As a writer, editor and communications consultant, Lauren Kay has worked for a wide range of platforms including ELLE.com, BeautyandWellBeing.com, Time Out New York, Dance Magazine, Backstage and TDF.org.
It can take a full team of experts to keep a dancer dancing—from masseuses and acupuncturists to yoga teachers and personal trainers. But, that comes at a cost, literally. When do you really need to invest in pricier options, and when can you take the more budget-friendly route? We broke it down for the most popular options.
Growing up, Leah Ives always enjoyed preparing food—especially after-school snacks. So now, while she cooks to fuel her work with the Trisha Brown Dance Company, she always wants it to be "free-form in a casual, no-pressure way," she says.
That means she preps and eats whatever her body calls for. "I've gone through phases of cleanses and diets," she says. "But that can take the pleasure out of eating. And it doesn't feel nourishing to me. Now, I listen to my body."
Leah Ives with Marc Crousillat. Photo by Stephanie Berger
Do you feel like your obsession with dance has gone too far? You're not alone. Many dancers find themselves laser focused on dance to an unhealthy degree. But that doesn't mean you won't ever be able to find a more balanced life.
Ballet Hispánico dancer Christopher Bloom is a great example. When he started training seriously at age 15, he put every ounce of concentration into dance. In many ways, it served his swift improvement. But an overly obsessive tendency emerged: "When I went on vacation for a week when I was 17, I was so antsy and upset," he admits. "I thought I'd lose everything."
At some point in your dance career, friends might have used the word "obsessed" to describe you. Perhaps you smiled in response. Priding ourselves on how hard and tirelessly we work seems locked in our dancer DNA.
That's partly because dancers need a certain amount of laser focus to make it in the competitive professional world. But when you spend "one extra hour" in the studio too often, the scales can tip. Dancers can rehearse themselves into an injury, or try a combination so many times that the result is simply frustration.
"Sometimes your body and mind need a break—a day, afternoon or weekend," says Dr. Nadine Kaslow, resident psychologist at Atlanta Ballet. "But dancers feel bad about these things. They don't feel entitled. It feels like you might lose all your training or your spot in a company in that little time off."
Since moving from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to New York City in 2008, Dance Theater of Harlem's Ingrid Silva has used her family's recipes to energize her throughout the rehearsal day.
That means lots of white rice, black beans, chicken and steak.
While some consider this too heavy for dancing, for her, the concentrated nutrition amps up her strength and stamina. Her go-to? Rice and beans with steak. "With this lunch," she says, "I feel ready to work with energy for the rest of the day."
Elena d'Amario approaches every chance to perform as though a judge on a TV show were urging her to "dance for your life." Her movement explodes past the expanse of her skin, her face alive and passionate with every fearless battement, breathy swing and fluid undulation. So it was little surprise when the lively native of Pescara, Italy, landed a job with Parsons Dance through a popular Italian TV talent competition in 2010.
But it turns out that the secret behind her extraordinary power onstage is thoughtful, simple work on her body. During daily company class—a Parsons-style ballet warm-up—d'Amario starts barre by focusing closely on her back and core. In the center, she shifts her attention to energetic intention. "Each shape should be a statement of energy," she says. "Then, in jumps, which we do so much of, I work toward that lovely silent landing."
To handle all the jumps in Parsons' rep, d'Amario keeps her core strong and her IT bands loose. PC Lois Greenfield, Courtesy Parsons.
Whenever she has downtime throughout the rehearsal day, d'Amario performs crunches in various positions to keep her core ready to control her long limbs. She also uses a ball to roll out the tense spots of her hips or hamstrings, since healthy IT bands keep her knees safe for the deluge of jumping.
D'Amario finds this preventative and proactive approach keeps her body healthy. “Throughout the second season, I had pain in my knee, but I made a huge mistake and ignored it," she says. “I would roll out my IT band and leave it at that. But on the last day of work, I went to jump in class, and I felt something 'flip.' It was my meniscus."
She was fortunate to recover relatively quickly by working carefully with her physical therapist. “At first, she would just bend and straighten my knee, which was so painful," d'Amario remembers. “Two weeks later, we started flexing my foot and just lifting my leg 15 times." Soon, she added a Thera-Band for resistance, and, eventually, small ankle weights. Now, even though she's recovered, d'Amario continues to practice the same exercises every morning, making sure to fortify all the muscles around her knees. “It's elementary, but sometimes to gain muscle back, you have to just go slowly and carefully."
