Health & Body

Could CBD Be a Game Changer for Dancers?

Getty Images

As more states legalize cannabis, it seems the sales pitch for cannabidiol—or CBD—gets broader and broader. A quick internet search turns up claims that CBD helps with pain, depression, acne, arthritis, anxiety, insomnia, heart disease, post-traumatic stress, epilepsy and cancer. But the marketplace is unregulated, which makes it tricky to find out what CBD actually does.

Still, some dance pros have become pro-CBD. James Moore, a principal at Pacific Northwest Ballet, has been using CBD capsules, tinctures and topical creams for almost four years, and he believes it's extended his career.

"The stigma still persists, and I don't want to have a reputation as a stoner," says Moore. "But CBD has really helped me. At 37 years old, it's getting harder to do what I do on a daily basis, but I wake up feeling more refreshed, with my muscles more pliable. I get a really direct benefit where I have arthritis in the SI joint in my back, and I'm less sore overall, without popping pain relievers containing harsh chemicals."

What Can It Actually Do?

Cannabidiol is the second-most abundant material in cannabis, but it won't get you high like the better-known psychoactive component of the marijuana plant, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). And experts believe that CBD has the potential to live up to at least some of the hype.

"Research shows that CBD in isolation doesn't have addiction liability and it significantly reduces inflammation and pain in animals," says Sara Jane Ward, PhD, who has been studying CBD for 10 years. "However, there is almost no clinical data on its effects in humans."

Yet Michelle Rodriguez, director of Manhattan Physio Group, is optimistic about the potential benefits. (In fact, her practice sells its own line of CBD bath bombs, tinctures and capsules.)

"When it's a good product, I've seen CBD aid in recovery of sore muscles and help the body heal itself," she says. "It's anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic, so paired with massage, it can relieve muscle strain."

Is It Legal?

Just because CBD products are widely available, it doesn't mean they're all above-board. The legality is complicated: In some states, anyone with a medical marijuana card can buy pot products, but Ward stresses that since CBD is coming from cannabis, it is technically a Schedule 1 drug—federally illegal, that is—according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

"I don't think the DEA is actively trying to bust CBD users," says Ward. But in this Wild West environment, marketers can make outlandish claims with no official regulator. Third-party watchdogs have found THC, pesticides, bacteria, fungus, traces of the opioid fentanyl and other dangerous substances in CBD products.

Ward says the safest purchase is hemp-derived CBD. Hemp is a strain of cannabis that is now legal to grow and extract, as long as it contains less than 0.3 percent THC.

So, What Do The Experts Recommend?

If you want to try CBD, consult your doctor first—there could be concerns about the interaction with other medications, says Ward. There isn't enough research to confirm what dosage is most effective, so start slow; you may be more reactive to what is mild for someone else. And don't mix it with alcohol, warns Rodriguez.

Kendall Alway, owner of SF Performing Arts Physical Therapy, remains skeptical. "I'm supportive of things that work, but I see more and more conflicting information on CBD," she says. "The cream from one dispensary might not be the same as the one you buy at another. It could contain THC even if it's not supposed to. And I can't imagine that a dancer would be happy about becoming inebriated when they're expecting pain relief."

Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Sara Mearns in the gym. Photo by Kyle Froman.

New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.

"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "

She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.

Keep reading... Show less
In Memoriam
Alicia Alonso with Igor Youskevitch. Sedge Leblang, Courtesy Dance Magazine Archives.

Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"

At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle with Ballet Theatre, she staked her claim to that title role.

Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.

Keep reading... Show less


Get Dance Magazine in your inbox