As a writer, editor and communications consultant, Lauren Kay has worked for a wide range of platforms including ELLE.com, BeautyandWellBeing.com, Time Out New York, Dance Magazine, Backstage and TDF.org.
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On a humid summer day in midtown Manhattan, construction goes on outside the Church of St. Paul the Apostle. Inside, another type of building goes on: In separate basement studios, two groups of 40 dancers focus their attention on their instructors. It's the Rockettes' summer intensive, a rare chance for students to work with professional Rockettes, not to mention Julie Branam, their director and choreographer.
Rockette Bailey Callahan demonstrates in front of one group. Hers is a classic Rockette story. She attended their intensive every summer from 2009 to 2011; being a Rockette was her dream. Then, in 2012, she was asked to attend the program's invitational week. At the end, she received her Rockette contract.
It can take a full team of experts to keep a dancer dancing—from masseuses and acupuncturists to yoga teachers and personal trainers. But, that comes at a cost, literally. When do you really need to invest in pricier options, and when can you take the more budget-friendly route? We broke it down for the most popular options.
Growing up, Leah Ives always enjoyed preparing food—especially after-school snacks. So now, while she cooks to fuel her work with the Trisha Brown Dance Company, she always wants it to be "free-form in a casual, no-pressure way," she says.
That means she preps and eats whatever her body calls for. "I've gone through phases of cleanses and diets," she says. "But that can take the pleasure out of eating. And it doesn't feel nourishing to me. Now, I listen to my body."
Leah Ives with Marc Crousillat. Photo by Stephanie Berger
Do you feel like your obsession with dance has gone too far? You're not alone. Many dancers find themselves laser focused on dance to an unhealthy degree. But that doesn't mean you won't ever be able to find a more balanced life.
Ballet Hispánico dancer Christopher Bloom is a great example. When he started training seriously at age 15, he put every ounce of concentration into dance. In many ways, it served his swift improvement. But an overly obsessive tendency emerged: "When I went on vacation for a week when I was 17, I was so antsy and upset," he admits. "I thought I'd lose everything."
At some point in your dance career, friends might have used the word "obsessed" to describe you. Perhaps you smiled in response. Priding ourselves on how hard and tirelessly we work seems locked in our dancer DNA.
That's partly because dancers need a certain amount of laser focus to make it in the competitive professional world. But when you spend "one extra hour" in the studio too often, the scales can tip. Dancers can rehearse themselves into an injury, or try a combination so many times that the result is simply frustration.
"Sometimes your body and mind need a break—a day, afternoon or weekend," says Dr. Nadine Kaslow, resident psychologist at Atlanta Ballet. "But dancers feel bad about these things. They don't feel entitled. It feels like you might lose all your training or your spot in a company in that little time off."
Since moving from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to New York City in 2008, Dance Theater of Harlem's Ingrid Silva has used her family's recipes to energize her throughout the rehearsal day.
That means lots of white rice, black beans, chicken and steak.
While some consider this too heavy for dancing, for her, the concentrated nutrition amps up her strength and stamina. Her go-to? Rice and beans with steak. "With this lunch," she says, "I feel ready to work with energy for the rest of the day."
Elena d'Amario approaches every chance to perform as though a judge on a TV show were urging her to "dance for your life." Her movement explodes past the expanse of her skin, her face alive and passionate with every fearless battement, breathy swing and fluid undulation. So it was little surprise when the lively native of Pescara, Italy, landed a job with Parsons Dance through a popular Italian TV talent competition in 2010.
But it turns out that the secret behind her extraordinary power onstage is thoughtful, simple work on her body. During daily company class—a Parsons-style ballet warm-up—d'Amario starts barre by focusing closely on her back and core. In the center, she shifts her attention to energetic intention. "Each shape should be a statement of energy," she says. "Then, in jumps, which we do so much of, I work toward that lovely silent landing."
To handle all the jumps in Parsons' rep, d'Amario keeps her core strong and her IT bands loose. PC Lois Greenfield, Courtesy Parsons.
Whenever she has downtime throughout the rehearsal day, d'Amario performs crunches in various positions to keep her core ready to control her long limbs. She also uses a ball to roll out the tense spots of her hips or hamstrings, since healthy IT bands keep her knees safe for the deluge of jumping.
D'Amario finds this preventative and proactive approach keeps her body healthy. “Throughout the second season, I had pain in my knee, but I made a huge mistake and ignored it," she says. “I would roll out my IT band and leave it at that. But on the last day of work, I went to jump in class, and I felt something 'flip.' It was my meniscus."
She was fortunate to recover relatively quickly by working carefully with her physical therapist. “At first, she would just bend and straighten my knee, which was so painful," d'Amario remembers. “Two weeks later, we started flexing my foot and just lifting my leg 15 times." Soon, she added a Thera-Band for resistance, and, eventually, small ankle weights. Now, even though she's recovered, d'Amario continues to practice the same exercises every morning, making sure to fortify all the muscles around her knees. “It's elementary, but sometimes to gain muscle back, you have to just go slowly and carefully."
Broadway dancer Jonalyn Saxer is a dazzling juxtaposition of old and new. Onstage, her taps echo with the zing of traditional hoofing, while her long lines, playful hip-hop hits, comedic timing and stellar voice deliver what’s expected of a contemporary triple threat. A favorite of choreographers, her versatile skill set got her cast in her third Broadway show: Holiday Inn, the New Irving Berlin Musical, a feel-good tale about trading the big city for the country.
Saxer (center) in Holiday Inn’s showstopping tap-dance-meets-jump-rope number. PC Joan Marcus, Courtesy Polk & Co
Broadway shows: Currently in the ensemble of Holiday Inn. In the past, she was a swing in Honeymoon in Vegas and Bullets Over Broadway.
Hometown: Agoura Hills, CA
Training: Ballet, jazz and tap at California Dance Theatre; BFA in musical theater from Syracuse University
Broadway debut: Saxer was wrapping up college when she received a callback for Susan Stroman’s production of The Merry Widow at the Metropolitan Opera. She booked the gig, but when a swing position opened in Stroman’s new Bullets, the choreographer hired Saxer for that instead.
Defining her brand: Though Saxer is largely hired as a dancer, using the label with confidence was initially challenging. “Growing up,” she says, “I didn’t consider myself a full-out dancer, but more of a tapper. Syracuse gave me the confidence to be a triple threat, with ‘dancer’ coming first.”
Learning to swing: In Bullets, Saxer relied on her swing cohorts and a program called Stage Write that allows users to map out choreography clearly. Honeymoon, however, changed continuously during its initial performances. “For Honeymoon, I had four sets of notes,” says Saxer. “There’s nothing harder than swinging in an original cast!” Now, she’s taking a break from multitasking and is enjoying fleshing out her ensemble track.
What others are saying: “She’s very much a chameleon, adapting to the time period, setting and genre,” says Holiday Inn choreographer Denis Jones. “I appreciate a dancing actor: someone who’s able to go beyond the steps and actually experience a truthful moment through dance. That’s what Jonalyn delivers.”
On the horizon: Saxer plans to continue performing and working as a dance captain, a role she had in the regional show Moonshine: That Hee Haw Musical, also choreographed by Jones. Eventually, she’d like to add choreography to her plate. “That’s my ultimate dream. But for now, I believe you have to go where your jobs take you. You can’t plan it,” she says. “I audition for everything. Until something is for sure, you have to keep putting yourself out there.”