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By Lauren Kay
As a member of Keigwin + Company since 2004, Liz Riga has become a central figure in Larry Keigwin’s sexy, quirky, contemporary work. With a knack for explosive dancing, she imbues his choreography with all the character it calls for. Riga met Keigwin while earning her MFA in dance at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and has been part of his troupe since graduation. She’s also working on her own pieces alongside collaborator Rachel Mckinstry. DM chatted with the Michigan native to learn how she stays in shape for her busy career.
Yoga for Focus Riga began developing a yoga practice while getting her bachelor’s in dance at the University of Michigan. She connected so intensely with yoga that, three years ago, she earned her Vinyasa teaching certification from OM studios in NYC. “I enjoy yoga because it’s a full-body meditation,” Riga says. “You’re stretching and strengthening, but with a calm, meditative quality. Plus, it helps with alignment. Doing yoga before rehearsal or a show puts me in a calmer place where I can focus on my dancing.” Even on busy rehearsal days, Riga always makes time for a set of sun salutations.
Heart and Hamstring Health For cross-training, Riga enjoys running or using the elliptical, and she lifts weights for muscle tone. “I ran in high school, and I feel that it’s the easiest way to get your heart rate up and your body warm,” she says. “But, if I’m feeling sore, I’ll switch to the elliptical.” She makes sure, however, not to overwork on days with a heavy rehearsal load or show. During rehearsal, Riga does the Pilates “hundreds” for core strength and uses a Thera-Band on her ankles to keep her feet ready for action.
Two years ago, Riga tore a hamstring while performing, an injury that has helped her become more aware of her body, she says. She worked with a massage therapist, acupuncturist, and physical therapist to heal. “I have to be more thoughtful of how I’m moving now. I can’t just throw my legs around or be careless. And that’s actually made me a better, more specific artist.”
Splish-Splash Aside from yoga and cardio, Riga relies on a few non-strenuous activities for overall wellness. Topping the list is a hot bath with Epsom salts. A schedule of daily baths, when she wakes up and again before bed, keeps Riga’s muscles loose and relaxed. “I’m usually very stiff in the morning,” she says. “I can’t start my day without the bath to warm my muscles. Then, to de-stress and calm my muscles after work, I take the same bath.” On her days off, Riga heads to the Russian Baths in the East Village for an intensified version with steam rooms and bath pools.
Green Energy Riga finds that eating seasonal and organic foods is key to fueling her body. “In the morning I often have a drink made of kale, cucumber, spinach, lemon, and ginger,” she says. “I get all my green nutrients right away without having to sit and eat a salad. It helps my brain get going early in my day. I drink this instead of coffee, which wakes you up but then you crash in the afternoon—right in the middle of the rehearsal day when you need to be sharp.”
For the rest of her meals, Riga tries to eat whole foods that have high nutritional value, buying many of her groceries from a local green market. “I always try to eat mostly green items and food that’s in season,” she says. “I don’t eat a lot of meat, but I’m not opposed to it, as long as it’s just once in a while. For food at rehearsal, I often pack a meal the night before, like a healthy stir-fry, to have worthwhile food on hand. If I have to pick up something, I try to stick to salads and then cook myself a full meal that night.”
Riga’s mindful approach to food carries over to her mental health. “You have to do everything in moderation,” she says. “You can have a social life and go out once in a while. But if you do it all the time, it will take a toll on your body and your mental state. Instead I try to find a balance and still have a full life. I read a lot of books, see movies, and study by seeing other work that’s out there. That feeds me and my art as well.”
Riga in costume for Keigwin’s EXIT. Photo by Matthew Murphy, Courtesy Keigwin
Lauren Kay, a Dance Spirit contributing editor, is a dancer and writer in NYC.
Across the Floor
Notes & News
“The transformative power of dance”—it’s one of those clichés that exists for a reason, and The Wooden Floor offers a case in point. Previously known as Saint Joseph Ballet, the after-school organization, based in Santa Ana, CA, pairs innovative choreographers with underserved youth from Orange County, reaching nearly 400 students a year. Through dance training and teamwork in the studio—in addition to academic programs and pre-college mentoring—students gain confidence, focus, and ambition that help them with school and life. For The Wooden Floor’s 28th annual concert, 144 young dancers perform works by artistic director Melanie Ríos Glaser, NYC choreographer Susan Rethorst, and John Heginbotham of the Mark Morris Dance Company. June 2–4 at the Irvine Barclay Theatre. See www.the woodenfloor.org.
CORPS de Ballet International will present a lifetime achievement award to Judith Chazin-Bennahum at its 13th Annual Teacher Conference. The organization, which supports and promotes ballet in higher education, convenes June 22–26 at the University of Missouri—Kansas City. A professor emerita at the University of New Mexico and a former dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company (under Antony Tudor), Chazin-Bennahum is the author of the award-winning The Ballets of Antony Tudor and the soon-to-be-released René Blum and the Ballets Russes. Her Tudor expertise falls right in line with the theme of this year’s conference, “Legacies of Ballet: Examining Tradition and Innovation,” which will emphasize the Tudor Trust and a new Tudor ballet curriculum. See www.corps-de-ballet.org.