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I Resolve To...
It’s in a dancer’s nature to constantly strive to be better, to grow stronger, to get healthier. So choosing a New Year’s resolution is usually the easy part; harder is putting it into action—and staying consistent about it. The surest road to success is to have more than one strategy. We asked a variety of experts for their advice, because there’s no one right way to make your resolution a reality.
Alison Deleget, MS, ATC, clinical specialist at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries in New York City
Nadine Kaslow, PhD, past president of the American Psychological Association, psychologist for Atlanta Ballet
Randy Skinner, Broadway director, choreographer and master teacher
Heidi Skolnik, MS, CDN, FACSM, sports nutrition consultant for the School of American Ballet
Katie Lemmon, certified athletic trainer at Athletico Physical Therapy in Chicago
Get More “Toned”
Lemmon: “Try varying the amount, intensity or weight of strength-training exercises so the body is always challenged. One exercise I like for dancers is the airplane, which works the glutes and legs: Start in a parallel passé, bend the standing leg and extend the working leg into an arabesque, then return to passé. You can also extend the arms out to the sides for some shoulder stability and arm work.”
Deleget: “To look toned without bulking up, strength-train with more repetitions but fewer sets. For example, a weight lifter might do seven sets of four reps using a heavy weight, but dancers should do two to three sets of 15 reps with a lighter weight.”
Photo by Nathan Sayers
Tackle My Audition Anxiety
Kaslow: “The best way to master something you’re afraid of is to do it—not to avoid it. Do practice auditions with your teachers. Have other dancers watch and critique you. The more audition-like experiences you have, the easier they’ll get.”
Skinner: “Wake up early enough to do a really good warm-up: If you avoid rushing, you won’t feel discombobulated.”
Deleget: “To calm the anxiety buzz, close your eyes and take 5- to 10-second breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth for two to three minutes. Repeat a positive mantra to yourself, such as, ‘I will be the best I can be and let myself shine.’ ”
Skolnik: “If you’re hungry, you’re going to feel more anxious. But you don’t want to feel weighed down or bloated, either. Pack small, easy to digest snacks like apple sauce, a banana, trail mix or Cheerios. Another great option is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich cut in quarters so that you can eat one quarter at a time throughout a long audition day, which will give you stable energy.”
Photo by Nathan Sayers
Get Higher Jumps
Lemmon: “Studies have shown that dynamic, moving warm-ups instead of static stretches before a performance will improve jump height. I’d recommend a walking lunge in various directions—side to side and back to front—for the length of the studio. Another easy one is standing leg swings, so you’re working through a range of motion at the same time. An entire dynamic warm-up should last between 5 and 10 minutes, doing each exercise for roughly 30 seconds.”
Deleget: “Try a plyometric training program. Harkness offers a progressive six-week program that takes dancers through basic jump training, moving from pedestrian, stable jumps to dance-specific exercises designed to strengthen leg muscles, and improve stamina and explosiveness. For example, they start with two-leg, parallel tuck jumps, then progress to parallel pas de chats, then to turned-out pas de chats. Each exercise is done for 30 seconds, three times per week for two weeks, before progressing to the next version. Dancers have to be strong to undertake this training; it’s important they do it with an athletic trainer.”
Improve My Stamina
Lemmon: “Add cardiovascular exercise, like swimming or the elliptical trainer, for 20 to 40 minutes, three days per week. And although it’s hard to get cardiovascular training during most dance classes, it could help to repeat a few jumping combinations after class. Generally, it takes six to eight weeks to notice results.”
Deleget: “Try interval training, which improves your aerobic and anaerobic capacity at the same time. You’ll want a one-to-one ratio of high-intensity and low-intensity activities—two minutes on the elliptical followed by two minutes of Pilates exercises, for example, for 15 to 20 minutes, three to four times per week. Add this in when you’re in a cross-training time of the year—not during performance season.”
Skolnik: “Carbohydrates are an especially good power source, since muscles use them for energy. That doesn’t necessarily mean loading up on pasta and bread. Go for fruits, vegetables, beans, sweet potatoes, yogurt and milk, which all have carbohydrates.”
Become More Fearless Onstage
Skinner: “Take a moment in each class to do something a little bigger than you normally would. Take up more space or take an extra risk. Kick yourself into performance mode. Imagine you’re in front of an audience, and you’ll be better prepared when you actually are.”
Deleget: “Before curtain, visualize yourself completing the show successfully.”
Kaslow: “The more you can be yourself, the more fearless you can be. You’re not going to be perfect—nobody ever is. Strive to be excellent.”
Ask for the Roles I Want
Kaslow: “Don’t catch your director off guard. Schedule a specific time to talk. During your conversation, make just a couple points about your strengths as a dancer and your commitment to working hard, and never put anybody else down. Also, make it clear that you understand that they’ll make the choice they think is best for the company. And be sure to handle it maturely if you don’t get the part. If not, you’ll be less likely to get roles in the future.”
