Bringing dance to new audiences across the country and around the world is exciting for touring dancers. But whether you’re dancing at a nearby school or as far away as Australia, you’ve traveled there in cramped quarters on a plane, train, or bus. And while you probably won’t leap from the runway directly to the stage, it’s best to arrive at your destination as supple, energized, and ready to move as possible.
But keeping your joints oiled during travel requires some ingenuity. So Dance Magazine spoke to several performers and experts who are pros at fighting touring trauma. Read their tips and stay loose!
Combat Dehydration Virginia Wilmerding, past president of the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science, says that when flying, the altitude creates conditions that can promote dehydration, which puts you at risk for swollen legs and creaky joints. Drinking lots of water, and even electrolyte-carbohydrate beverages like Gatorade, may help keep swelling at bay. And staying away from alcohol, which is dehydrating, is a must. Wearing compression stockings (found in hospital supply stores) may help relieve swelling. So can performing relevés, which are easy to do while standing in narrow aisles.
Tamara Riewe, of the Trisha Brown Dance Company, has her travel routine down to a science, as the company tours an average of two weeks every other month. When flying, she drinks 20 oz. of water every two hours, and orders a vegetarian meal. “It has less fat content and more fiber, so it keeps the system regulated,” she says. She also makes sure to pack fresh fruits and veggies to snack on.
Paul Taylor Dance Company veteran Robert Kleinendorst also says that dehydration is the number one body wrecker. Dancers’ overstressed muscles need water to release lactic acid, so they don’t become stiff. Kleinendorst recommends taking ibuprofen, since it thins the blood and increases circulation, helping to flush out toxins.
Travel Exercises Riewe makes sure to book an aisle seat so she can stand up easily. “I am that dork who’s actually doing a little yoga in the bulkhead space,” she says. And since planes now supply pamphlets and videos that give passengers limited-space exercises, Riewe’s noticed more and more “civilians” working out while flying.
“Even though we try to keep a low profile, on long flights we’ll go to the galley and stretch,” says Kleinendorst. “I loosen my hamstrings and lower back by hanging over, because there’s not a lot of room. You want to stay out of the way of the other passengers and crew.” He’ll also try to work in shoulder circles, contractions, pliés, and quad stretches to keep him from “fusing into solid bone.”
Massage therapist Russ Beasley has worked with many dancers. He says that you should get up and walk the aisle every hour to counterbalance the time you’re seated. He also suggests calf stretches and pulling the knee up to the chest while standing. “Even standing and reaching for the ceiling can provide lengthening movement,” says Beasley. And some trains have larger bathrooms, where Beasley suggests carefully engaging in standing stretches. “Just be aware there can be sudden stops,” he says.
John Michael Schert dances with LINES Ballet and the Trey McIntyre Project (see “On the Rise,” Nov. 2007). “I don’t think air travel is natural. The pressure is brutal on joints. My ankles swell, and when I land they’re not aligned,” he says. He performs lots of ankle rotations and suggests manually manipulating the foot by moving the metatarsal in a circular motion with your hand.
Carry-On Baggage While seated, Riewe uses softball-sized body balls with rubbery spikes to self-massage. “This applies pressure to my back. And rolling balls with my feet keeps them more active than they normally would be while flying,” she says. Lots of her touring buddies use them too.
Beasley says the seats in planes, trains, buses, and cars tend to pitch the pelvis backwards, causing undue stress on dancers’ hypermobile joints. He recommends traveling with inflatable lumbar and cervical (head/neck) support pillows for long trips. These can be found at most luggage shops and some drug stores. If you don’t have time to search them out, rolled up towels can provide support too.
On the Ground As soon as Schert boards a flight of 12 hours or more, he adjusts the time on his computer, cell phone, and watch to mentally prep for his new time zone. Before the meal, he’ll take a sleeping pill prescribed by his doctor. Then he eats, goes to the bathroom, and hits the hay. “I try to get a solid block of sleep on the plane, because it helps my body to behave like it would in the time zone I’ve landed in,” he says.
When traveling by bus or car, use rest stops to stretch and move as much as you can. Try developing a supported stretch routine with another dancer, or walk around and shake out the kinks. Just make sure to dress comfortably so your movement choices aren’t restricted.
Nancy Alfaro lives (and stretches) in New York.
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.
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?
If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.
"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."
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."
Ever find yourself lusting after that six o'clock penché, or a développé that will reach your nose? You're not alone. The eye is naturally drawn to the end points of a movement, and, in dance, that often translates to the highest extension.
But what if you're born without extreme, Instagram-worthy lines? It's a matter of developing a laser focus on alignment as well as strengthening and stretching with better body mechanics in mind.
I'll never forget something Roberto Bolle once told me when I was interviewing him about his workout regimen: Talking about how much he loved to swim, he said, "I would love to go in the Italian sea, but I am too well-known there to show up in my suit."
It always amused and kinda shocked me that a ballet dancer could reach that level of fame. But it's true: In his native Italy, Bolle is a bonafide celerity.
Everyone knows that community college is an affordable option if a four-year school isn't in the cards. But it can also be a solid foundation for a career in the dance field. Whether students want an associate in arts degree as a precursor to obtaining a bachelor's, or to go straight into the performing world, the right two-year dance program can be a uniquely supportive place to train. Don't let negative stereotypes prevent you from attending a program that could be right for you:
Conscientious theatergoers may be familiar with The School for Scandal, The School for Wives and School of Rock. But how many are also aware of the school of Fosse?
The 1999 musical, a posthumous exploration of the choreographic career of Bob Fosse, ran for 1,093 performances, winning four Tonys and 10 nominations; employing 32 dancers; and, completely unintentionally, nurturing a generation of Broadway choreographers. You may have heard of them: Andy Blankenbuehler and Sergio Trujillo danced in the original cast, Josh Rhodes was a swing, and Christopher Gattelli replaced Trujillo when he landed choreography jobs in Massachusetts and Canada. Blankenbuehler remembers that when Trujillo left, "It was as if he was graduating."
January 16 might as well be a Broadway holiday. Three gigantic names were born on this day, in 1908, 1950 and 1980, and they represent three distinct eras of powerhouse musicals. Without them, there'd be no belting Reno Sweeney, no "Fame"-ous Lydia Grant and no rapping Alexander Hamilton. Happy birthday to these indelible superstars.
In the midst of its 20th-anniversary season, BodyVox is taking a moment to look back. The Portland, Oregon–based company presents Urban Meadow, an amalgamation of some of its most popular works, at Philadelphia's Prince Theater, Jan. 18–21. Expect whimsy, and the unexpected. bodyvox.com.
I never believe that I deserve to be happy. This reaction kicked in big time since I got a steady job. My emotions are a roller coaster: joy at the chance to perform, terror that the people in charge don't like me and resentment at not getting solo roles. I'm driving myself crazy.
—Terry, Philadelphia, PA