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Health & Fitness
Massage. The word evokes visions of serenity, sensuality, and relaxation. But for dancers who work 6, 8, or 10-hour days, massage is also a basic requirement for maintaining physical and mental health.
Massage practitioners study a variety of techniques, and may combine different styles within a typical hour-long session. Dancers may experience Eastern massage forms like shiatsu or acupressure (Japanese compression massage based on Chinese theories of health and well-being), or Thai massage, which incorporates yoga-like stretching to increase range of motion. The therapist may also include Western styles like deep tissue, Swedish, or myofascial release. All three include long, gliding strokes and kneading. They focus on releasing chronic tension patterns in deeper layers of muscle tissue, alleviating chronic pain, and increasing blood and lymph circulation.
Michael Leslie, massage therapist for San Francisco Ballet, finds deep-tissue technique in greatest demand there. “It helps dancers use their bodies better because it aids their alignment,” he says. It softens tissue and helps muscles release so they “fall back into place.” Deep-tissue massage also helps normalize muscle tone, allowing the dancer to perform better at the next rehearsal or performance. Russ Beasley, who works on Broadway and American Ballet Theatre dancers, notes that it’s not easy to pinpoint which technique is most effective. But, he says, “Most dancers would probably expect and ask for a deep-tissue session that gets down and into the layers of muscle and fascia.”
Frequency of sessions varies according to schedule and individual preference. Beasley works on some dancers on a daily basis, and with others on a weekly or bimonthly basis. Most of his dance clients come in for a weekly visit on their day off, with occasional extra visits during the week for spot work. Beasley feels the weekly sessions allow therapists to get to know a dancer’s likes and dislikes, and allow for a better understanding of the unique aspects of each dancer’s body.
Injury often plays a role in what areas get worked on. “First we’ll look at the muscle groups surrounding the injured part to see what we can do to keep those areas functioning optimally,” says Jennifer Levitz, a former Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer who is now a company massage therapist. “When inflammation decreases, we work right on the injured area to restore function.” SFB’s Leslie says that working with tissue surrounding the trauma area will enhance the healing process, since it improves circulation to the area. Work on a typical overuse injury can start within a day.
Beasley feels massage rarely makes things worse for a dancer. But a physician should evaluate injuries first, especially if there’s bruising or if pain prevents sleep. “Generally, injuries need a period of rest before being treated with massage, whether it’s 24 hours, several weeks, or longer,” he says. Once an injury has been properly identified, and the physician gives an OK, massage is safe when approached conservatively.
All agree that, by taking on mild soreness before it becomes a bigger problem, massage can help prevent injury. Says Beasley, “At Twyla Tharp’s Broadway production of Movin’ Out, the overwhelming consensus of the performers was that massage was the single most effective technique to keep them going and to limit injury.” ’Nuff said!
Nancy Alfaro, a New York writer, danced with STREB, Jane Comfort, and Meredith Monk.
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."