Skinner: “If you don’t ask, you run the risk that people won’t know what you’re thinking. The same thing is true if you’re interested in being a dance captain or assistant. It never hurts to write a nice note to express your interest in a way that’s not pushy or aggressive. The written word will feel less confrontational.”
Have More Energy
Skolnik: “If you feel chronically lackluster, see a doctor to check whether you have an iron deficiency or anemia. You may also be under- or overeating, which a nutritionist can help with. Be careful of drinking caffeine in the afternoon, since it can interfere with sleep. And avoid energy drinks—the mixed stimulants can affect your nerves, blood pressure and heart rate. When you have a coffee, you tend to sip it over time, but with energy drinks you tend to gulp quickly, so it’s a big shock to your system.”
Skinner: “Think about how you’re managing stress. People often think that being busy keeps your energy up, but pacing yourself carefully and having moments of calm are how you truly reenergize.”
Lemmon: “Give yourself a full day off during long rehearsal weeks. If you have proper recovery, your muscles can regenerate.”
Deleget: “Sleep more, eat more and eat better. Sleep is essential for recovery from activity—9 to 10 hours per night is optimal for athletes. And remember that when you’re in a calorie deficit, you’re in an energy deficit, but quality needs to be there, as well: Twinkies aren’t necessarily going to bring your energy level up.”
Rachel Zar is a freelance writer in Chicago.
Make It Stick
According to a study by University of Scranton, only 8 percent of people who make resolutions actually achieve them. How can you keep your New Year’s goals going strong all year long?
Take it one resolution at a time. Dancers are often overachievers, so it’s easy to decide to accomplish 10 goals at once. But according to a study at Stanford University, choosing only one will increase your chances of succeeding.
Concentrate on the process, not the end result. “I like to think of New Year’s goals, instead of resolutions,” says psychologist Nadine Kaslow. “It’s too easy to fail at a ‘resolution,’ but a ‘goal’ is something you can make progress and work toward.”
Write it down. You’ll be more likely to remember to complete your plyometrics routine if it’s written on a to-do list. And studies have shown that the act of writing your resolution out increases your odds of following through.
Make it a habit. If you pack that healthy snack as part of your routine for a few weeks, it will start to feel more natural.
Team up. Adding an extra workout will feel easier with a fellow dancer on the elliptical next to you.
Give yourself a break. A dancer’s schedule isn’t the same every week of the year, so acknowledge that there might be times in the season when you have to let your resolution slide.
Reward yourself. Did you successfully make it through an audition stress-free? Allow yourself a treat, such as frozen yogurt or a massage, and you’ll be more likely to do it again. —RZ
Camille A. Brown is on an impressive streak: In October, the Ford Foundation named her an Art of Change fellow. In November, she won an AUDELCO ("Viv") Award for her choreography in the musical Bella: An American Tall Tale. On December 1, her Camille A. Brown & Dancers made its debut at the Kennedy Center, and two days later she was back in New York City to see her choreography in the opening of Broadway's Once on This Island. Weeks later, it was announced that she was choreographing NBC's live television musical Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert, to air on April 1.
An extraordinarily private person, few knew that during this time Brown was in the midst of a health crisis. It started with an upset stomach while performing with her company on tour last summer.
"I was drinking ginger ale, thinking that I would feel better," she says. Finally, the pain became so acute that she went to the emergency room in Mississippi. Her appendix had burst. "Until then, I didn't know it was serious," she says. "I'm a dancer—aches and pains don't keep you from work."
The encounter with man-eating female creatures in Jerome Robbins' The Cage never fails to shock audiences. As this tribe of insects initiates the newly-born Novice into their community and prepares her for the attack of the male Intruders, the ballet draws us into a world of survival and instinct.
This year celebrates the 100th anniversary of Jerome Robbins' birth, and a number of Robbins programs are celebrating his timeless repertoire. But it especially feels like a prime moment to experience The Cage again. Several companies are performing it: San Francisco Ballet begins performances on March 20, followed by the English National Ballet in April and New York City Ballet in May.
Why it matters: In this time of female empowerment—as women are supporting one another in vocalizing injustices, demanding fair treatment and pay, and advocating for future generations—The Cage's nest of dominant women have new significance.
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:
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.
Stephen Petronio brings a bracing season to New York City's Joyce Theater, where he has performed almost every year for 24 years . His work is exciting to the subscription audience as well as to many dance artists. He delves into movement invention at the same time as creating complex postmodern forms. The new work, Hardness 10, is his third collaboration with composer Nico Muhly. The costumes are by Patricia Field ARTFASHION, hand-painted by Iris Bonner/These Pink Lips. Petronio's work still practically defines the word contemporary.
Stephen Petronio Company also continues with its Bloodlines series. That's where he pays homage to landmark works of the past that have influenced his own edgy aesthetics. This season he's chosen Merce Cunningham's playful trio Signals (1970), which will be performed with live music from Composers Inside Electronics.
Completing the program is an excerpt from Petronio's Underland (2003), with music by Nick Cave. Video footage courtesy of Stephen Petronio Company, filmed by Blake Martin.
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."
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.