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How To Keep Your Body In Top Shape At Summer Intensives
To help you avoid this disappointment, we tapped Daniel Cuttica, D.O., an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon with The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics and consultant to The Washington Ballet, for expert advice on how to keep your body healthy, safe and injury-free this summer.
Listen to Your Body
Arguably the most important rule for any dancer is to be your own body's advocate. After all, you're the only one who truly knows how it feels. So don't ignore signs of injury or overuse, and resist the temptation to dance through pain—no matter how minor it may seem.
"Most injuries in dance are overuse injuries," Cuttica says. "Minor pains can turn into more serious injuries if they're not quickly or properly addressed." At the first sign of injury, alert your teacher or an advisor in your program, who will likely refer you to a physical therapist or doctor if they think it's necessary.
Summer intensives usually involve long hours in the studio—sometimes more than what your body is used to. "This increase can put you at higher risk for fatigue or overuse injuries," Cuttica says. "Cross training allows the dancer to build strength and endurance in all parts of the body."
Getting started on a cross-training regimen a few times per week before your intensive starts will prepare your body for long hours and allow it to stand up better to weakness. Cuttica recommends a focus on core strengthening and aerobic training.
During intense training periods, eating a well-balanced diet and taking in adequate fluids to stay hydrated is crucial. "Dancers are often under a particularly high level of stress to maintain a specific body image, which can lead to unhealthy eating habits or calorie restriction," Cuttica says. "This behavior can result in poor nutrition and bone health, thus increasing the risk of injury."
We know one of the best parts of a summer intensive is being social and eating with new friends, but don't take your food cues from them; their bodies may have different needs. Instead, opt for healthy, protein-packed snacks and meals—and don't forget your H2O.
Wear the Right Shoes
Compile a checklist to make sure you have the proper dance shoes for each class, so you're not left wearing socks instead of character shoes in a Broadway rehearsal. And don't overlook your shoe choice when walking between classes—your muscles will thank you for electing tennis shoes or running sneakers over flimsy flip-flops. Taking the time before your program starts to go shoe shopping for the proper fit and style is well worth it to keep your feet and ankles supported.
Always Warm Up and Cool Down
"A dynamic warm up will raise your body temperature and increase blood flow to the muscles, preparing them for the upcoming demands of your class or performance," Cuttica says. He recommends static stretching and jogging in place for 5 to 10 minutes before your first class of the day.
"A cool down is just as important, as it will allow the body to recover and prevent the muscles from tightening up," he adds. Cuttica suggests slowly stretching, concentrating on your breathing and rolling out muscles with a foam roller. He specifically advises focusing on the hamstrings, calves, Achilles tendons, thigh muscles, lower back, torso and neck.
Don't Rely on Painkillers
Occasionally taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil for muscle soreness is fine, since they provide pain relief and help reduce inflammation.
"But their use should be discontinued as soon as possible in order to prevent any potential adverse effects on the healing process," Cuttica says. Don't rely on pain relief medicine for a real injury that would be more effectively treated by a doctor or PT.
Allowing ample downtime is not only crucial for the recuperation of your muscles, but also for your mental state. Utilize your free time at night to do anything you need to take care of your sore muscles and quicken their recovery, like a warm bath with Epsom salts or ice and heat treatments.
And don't forget to practice self-care and give your brain a proper break, too. If you recharge best by being around others, plan a game night with the other dancers on your floor or go see a local show to take your mind off of dance for a couple hours.
Admittedly, it can get a bit overwhelming to be in dormitory-style housing and constantly surrounded by other dancers. If you're the type of person that requires alone time to feel refreshed, don't feel guilty about skipping group activities or choosing to spend an evening alone. Your roommate will likely understand if you explain that you'd prefer to put headphones in and read a book to unwind at the end of the day.
Enjoy Your Experience
If you're having a rough day or feel like you're not making huge strides right away, don't let it put you in a bad state— one off day won't ruin your career. Reflect on how much you're improving, and take the time to appreciate all the valuable insight you're gaining from your instructors and peers. Work hard, but don't forget the most important part of your summer program is to enjoy yourself!
Never did I think I'd see the day when I'd outgrow dance. Sure, I knew my life would have to evolve. In fact, my dance career had already taken me through seasons of being a performer, a choreographer, a business owner and even a dance professor. Evolution was a given. Evolving past dancing for a living, however, was not.
Transitioning from a dance career involved just as much of a process as building one did. But after I overcame the initial identity crisis, I realized that my dance career had helped me develop strengths that could be put to use in other careers. For instance, my work as a dance professor allowed me to discover my knack for connecting with students and helping them with their careers, skills that ultimately opened the door for a pivot into college career services.
Here's how five dance skills can land you a new job—and help you thrive in it:
When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.
"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."
