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Cross-Training Solutions for Your Biggest Technique Challenges
Sometimes, it takes more than dancing to become a better dancer. Whether you struggle with tense shoulders or weak jumps, adding in the right forms of cross-training can fast-track your improvement. We asked the experts for exercises you can do on your own to fix six of the most common technique problems.
Why it happens: “Dancers are constantly trying to achieve perfect turnout, but when they don't have natural external rotation, they can develop an anterior tilt of the pelvis," says Alicia Ferriere, DPT, at Finish Line Physical Therapy in New York City. “And because we're constantly told to lift through the chest, it causes the ribs to flare, lengthening the abs and creating that little sway on the low back."
How to fix it: Add Pilates—which emphasizes pelvic position and control—to your routine once or twice a week, and build a strength-training regimen that focuses on the core, inner thighs and hamstrings.
Add this to your routine:
Hemi Bridge: Lie on your back with both feet flat on the floor. Draw the right knee toward the chest (still bent) and press into that knee with your left hand to activate the core and hamstring muscles. From there, lift and lower the hips 10 times, then switch sides. “Engaging the hamstrings with abdominal control will help with control of the neutral pelvis," says Ferriere.
How to fix it: Add arm-specific body-weight and low-weight strength workouts to your routine, suggests Lauren Williams, founder of Chisel Club and head coach at Tone House in New York City: “These will help you build strength while keeping your muscles long and lean."
Add these to your routine:
Lunge with Overhead Press: From standing, step forward into a lunge, holding a 4–10-pound medicine ball in front of your chest in both hands. Hold the lunge as you press the medicine ball straight overhead, keeping the hips square. Lower the medicine ball back to your chest, and return to the starting position. Then repeat on the other leg. Repeat 20 times for three sets.
Why it happens: “Explosive movements are directly affected by muscle fatigue, poor nutrition and low energy," says Abby Bales, DPT, CSCS, at Spear Physical Therapy in New York City. “You can't get huge jumps out of tired muscles." Add in a lack of core strength and an imbalance in your slow- and fast-twitch muscles, and you've got a recipe for a not-so-grand jeté.
How to fix it: Pilates reformer work helps train the extremities to move while the pelvic core is engaged. Strength training with weights maintains joint stability and basic strength of the muscles. Plyometrics helps give you more explosive jumps.
Add these to your routine:
BOSU Jump Squats: Stand on a BOSU (round side up), with the feet slightly separated. Squat down, jump and land back on the BOSU in a shallow squat. “The jump is small and quick, so it'll challenge your core and balance," says Bales. Do three sets of jumping for 30–45 seconds.
Lateral Bench Jumps: Find a bench that's approximately knee height or lower. With your feet together, jump side to side as quickly as you can for 15–30 seconds. Do three to five sets.
Why it happens: Stress causes the body to naturally tense up.
How to fix it: Consider yoga. The mind-body connection has physical, mental and emotional benefits and helps alleviate stress. “Yoga helps us get present with what we're feeling and what's happening in our bodies," says Bethany Lyons, a former dancer and owner of Lyons Den Power Yoga in New York City.
Add these to your routine:
Shoulder Integration: Lift your shoulders to your ears, lengthening the side body, and expanding the mid-back as you breathe. Then draw the deltoids straight back, bringing the tips of the shoulder blades down your back. Let the shoulders naturally settle instead of jamming them down.
Chaturanga to Upward-Facing Dog: With the shoulder integration in place, get into plank position. Shift forward onto the balls of the feet to move the shoulders forward. Lower down so the elbows are at a 90-degree angle, stacked over the wrists and slightly away from the body. If your shoulders aren't in place, your glutes will pop up in the air and you'll feel pressure on your wrists. From there, flip over the toes, press through the hands and the tops of the feet. Raise your chest into Upward-Facing Dog, with the upper arm bones back. You shouldn't have to shift forward more.
Lack of Stamina
Why it happens: “You wouldn't expect an endurance runner to be amazing at the 100-meter dash, right? It's the same thing with intense variations," says Ferriere. Class combinations are rarely as long and aerobic as variations. Poor breath control may also be a factor.
How to fix it: Practice short bouts of intense activity, focused on whatever your variation specializes in. “If your performance has a lot of jumps, practice short petit allégro combinations with only short breaks in between," says Ferriere. “You can also practice sprints, jumping rope or intervals on the bike. You want to build your endurance to high-intensity activity during which you can maintain proper, steady breath control."
Add this to your routine:
Resisted Exhaling with a Balloon: Lying on your back with feet on the floor, exhale into a balloon, getting all of your air out. Maintain that abdominal control as you inhale. Repeat until the balloon is fully inflated. “You'll feel your ribs come down toward your pelvis, and your abs will engage," says Ferriere.
Why it happens: Balance issues could be genetic, or have to do with nutrition, fatigue or temporary nasal congestion. But generally, it comes down to basic strength. “You can't achieve maximum balance if the pelvic core isn't properly engaged and you're not finding your center," says Bales. “Train your body to quickly engage your core."
