Breaking Stereotypes

Why Dancing Made Me A Marathon Runner

Photo courtesy Strava/Brooklyn Mile

This Sunday, about 50,000 people will be lining up in Staten Island to run 26.2 miles for the New York City Marathon. I'll be one of them.

When I tell people from the dance world that I'm training for what will now be my eighth marathon, most can't comprehend why I would want to do something so boring. Many dancers can't see the point of repeating the same movement over and over for four or five–odd hours when you could spend that time dancing, moving your body in so many different, more fun and interesting ways.


I get it. As a teenager, I used my rehearsal schedule as an excuse to get out of gym class specifically so I wouldn't have to run laps around my school's baseball fields. But over the last few years, I've come to love this weird endurance running hobby. And I've realized that most of the reasons I do relate directly back to dancing.

For starters, there's the dedication and perseverance (some might call it obsession) that is an integral part of being a dancer. In the studio, I learned to love the daily commitment to pushing my limits, and trying the same things over and over until my body began to be able to do what my mind commanded. Running has become my outlet for that need to to challenge myself day after day.

As Joffrey Ballet star Fabrice Calmels once said in an interview with Runner's World about his own running habit, "the physicality of the race is similar to some parts of the ballet…. It becomes a decision, 'I'm just going to keep going through this struggle.' "

Former Miami City Ballet principal Patricia Delgado once told me that a recently retired colleague had gotten into running because races replicated the high of a performance. She found that the process of training her body to get faster and go longer was similar to how rehearsals build toward opening night. Running to that finish line offered her the same feeling of accomplishment—and even applause from the crowd!

But I find there's a bigger connection than just sheer grit or applause. I think dancers and runners both are attracted to their passions because they want to achieve the seemingly impossible. They want to prove to themselves that with enough hard work, you can do something superhuman, whether that's balancing your entire body on your toes or running longer than 26 miles in one go.

For me, one of the greatest things about dancing is that feeling you get during a perfectly placed pirouette. You're turning and turning, and you hold on to eek out one extra rotation, using your turnout to slowly finish exactly where you want to with complete control. That feeling of total grace, of an ease that you can only master after hours, days, years of practice, is one of the most satisfying things I've ever found in life.

That feeling is what I search for every time I go out running. Just like in dance, I don't find it every time. Sometimes you're sore, or tired, or "off" your leg. Usually when I'm running I'm a panting mess, bobbing awkwardly up and down. But every once in awhile, I can find that ease and grace where my body feels like it's soaring forward, and my legs are churning below me effortlessly.

I don't know if I'll get that feeling during the marathon on Sunday. But I do know that the years I spent working to lift my développé higher and jump more sprightly will be what helps me push past the wall at mile 20 when my legs hate me and all I want is a pizza and a couch.

Jacques d'Amboise in Apollo, 1963. Photo by John Dominis via danceheritage.org

One person I often think of to get through the rough parts of a race is Jacques d'Amboise. In 1976, the New York City Ballet principal dancer ran the marathon the very first year that the course covered all five boroughs of New York City, according to The New Yorker. He trained for it without telling George Balanchine, mostly by running around the Central Park reservoir. After his very first long run of 20 miles (just two days before the marathon!), he told his friend who'd gotten him into running, "That run you suggested was just fantastic."

I know exactly how he must have felt.

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