Broadway dancer Jonalyn Saxer is a dazzling juxtaposition of old and new. Onstage, her taps echo with the zing of traditional hoofing, while her long lines, playful hip-hop hits, comedic timing and stellar voice deliver what’s expected of a contemporary triple threat. A favorite of choreographers, her versatile skill set got her cast in her third Broadway show: Holiday Inn, the New Irving Berlin Musical, a feel-good tale about trading the big city for the country.
Saxer (center) in Holiday Inn’s showstopping tap-dance-meets-jump-rope number. PC Joan Marcus, Courtesy Polk & Co
Broadway shows: Currently in the ensemble of Holiday Inn. In the past, she was a swing in Honeymoon in Vegas and Bullets Over Broadway.
Hometown: Agoura Hills, CA
Training: Ballet, jazz and tap at California Dance Theatre; BFA in musical theater from Syracuse University
Broadway debut: Saxer was wrapping up college when she received a callback for Susan Stroman’s production of The Merry Widow at the Metropolitan Opera. She booked the gig, but when a swing position opened in Stroman’s new Bullets, the choreographer hired Saxer for that instead.
Defining her brand: Though Saxer is largely hired as a dancer, using the label with confidence was initially challenging. “Growing up,” she says, “I didn’t consider myself a full-out dancer, but more of a tapper. Syracuse gave me the confidence to be a triple threat, with ‘dancer’ coming first.”
Learning to swing: In Bullets, Saxer relied on her swing cohorts and a program called Stage Write that allows users to map out choreography clearly. Honeymoon, however, changed continuously during its initial performances. “For Honeymoon, I had four sets of notes,” says Saxer. “There’s nothing harder than swinging in an original cast!” Now, she’s taking a break from multitasking and is enjoying fleshing out her ensemble track.
What others are saying: “She’s very much a chameleon, adapting to the time period, setting and genre,” says Holiday Inn choreographer Denis Jones. “I appreciate a dancing actor: someone who’s able to go beyond the steps and actually experience a truthful moment through dance. That’s what Jonalyn delivers.”
On the horizon: Saxer plans to continue performing and working as a dance captain, a role she had in the regional show Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical, also choreographed by Jones. Eventually, she’d like to add choreography to her plate. “That’s my ultimate dream. But for now, I believe you have to go where your jobs take you. You can’t plan it,” she says. “I audition for everything. Until something is for sure, you have to keep putting yourself out there.”
CATS holds a sacred place in many dancers’ hearts. Tackling T.S. Eliot’s alternate, feline universe offers a chance to be part of a legacy, and cast members speak reverentially of the show’s whimsy and technical demands. Now, in the current revival on Broadway, a new litter is exploring Andy Blankenbuehler’s movement layered in with Gillian Lynne’s original choreography.
Pazcoguin runs through her solo 30 minutes before curtain. PC Jim Lafferty.
Georgina Pazcoguin: Victoria
Backstory: Also a New York City Ballet soloist, Georgina Pazcoguin is known for exploring unorthodox roles. But although she was always drawn to CATS’ theatricality, she never thought she’d perform it. Now she’s donning a white unitard as Victoria, the balletic kitten coming of age.
Committing: “CATS is a weird show, so you must be fully committed. That’s why we do our own makeup and spend so much time crawling around finding our own cat.”
Solo Work: Victoria’s iconic solo is filled with endless développés punctuated by twitches and swerves, ending in a Pilates-teaser–like seat. Pazcoguin first learned it from Lynne for a performance with American Dance Machine for the 21st Century last year. “Gillian, an 89-year-old woman, schooled me! I was sore for days. The tempo and control are difficult, and at the same time, Victoria’s exploring her own body. The second I start, I think of a waterfall flowing off my body.”
Hanes channels his Fosse felinity as Rum Tum Tugger. PC Matthew Murphy, Courtesy CATS.
Tyler Hanes: Rum Tum Tugger
Working With Andy Blankenbuehler: “Andy’s brain is always going. He takes this show to a different level. He understands a dancer’s body and knows what looks good.”
Becoming Tugger: “Since my background is Fosse, with that slink and felinity to it, I’m giving myself permission to be free in that vein. But also, I feel like the character has a mind of its own. Before, I felt like I was trying to emulate Andy to be ‘correct.’ Now, the movement is coming from a place of character. It’s more fun. Tugger dancing is not Tyler trying to dance like Andy!”
Body Prep: Because of the snug costume, Hanes had a clear
vision of what he wanted the character to look like: Adam
Levine. So, he hired a trainer who’s helped him to build strength, not bulk, through basic strength-training moves like squats and
Shonica Gooden: Rumpleteazer
Ubeda (left) and Gooden (right). PC Jim Lafferty.
