Even a 10-minute nap can give you a performance boost. Photo by Getty Images
On busy performance days, international guest artist Joy Womack always makes time for one activity after class and rehearsals: a nap. "I like to feel well-rested when I need to be in the spotlight at night, not dragging at the end of the day," she says. "It helps me recover and refocus."
With her earbuds tuned to a guided meditation app, she can squeeze in a nap wherever she needs to. "One time I even took a nap on the floor of the tour bus in Siberia," she says. "Dancers can sleep anywhere."
Joy Womack prioritizes napping before a show. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe magazine.
As research has revealed the benefits of short daytime naps, power-napping advice has proliferated, and more dancers are choosing to include a nap in their pre-performance routines. Approaching napping strategically will help you get the most out of an afternoon snooze.
Joel Prouty (far right) trains professional dancers such as James Whiteside, Katherine Williams, Lloyd Knight and Lauren Post. Photo courtesy Prouty
A good personal trainer can coach you through a challenging, safe workout. A great one understands the unique demands dance places on your body and helps you correct specific weaknesses to make you an even stronger performer. Enter Joel Prouty.
Dance classes will be a part of a movement towards "social prescribing." Photo by Leon Liu via Unsplash
It's become a colloquialism—or, we admit, a cliche—to say that dance can heal.
But with a new initiative launched by British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, doctors in the U.K. will soon be able to prescribe dance classes—along with art, music, sports, gardening and more—for patients suffering from conditions as various as dementia, lung problems and mental health issues.
If you always feel like you need to crack your back, it may mean it's time to start strength training. Photo by Getty Images
There are few things more satisfying than a good back crack. But rumors say it can have negative effects on your body—and your dancing.
In truth, research has shown that spinal manipulation done by a practitioner can provide short-term pain relief and better recruitment of your deep spinal muscles. Jessica Davis, a physical therapist in Pennsylvania and lead faculty at the Institute of Clinical Excellence Performing Arts Division, says that it's reasonable to believe that self-manipulation can offer the same benefits.
Sinking into positions when you're not aligned isn't doing you any favors. Photo by Getty Images
When it comes to flexibility, more isn't always better. Donna Flagg says that many of the dancers who show up at her Lastics Stretch Technique classes at studios like Broadway Dance Center and Steps on Broadway are already hypermobile.
"They're so loose," she says, "they just yank their legs as far as they can." That's not to say that hypermobile dancers shouldn't stretch—they just need to take extra care to keep their joints safe. Flagg recommends a few guidelines:
A performance psychologist can help dancers work through barriers to peak performance. Getty Images
A dancer once contacted me because he was devastated after walking in on his girlfriend with another man. While he was distressed about ending the relationship, he was most concerned about a major performance coming up. They had to dance a romantic pas de deux. When I met with them together, she was afraid he would drop her and he didn't want to look lovingly in her eyes. My role was to help them find ways to make magic onstage and keep their personal difficulties offstage. They ended up dancing to rave reviews.
You can still be learning even if you have to sit out. PC Getty Images
When you're unable to dance, it's easy to feel like you're falling behind and losing out on opportunities. But this can be a time to reset your body and come back even stronger, says Ilana Goldman, BFA program director at Florida State University's School of Dance. "Some of the greatest leaps I made in my technique happened because of injuries," she says. "Learning how to deal with them is part of being a professional dancer."
A break can be an investment in the longevity of your career. Photo by Sage Friedman/Unsplash
In dance, pushing through pain is often glorified. Dancers can be reluctant to take time off when sick or injured for fear of missing out on opportunities. It can feel even harder to justify when the pain isn't physical. Though it's becoming more commonly acknowledged that mental health is just as important as physical health, a dance career doesn't leave much time to address mental or emotional issues.
But dancers need to take care of their mental well-being to be able to perform at their best, says Catherine Drury, a licensed clinical social worker for The Dancers' Resource at The Actors Fund. So what can you do if you need a mental health day?
