Dancers will do just about anything to increase their odds of staying injury-free. And there are plenty of products out there claiming that they can help you do just that. But which actually work?
We asked for recommendations from four experts: Martt Lawrence, who teaches Pilates to dancers in San Francisco; Lisa-Marie Lewis, who teaches yoga at The Ailey Extension in New York City; physical therapist Alexis Sams, who treats dancers at her clinic in Phoenix; and stretch training coach Vicente Hernandez, who teaches at The School of Pennsylvania Ballet.
For Stronger Inner Thighs: Magic Circle
Gratz Industries' Magic Circle, $30, pilates-gratz.com
Lawrence says this tool is great for strengthening your inner thighs, which are often weak in dancers. It particularly helps with movements like quick footwork. She suggests practicing small tendus in every direction while squeezing the circle between your ankles.
To Unknot Your Muscles: A Small Spiky Ball
Body Back FootStar Acupressure Ball, $6.45, bodyback.com
"All those nice spiky edges can get into little trigger points," says Sams. She suggests rolling after class when you're already warm and your muscles are pliable.
For Smarter Stretching: A Yoga Block
Hugger Mugger's Cork Yoga Block, $19.95, huggermugger.com
Blocks aren't about what you can't do—they're about helping you get more out of a pose, says Lewis: "Don't let your ego get in the way of getting into the correct position."
To Recover Faster: KT Tape
KT Tape Cotton, $12.99, kttape.com
"The tape works by stimulating your sense of touch and calls attention to the injured area while dancing," explains Sams. Though not a long-term solution, it can help on the road to recovery.
For Healthier Feet: PerfectFit Inserts
PerfectFit Inserts Kit, $42, perfectfitpointe.com
Sams points out that pointe shoes have always been made to break down so that they mold to the dancer's foot, and these inserts continue that tradition to make the fit even more snug.
For Upper-Body Strength Training: Resistance Tubes
Merrithew's Strength Tubing, $18.99, merrithew.com
Both Hernandez and Sams recommend resistance tubes: They're more resilient than bands, and easily hook on a hand or ankle.
To Prevent Bunions: Toe Corrector
Prag Movement's Toe Corrector, $51, pilatesscandinavia.com
This tool strengthens the muscles near the big-toe joint and helps prevent bunions. Lawrence particularly recommends it for dancers just starting pointework.
To Become a Safer, Better Turner: A Spinboard
Superior Stretch's Spinboard, $21.59, superiorstretch.com
Hernandez says turning boards can help you practice proper alignment and feel the sensation of multiple revolutions.
To Roll Out Your Feet: Yamuna Foot Wakers
Yamuna Foot Wakers Kit, $65.95, yamunausa.com
In addition to teaching yoga, Lewis performs in The Lion King on Broadway, and warms up her feet with these before every show. "It's like a foot roller, but you can spend more time in each spot," she says.
To Build Better Balance: A Balance Board
Fitterfirst's Classic Balance Board, $44.95, fitter1.com
Sams suggests testing yourself on a balance board in simple, single-leg positions like parallel passé.
The Number One Essential: A Safe Floor
Glorya Kaufman School of Dance at USC featuring a Harlequin WoodSpring® basketweave system, photo by Ema Peter
The most essential tool for keeping dancers' bodies healthy is arguably a sprung floor. "The shock absorption helps minimize compressive forces that go through your joints when landing from jumps," explains Sams.
When you're dancing on a floor that doesn't have any give, your ankles, knees, hips and back end up taking the brunt of the impact, which can open the door to injuries. "Even after taking one class on a concrete floor, dancers will come home with sore muscles and achy joints," says Sams.