Yoga began as a path to spiritual enlightenment about 5,000 years ago in ancient India. It includes meditation techniques, breath control exercises, and a detailed set of ethical principles. It also involves a series of physical poses (asanas) that have become popular in the West in recent years. Dancers have discovered yoga as a way to relax between technique classes, rehearsals, and performances, while still maintaining flexibility and strength. Here several dancers explain how yoga benefits their bodies and their work.
Finding Your Center String
Kellie Epperheimer, 23, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago I started yoga after I sprained my ankle. It gave me a way to work a little more slowly. As a dancer you have drive, so the pace was really hard for me at first. The balancing poses especially helped me stabilize and find a nice center string to work from in my body alignment. Now I appreciate having a slow hour and a half where my mind can go to a different place instead of having to think about a step.
Favorite pose sirsasana (headstand).
“I feel my plumb line and all of my muscles lifting and being activated. It’s soothing.”
The Gift of Time
Paul McGill, 20, current Broadway revival of A Chorus Line With yoga you can take your time and focus, unlike a dance class, and it’s changed my dancing. I don’t just jump and kick and turn anymore. My movement has more fluidity. When I was younger I danced, but I didn’t know where the movement was coming from or what muscles I was using. With yoga you feel every little thing in your body. It’s very personal, very internal. There’s no one watching me, no one judging me. I can just be.
Favorite pose parivrtta parsvakonasana (twisted side angle, with legs in lunge, upper body twisting). “It helps me release my lower back, which gets really, really tight after each show.”
Briana Reed, 32, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Yoga helps me with life on the road. When I get to a hotel and pull out my mat, it centers me. I find that my hamstrings are more flexible. I am more steady on my feet. I’ve also learned to control my breath, so I’m not as tired performing. In yoga there’s no such thing as a bad class because you’re doing it for yourself and you don’t have an audience or an artistic director to disappoint. You have the chance to be imperfect. It’s a huge relief.
Favorite pose sirsasana (headstand). “This pose was the scariest thing for me and I had to learn to trust myself. I never imagined that I could stand on my head. Now I’m more wiling to try things that I wouldn’t have before.”
An Unexpected Energy
Seth DelGrasso, 30, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet I started yoga because I wanted to increase my flexibility, but after a few months I also noticed my mental focus had increased, and the breathing and relaxation exercises allowed me to connect with my muscles in a much deeper way.Yoga has allowed me to understand more of that internal connection between breath and movement, which has given me more energy. I’ve learned to stretch by elongating rather than going into stretches too aggressively, which helps my body protect itself. Plus certain things throughout the day don’t bother me as much as they used to.
Favorite pose padmasana (lotus). “When I began my hips were very tight. To find calmness within this pose has allowed me to increase my flexibility tremendously.”
Preparing to Perform
Elana Altman, 25, San Francisco Ballet Yoga’s a good way to stretch and relax and prepare myself for a performance. It’s not an aerobic workout. It’s about using the particular poses to get specific results in your body, like opening your hips or releasing your back or neck tension. Ballet is all about turnout and extension—it uses the same muscles over and over. Yoga puts me into a different sort of alignment. It makes me very conscious of my body and that can translate into preventing injuries. When my body doesn’t let me dance anymore, at least I’ll have yoga!
Favorite pose kapotasana (pigeon pose, where you sit on the floor with legs in a split). “This is a good isometric butt and hip stretch. Since ballet is all about turnout it’s great for dancers.”
Shayna Samuels is co-founder of the Mothership Yoga Lounge in Truth or Consequences, NM.
Elizabeth Earley's path to the Great White Way was fueled by perseverance. Currently a swing and co-dance captain for Hello, Dolly!, she shared her journey with Dance Magazine.
When I was a freshman at New York University's musical theater studio, I cut class to attend a singers' Equity Chorus Call for The Phantom of the Opera. I had no idea how casting worked. I hoped they might realize I was a ballet dancer and put me into consideration for a ballerina. After waiting in line for hours, I sang "Falling in Love with Love." The team asked, "Is this your first New York audition?" They said, "You are so cute," but there was no callback. Later, I saw the show was holding an open dance call. I went. The line wrapped around the block. We did two pointe combinations. But again, I was cut.
I decided to keep my focus on school instead of auditions with the exception of summer stock, which I worked every season. After graduating, I developed this idea that I wasn't ready to be seen by Broadway casting teams. I only auditioned for stock, theme parks, cruise ships, regional theater and national tours. I eventually booked them all. As I started to gain more experience, auditioning went from being overwhelming to exciting.