Backstory: Gooden had never seen CATS, but she wanted to work with Blankenbuehler again after performing in Hamilton. “When I watched the video, I thought, What did I get myself into?!” Now, she’s fallen in love with the show’s themes of forgiveness and community.
Becoming Rumpleteazer: Gooden and Blankenbuehler worked together to make her Rumpleteazer sassier than other versions. “I made her unapologetically part of my culture: Being a black woman, that sass and attitude was naturally coming out. I didn’t want to suppress it.”
Two-Person Cartwheels: To tackle the tricky double cartwheels with Mungojerrie, danced by Jess LeProtto, the two initially practiced daily during the lift call preshow. “I learned to place my hands on his thighs exactly the same every day. If you hesitate, it’s not happening!”
Feline Features: “If I’m relaxed, I keep my fingers closed for a calm paw. But when Grizabella comes on, I open up my fingers for claws and my shoulders tense up.”
The Naming of Cats: The cast often calls each other by their cat names. But, there are variations. “Georgina is so spicy in the show, and she has so much attitude. So I said, ‘Your name is Lakisha.’ It stuck.”
Ricky Ubeda: Mister Mistoffelees
Backstory: Ubeda wore out his VHS copy of the London production as a kid. “I cried for three days when I got this part.”
Making Mister Mistoffelees: While Mister Mistoffelees is traditionally pulled up and über-clean, Ubeda and Blankenbuehler agreed theirs would be a cooler, more personable cat. “He loves to get the party started, and I have this theory that he teaches the other cats to dance.”
Rough Rake: “In rehearsal I had found my flow, but then I got to the rake and cried. Now, I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t fight the rake. If it’s throwing me, I just go with it.”
Fauré as Demeter. PC Jim Lafferty.
Kim Fauré: Demeter
Backstory: This show was one of the reasons Fauré started dancing. “It was my plan to be in a ballet company for a few years—and then CATS for the rest of my life.”
Feline Features: To keep her sophisticated character intact even when she’s not dancing, Fauré lies on her stomach, paws crossed and one leg bent.
Body Prep: To handle the demands of the show, Fauré cut out sugar to avoid inflammation and upped her potassium, vitamin B, calcium and magnesium to keep her muscles pliable.
Fame: Tons of fans wait outside to meet the cast, and Fauré thinks it’s because everyone can find a cat they connect with. “You can see yourself in the cats.”
Corey John Snide and Emily Tate: Coricopat and Tantomile
Tate (left) and Snide (right) danced together at Juilliard before joining the show. PC Jim Lafferty.
Backstory: Pre-Broadway, the two danced together at Juilliard. Now, they play twin cats.
Twin Tales: The twins are clairvoyant, and Blankenbuehler allowed Tate and Snide a large role in creating their movement. “During one moment when the whole stage goes into slow motion, he said, ‘I want the intuition to come from your head,’ ” says Tate. “We created a movement where we take our hands next to our ears as if a thought bubble is popping out.”
Bloopers: Since the pair works so closely, snags are unavoidable. Snide says, “One day, my unitard got stuck on her tail, I ripped my arm away and it went flying!”
Duo Details: The whole cast improvises certain sections. But for their version of improv, Tate and Snide have to maintain almost identical movement. Snide says, “The details, the position of our legs and contraction of our backs, are essential to creating the look.”
Blankenbuehler updated the choreography, but kept its sensual felinity. PC Jim Lafferty.
Layers of Choreography
When CATS first opened on Broadway in 1982, Gillian Lynne’s choreography earned much of the accolades. Infused with jazzy ballet lines, her now-iconic movement struck spectacularly odd shapes to depict energetic, sensual felinity.
For the revival, the team brought in man of the moment, Tony Award–winner Andy Blankenbuehler to add his take. Fresh off Hamilton, he integrated his blend of gestural hip hop and cool jazz into the framework. Fans still find Lynne’s trademark portions. But audiences looking for a modern stamp now enjoy details like a techno-fab Mister Mistoffelees nailing tilts in an LED-light jacket. “We don’t move the way they did in the ’80s,” says Ricky Ubeda. “But it’s great training to dive into that style and then be balanced by Andy’s storytelling choreography.”
For the dancers, this combination meant double benefits—and double challenges. To ensure Lynne’s portions were tackled correctly, one of her associates oversaw rehearsals. “She’d explain the heart and the direction of those sections,” says Kim Fauré. “Then, we could approach the layers of Gillian’s and Andy’s work more easily.”