To stay in shape, San Francisco Ballet's Sofiane Sylve takes class with the trainees, taught by SFB School associate director Patrick Armand. Why? Because it's 30 minutes longer than company class.
"You have to floss deep," quips the 41-year-old principal.
Sofiane Sylve doesn't mince words. "If you are just going through the motions," she says to her trainee class at the San Francisco Ballet School, "we might as well stay home."
The veteran SFB principal is famed as much for her directness as for her exquisite technique, astonishing interpretive range and captivating stage presence. "I don't do average," she says in an interview at SFB headquarters, across a tree-lined street from the War Memorial Opera House. "If somebody has made the effort to come and sit in the audience, I'm going to give everything I have. There is no holding back."
These are among the first words Sylve has said to the press since she joined SFB as a principal in 2008. Defiant of the trend for self-promotion, she avoids interviews and social media. "I'm highly, highly private," says the French-born ballerina, who turns 41 this month. "I'd rather spend time in the studio."
It's fitting that choreographer Benjamin Millepied named a recent work On the Other Side. After a difficult two-year tenure as artistic director of the Paris Opéra Ballet, he is happily settled in Los Angeles and reemerging with big plans for L.A. Dance Project, the contemporary company he founded there in 2012.
Today, his ambitious vision is redefining what an independent dance company can do: grow into an online dance platform and a lifestyle brand, host a building and performance space, and build an international presence.
When Katelyn Prominski came down with swine flu in 2009, she never quite recovered. Six months later, she remembers, "I started feeling super-exhausted, super-hungry, always thirsty. Just really, really run down."
Then a corps member with Pennsylvania Ballet, Prominski didn't know that the virus had triggered Type 1 diabetes. The disease is normally diagnosed in childhood, so it didn't occur to Prominski or her doctors that she could have developed it at age 25.
Craving candy? Doubling down on dessert?
In sensible amounts, sweets can be tasty treats and can even provide a quick energy boost. According to well-designed research, athletes like dancers tend to metabolize sugar efficiently, so they can safely consume reasonable amounts as part of a healthy diet.
But if you fuel up on too many sweets, you risk being "overfed and undernourished," says certified dietitian nutritionist Heidi Skolnik. That's because sugar provides quickly digested calories (16 per teaspoon) and no other nutrients.
If your cravings feel out of control, here's how to tame them without feeling deprived.
At Hubbard Street's new intensive in Los Angeles, dancers dig into the choreographic process.
“Give it more intensity," says Robyn Mineko Williams, the choreographer in residence at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's inaugural pre-professional summer intensive at the University of Southern California. The dancer tries her solo again, moving across the floor in wider second-position pliés, bending her torso more deeply, jutting her elbows more sharply.
The studio bursts into applause. “I think the other students could feel this dancer changing right before their eyes," Williams says afterward. That kind of aha moment is exactly what the program is designed to cultivate. An odyssey into the contemporary dance-making process, it challenges dancers to immerse themselves in collaboration with a world-class choreographer and offers a taste of life in a top-tier company.
Come back stronger by using your body’s natural healing response.
It’s the end of a tiring rehearsal, but you try that challenging jump one last time, and land sideways on your foot. Within minutes you begin to notice the signs of a sprain: swelling, pain and heat, and eventually bruising.
As a group, these symptoms are called inflammation. It hurts—and it looks awful—but is it dangerous? “Inflammation is part of the healing process,” says Dr. Joey Fernandez, a sports medicine specialist with the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. Inflammation is natural and unavoidable, and you can work with it to get back on your feet more quickly.
When you have an acute soft-tissue injury like an ankle sprain, Fernandez explains, inflammation sends in immune cells and chemicals, such as neutrophils, cytokines and macrophages, to clear out damaged tissue. “It’s like renovation,” he says. “You put up scaffolding, and the workers have to remove the damage before they can rebuild.”
Get the Swelling Down
Swelling is a result of fluid leaking out of the blood vessels into the surrounding tissue during the inflammation process. This delivers the repair cells to the site, but it can also slow recovery. “Let’s say you have a partially torn ligament,” explains Dr. Selina Shah, who treats dancers at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital’s Center for Sports Medicine in Walnut Creek, California. “The fibers are going to have a hard time coming back together if the fluid from swelling is in the way.”