After returning from the national tour of Whistle Down the Wind, I started to actively pursue roles. In 2009, I was up for my first principal role in a regional union show, Cassie in A Chorus Line. Having worked nine shows at this particular theater as ensemble, dance captain, minor roles and understudy, I was thrilled to be in the running for a lead. I felt strong as I danced, sang and read. Then someone on the casting team said, "She's not hot enough."
I realized I couldn't control what other people felt, but I could control my mind-set. Keeping positive and being my daily best became vital in moments like that. I actually did end up booking Cassie in that production. I even went on to play her elsewhere and returned to the same theater to play Mary Poppins years down the road.
Earley as Cassie in a regional production of A Chorus Line. Photo by Alicia Donelan, Courtesy Earley
While I auditioned for Broadway regularly starting in 2008, I landed national tours for years. In 2015, I decided to dig my heels into the ground in New York City. That year, I attended an invited call to hire one female swing to cover the miscellaneous dance and singing tracks in a brand-new show. I almost didn't go. I was so tired of pounding the pavement without making headway. On the day of the audition, I saw Eric Giancola, to whom I had taught Mary Poppins on the national tour when I was dance captain. He was leading the audition! He knew my work and work ethic. After passing the test with Phil Reno, the show's musical director, and after approval of the director, I booked a job as swing in the original cast of Something Rotten! I finally cracked the glass ceiling of Broadway. All of the training and relentless work helped make it happen.
After a year in Something Rotten!, I auditioned for Hello, Dolly! by attending the dancers' Equity Chorus Call. I danced and sang the first day after the team made a cut. I was called back to audition with the girls from the agent invited audition. More cuts were made as we danced, two by two. I had to dance with Jessica Lee Goldyn, who played Val in the Broadway revival of A Chorus Line. She is a terrific dancer! Years of auditioning taught me not to get nervous, but to get excited, saying "I get to dance with Jessica!" More days of auditions happened where we danced, sang, read for roles and partnered. I sang a song from Kismet. I was asked to sing and read for the character of Irene. I ended up booking swing/co-dance captain, and am very excited for my next Broadway experience. Though the road has been winding, I've learned not to compare my journey to others'. One of the most wonderful things about theater is that everyone takes their own unique path there. But in the end, we all share the same stage.
Despite intense hip pain, Annmaria Mazzini waited until leaving the the Paul Taylor Dance Company to have one hip replaced in 2011, followed by the other in 2016.
But, it turns out, a hip replacement no longer spells an automatic end to a dance career. While the surgery remains a last resort, new technologies work better and last longer, allowing dancers to continue performing for several years after getting a replacement.
Mazzini, for example, has continued to dance. She even performed a duet just three months after her second hip replacement, having rehearsed for four months prior on a deteriorating hip. "It was really a gift to have that dance to do right before and after the surgery, because I had something to compare," she says. "There were parts of the duet where my whole body used to tense up, and now to be able to do them so easily is just euphoric."
1. Will I Need A Hip Replacement?
Photo by Matthew Murphy for Pointe
Probably not, although the surgery is common among dancers. Those who end up needing one typically start off with some kind of abnormality of the joint, says Dr. Douglas Padgett, who's performed hip replacements on more than 100 dancers at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. "Very often the hip socket is somewhat shallow, which can lead to excessive load and wear."
2. Aren't Hip Replacements Only For Old People?
Angela Towler continued performing with Rambert Dance Company after getting a hip replacement in her 30s. Photo by Nick Guttridge
Not any more. Implants used to be made with a plastic that degraded over time, lasting only about 12 to 15 years. But the new gold standard lasts 30 or more years, making hip replacements a reasonable option for a younger age group, says Dr. Roy Davidovitch, a hip surgeon at New York University Langone Medical Center.
3. What Questions Should I Ask?
Ask your surgeon about dual mobility hip replacements, a recent advancement that potentially allows for greater range of motion and a lower dislocation rate after surgery. Also inquire about the anterior approach to surgery, in which the surgeon enters the hip from the front without cutting through the large muscles in the back of the hip. Davidovitch, who specializes in the anterior approach, says it can have particular benefits for dancers since dislocation after surgery is less likely, making large ranges of motion safer.
4. What Will Recovery Be Like?
Wendy Whelan in physical therapy after her hip surgery
You'll need physical therapy two to three times per week for about three months after surgery, and once per week for three more months after that. "Usually the leg has gotten stiff, so we look to free up the muscles to allow for the hip to have full range of motion," says Michelle Rodriguez, a physical therapist and founder of Manhattan Physio Group. "There's soft-tissue work, strengthening, conditioning and stabilization of the core." Ninety-five percent of recovery happens within the first 6 to 12 weeks, says Davidovitch. "But I tell my patients it's one year to full recovery because you have to recover from the residual injuries, the compensatory patterns that developed when you were in pain."
