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By Nancy Wozny
From road bike to Pilates mat, this Houston Ballet dancer takes charge of her health.
Houston Ballet soloist Jacquel Andrews is known for her exquisite precision as Myrta in Giselle and her sultry touch in Hans van Manen’s Five Tangos. These days, she’s getting thrown off balance—and loving it—in Christopher Bruce’s Rooster, to the music of the Rolling Stones. A bit of a health nut, Andrews is a fierce advocate for all the extra activities a dancer needs to stay in shape. Getting ready for Rooster’s level of connectivity takes her full attention. “It’s about surrendering to gravity, but also being able to grab the reins of control again in an instant,” says Andrews, who is in her 10th season with HB. “I like the ripple effect of his movement. It’s like a chain reaction.”
Injury as Teacher
Getting that ripple effect takes time. Andrews has always been one to put in the cross-training hours, but now it’s mandatory. After being diagnosed with stress fractures three years ago, at age 28, she tried taking a season off, but her shins did not heal thoroughly enough to alleviate the pain. She returned last season but was still plagued with constant discomfort. Surgery proved the best choice. A plate and four screws were inserted to hold her left tibia together. “Injury changes you,” she says. “It’s a hard lesson. And the most difficult part is staying positive.”
Andrews is as disciplined about her self-care as she is about her dancing. Now on the comeback trail, she is devoted to her well-thought-out pre-class routine, which she varies, depending on the day. Changing it up is part of the plan.
The Pre-Class Grind
The Salt Lake City native joined HB in 2002 and was promoted to soloist five years later. She begins every dancing day with a 15-minute hot bath. “It’s the warm-up to my warm-up,” says Andrews. Her remaining pre-class time is divided between biking, Gyrotonic, and Pilates.
On most days, you can find Andrews biking to work, a practice she claims is as much for her mind as for her body. (If it’s raining, she uses the stationary bike in the company’s gym.) “It’s a time for me to align my thoughts for the day, think about what I need to work on, and just center myself,” she says. “Plus, it’s great to be out in the fresh air.” Her husband introduced her to biking as a way to stay in shape after her injury. “I hated it at first,” she says. “But it was the only thing I could do, because I’m not very good at swimming. Now, it’s my favorite outlet.”
The spiral patterns of Gyrotonic feel close to dancing for Andrews. She uses the Gyro tower and works one-on-one with a trainer. “Gyro uses the whole body. It’s about movement and breathing, and feels like a balletic yoga class,” she says. “I love the circular patterns. My joints feel moved and ready to go. Also, it’s not as rigid as Pilates.”
Pilates, however, is indispensable for Andrews when it comes to building core strength. Discovering the benefits of the method early on as a dancer, she works individually with a Pilates instructor on the reformer several times a week. “I have a tendency to have tight hips, which can throw my sacrum off,” she says. “Pilates keeps everything in place and stabilizes my pelvic floor.”
Once she’s in the studio, hip and gluteal floor stretches are pre-class essentials. “That relaxes me,” she says. She adds that as the day goes on, “staying warm is a constant struggle. I use heat packs to help me stay ready in between rehearsals.”
A weekly deep sports massage is a must for Andrews; it helps to combat scar tissue from her recent surgery. She’s also vigilant about her vitamin D and calcium intake. “I worked closely with an endocrinologist, who identified that I was low in both of those and need supplements, along with a multi-vitamin,” she says. A breakfast of Greek yogurt with honey and granola, lunch of a turkey sandwich, and dinner with protein and steamed veggies get her through the day.
Andrews ends the day with a contrast bath, alternating between an ice compress on her legs and a hot bath. She acknowledges that her regime takes time and rigor. “If there is one thing I have learned, it’s to be aware of what my body is telling me every day, and follow through,” she says. “One of the biggest things for me to understand is how to pace myself. Since coming back to Houston Ballet, I feel so excited to be there. It’s amazing just to plié and relevé without pain. I feel more free.”
Nancy Wozny writes about health and the arts from Houston.
Andrews in Nacho Duato’s Jardí Tancat. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy HB.
Andrews loves her Bosu Balance Trainer (a useful piece of strengthening equipment) and uses it daily to activate her deep core muscles. “You will feel a bit out of control, but that’s the point,” she says. “It really wakes up the core.” Using the Bosu also improves proprioception and, of course, balance.
• Place the Bosu on the ground with the curved dome facing the ceiling.
• Stand on it with one leg, finding your balance there. Work toward holding a passé or arabesque.
• Once you’ve got that down, try a rond de jambe en l’air or other movements with the working leg.