Some nights, Jennine Willett convinces two strangers to get into bed with her. Then she reads them a bedtime story for almost exactly six minutes. It's just one of many intimate but carefully calibrated moments Willett engineers between herself and her audience in Third Rail Projects' production of Then She Fell, an immersive theatrical dance production based on the writings of Lewis Carroll.
The Dance Theatre of Harlem dancer uses her weekend to work on problem areas.
Salvatto rehearsing in the DTH studios. Photo by Quinn Wharton, Courtesy Pointe.
Gabrielle Salvatto doesn’t let a moment go to waste. She sees every day as an opportunity to get stronger, and even keeps a Pilates reformer in her New York City apartment. Salvatto landed her position with Dance Theatre of Harlem in 2011 after training at LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts, the School of American Ballet, Juilliard and DTH’s professional training program. Now she alternates grueling tours with intensive rehearsal periods in New York, dancing everything from Balanchine to Ailey. She’s also joined the cast of the upcoming TV series “Flesh and Bone.” Never one to slow down, the 25-year-old Bronx native relishes her breakneck schedule.
Working Around Problem Spots
Although she routinely tops six-hour workdays, six days a week, Salvatto doesn’t rest on the seventh—she cross-trains. “Once you stop, you realize how sore you are,” says Salvatto. “So I always exercise once a day.” To prevent overexertion, Salvatto keeps her off-day routine simple. Instead of going full-out with cardio, Salvatto does reps on her in-home Pilates reformer, using her own body and the resistance of the machine instead of weights to create a slow burn. She also stretches and strengthens problem areas with gentle floor exercises.
A day off can be a great time to work the muscles surrounding an injury, she says, particularly her right psoas, which has troubled Salvatto since her teens. “Even when I’m not in pain, I gently work my hamstrings and gluteus medius,” she says. Practicing a simple preventative routine can ward off future problems. “Having strong hamstrings helps compensate for my psoas when it does flare up,” Salvatto explains. That way, she can dance hard the rest of the week—which is just the way she likes it.
Romo in Andrea Miller's Mama Call. Photo by Ayala Gazit, Courtesy Gallim.
Though she trained classically at the Royal Ballet School in London, Francesca Romo always loved “getting dirty" in her weekly Graham class. Now, she must be both lithe and strong to capture the quirky athleticism of choreographer Andrea Miller's work for Gallim Dance. When she first started dancing for the Brooklyn-based troupe in 2007, “My energy output was immense," says Romo. “Sometimes I'd go home and I wouldn't be able to hold my head up, my neck would hurt so much." But over the years, she's learned how to keep pace. The key? Gyrotonic® and Gyrokinesis®.
Why Gyro Helps
Gallim's dance style requires Romo to be both “soft and available, and have flexibility and strength at the same time," she says. A certified Gyrotonic® instructor for the last two years, Romo uses Gyro to get her body warm, integrated and grounded before rehearsals. Even just 20 minutes of Gyrokinesis® (the version practiced on a mat and chair, without special equipment) at the beginning of a hectic day is an ideal warm-up strategy when she's facing six to eight hours of very physical work.
Because much of Gallim's work is asymmetrical, Gyrokinesis® helps Romo combat long-term overuse problems by working both sides of the body the same way. “In fact, after Gyro I can better understand what it means to move asymmetrically," she says. The internal focus also gives Romo that extra dose of calm to attack the day's choreography anew, returning equilibrium “not just to the body, but to the mind."
Her Go-To Gyro Warm-Up
Romo recommends this five-minute wake-up-and-warm-up exercise. “It takes you through the whole body," she says. “It grounds you, aligns the spine, awakens your energy and gets the blood moving."
1) Sitting on a chair with legs slightly apart, get comfortable and close your eyes to focus internally.
2) Feel the uprightness of the spine: Imagine lengthening the sits bones away from the crown of the head, which reaches toward the ceiling.
3) Start moving the spine in a subtle figure-8 pattern at the sits bones.
4) After two sets of figure-8s at the sits bones, move the focus to the level of the “seed center" (located between your belly button and pubic bone).
5) Keep moving the figure-8 movement up through the solar plexus, the sternum, the throat and the eyeballs, until you're moving your entire upper body. Imagine the movement extending slightly above the top of the head.
6) Pause, then reverse the direction of your figure-8. Start from the top of the head, and work back down until you reach the sits bones again.
7) After you've completed both directions, open the eyes slowly and blink a couple of times, feeling the surge of blood in the body.
Romo's Rehearsal Fuel: Cheez-Its
“I eat absolutely anything," says Romo. For lunch at the studio, she often brings something involving salami or cheese, her favorite. She also keeps Cheez-Its, a company staple, in her backpack to munch on throughout the day. “I've developed an obsession."