Health & Body

The Dos and Don'ts of Self-Massage

Nathan Sayers

When you're dancing for what feels like eight days a week, it takes more than just stretching to put your body back in order. You need a good rub down. Unfortunately, most of us don't exactly have the money to afford an on-call personal masseuse.

The solution: Self-massage, with foam rollers, lacrosse balls, elbows and anything else that can help loosen up your muscles. We dug into Dance Magazine's archives to find the best pieces of advice we've published on the topic. Follow these rules to get what you, ahem, knead out of self-massage.


DO luxuriate—and wiggle.

Nathan Sayers

Many dancers just roll up and down a muscle mindlessly. To get the most out of self-massage, let gravity draw your muscles into a roller or ball. "Rolling quickly stays too superficial on your tissues," Alicia Ferriere of Finish Line Physical Therapy tells Nancy Wozny in "Are You Foam Rolling Wrong?". "Allow your muscles to relax on the roller, which will create greater compression for the deeper tissue."

But also move in multiple directions. Aim for cross-friction—think about moving from side to side as well as forward and back. "You need to wiggle more, because the movement is what makes the difference," says Ferriere.

DON'T roll over an injury.

Jim Lafferty

Massage usually isn't helpful—or safe—until fairly late in the recovery process. "Don't roll when there is swelling or a traumatic injury such as a tear," physical therapist Julie Green, who works with Pennsylvania Ballet dancers, tells Wozny. Rolling could make an injury worse, since it's a tool for mobilization and tissues sometimes need to be immobilized to heal. "Allow some healing to occur before returning to your roller."

DO mimic the pros.

Jim Lafferty

Remember what your therapist does and try to re-create that, writes Hannah Maria Hayes in "The Rubdown." Think about what body parts they focus on, the length and types of strokes and speed. But make sure what you're doing is never so painful that you feel like you have to hold your breath.

DON'T knead into bones or nerves.

Nathan Sayers

Rolling over a bone does nothing for you other than cause pain, writes Wozny. It's especially problematic to roll over ankles, knees and the greater trochanter. "And stay away from superficial nerves, like in front of the hip joints and behind the knees," says Green. "You could damage or irritate your nerves. If you feel numbness or tingling, stop immediately." Also avoid rolling along the sides of your lower back—you can bruise your kidneys.

DO take your tools on tour.

You don't have to lug around a 22-inch roller to stay loose on the road. Lacrosse balls are great for rolling out smaller muscles in your feet or calves. For larger muscle groups like your quads, portable rollers like The Morph or The Rove Roller collapse into a flat shape that's easier to stash in your carry-on.

DON'T get aggressive.

Jim Lafferty

Remember: A harder massage does not mean more relief. "I am surprised at how many dancers bruise themselves from rolling!" Erika Kalkan of Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Medical Center tells Jen Peters in "Tools of the Trade." Using too much pressure or spending too much time on one spot can lead to inflammation and swelling. Dance medicine experts say that, generally, five minutes per body part should do it.

DON'T go too deep before dancing.

Nathan Sayers

If you've got a performance or rehearsal later in the day, go easy. Consider working out any knots by using a lighter option like The Stick. Digging too deep can leave your muscles feeling too relaxed, loose, a bit sore and unresponsive. A 2006 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found a decrease in muscle-force production immediately following a lower-limb massage. "I always ask a dancer what's on their plate that day," Green tells Wozny in "The Magic Touch." "When you make a muscle longer, it can temporarily weaken it and make it cramp. I want to know if dancers will be jumping a lot. If so, then I stay away from the power muscles."

Lopez in Circus Polka. PC Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB

When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."

But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.

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From coast to coast, choreographers have spent the first year of Donald Trump's presidency responding to the impact of his election and what it means for them as artists.

New York City's Dante Brown used rubber Trump masks in his work Package (revamped), which examines the monstrosities of power.

A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.

Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.

In San Francisco, choreographer Margaret Jenkins facilitated a panel of artists about the role of activism within their work.

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Ash in Rochester, NY. PC Thaler Photography by Arleen and Daryl Thaler for the Swan Dreams Project

Growing up in inner city Rochester, NY, Aesha Ash was just one of the neighborhood kids. She'd imagine people driving by, judging her by her black skin.

"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.

After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.

Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org

In 2011, she launched the Swan Dreams Project to inspire kids in the community she grew up in. The original idea was to post images of herself in a tutu all over Rochester. "I remember growing up and in the bodega you'd see images of girls in bikinis on motorbikes," says Ash. "I wanted to replace those with photos that show women of color in a different light."

She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."

Ash soon realized she didn't have the budget to fund her original plan ("I never realized how expensive a bus stop advertisement is!"). But she's made the images available through an online store, and often simply gives away prints at her own expense to schools and students in need of some inspiration.

Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.

Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at swandreamsproject.org.

Dancers & Companies
Never let it be said that The Cindies lack studio swag. Via Instagram @jamesbwhiteside

It is a great tragedy for dance history that iconic ballet partnerships like Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev or Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov weren't able to document their backstage shenanigans on social media. (Okay, maybe not a great tragedy, but you have to admit that you're curious.)

Lucky for us, that isn't the case with today's star dancers—like American Ballet Theatre principal dancers Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside, aka The Cindies. These two aren't just onstage partners. They're serious #BestieGoals. Our evidence, as documented on Instagram, is as follows:

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Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series

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Courtesy of The Beautiful Mind Series

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In The Studio
Abraham.In.Motion performing "Drive." Photo by Ian Douglas.

The ever-so-busy Kyle Abraham is back in New York City for a brief visit with his company Abraham.In.Motion as they prepare for an exciting spring season of new endeavors with some surprising guests. The company will be debuting a new program at The Joyce Theater on May 1, that will include two new pieces from Abraham, restaged works by Doug Varone and Bebe Miller, and a world premiere from Andrea Miller. Talk about an exciting line-up!

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News
Tero Saarinen's Morphed. Photo by Darya Popova, Courtesy Helene Davis Public Relations

Choreographer Tero Saarinen has a proclivity for the peculiar—and for epic orchestral music. That he should be commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to create a new dance work to accompany the U.S. premiere of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's Cello Concerto en forme de pas de trois only makes sense. Zimmermann's eerie, difficult-to-classify composition falls squarely in Saarinen's wheelhouse. Walt Disney Concert Hall, Jan. 19–21. laphil.com.


Rant & Rave
PC Break the Floor

Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?

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"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."

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Roberto Bolle and Kenall Jenner on set. Photo via tods.com

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Anne Arundel Community College students, PC Kenneth Harriford

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