Your Body: Magic Touch
During a rehearsal of a lightning-fast section in Gerald Arpino’s Birthday Variation, Joffrey dancer Patrick Simoniello pulled his adductor muscle in his left leg. After a neuromuscular massage, which uses trigger-point therapy to ease up seized muscles, Simoniello found he could dance that night. A short, specific massage immediately after the injury was just the thing he needed to get back on his feet. “I thought it was amazing stuff,” remembers Simoniello, who has since trained as a massage therapist.
Massage has been well documented as a healing agent, but getting the type and timing right makes all the difference. Short and vigorous types like the neuromuscular kind get you ready to move. Slower, deeper ones are ideal for down time, not for when you have to perform or learn new work, because the massage can create changes in muscle length.
However, deep work can help the body recover in a range of ways. During his stint with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago from 2002–2006, Simoniello found a weekly massage essential in helping his body repair and prepare for the next week’s demands. “I was dancing work by Ohad Naharin, William Forsythe, and Jirí Kylián while on tour,” says Simoniello. “That takes a toll. If I missed a week’s massage, it became much harder to get back on track.”
There are several types of massage that can be particularly helpful to dancers:
• Swedish/traditional uses light to medium pressure. It’s excellent for general restoration and stress-reduction.
• Sports massage is a deep-tissue form that is more vigorous than Swedish and works on muscle and fascia (the outer layer of muscles and organs). It’s not recommended prior to intense activity.
• Neuromuscular uses sustained static pressure on trigger points to relieve pain and increase range of motion. It can release muscle spasms.
• Lymph massage offers a light touch at skin level and helps flush the lymph system of waste products from injury. It aids with swelling and inflammation.
• Myofascial Release and Structural Integration each address both muscle and fascial tissue. Structural Integration involves 10 consecutive sessions, and is best performed when dancers are off since the body needs time to adjust.
Many companies’ massage schedules reflect performance and rehearsal schedules. At Pennsylvania Ballet, physical therapist Julie Green schedules the massage therapist for Fridays so dancers can let the massage settle in their bodies for a day or two before taking class or rehearsing. “I always ask a dancer what’s on their plate that day,” says Green. “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.”
PAB principal Martha Chamberlain adjusts the timing of her appointments to her performances. “I never want my feet or calves worked on before a show,” she says. “Beside the fact the oil makes my feet slip in my shoes, if you get worked on and run into a rehearsal, it can throw things out of whack.”
Many dancers note that iliotibial (IT) bands are an exception. These connect the pelvis to the knee, so a tight IT band can actually pull the knee cap out of alignment. “My IT bands are a different story,” Chamberlain says. “You can pound on those anytime.” Many dancers use foam rollers to loosen up between classes or rehearsals. “IT are more like ligaments than muscle tissue,” says Green. “Because they don’t have the contractile properties of a muscle, it’s usually fine to massage them before dancing.”
There are times to be cautious about massage. If you suspect a fracture, or if you have an open wound, deep work can exacerbate it. “If you are injured, get a diagnosis first,” says Green. “If you have an infection, a massage could spread it.” Though lymph massage, Green notes, can flush the tissues and relieve swelling.
Massage can also help in ways that go beyond a dancer’s mobility. Simoniello noticed he had more confidence performing after he added massage to his health regime. “Dance is not solely an art of physicality,” he says. “Mind and spirit are involved as well. Massage provides a non-judgmental place for treatment, allowing us not only to physically heal, but to take a breath and and care for ourselves.”
Nancy Wozny writes about the arts and health from Houston.
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.
You know that how you care for your body before curtain can impact your performance. But with so many factors to consider, it can be difficult to nail down an exact routine. How much rest is enough? How close to showtime should you eat? We asked the experts.
How do you make your athleisure collection stand out from the pack? Get the ultimate studio-to-street seal of approval by having dancers star in your campaign, of course.
