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."
With her fearless demeanor onstage, it's easy to see how Washington Ballet apprentice Sarah Steele attracted the keen eye of former American Ballet Theatre stars Julie Kent and Ethan Stiefel. Promoted mid-season from the studio company by artistic director Kent, Steele was cast by Stiefel as the lead in Frontier, his world premiere for The Washington Ballet, this past spring. For the space-themed piece, Steele donned a black-and-white "space suit" onstage, exhibiting dual qualities of strength and grace. Most evocative about Steele's dancing might be her innate intelligence—she was accepted to Harvard on early admission, and plans to resume her studies there in the future. But first, she'll dance.
Lots of college groups do stepping—a form of body percussion based on slapping, tapping and stomping—but Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company to do it. They are currently at New York City's New Victory Theater, presenting The Migration: Reflections on Jacob Lawrence, a show based on the painting series by Harlem Renaissance artist Jacob Lawrence about The Great Migration of the 1900s, when millions of African Americans fled the Jim Crow South and traveled by train to the North for a better life. The Great Migration transformed the demographics of the country, and Jacob Lawrence's paintings became famous for their bold color and evocative power.
As we approach Thanksgiving, there's much to be grateful for. Perhaps one of the most important things on your list is dance. Whether you're a full-time company member, an aspiring professional, an audience member, or you simply delight in dancing in your daydreams, this art form is a creative escape.
That's not to say that being a dancer is easy: Pursuing such a competitive career can be heartbreaking, especially when you're faced with rejection.
La Folía, a short dance film by director Adam Grannick that was recently released online, echoes these sentiments in under 12 minutes.
It took two years of intense nutrition counseling and psychotherapy to pull me out of being anorexic. My problem now is that I've gained too much weight from eating normally. Is there no middle ground? I can't fit into my clothes, but I don't want to go back to being sick.
—Former Anorexic, Weston, CT
We always figured that stretching made us more flexible by loosening up our muscles and joints. Some of us, ahem, might have even tried to fall asleep in our middle splits to get our stubbornly stiff inner thighs to let go.
But it turns out that might not actually be how stretching works.
A new review published in the Scandinavian Journal of Science & Medicine in Sports suggests that increased flexibility actually comes from your brain growing more used to the tension.
Efficient movement is easy to recognize—we all know when we see a dancer whose every action seems essential and unmannered. Understanding how to create this effect, however, is far more elusive. From a practical perspective, dancing with efficiency helps you to conserve your energy and minimize wear and tear on the body; from an artistic point of view, it allows you to make big impressions out of little moments, and lasting memories for those watching.
So much struggle and determination goes into your training that it can be difficult for early-career dancers to recalibrate their priorities toward simplicity and ease, says Laurel Jenkins, freelance performer and Trisha Brown Dance Company staging artist. "Your aesthetic might shift, and you might have to find new things beautiful." Mastering the art of effortless movement requires a new perspective and a smart strategy—on- and offstage.
Whatever your feelings about Wayne McGregor's heady, hyper-physical choreography, we can all probably agree on one thing: We'd really, really love to pick his brain. And tomorrow, Dance Umbrella, a UK-based dance festival, is giving everyone the chance to do exactly that.
"Women are often presented as soft, fragile little creatures in ballet," says Léonore Baulac. "We're not." The Paris Opéra Ballet's newest female étoile is discussing her unease at some of the 19th-century narratives she portrays. "It was real acting," she says with a laugh of La Sylphide. "James kills her by taking away her wings, yet she tells him not to worry and goes to die elsewhere onstage!"
Sitting in the canteen of the Palais Garnier, Baulac embodies some of ballet's contradictions in the 21st century. With her fair curls and dainty features, she could easily pass for a little girl's fantasy princess. As Juliet, she exuded a girlish ardor that felt entirely natural; her reservations notwithstanding, her Sylphide was committed and carefully Romantic in style.
Yet the 27-year-old is no ingénue. At Garnier that day, her sweater reads "I can't believe I still have to protest this s**t," a feminist slogan; last winter, Baulac proudly wore it over a Kitri tutu on Instagram. And her repertoire is as thoroughly modern as she is offstage. A versatile performer even by Parisian standards, she is equally at home in Nutcracker as she is in the works of Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.
You know Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo as the men who parody your favorite ballet variations—and make it look good. But there's more to the iconic troupe than meets the eye.
A new documentary, Rebels on Pointe, goes behind the scenes of the company, and it's full of juicy tidbits about what it's like to be a Trock. These were some of our favorite moments:
After 30 years of pioneering work in physically integrated dance, AXIS Dance Company co-founder Judith Smith has announced plans to retire from the Oakland, California, company. Throughout her tenure, she strived to get equal recognition for integrated dance and disabled dancers, commissioning work from high-profile choreographers like Bill T. Jones. Her efforts generated huge momentum for expanded training, choreography, education and advocacy for dancers with disabilities.
By phone from her home in Oakland, Smith reflected on how far the field has evolved since the early days of AXIS, and what's yet to be done.