5. Will My Dancing Change?
Annmaria Mazzini. Photo by Darial Sneed
After three to six months, most dancers get back almost their full range of motion. Though Rodriguez cautions that dancers are likely to notice a reduction in their turnout. However, dancing on a hip replacement will not feel quite the same as dancing on a natural hip joint. Repetitive, high-impact movements—like lots of jumping—can wear down even the best hip implant. But after years of extreme pain, many dancers are happy to make these trades. "I have a freedom in my body that I didn't have a year ago," says Mazzini.
Even if you make it through to the final round of an audition, that doesn't mean that you're guaranteed a spot on the roster. Before handing out contracts, many companies also require prospective dancers to complete an interview with staff. How can you impress your potential employer with your words as much as your dancing? Three artistic directors weigh in on what matters most.
Dorothy Gunther Pugh, Ballet Memphis
Ballet Memphis in Gabrielle Lamb's Manifold. Photo by Andrea Zucker, Courtesy Ballet Memphis
What do you cover in a typical interview?
"In the studio, I'm already watching closely for how well you pay attention, how you handle your nerves, and are you polite to the rest of the dancers. So, by the time you're sitting down with me in my office, I just want us to get to know each other. I want to see you look me in the eye, be curious and listen. (I might have questions about someone who just can't stop talking.) But I also want to know what you like about your hometown, what drew you to our company, and who you are when you're at ease. Remember that you're interesting to me!"
Colin Connor, Limón Dance Company
Photo by Juan José Escalante, Courtesy Limón Dance Company
What kinds of responses are red flags that a dancer wouldn't be a good fit for your company?
"I think a lot of dancers assume it's bad if they're not extroverted, but I'm happy to hire someone quiet. Do show me you can articulate what you love, because that's what you end up drawing from as an artist. I see a red flag when it sounds like someone has a lot of scheduling conflicts and previous commitments but still insists she can commit to us. I understand that working with other choreographers might be the only way you can survive, but being overextended is not a healthy way to function. You really have to be transparent in the interview about the obligations you do have, so I can be up front about whether it's possible to work with you."
Patricia Barker, Grand Rapids Ballet
Photo by Michael Auer, Courtesy Grand Rapids Ballet
How can a prospective dancer prepare?
"I don't want to be asked how many performances we do or which choreographers we work with. A great way to prove you've done your research is to say, 'I see Robyn Mineko Williams is choreographing this season. I was able to work with her in one of my summer programs.' That draws my attention to something I may have missed on your resumé, and now I know that I can touch base with her about that experience."
It seems like everyone in New York's experimental dance scene is talking about Okwui Okpokwasili right now. Her multidisciplinary work Poor People's TV Room is in the middle of a much buzzed-about two-week run at New York Live Arts.
But although the dance world loves her, Okpokwasili is hesitant to call herself a dancer. In a story about dance theater in Dance Magazine's May issue, she told this to writer Siobhan Burke:
"I have a deep love and appreciation for dancers. And because of that, sometimes I'll call myself a mover, because I feel like dancers are saints. They work so hard, they take classes, they don't get health insurance. Their ability to come into the unknown and commit to multiple languages without question—I find it so generous and beautiful. I don't know that I'm that generous. People can't just walk around calling themselves a dancer."
Even though she's very humble, many would definitely consider what she's doing bonafide dancing. Check out her intense, otherwordly virtuosity in a section from Poor People's TV Room, shot for The New York Times' #SpeakingInDance series.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of George Balanchine's iconic Jewels. And thanks to The Royal Ballet, you can celebrate in the comfort of your local movie theater. The company is screening its production in theaters across the US this spring—along with a handful of other performances both live and recorded.
Of course, we couldn't wait. So we got an exclusive sneak preview of principal dancers Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares performing the regal "Diamonds" pas de deux:
Plus, we're giving away a pair of pointe shoes signed by principal dancer Sarah Lamb—the very pair she wore during this performance of "Rubies." Watch her tackle the playful role alongside Steven McRae and Melissa Hamilton:
Click here to find a theater in your area.
Michaela DePrince is having one spectacular year. On New Year's Day, the Dutch National Ballet dancer was promoted to soloist. And yesterday, she scored a major endorsement as a face of Jockey's "Show 'Em What's Underneath" campaign. We've said it before: There's a right way and a wrong way to feature dancers in mainstream media. This campaign hits the mark by celebrating DePrince's grace, athleticism and story of hope.
