Getting back onstage for Swan Lake showed González what she needed to work on. Photo from a Routines commercial, by Dinolion (2017)

How Houston Ballet Principal Karina González Got Ballet-Ready Again After Giving Birth

Houston Ballet principal Karina González stunned audiences last fall with her emotionally charged Mary Vetsera in Kenneth MacMillan's Mayerling—while 16 weeks pregnant. "I had to be careful because the pas de deux are crazy," says González, who carefully planned her pregnancy so that she could dance in this ballet. "Thankfully, I had the best partner in Connor Walsh."


Taking Class Before & After Birth

Gonzåalez performed in Mayerling at 16 weeks pregnant. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, courtesy Houston Ballet

González took class up until a week before she gave birth to her daughter Julia on March 18 (after a 12-hour drug-free labor). "I loved being pregnant and the changes in my body," says González. "Having a baby is one of the most amazing things a human can do."

She returned to class three weeks post-birth, starting by taking just half of a slower adult class. She was back in company class in five weeks, but didn't start jumping again until week six.

Getting Back Onstage Earlier Than Expected

Getting back onstage for Swan Lake showed González what she needed to work on. Photo from a Routines commercial, by Dinolion (2017)

Her original plan was to wait until the following season to get back onstage, but a chance to dance Spanish Princess in Swan Lake popped up in June. Having done the role before, she decided it was the right-sized challenge. "I wanted to focus on getting stronger and coming back properly," she says.

She would be the first to say that it wasn't easy. It was revealing, though. "I found out what I needed to work on," she says. "My legs lost strength and my stamina was down." Balances, turns and jumps that came naturally to her before suddenly took more time and thought.

A New Approach

González working out in a Routines commercial. Photo by Dinolion (2017)

"I was never much of a cross-training dancer," she admits. "I am now." The Houston Ballet gym is González's new favorite place. She is on a regular regimen with athletic therapist Bené Barrera and Houston Ballet Academy's strength and conditioning coach Akihiro Kawasaki. Three times a week, she does squats with 20- to 30-pound barbells (3 sets of 10), hanging side crunches on the power rack, and jump training over 12-inch hurdles (for 30-second intervals). "It's a whole new world for me."

Eating For Breastfeeding

González has always been a healthy eater, but now that she's breastfeeding she's even more careful to keep her diet rich with nutritious proteins and vegetables. She gained 35 pounds and it's come off at a healthy rate. "It gets trickier when we are in the theater, especially when it comes to sleep because I'm up late at night," says González. "I will consider weaning when the time is right. My baby comes first."

Her Go-To Core Strengthener

Recommended by Akihiro Kawasaki, this exercise strengthens the diaphragm, transverse abdominis, pelvic floor and more. "I started doing it almost every day," says González, "especially because I needed my core to get stronger and the midline to close back again after pregnancy."

  1. Lie on your back with your arms extended straight up. Keep your hips and knees at 90-degree angles (calves parallel to the floor) with a stability ball placed in between your palms and knees.
  2. Inhale and expand your abdominals and lower back to stabilize your pelvis. Take 8 counts to reach your right arm and left leg away from the ball.
  3. Keeping your lower back against the ground, take 8 counts to exhale and bring your right arm and left leg back to the starting position. Without rest, immediately repeat with your opposite arm and leg.

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Courtesy Harkness Center for Dance Injuries

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When orthopedic surgeon Dr. Donald Rose founded the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital 30 years ago, the average salary for a dancer was about $8,000, he says.

"It was very hard for a dancer to get quality medical care," he remembers. What's more, he adds, "at the time, dance medicine was based on primarily anecdotal information rather than being based on studies." Seeing the incredible gaps, Rose set out to create a medical facility that was designed specifically to treat dancers and would provide care on a sliding scale.

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