Immediately after the injury, you can help clear out the excess fluid by wrapping the site in an ACE bandage or brace to apply gentle compression and by elevating the injured area (above the heart, if possible). Ice can also be applied (using a towel to protect your skin from frost burn) for 15 minutes about three times a day. You can continue these treatments for as long as the swelling is visible and you notice a benefit.
Fernandez estimates that the debris-removing macrophages need about 36 hours to eat up damaged cells. Dancers should avoid weight-bearing activity on the injured body part during that time, he says, “or you can be dancing on tissues that haven’t started to build new cells.” However, he prescribes gentle movement immediately after injury. For a sprained ankle, for example, lie on your back, raise your injured ankle toward the ceiling, and carefully rotate your ankle, wiggle your toes and flex your foot. These “open-chain” exercises, where the limb is free to move without resistance, promote healing without further damaging the tissue. “I tell dancers, Think of your ankle sprain as having lungs,” explains Fernandez. “It needs oxygen to heal, and the physical motion squeezes the tissues to encourage drainage.”
“NSAIDs get a bad rap,” Fernandez says of the over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, which have been blamed for everything from liver damage to ulcers. He is comfortable recommending short-term use to reduce pain. “Nothing is going to happen unless you have a predisposing condition,” says Shah. Addressing another common misconception, she adds that “they’re absolutely not addicting.”
However, both doctors warn against using anti-inflammatories to push through class or rehearsals before an injury has healed sufficiently. “Teachers and directors expect dancers to heal on a timeline,” Fernandez says, “but you might actually take two steps back.”
“There are a lot of misconceptions about inflammation in the dance world,” Shah warns. Many existing studies are poorly designed and unreliable, she says, “but people read them on the internet and think they’re true.”
In particular, she says that many dancers underestimate the power of the inflammatory response. “They’ll say, ‘If you use ice or NSAIDs, you’re going to stop the inflammation.’ They don’t stop the process—your body is a lot smarter than that and has many pathways to healing.”
Ultimately, every body is unique and responds to inflammation—and treatment—in its own way. “There is a sweet spot for each person,” Fernandez observes. “What we want to do is get the benefits while minimizing the side effects.”
Don’t let Steffi Cheong’s petite build fool you—onstage, she can unleash fierce physicality as readily as the most delicate gesture. Now in her third season with San Francisco’s ODC/Dance, Cheong is coming into her own in the intellectually rigorous, intensely technical works created by artistic directors Brenda Way, KT Nelson and Kimi Okada.
Cheong has been turning heads since she joined ODC in 2013. Photo by Andrew Weeks, Courtesy ODC.
Hometown: Murray Hill, New Jersey
Training: Ballet and modern at New Jersey Dance Theatre Ensemble; BFA in dance from SUNY Purchase
Becoming a collaborator: Cheong relishes ODC’s collaborative method, with the dancers generating movement for the directors to refine into new work. It’s a 180-degree change from the choreographer-directed rehearsals she was used to at her previous company, DanceWorks Chicago. The challenge has enriched her artistry: “I have to dig deeper,” she says.
Moving in the moment: During a Springboard Danse Montréal workshop in college, Cheong fell in love with improvising. “That’s where I really learned to let go and find myself,” she says. “Discovering different ways that your body can move, and listening to different kinds of music, creates a new tempo in your head.” She still takes classes when she has time.
What Brenda Way is saying: “Steffi is not just another dancer in a group—you feel her presence. In her first season, people said ‘Who’s the new girl?’ ”
Property master: ODC’s intricate multimedia works can include moving sets, wheeled vehicles, confetti and projections. Cheong says that rather than distracting her onstage, these props enhance her experience. “Dancers are so attentive to their surroundings during live performance,” she says. “If there’s another element thrown in, it just opens another facet of attentiveness.”
Inner strength: Way praises Cheong’s technical elegance as well as her emotional resilience, a prerequisite for ODC’s demanding creation process. She says, “The number of ideas we try and throw away—you have to be strong.”