If you need a refresher on her remarkable journey—from war orphan in Sierra Leone to being adopted and launching her ballet career—check out Jockey's video below.
DePrince's path has an uncanny connection to Dance Magazine. As a young child, she found the May 1979 cover of DM outside her orphanage. Mesmerized by the image of Pennsylvania Ballet's Magali Messac, she kept the treasured cover hidden in her panties, dreaming of becoming a dancer herself. After she was adopted, DePrince began training at The Rock School for Dance Education in Philadelphia. The rest is history.
@michaeladeprince with the May 1979 issue of Dance Magazine that first inspired her to pursue ballet. We caught up with her in NYC to celebrate her latest achievement: becoming an ambassador for Jockey! #inspiration #vintagedancemag #jockey #showemhope
A post shared by dancemagazine (@dancemagazine) on Apr 26, 2017 at 4:28pm PDT
Congratulations to DePrince on this milestone in her career!
What's better than getting into the summer intensive of your dreams? Getting in with a scholarship, of course!
Hundreds of dancers entered our Video of the Month contests over the past three months, vying for a chance to win a scholarship to one of the Joffrey Ballet School's summer programs. We scoured so many videos, saw tons of amazing talent and are super excited to announce the final winners.
Michelle Quiner took home the grand prize: a one-year housing and tuition scholarship to the school's year-round trainee program in New York City. Check out her winning video:
All of the other winners each received a one-week scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet School intensive of their choice.
Class can be a whirlwind of information. Your teacher throws out multiple corrections at once—often in the middle of a combination—and as much as you want to apply them, they don't always stick. Though some are notes you've heard time and time again, you get too overwhelmed trying to fix all of them to correctly incorporate any of them.
Ashley Tuttle, photo by Duncan Cooper
Feedback is a necessary part of a dancer's craft, providing the guidance to develop technically and artistically. But applying new information is not always easy. You might feel bombarded with too many notes at one time, or insecure about being singled out for criticism. Learning to implement corrections is an art in itself.
Be Receptive to Feedback—And Show It
Smart dancers know that feedback is a gift, so show that you're eager to receive it. Make sure your body language and attitude reflect a willingness to learn. "Have a pleasant expression and look really involved," says Deborah Wingert, who teaches at Manhattan Youth Ballet and the Ailey Extension. Once you've been given a note, try to make the change immediately, or go to the back of the studio and practice on your own. Show that you at least understand the concept, even if you can't apply it right away. (If you have an injury that prevents you from doing something, communicate that to the teacher before class.) Dancers who resist new information might discourage teachers from wanting to help them.
Laurie De Vito, photo by Justin Chao
Remember that teachers usually give attention when they see potential. "It's not that they're picking on you," says former American Ballet Theatre principal Ashley Tuttle, who teaches ballet at Barnard College, Mark Morris Dance Center and other schools. "Stay positive, and quiet the doubtful voice that can prevent you from receiving information and incorporating it."
If you're not getting any feedback, remember that you can benefit from other dancers' corrections as well. "You don't have to wait for a special invitation," says Wingert. "Just have a hunger to learn."
If You Don't Understand, Ask for Clarification
It's okay to ask questions if you don't understand a correction. "Wait for the break, or go up to the teacher after class," suggests Laurie De Vito, contemporary Simonson teacher at New York City's Peridance, Mark Morris Dance Center and Gibney Dance. "Ask for an alternate image and have a conversation about it." You can also talk to a dancer you respect or someone in your class who gets similar corrections. If you don't express your confusion, teachers might think that you're not listening—or that you don't care.
Wingert teaching at the Baltimore School for the Arts
Make Your Corrections Stick
You may need to use additional senses to cement a correction. Visualize it in your mind and, if possible, implement it while looking in the mirror. "Then get your brain out of it and let your body find the position," De Vito says. "If a physical adjustment will help you understand, ask your teacher to move your body into the correct shape." Attaching a movement to music might also help you solidify the right feeling.
Some corrections take time to physically manifest. "It's a commitment," says Tuttle. "Your brain understands, but your body follows to the best of its ability. It takes longer for some people." If you're being told to turn out more, for example, don't get frustrated because you can't do it immediately. Work on engaging the proper muscles, keeping your heels forward and sustaining your maximum rotation. "Remember that dance is not about being able to make the perfect picture, but being able to move in and out of the best positions you can make," says Tuttle. "Don't get down on yourself or force your body into places that will lead to injury."
"True artists have patience," says Wingert. "You do your best until it clicks.