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By Lauren Kay
Fighting through injury, fueled by passion
Jimbo (right) and fellow Pilobolus dancer Manelich Minniefee in Trish Sie’s Skyscrapers. Photo by Grant Halverson, Courtesy Pilobolus.
Ballet, modern, martial arts, house dance: Eriko Jimbo brings her prowess in these styles and others to her work with Pilobolus Dance Theatre. A standout member of this hard-working company (its core of seven dancers performs 80 to 110 times per year), the Japanese-born, U.S.-bred dancer channels her wide-ranging expertise into joyous, fearless movement that’s both childlike and sophisticated.
Jimbo’s ferocity, though, has taken a toll on her body: Plagued by injuries that have tested her devotion to dance—including Achilles tendonitis and a herniated disk—she has fought her fair share of battles to stay onstage. Through it all, a positive outlook has been the most reliable healer. Dance Magazine talked with Jimbo about her bold approach to overcoming injury and the many influences that have shaped her career.
Away From Ballet Jimbo was originally sent to ballet classes to temper her boundless energy. Though her family moved around a lot, a longer stay in West Bloomfield, Michigan, gave her time to train at the Geiger Classic Ballet Academy.
“I definitely thought I was going to be a ballerina,” she says. But chronic Achilles tendonitis interrupted her plans at age 11. “When I got injured, I was mad at the world,” she remembers with a laugh. “I thought, If I can’t do ballet, I’m not dancing.” Playing sports and music kept her busy, but, she says, “I couldn’t stay away.” At 13, she started jazz and lyrical classes, slowly adding ballet back in.
Her focus shifted to modern dance when, around age 14, she became part of Eisenhower Dance Ensemble’s pre-professional troupe, based in Rochester, Michigan. “Modern was less flashy and wasn’t about competition,” she says. “I could use my ballet training and it was a happy medium. Once I found out I could go to college for dance, I knew I wanted to be a modern dancer.”
Jimbo attended high school and college at the North Carolina School of the Arts (with a short stint at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts) and moved to New York City in 2005. Somewhat bored with modern dance after years of study, she explored other kinds of movement—particularly street dance forms like breaking, waacking, voguing, and house (her favorite)—as well as wushu, a competitive martial art. She also became a fitness trainer. She attended a Pilobolus audition with friends on a whim, and as it turned out, the athletic style was a good fit. Jimbo joined the company in 2009.
Staying Inspired As a member of this physically demanding troupe, Jimbo takes good care of her body. She starts the day with a full breakfast of toast, eggs, and a smoothie. Then, she diligently uses the DIY warm-up hour that Pilobolus provides. “Once a week we do a ballet barre,” she says. “Otherwise, I go on a 15- to 20-minute run twice a week.” When she returns to the studio, she likes to stretch her hips and glutes. Throughout the day, she stays warm with push-ups and yoga poses like planks and side planks. Because of the rigorous nature of the work, she also takes time to rest on the sidelines and conserve energy.
While her show-day routine is similar, Jimbo likes to switch it up on days off with hiking, yoga, and going to house jams. “I don’t break much anymore, but I love house dancing because it’s less aggressive,” she explains. “It helps me with inspiration and creativity. Then, when we are collaborating on new work for Pilobolus, I have more to pull from. And, it makes me stronger because all the floor work constantly has you standing, then going down to the ground.”
Dancer as Doctor Less intense activities (such as house instead of breaking) have become more important to Jimbo as she’s tried to prevent old injuries from relapsing—like the Achilles tendonitis from childhood and two shoulder dislocations, which happened once as a result of wushu training and again during a Pilobolus show.
But the most trying injury of all came in the summer of 2011, when Jimbo suffered a pinched nerve and herniated disk in her cervical spine. “I was performing, working long hours, and completely overextended,” she says. “I was in every piece and not taking enough notice of the care I needed.” When she visited doctors, they told her surgery was a must, but she was determined to heal on her own, relying on her personal trainer background. “I rested for a while to wait for the nerve to be unpinched,” she says, “but I knew that if I rested too long, that wouldn’t help me. I also knew strengthening the opposite side would keep the other side working a tiny bit and that if I stayed healthy in general, I would get the best results.” Through that approach, and working with a physical therapist on traction and correction exercises, she was able to gently rehabilitate her spine.
Now, she makes sure to warm up completely, especially in the winter, including neck and back exercises every day (see below).
A Reason for Everything For Jimbo, as for many dancers in full-time companies, cultivating interests outside the studio is part of staying healthy. “You need to find things to take your mind off work,” she says. “My first year in Pilobolus, I danced with my crew”—the house dance group MAWU—“and studied wushu. Now I’m learning to play guitar.”
Jimbo also tries to stay in the state of mind that helped her recover from injury. “The biggest factor in my healing was my positive attitude,” she says. “Trusting your own instincts and knowing your own body, including your physical limitations, helps you make decisions for yourself in an informed way, versus automatically doing what other people tell you. I have to think that my injuries happened for a reason: They’re a reminder to stay aware, rested and mindful. And if you know how to work mindfully, you can work around your injury, and you can do anything.”
Lauren Kay is a dancer and writer in NYC.
Jimbo uses this traction exercise to stabilize her neck. “There’s resistance and motion without moving, which strengthens the inner neck muscles,” she says.
• Place your right palm on your right cheek.
• Press against your face with your hand, while pushing back against the hand with equal pressure.
• Hold for 15 seconds and release. Repeat five times on both sides.