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5 Things You're Doing Outside The Studio That Could Hurt Your Dancing
In the studio, dancers obsess over proper form to mitigate the risk of injury. In the rest of our lives, however, we rarely examine our alignment in the same way.
But our downtime habits can directly impact our bodies and, if left unchecked, could cause problems over time. A few simple adjustments might save you from an injury waiting to happen.
Bad Habit: Sitting Slumped Over a Screen
Many of us decompress after a long day by curling up with our phone or laptop. But staring down at a screen for extended periods of time is one of the worst things we do to our bodies, says Sean Gallagher, longtime physical therapist for Paul Taylor Dance Company.
"If you look at the foundational issues of most orthopedic problems, 9 times out of 10, it's because of how we sit." We tend to let go of our postural support and strength—maybe sitting on one hip and folding our legs under—and let our head drop forward. That can lead to a neck spasm or overstretching of the muscles around your shoulder blades, says Heather Southwick, director of physical therapy at Boston Ballet.
What you should do instead: Vary your seated positions, says Southwick. Minimize your time sitting in any one position.
Change up your positions when relaxing on the couch. Photo by Andrew Brand/StockSnap
Bad Habit: Stretching Cold Muscles at Home
Years ago, dancers were told to sit in the splits while watching TV. Even today, social media sometimes encourages it. But holding stretches when you're cold can damage muscle fibers.
"A lot of good scientific research says static stretching actually reduces the power and strength of a muscle," adds Southwick.
What you should do instead: If you're keen on putting TV time to use, try foam rolling or dynamic stretches. Save static stretching for after dancing. Before class, continuously move through your range of motion for a dynamic warm-up, suggests Southwick.
Using TV time to foam roll is healthier than stretching when you're cold. Photo by Thinkstock
Bad Habit: Walking Turned out
Ballet dancers work tirelessly in turnout. But too often, they maintain that rotation in daily life, creating a dangerous imbalance of strength in the hips. Master ballet instructor Kat Wildish explains, "If you don't return to parallel, then all you have is the stretch across the joint."
Over time, the body may try to compensate for that instability by overworking other muscles, while faulty hip alignment will create additional stress on the knees and ankles.
What you should do instead: Actively practice muscle engagement while standing in parallel, waking up the insides of your legs. Wildish suggests exercises, like yoga, that emphasize parallel position, so your muscles develop equally.
Yoga can strengthen your internal rotator muscles. Photo by Matthew Henry/StockSnap
Bad Habit: Wearing Flip-Flops
When we leave the studio in flip-flops, we naturally grip our toes in an effort to keep the shoes on—a problem that can lead to shin splints. And without arch support, we're likely to roll in, putting pressure on the tendons along the inside of the ankle, says Southwick. This can change the alignment of our knees and hips, and even affect the spine.
What you should do instead: Choose footwear that provides arch support and room for the toes to stay long and wide. "And remember," says Southwick, "if your Achilles tendon is tight, wearing heels will help keep it tight."
When shopping for shoes, try Wildish's trick: Put them on and go into a deep grand plié. If you can keep your toes wide and long—and maintain the length of your Achilles tendon—you're on the right track.
Choose sandals with arch support. Photo by Brodie Vissers/StockSnap
Bad Habit: Lugging Around a Heavy Dance Bag
Carrying excessive weight on one side of the body can give you what therapists call functional scoliosis. "The muscle and joint imbalances, over the years, can cause alignment and skeletal injuries," says Gallagher. A heavy bag can also adversely affect your gait, which could contribute to having a "weaker side" when dancing.
What you should do instead: Clean out your bag! Only keep what you really need. Invest in a fanny pack, or a rolling suitcase or a backpack with both straps evenly adjusted to distribute the weight.
If you're intent on using a single-strap bag, Gallagher says you should at least alternate shoulders.
Don't let a heavy dance bag weigh you down on one side. Photo by Matthew Murphy for Pointe.
