Chiara Valle is just one of many dancers heading back to the studio this fall as companies ramp up for the season. But her journey back has been far more difficult than most.
Valle has been a trainee at The Washington Ballet since 2016, starting at the same time as artistic director Julie Kent. But only a few months into her first season there, she started experiencing excruciating pain high up in her femur. "It felt like someone was stabbing me 24/7," she says. Sometimes at night, the pain got so bad that her roommates would bring her dinner to the bathtub.
What does cycling have to do with dancing?
For Purelements: An Evolution in Dance co-founder Kevin Joseph, it's all about freedom: "That freedom of moving through space on a bike is the same freedom I feel when I'm dancing," he says. And that sense of freedom—whether it's in the studio or in the streets—is something that Purelements is determined to give to its East Brooklyn community.
We all know that personal trainers can help dancers condition their bodies more effectively. But trainers who are also dancers themselves? Now that's a uniquely valuable perspective.
Take Kathyrn Boren, an American Ballet Theatre corps member who got certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine last summer, following in the footsteps of her colleagues Thomas Forster and Roman Zhurbin. Her weekly Conditioning for Dancers classes in New York City are filled with everyone from athletic men to older women (including one ABT donor who's attended every single time). But those who might get the most out of her workouts are the dance students who attend. They walk away with exercises and advice tailored for their particular challenges—coming from someone who knows those challenges intimately.
Boren recently spoke with Dance Magazine to share her best cross-training advice for dancers looking to improve their fitness.
Sometimes after a long day of dancing, it can feel like your entire body could use an ice bath. Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is muscle pain that sets in 24 to 72 hours after strenuous exercise, due to the breakdown of muscle fibers. Usually, it happens after trying something brand-new or a movement you haven't done in a while.
But if you're getting DOMS from steps you do often, that's a sign that you should look at how you're fueling your body, says Val Schonberg, a licensed dietitian in Georgia who frequently works with dancers. It might mean your diet is due for a rethink.
Staying hydrated and eating the right mix of nutrients can help you reduce soreness. "Inflammation is a natural way for the body to heal, so we don't want to stop the process," says Schonberg. "But you can eat to deal with inflammatory factors, and to preserve the integrity of your muscles."
By the Sunday evening of a long convention weekend, you can expect to be thoroughly exhausted and a little sore. But you shouldn't leave the hotel ballroom actually hurt. Although conventions can be filled with magical opportunities, the potential for injury is higher than usual.
Keep your body safe: Watch out for these four common hazards.
Perfect turnout may be the Holy Grail of ballet technique: It's that forever elusive treasure we all seek but never seem to find.
No matter how much rotation you currently have, you could likely find more—if you use the right strategies. We dug into the Dance Magazine archives to round up our best tips from master teachers and dance medicine experts to help you reach your maximum turnout potential.
I am a dancer in a successful West End show and a year ago I nearly quit.
My anxiety came suddenly and without warning. We were in the middle of a stressful cast change and tensions were high as everyone wanted to prove their value to the production.
I felt as though someone flipped a switch in my brain. I started to feel pressure about perfecting my performances and suddenly felt unworthy of being there. My mind became consumed with negative images about what I was doing wrong, or what could go wrong.
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Along with the rewards of a dance career come numerous sources of stress, from the demands of a busy schedule to challenges in the studio.
"We want to be perfect," says Shuaib Elhassan, a dancer with Alonzo King LINES Ballet, "and we want to reach for the best we can do."
While occasional acute stress—like pre-audition anxiety—is a normal part of life, long-term problems like financial strain, an injury or an abusive work environment can contribute to chronic stress. "When demands exceed coping resources, stress results," says Dr. Jennifer Carter, a sports psychologist at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
But pre-show routines are also highly individual, and involve artists preparing their heads for performance just as much as their bodies. That could mean anything from listening to a favorite song, bonding with cast members or meditating.