I always knew my ballet career would eventually end. It was implied from the very start that at some point I would be too old and decrepit to take morning ballet class, followed by six hours of intense rehearsals.
What I never imagined was that I would experience a time when I couldn't walk at all.
In rehearsal for Nutcracker in 2013, I slipped while pushing off for a fouetté sauté, instantly rupturing the ACL in my right knee. In that moment my dance life flashed before my eyes.
Last week in a piece I wrote about the drama at English National Ballet, I pointed out that many of the accusations against artistic director Tamara Rojo—screaming at dancers, giving them the silent treatment, taking away roles without explanation—were, unfortunately, pretty standard practice in the ballet world:
If it's a conversation we're going to have, we can't only point the finger at ENB.
The line provoked a pretty strong response. Professional dancers, students and administrators reached out to me, making it clear that it's a conversation they want to have. Several shared their personal stories of experiencing abusive behavior.
Christopher Hampson, artistic director of the Scottish Ballet, wrote his thoughts about the issue on his company's website on Monday:
We all know that companies too often take dancers for granted. When I wrote last week about a few common ways in which dancers are mistreated—routine screaming, humiliation, being pressured to perform injured and be stick-thin—I knew I was only scratching the surface.
So I put out a call to readers asking for your perspective on the most pressing issues that need to be addressed first, and what positive changes we might be able to make to achieve those goals.
The bottom line: Readers agree it's time to hold directors accountable, particularly to make sure that dancers are being paid fairly. But the good news is that change is already happening. Here are some of the most intriguing ideas you shared via comments, email and social media:
With dancer and choreographer credits that cover everything from touring with Beyoncé to music videos and even feature films, Tricia Miranda knows more than a thing or two about what it takes to make it. And aspiring dancers are well aware. We caught up with the commercial dance queen last weekend at the Brooklyn Funk convention, where she taught a ballroom full of dancers classes in hip-hop and dancing for film and video.
How To Land An Agency
"At times with the agencies, they already have someone that looks like you or you're just not ready to work. Look has to do with a lot of it, work ethic and also just the type of person you are. Do you have personality? Do people want to work with you? Because you can be the greatest dancer, but if you're not someone that gives off this energy of wanting to get to know you, then it doesn't matter how dope you are because people want to work with who they want to be around. I learned that by later transitioning into a choreographer because now that I'm hiring people, I want to hire the people that I want to be around for 12 or 14 hours a day.
You also have to understand that class dancers are different from working commercial dancers. A lot of class dancers and what you see in these YouTube videos are people who stand out because they're doing what they want and remixing choreography. They're kind of stars in their own right, which is great for class, but when it comes to a job, you have to do the choreography how it's taught."
Houston's METdance and the Dallas-based Bruce Wood Dance have teamed up to commission a new work from Dallas native (and former Dallas Black Dance Theatre artistic director) Bridget L. Moore. The two contemporary companies will take the stage together in Dallas at Moody Performance Hall on March 16 and at Houston's Hobby Center for the Performing Arts on April 13–15. Visit brucewooddance.org and metdance.org for details on the respective engagements.
Onstage, Clifton Brown is a force of nature. The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer joined the celebrated company at 19, in 1999. In 2011, he left to dance with Jessica Lang Dance and Lar Lubovitch Dance Company before returning to Ailey last year. Brown has been trying his hand at choreography on the side, but this week his first larger work—a commission from The Washington Ballet artistic director Julie Kent—premieres on a program of new works by choreographers who still perform.
Brown will take a day or two away from the Ailey company's rigorous tour schedule to see TWB dancers perform his Menagerie, danced to Rossini's Duet for Cello and Double Bass in D Major, at Washington, D.C.'s Harman Center for the Arts. We caught up with him last week in Chicago.
Once Adriana Pierce caught the choreography bug as a teenager, dancemaking came naturally. More difficult was navigating the tricky situations that would arise when choreographing on classmates and friends. "If a rehearsal didn't go well, I'd worry that people didn't respect me or didn't like my work," says Pierce, who went on to participate in the School of American Ballet's Student Choreography Workshop twice, at 17 and 18. "I had a lot to learn: how not to take things personally, how to express what I wanted, when to push and when to back off."
Choreographing on your peers can feel intimidating. How can you be a leader in your own rehearsals when you're dancing at the same level the rest of the time? How can you critique your cast without hurting feelings? Avoiding pitfalls takes commitment and care, but the payoff is worth it.
Ever since we heard that Michaela DePrince's memoir, Taking Flight, was going to be a movie, we've been on the edge of our seats waiting for more info. Almost three years later, it's been worth the wait—we just learned that the Queen of Pop herself will be directing DePrince's biopic.
"Michaela's journey resonated with me deeply as both an artist and an activist who understands adversity," Madonna said in a statement. "We have a unique opportunity to shed light on Sierra Leone and let Michaela be the voice for all the orphaned children she grew up beside."