.

“In California they’ve passed a law, so now there’s no smoking in bars, and soon no eating and no talking!”
~ Eddie Izzard, comedian

Some people have the misconception that cigars are not as dangerous as cigarettes. This is just false. A cigar has as much nicotine as a whole pack of cigarettes, and the leaves they are rolled in are cured for over a year in chemicals that are released during smoking. Secondhand smoke from cigars contains many of the same poisons (toxins) and cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) as cigarette smoke but in higher concentrations.

Some of the toxins or carcinogens in cigar smoke include:
• carbon monoxide
• nicotine
• hydrogen cyanide
• ammonia
• arsenic

YIKES!!!! People KNOW all this, and still hold tightly to the habit. I ask again, Why would dancers put their careers at risk, smell up their beautiful clothes and hair, stain their teeth and fingers, impair their athletic ability, and invite disease into their lives?

I asked some dancers why they smoke. Here are their responses:
• “I smoke very occasionally, when I’m around others who smoke. I can’t help myself, it’s like I have to do something with my hands.”
• “I know it’s bad. I’ll quit some day. Just not right now.”
• “It helps me keep my weight down. Instead of eating, I smoke.”
• “In (my home country) everyone smokes from the time we’re teens. Only here in the U.S. do people seem to care about it.”
• “I quit several times but being around other people who smoke makes it hard not to. It’s a social thing.”

The addictive quality of tobacco is equal to that of heroin; it is almost impossible NOT to get addicted. Therefore, quitting is a major undertaking.

While many of the effects of smoking are long-term, others are reversible. The ‘good news’ is smokers who quit before age 30 avoid more than 90 percent of the risks of smoking! Quit now and you will reduce your risk of heart attack, cancer and stroke, as well as add years to your life! As you smoke, your pulmonary function is rapidly declining. Once you stop, the rate of decline slows down, giving you a second chance with your health. Quitting at any age is advisable, as the risk of disease becomes less once you quit.

Many methods exist for stopping smoking. The most important thing is that you BELIEVE you can do it! An addiction can’t be broken in half an hour. Nicotine addiction is only thought to be about 10% of the battle. The rest is psychological and behavioral. Combined therapies including the patch, nicotine gum, and group counseling work better together than individual methods alone. Meanwhile, you need to learn to think like a nonsmoker, and to find other ways to socialize, relax, maintain your weight, and manage stress.

Making your own list of reasons to quit can help you stay the course in trying times. Keep adding to the list every day. List the freedoms you will enjoy once you overcome your addiction. Post it where you see it every day. Take it very seriously. Every day you continue to smoke could be a day of recovery. Every pack adds up, and the longer you smoke, the more damage you do to your body.

Set a date. Get support. Just decide to do it. Help your friends, help yourself, encourage smokers around you to kick the habit, and discourage young people from starting. Two immediate rewards are easier breathing and more money... things every dancer can use!

Here are some web sites with programs and information about quitting smoking and staying smoke free. Check them out and at least get started with this very important step in your life. And good luck!

Read previous articles on Fitness for Dancers at www.bodiesbybija.com. Get future articles delivered to your inbox by signing up on line. You may also contact me to discuss this or other fitness issues.
In Joy and Good Health,

~ Bija Satterlee


Well-Known Member
Phew! I was beginning to wonder after that cigarette comment over on another thread, but I'm thankful my readinig of that as a joke was correct. ;)
Why do dancers, or any athletes for that matter, smoke? I would say half because they don't really care about their bodies(Why do dancers drink cola & eat fast food?) but the other half of the dancers that smoke, although they may be desperate to quit, are hopelessly addicted to the nicotene and other chemical additives that the ingenious tobacco industry blends into the tobacco to keep them addicted. If any of you have ever smoked and quit successfully(as have I) then you will truly know how hard it is to give up the habit.


Well-Known Member
I've had friends that have tried to quit smoking, and it has been painful watching them go through the process of trying to break the addiction. :(
I've had (and still have) a lot of friends and students who are suffering from the effects of smoking(including financially as cigarettes cost over $7 a pack here!) and, exactly as Bija has written above, have heard all those reasons. Those are excuses given by smokers, trying to deny their situation, and we will hear it again and again("I only smoke when I drink" is a common one from a buddy of mine, and he goes out for drinks 4 nights a week!) until the smoker is mentally perpared to quit. There is a thread on this on the Health Forums, if anyone is thinking of quitting and wants to read more.


