Health & Body

Your Ideal Pre-Show Prep: A Step-By-Step Guide

Jim Lafferty for Pointe

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.



The Night Before

Tirachard Kumtanom/Stocksnap

Roll out your muscles: Be sure to cool down appropriately from the long rehearsal days that precede a performance, says sports physical therapist Erwin Seguia. The night before a show, he suggests foam rolling major muscle groups like your quads, glutes, hamstrings and calves. "Foam rolling helps flush out the waste products that result from physical activity, which aids in the recovery of the muscle," he says.

Get enough sleep: Prioritize rest. The average adult should get seven to nine hours of sleep per night, but some elite athletes get up to 11 or 12. Figure out how much you need to feel rested. "If you aren't able to get enough sleep because of late rehearsals, take naps of around 20 minutes during the day," says Seguia.

Eat a balanced meal: Ballet dancer turned registered dietitian Ashley Lucas warns that advice you may have heard to "carb-load" before a big event does not actually lead to improved performance in dance. She suggests eating a hearty, balanced dinner the day before a show. She suggests something like steak with asparagus with olive oil and quinoa, plus berries for dessert, or fatty fish or tofu with brown rice and vegetables with olive oil.


The Morning Of

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Think through your choreography: "Right when you wake up, keeping your eyes closed, visualize how the performance will go from start to finish. Really concentrate on the details—the arm movements, the direction you are going to focus your eyes onstage and the tilt of your head," says Justin Sherwood, an adjunct professor at Marymount Manhattan College and a Youth America Grand Prix coach.

Don't skimp on hydration or snacks: Lucas says dancers should aim for two cups of water in the morning and sips of water throughout the day, at least every 20 minutes. Begin with a filling, balanced breakfast, and then get strategic about what to eat and when. "Eat smaller meals and snacks throughout the day to avoid stomach distress, but keep satiated and energized," says Lucas. Make sure to eat something within 30 minutes after any rehearsals or classes for proper recovery. Your snacks should always contain protein and fat—a snack of only simple carbohydrates, which are quickly digested, will leave you feeling tired again shortly afterward.

Warm up gently: Seguia suggests starting show day by warming up the areas of your body that will need to be most active for dancing, especially your core, hips and ankles. Planks, bridges and bigger movements like squats and lunges are all good choices, but take it easier than you would if you were doing a full workout. A smart dynamic exercise to warm up your hips in the morning is banded squats: Place a resistance loop around your legs above the knees. With feet hip width apart, squat as low as you can while maintaining a neutral spine and your knees over your toes. Repeat for two sets of five to eight repetitions.


Before Curtain

Jayme Thonton for Pointe

Eat early: To stay energized, eat anywhere between one and four hours before a performance, says Lucas. Have enough that you will not be hungry too close to showtime, since eating right before could lead to an upset stomach.

Strategically focus your warm-up: Think about the material you are about to perform: Does it require fast changes of direction? Is it more slow and sustained? Sherwood says this should determine what you focus on in class as you are warming up. He also suggests marking through the performance onstage if possible, to keep up your confidence without wearing yourself out. Before going on, Seguia recommends repeating your warm-up exercises from the morning to keep your body and your brain primed to move

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When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."

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A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.

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"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

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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."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at swandreamsproject.org.

Training
Sylvie Guillem, via 1843magazine.com

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Abraham.In.Motion performing "Drive." Photo by Ian Douglas.

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