Feeling like your pre-show ritual could use a bit of inspiration? These 12 pros shared their tried-and-true routines with us:
I'd been a professional dancer for five years when I realized the pain I'd been feeling in my hip and down my sciatic nerve was not going away. I had been treating it for two years as we dancers do—with regular visits to my masseuse, physical therapy, baths, ice and lots of Aleve—but I never stopped dancing. It finally dawned on me that if I kept going at the speed I was going (which was, well, speedy), the pain would only get more severe and unrelenting, and I might never dance again.
I told myself I'd take two months off, and all would be better.
That first morning when I woke up at 10 am, I had no idea what to do with myself. My life until that moment had been dictated by class and rehearsal, every hour accounted for. How should I fill the huge swath of time ahead of me?
Happy first day of summer! It's the season of sweaty rehearsals, outdoor performances, and for some of us, summer layoff.
How to stay in shape sans daily company class without breaking the bank? If you're in New York City, you're in luck: You can cross-train for free this summer with a variety of options throughout the boroughs. Bonus: They're all outside!
Not in NYC? Most major cities have similar offerings—check out the programming for your local parks and cultural centers to find out.
Growing up with a father who's a swim coach at Ohio Wesleyan University, Emma Hawes was in the water almost from the time she was born. From ages 6 to 12, she swam competitively.
"I would have two swim practices a day during season, then go to ballet class," says Hawes, who's now a first soloist at both National Ballet of Canada and English National Ballet. "It was pretty normal for me since my parents are both athletes." (Her father is also an avid cyclist and triathlete; her mom was a competitive runner.)
While swimming gave Hawes stamina, dance helped her body awareness in the pool. "I was able to make fine-tuning adjustments—like rotating the angle of my forearm—because of ballet," she says.
In dance, we sometimes hear of a late bloomer who defies the odds. Or of dancers who overcome incredible injuries to return to the stage.
But both? That's not a story we hear often. That is, however, Darla Davies' story, one that she tells in her recent book Who Said I'd Never Dance Again? A Journey from Hip Replacement Surgery to Athletic Victory. Davies, who is now 61, started her ballroom dance training just twenty years ago, and has won two U.S. championships—one of which she earned after a hip replacement.
In my last years dancing, the tears came constantly. And I felt a deep shame and embarrassment every time it happened in the studio, which only exacerbated the situation. I felt my tears were giving me away—a manifestation of my weakness on display for all to see.
The truth is that science has proven that there are benefits to a good cry and that your tears serve a purpose in your overall wellbeing.
If dancing across a stage is the greatest way to break a sweat, pounding a treadmill under fluorescent lighting has to be among the worst.
"A lot of people hate the gym," says Lauren McIntyre, an athletic trainer and clinical specialist at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Health. Luckily, you don't need a gym membership to cross-train effectively.
In 2010, Kate Wallich was a 22-year-old choreographer in Seattle, struggling to make dances and, like most young artists, also pay the rent. She had started her own dance company, Studio Kate Wallich, but hated how insular the contemporary dance world felt (dancers were the only ones who came to class or performances).
So she made a bold decision: she opened up her Sunday morning company class to, well, anyone—and soon Dance Church was born.
Summer intensives can be incredible experiences, but they also bring challenges. As a former dancer and current nutritionist for dancers, I recall a common scenario: Mornings of classes and afternoons of rehearsals increase the demands on your energy, but with little time for breaks, food becomes less of a priority than new combinations and new repertory.
Busy schedules make it easy for students to unintentionally under-eat. If a dancer loses weight in the process and teachers or directors positively affirm this weight loss, it can increase the risk of developing disordered eating habits. These restrictive dieting behaviors, as a dancer attempts to follow strict rules regarding food choices or daily calorie intake, can stem from a drive to be "healthy" or from a desire to control one's weight. Yet obsessive tendencies can turn harmless intentions into unhealthy habits.
Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.