Well-Known Member
I know many dancers from ballroom and A.T communities, and as I see it the rate of smokers within random dancers like you and me (ok, like me...) is the same than within the overall population, but the really good dancers (either the ballet pros who dance A.T or ballroom socially, or the teachers) I know are almost all deeply addicted to tobacco.
So, from a statistic point of view, the conclusion is that cigarettes will improve your dance skills...
Along the lines of addiction, I am extremely impressed, proud, and happy for those of you who have quit, for it is insanely addictive, and it takes a very determined person to quit. You have to believe in your REASONS to quit, and never give up, and use a multi-pronged approach.

Cocodrillo, congratulations to you. You are a good example for the others!
I wish there would be more emphasis on the money aspect of smoking - especially to young people. They might not be impressed by buying a new tail suit, but $1800 would be a good starter car, a great computer, or a lot less hours having to work at the local convenience store.

Because once they start, it is a lifelong battle. I have a sister who gave up smoking 30 years ago and says when she is done eating dinner, a cigarette would taste so good to her!


Well-Known Member
Smoking is such a bad habit. I have a girl friend who smokes every once in a while. I hate cigarettes and think smoking is the worst thing ever, but I don't know how to tell her to stop. She goes "It's only every now and then, what's the big deal"?

Twilight Elena

P.s. I'm itching to ask a dance teacher I know about the reasons she smokes...


New Member
my dance partner smokes. i've gotten used to it actually. not saying that i would start smoking but its funny... whenever i smell her brand of cigaretts now i think of her. kinda like perfume.... kinda.

but she works out, eats right, takes good care of her body and her mind... but she just can't give up the tobacco.

she's very conscience of non-smokers and stays away from people when she "lights up". i don't think she likes the habit but like everyone's been implying... "its insainly addictive".
BodiesByBija said:
BY Bija Satterlee, Fitness Coach, 3 Times Representative to the World Senior Dancesport Championships.
Sigh. Time to edit the title of this thread to "WHY I WANT TO PONTIFICATE ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE'S HABITS."

You don't touch on the subject of the title of the thread even once in your article.

Sigh. If you can't join 'em, bash 'em!

foursquare said:
BodiesByBija said:
BY Bija Satterlee, Fitness Coach, 3 Times Representative to the World Senior Dancesport Championships.
Sigh. If you can't join 'em, bash 'em!

Oh but you CAN "join 'em!" I think Bija wanted to point out the dangers of joining 'em and how one could give up the habit.
foursquare said:
Sigh. Time to edit the title of this thread to "WHY I WANT TO PONTIFICATE ABOUT OTHER PEOPLE'S HABITS."

Hello Mr Foursquare. Welcome to the discussion on my article.
I am sorry you have taken offense at my discussion of dancers and smoking.

It is part of my job to help people stop smoking, and I deal with the psychological and physical stresses of it in my clients routinely.

Occasionally I do tackle subjects that cause people pain, but my purpose is to help them resolve their issues. I approach my work with compassion, and most people respect my work.
I know peoples' reasons: Weight and Frustration with Dance. If you don't take care of your body, you're gonna get frustrated regardless, because Dancing is competitive.
One of the teahcers at my studio smokes. I think another one does, too (he kind of smells like smoke). I don't understand why professional dancers smoke. Actually, I don't understand why ANYONE smokes. It's such as nasty habit. Why do some people find it so attractive to inhale dangerous chemicals?


Well-Known Member
I've had friends that have tried to quit smoking, and it has been painful watching them go through the process of trying to break the addiction.
From personal experience, it is much more painful to watch them dying the slow death of lung cancer.
Why do dancers smoke? Smoking is a very self-destructive thing to do. Why does anyone engage in any self-destructive behavior? At the root of any self-destructive behavior is a core of self-loathing, a desire to "destroy the self." So to "smoke out" why someone hates themselves so much that they would try to deliberately kill themselves by slow suicide is probably specific to the individual. But having wasted far too much of my life in depression and toying with suicide, I know what that's like. And until you get at the root of that self-loathing, all those bad habits (smoking, eating, substance abuse, drinking, risky sex) are going to continue, or you'll just substitute one for another.

Fostering a desire to live is the key, really, to ending any sort of self-destructive behavior pattern. A desire not only to live, but to live with JOY. Our society does not offer too much in the way of hope or joy. At least for me, dancing is one way of expressing that. A couple of times, people have told me that I inspire them when I dance. That's probably the finest thing anyone has ever said that to me. Maybe, just maybe, they will take that inspiration and use it to better their lives -- take up dancing, stop smoking/drinking, lose weight, take better care of themselves.

I have to believe that this is possible. I know it worked for me.
:) I am a smoker, sort of... :)

I only smoke when I go out! :)

If I don't go out, I don't smoke! If I have a cold, I don't smoke even if I go out!

I never smoke in the office, for instance! Don't even feel the need! When I go to the montains, I don't smoke either... I guess I just like smoking...

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