For his second collaboration with activewear brand Carbon38, ready-to-wear designer Jonathan Simkhai traded in his usual top models like Gigi Hadid and Karlie Kloss for the original Hiplet dancers—and the resulting video is as cool as we'd expect from such a fierce collaboration.
Last week, we highlighted the deliberately, hysterically bad @biscuitballerina Instagram account, created by a then-mysterious dancer with a great sense of humor. This week, the artist behind @biscuitballerina—who turns out to be Royal Ballet of Flanders corps member Shelby Williams—got in touch with us to set the record straight about the intentions of those LOL-worthy posts.
Her photos and videos, with their exaggeratedly cringe-worthy technical flaws, are NOT meant to mock amateur dancers. Instead, Williams is actually hoping the account will help all dancers move past their shortcomings and accept themselves and their dancing.
Everyone knows that training is the cornerstone of a successful career in dance. But as a dance educator, I also take comfort in the fact that high-quality dance training helps shape students into genuinely good people (in addition to creating future artists, which is a wonderful goal in itself.) These are the lessons dance teaches that help make students into better humans:
Improvement Takes Commitment Over Time
In my tap courses at Cal State University, sometimes students are shocked when they can't learn something quickly. In today's world, we're used to getting fast results. You need an answer—Google it. You need to talk to someone—text them. The cooking channel wants your dinner to be easy, the physical trainer wants your workout to be five minutes, Rosetta Stone can have you speaking Mandarin in an hour.
Again and again, dance teaches me that when the filters fall away between people—when the boundaries of geography, religion and politics soften—the beginning and end of our relationships is always human.
In March, I traveled with Keigwin + Company to Cote D'Ivoire, Ethiopia and Tunisia, on a tour sponsored by the US State Department and facilitated by DanceMotion USA/Brooklyn Academy of Music. Our mission was cultural diplomacy: Simply, to share ourselves with diverse communities, to promote common understanding and friendships.
Our last stop was Tunisia. Until that point, we had mostly been learning varieties of traditional African dance, and sharing American modern dance. But Tunisia was different. The dancers already had a solid grasp of contemporary movement invention. Though we didn't speak the same language, we could make movement vocabulary with surprising ease. Everything about our backgrounds was different, but there was this special intersection through dance that seemed to present an open door to collaboration.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Joffrey Ballet.
Christopher Wheeldon's new Nutcracker for the Joffrey Ballet was huge news when it premiered last winter. The choreographer shifted the setting from the home of a well-off German family to the Chicago world's fair, making the hero the young daughter of a working-class, Polish immigrant sculptress. This month, WTTW Chicago, the city's public broadcasting station, will premiere Making a New American Nutcracker, a new documentary showing how Wheeldon and his high-profile collaborators made the magic happen. Premieres on WTTW11 and wttw.com/watch on Nov. 16 before appearing on public television stations across the country. Check your local listings.
For most dancers, walking into the theater elicits a familiar emotion that's somewhere between the reverence of stepping into a chapel and the comfort of coming home. But each venue has its own aura, and can offer that something special that takes your performance to a new level. Six dancers share which theaters have transported them the most.
GLENN ALLEN SIMS
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Glenn Allen Sims in Alvin Ailey's Masekela Langage. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy AAADT
Favorite theater: Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain
Royal details: "The theater is gorgeous and ornate, with deep red upholstery and gold trim. There is a huge royal box in the center, which takes you back to when kings and queens were watching performances there."
Impressive facilities: Even the dressing rooms are a sight to see: Amenities for the dancers include large, carpeted rooms, and towel service.
The business side of dance can often fall second to the art. Contracts, which usually appear after you've done the hard work of securing a job, can seem like an inconsequential afterthought. You might decide to simply sign without reading the terms—or be understandably confused by all the legalese.
Ultimately, though, contracts can play an important part in setting the expectations for your job. A basic understanding of the legal terms you might see can go a long way in making sure that signing is a positive step toward growing your career.