Sarah Haarmann stands out without trying to. There is a precision and lack of affectation in her dancing that is very Merce Cunningham. Her movement quality is sharp and clear; her stage presence utterly focused. It's no wonder she caught Mark Morris' eye. Even though she still considers herself "very much the new girl" at Mark Morris Dance Group (she became a full-time member in August 2017), in a recent performance of Layla and Majnun, Haarmann seemed completely in her element.
Company: Mark Morris Dance Group
Hometown: Macungie, Pennsylvania
Training: Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Performing Arts and Marymount Manhattan College
In 2012, freelance contemporary dancer Adrianne Chu made a major career change: She decided to try out for A Chorus Line. "Even though I didn't get the job, I felt like I was meant to do this," says Chu. So she started going to at least one musical theater audition every weekday, treating each as a learning experience. After several years of building up her resumé, Chu's practice paid off: She booked a starring role as Wendy in the first national tour of Finding Neverland.
Approaching auditions as learning opportunities, especially when you're trying to break into a different style or are new to the profession, can sharpen your skills while helping you avoid burnout. It also builds confidence for the auditions that matter most.
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
It's easy to feel whiplashed thinking about everything Emma Portner has achieved in such a short amount of time. Last fall, the 23-year-old was the youngest woman ever to choreograph a West End production (it was based on Meat Loaf's greatest hits). This was, of course, after she already choreographed and starred in Justin Bieber's viral hit "Life is Worth Living," and before she charmed major media outlets when she secretly married actress Ellen Page. Now, she's L.A. Dance Project's first-ever artist in residence, and she's working on a commission for Toronto's Fall for Dance North Festival.
We caught up with her for our "Spotlight" series:
Last month, the International Association of Blacks in Dance's third annual ballet audition for women of color was expanded to include a separate audition for men.
The brainchild of Joan Myers Brown (founder of both Philadanco and IABD), the women's audition was created to specifically address the lack of black females in ballet. However, the success and attention that audition drew made the men feel left out, so IABD decided to give the men equal time this year.
Pina Bausch's unique form of German Tanztheater is known for raising questions. Amid water and soil, barstools and balloons, the late choreographer's work contains a distinct tinge of mystery and confrontation. Today, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch's dancers use questions as fuel for creativity. The company's most recent project introduced a new group of performers to the stage: local high school ninth-graders from the Gesamtschule Barmen in Wuppertal, Germany, in an original work-in-progress performance called Veränderung (Change).
Before she became the 20th century's most revered ballet pedagogue, Agrippina Vaganova was a frustrated ballerina. "I was not progressing and that was a terrible thing to realize," she wrote in a rough draft of her memoirs.
She retired from the Imperial Ballet stage in 1916, and for the next 30-plus years, devoted herself to creating a "science of ballet." Her new, dynamic teaching method produced stars like Rudolf Nureyev, Alla Osipenko, and Galina Ulanova and later Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov. And her approach continues to influence how we think about ballet training to this day.
But is the ballet class due for an update? Demands and aesthetics have changed. So should the way dancers train change too?
I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?
The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.
The dance community is heartbroken to learn that 14-year-olds Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran were among the 17 people killed during the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Guttenberg was a talented competition dancer at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL, according to a report from Sun Sentinel. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick shared the below message on her Facebook page, encouraging dancers across the country to wear orange ribbons this weekend in honor of Guttenberg, whose favorite color was orange.
A statement released yesterday by New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet reported that an independent investigation was unable to corroborate allegations of harassment and abuse against former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, according to The New York Times. This marks the end of a two-month inquiry jointly launched by the two organizations in December following an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment and violence.
The statement also included new policies for both the company and school to create safer, more respectful environments for the dancers, including hiring an independent vendor to handle employee complaints anonymously. These changes are being made despite the independent investigation, handled by outside counsel Barbara Hoey, purportedly finding no evidence of abuse.