Why Dancing Made Me A Marathon Runner
This Sunday, about 50,000 people will be lining up in Staten Island to run 26.2 miles for the New York City Marathon. I'll be one of them.
When I tell people from the dance world that I'm training for what will now be my eighth marathon, most can't comprehend why I would want to do something so boring. Many dancers can't see the point of repeating the same movement over and over for four or five–odd hours when you could spend that time dancing, moving your body in so many different, more fun and interesting ways.
I get it. As a teenager, I used my rehearsal schedule as an excuse to get out of gym class specifically so I wouldn't have to run laps around my school's baseball fields. But over the last few years, I've come to love this weird endurance running hobby. And I've realized that most of the reasons I do relate directly back to dancing.
For starters, there's the dedication and perseverance (some might call it obsession) that is an integral part of being a dancer. In the studio, I learned to love the daily commitment to pushing my limits, and trying the same things over and over until my body began to be able to do what my mind commanded. Running has become my outlet for that need to to challenge myself day after day.
As Joffrey Ballet star Fabrice Calmels once said in an interview with Runner's World about his own running habit, "the physicality of the race is similar to some parts of the ballet…. It becomes a decision, 'I'm just going to keep going through this struggle.' "
But I find there's a bigger connection than just sheer grit or applause. I think dancers and runners both are attracted to their passions because they want to achieve the seemingly impossible. They want to prove to themselves that with enough hard work, you can do something superhuman, whether that's balancing your entire body on your toes or running longer than 26 miles in one go.
For me, one of the greatest things about dancing is that feeling you get during a perfectly placed pirouette. You're turning and turning, and you hold on to eek out one extra rotation, using your turnout to slowly finish exactly where you want to with complete control. That feeling of total grace, of an ease that you can only master after hours, days, years of practice, is one of the most satisfying things I've ever found in life.
That feeling is what I search for every time I go out running. Just like in dance, I don't find it every time. Sometimes you're sore, or tired, or "off" your leg. Usually when I'm running I'm a panting mess, bobbing awkwardly up and down. But every once in awhile, I can find that ease and grace where my body feels like it's soaring forward, and my legs are churning below me effortlessly.
I don't know if I'll get that feeling during the marathon on Sunday. But I do know that the years I spent working to lift my développé higher and jump more sprightly will be what helps me push past the wall at mile 20 when my legs hate me and all I want is a pizza and a couch.
Jacques d'Amboise in Apollo, 1963. Photo by John Dominis via danceheritage.org
One person I often think of to get through the rough parts of a race is Jacques d'Amboise. In 1976, the New York City Ballet principal dancer ran the marathon the very first year that the course covered all five boroughs of New York City, according to The New Yorker. He trained for it without telling George Balanchine, mostly by running around the Central Park reservoir. After his very first long run of 20 miles (just two days before the marathon!), he told his friend who'd gotten him into running, "That run you suggested was just fantastic."
I know exactly how he must have felt.
New York City–based choreographer and director Jennifer Weber once worked on a project with a strict social media policy: " 'Hire no one with less than 10K, period'—and that was a few years ago," she says. "Ten thousand is a very small number now, especially on Instagram."
The commercial dance world is in a period of transition, where social media handles and follower counts are increasingly requested by casting directors, but rarely offered by dancers up front. "I can see it starting to show up on resumés, though, alongside a dancer's height and hair color," predicts Weber.
If you think becoming a trainee or apprentice is the only path to gaining experience in a dance company environment, think again.
The University of Arizona, located in the heart of Tucson, acclimates dancers to the pace and rigor of company life while offering all the academic opportunities of a globally-ranked university. If you're looking to get a head-start on your professional dance career—or to just have a college experience that balances company-level training and repertory with rigorous academics—the University of Arizona's undergraduate and graduate programs have myriad opportunites to offer:
Yes, we realize it's only August. But we can't help but to already be musing about all the incredible dance happenings of 2019.
We're getting ready for our annual Readers' Choice feature, and we want to hear from you about the shows you can't stop thinking about, the dance videos that blew your mind and the artists you discovered this year who everyone should know about.
What happens during a performance is the product of the painstaking process of realizing an artistic vision. Whether held beforehand, afterward, offsite or online, audience discussions tend not to be so preordained, easily thrown off track without a skilled moderator at the helm.
"I'm someone who dreaded talkbacks and Q&As," admits Bill Bragin, former director of public programming at Lincoln Center. "While I was in New York, a lot of the time it was just audience members trying to show off how smart they were."
These events present a pile of difficult questions: How much do you reveal about a piece before it's shown? How can a conversation designed to hit key points feel casual and spontaneous? How do you cater to the needs of diverse attendees, from novice dancegoers to lifelong fans to scholars and critics? And how do you avoid smothering dance with language, flattening all its complexity?