How to fix it: Strengthen your core—and that doesn't just mean the abs. Work in relevé on unstable surfaces, like BOSU balance trainers, foam pads or wobble boards, which will force you to find your center. Bales also recommends a Pilates reformer routine to target the entire core. She says, “The proprioception feedback you can get forces you to recognize when you're not in control of your movements."
I love being transgender. It's an important part of the story of why I choreograph. Although I loved dance from a very young age, I grew up never seeing a single person like me in dance. So how could I imagine a future for myself there?
The enormous barriers I had to overcome weren't internal: I didn't struggle with feelings of dysphoria, and I wasn't locked down by shame.
The dance community is heartbroken to learn that 14-year-olds Jaime Guttenberg and Cara Loughran were among the 17 people killed during the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
Guttenberg was a talented competition dancer at Dance Theatre in Coconut Creek, FL, according to a report from Sun Sentinel. Dance Theatre owner Michelle McGrath Gerlick shared the below message on her Facebook page, encouraging dancers across the country to wear orange ribbons this weekend in honor of Guttenberg, whose favorite color was orange.
In today's dance world, it seems to go without saying: The more varied the training, the better. But is that always the case? Rhonda Malkin, a New York City–based dance coach who performed with the Radio City Rockettes, thinks trendy contemporary techniques that emphasize improvisation and organic movement quality are detrimental to the precision and strength needed to be a Rockette, in a traditional Broadway show or on a professional dance team. Her view is controversial: "If you really want to work, making $40,000 in three months for the Rockettes or $25,000 in one day filming a commercial, you need ballet, Broadway jazz, tap, hip hop—not contemporary," she says.
On the flip side, techniques that allow dancers more freedom may help them connect more deeply with their body and artistry, while providing release for overused muscles. We broke down the argument for both sides:
For many dancers, a "warmup" consists of sitting on the floor stretching their legs in various positions. But this strategy only reduces your muscles' ability to work properly—it negatively affects your strength, endurance, balance and speed for up to an hour.
Save your flexibility training for the end of the day. Instead, follow a warmup that will actually help prevent injury and improve your body's performance.
According to the International Association of Dance Medicine and Science, a smart warmup has four parts: "a gentle pulse-raising section, a joint mobilization section, a muscle lengthening section and a strength/balance building section."
A statement released yesterday by New York City Ballet and School of American Ballet reported that an independent investigation was unable to corroborate allegations of harassment and abuse against former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, according to The New York Times. This marks the end of a two-month inquiry jointly launched by the two organizations in December following an anonymous letter detailing instances of harassment and violence.
The statement also included new policies for both the company and school to create safer, more respectful environments for the dancers, including hiring an independent vendor to handle employee complaints anonymously. These changes are being made despite the independent investigation, handled by outside counsel Barbara Hoey, purportedly finding no evidence of abuse.
Not all ballet dancers cling to their youth. At 26, Lauren Lovette, the New York City Ballet principal, has surpassed the quarter-century mark. And she's relieved.
"I've never felt young," she says. "I can't wait until I'm 30. Every woman I've ever talked to says that at 30 you just don't care. You're free. Maybe I'll start early?"
When Beatlemania swept through the U.S. in the 1960s, Mark Morris was one of millions of young Americans who fell head over heels for the revolutionary group. "I was not immune," the choreographer says. "My sisters were mad about The Beatles and so was I. At age 12 I had a crush on Paul, of course."
Flash forward 50 years and he is still rocking to the British band, but this time with a new Beatles-inspired dance work his company is touring across North America, starting this month with scheduled stops in Seattle, Toronto, Portland, Oregon, and another 25 cities before the end of 2019.
You could call it island-hopping, but it's not exactly a vacation. After choreographing last season's Come From Away, and winning a Tony nomination, Kelly Devine zipped from frosty Newfoundland to the Caribbean beach resort that is the setting for Escape to Margaritaville.
In the fall, she was shuttling between them, before they start this month: flying to Toronto to prepare a new Canadian production of Come From Away, then jetting back to Chicago for the final stop of Margaritaville's four-city pre-Broadway tryout.
"These two shows could not be more different from each other," Devine says with a dash of understatement. Come From Away is about the small Newfoundland town where airliners grounded by the 9/11 attacks dumped thousands of unexpected visitors; Escape to Margaritaville, at the Marquis Theatre, is a comic island romance concocted from the beachcomber songbook of Jimmy Buffett.
How does someone go from being a New York City Ballet corps member to training Hollywood A-listers like Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara and Jennifer Lawrence? By getting injured, says Kurt Froman.
When an ankle sprain left him sidelined a few years back, Froman was "sitting at home, depressed" when he sent his friend Benjamin Millepied an email asking what he was up to. It turned out that Millepied had just been hired to choreograph some scenes for a movie, but had to be in Paris during pre-production. "He needed someone to teach two actors choreography and get them in shape," says Froman. With nothing else on his plate, he said yes, and started prepping Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis for Black Swan.