Why Dancers Are Freezing Their Way to A Faster Recovery
Dancers are known for going to great lengths to prepare their bodies to perform at their best. But the latest recovery trend that dancers—and star athletes from Kobe Bryant to Floyd Mayweather Jr.—are using is perhaps the most extreme treatment yet.
Whole-body cryotherapy (as opposed to other forms of cryotherapy, such as an ice bath or an ice pack) is said to significantly speed up recovery time by immersing the body in a chamber of very cold air. Once only available in fancy professional sports locker rooms, there are now over 700 whole-body cryotherapy locations across the country.
What Is It?
Whole-body cryotherapy rapidly drops the body's skin temperature so that the brain thinks it's going into hypothermia. The body responds by sending blood to the muscle tissue and then constricting the vessels to send the blood back to the heart (a process called vasodilation and vasoconstriction), triggering in three minutes what the body normally does in 48-72 hours. This increased blood flow is said to help the body to flush out toxins more quickly and recover from soreness and injuries faster. (The treatment is done at wellness centers and spas, not in medical facilities.)
When To Do It
Though whole-body cryotherapy is most often used as a recovery tool, Mark Murdock, managing partner at CryoUSA, says it can also give dancers a shot of pre-performance adrenaline. And unlike other forms of cryotherapy, in the hours after doing whole-body cryo, dancers may find that they are more warmed-up and flexible than usual. (Murdock says that this is one of the biggest misconceptions about whole-body cryo: Many people think that it's like a short ice bath, but in fact the physiological response is completely different.)
But be wary of cryo wearing you out—it supposedly burns 500-800 calories, after all. New York City Ballet corps de ballet dancer Ashley Hod says the treatment made her feel fatigued, and helped her have the best sleep of her life.
Murdock says dancers could ideally do the treatment every other day—or more if they're recovering from an injury—though it comes with a fairly hefty price tag, with sessions averaging around $90 each. Don't try cryo for the first time right before an important performance or rehearsal in case it affects you adversely.
What It Actually Feels Like
Hod says it feels like a refreshing breeze. Photo courtesy Hod
According to Hod, cryo feels like when you open the freezer and feel a cold, refreshing breeze. (The air in the chamber can get as low as negative 250 degrees!) The day after, she finds that much of her soreness is gone. She plans to do it once a week as she prepares to come back from an ankle injury.
What You Should Know Your First Time
If you want to try it, Murdock says to make sure you get a waiver, have your blood pressure taken and are asked about any contraindications (meaning medical conditions that may make it unsafe for you to do cryo). You should also receive footwear and gloves to wear in the chamber. Make sure you're completely dry and clean, without any chemicals on your skin.
Don't overdo it your first time: Stick with a relatively higher temperature and only stay in for around two minutes.
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.
"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.