Treating dancers is a unique challenge. Photo by Getty Images
When Dance Magazine surveyed our readers last summer, 81 percent said the field wasn't doing enough to support mental health. We sat down with four mental health professionals, each with more than a decade of experience working with dancers, to find out their thoughts on how mental health is being addressed in the dance community today, and what makes it so challenging.
Dancers often reach out to each other first when they're in a crisis. Photo by Velizar Ivanov/Unsplash
When it comes to mental health, dancers are the ones on the frontlines trying to support each other. Many find themselves routinely confronted with concerns for their friends. Maybe it's the dancer down the barre who you know is cutting, or the partner who only speaks about himself with disparagement and disgust.
According to Dr. Sharon Chirban, a sports psychologist who works with dancers at Boston Ballet, it is normal for peers to seek each other out when dealing with mental health issues. Yet many are unsure of what to do when a friend approaches them. Keep these six actions in mind the next time you need to help a fellow dancer.
Heavy backpacks and hilly campuses can wear on a college dancer's body. Photo via Thinkstock
College can be hard on the body. Between late-night rehearsals, carrying backpacks around hilly campuses and long, sedentary study sessions, it's tough for dancers to give their bodies the care they need to prevent injury.
Here are the most common reasons college students get injured—and our top tips for prevention.
The right tools can keep your body in peak shape. Photo courtesy Hugger Mugger
Dancers will do just about anything to increase their odds of staying injury-free. And there are plenty of products out there claiming that they can help you do just that. But which actually work?
We asked for recommendations from four experts: Martt Lawrence, who teaches Pilates to dancers in San Francisco; Lisa-Marie Lewis, who teaches yoga at The Ailey Extension in New York City; physical therapist Alexis Sams, who treats dancers at her clinic in Phoenix; and stretch training coach Vicente Hernandez, who teaches at The School of Pennsylvania Ballet.
Steele relies on carbs for Broadway-worthy energy. Photo by Lee Gumbs, courtesy Steele
Ryan Steele has a simple rule for demanding days on Broadway:"I listen to my body," he says. "I have whatever I'm craving: If I need more protein, I go straight for that. If I'm tired, I know I need carbs."
This wasn't always Steele's approach. Growing up, shuttling between the studio and school meant relying on McDonald's and Burger King.
Whole-body cryotherapy rapidly drops the skin temperature to speed up recovery. Photo courtesy CryoUSA
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.
Re-enter dance slowly to keep yourself healthy. Photo via Thinkstock
After spending a year away from the studio to recover from anorexia at age 12, Jillian Verzwyvelt admits that she was extremely nervous to return to class. "I was terrified I would be far behind not only technically but socially," she says. Fortunately, she encountered strong support from both teachers and peers, who treated her the same as they always had, even though shewas only strong enough to take part of class.
Returning to the studio after recovering from an eating disorder is not unlike coming back from injury, except that the challenge is deeply stigmatized. For most dancers who suffer from eating disorders, the impulse to control their physical appearance and their passion for dance are closely linked.
Karina Gonzalez and baby Julia, photo via Instagram
Houston Ballet principal Karina González stunned audiences last fall with her emotionally charged Mary Vetsera in Kenneth MacMillan's Mayerling—while 16 weeks pregnant. "I had to be careful because the pas de deux are crazy," says González, who carefully planned her pregnancy so that she could dance in this ballet. "Thankfully, I had the best partner in Connor Walsh."
Merchant showing off her lines in the mountains. Photo courtesy Merchant
Like any dancer, Leah Merchant expects a lot from her body. "We're so trained to push, push, push," says the Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist. But one of her favorite hobbies—hiking—has shifted her mind-set.
On the trail, she's learned that harsh weather or tough terrain sometimes means you need to be patient with yourself. "It's trained me to not feel like I failed just because I need to rest a minute," she says. "Sometimes you have to let that be enough for now, and try again next time. It's more about continuing to make progress than it is about being perfect."
Learning to harness your hormones can help you use them to your advantage. Photo by David Beatz/Unsplash
For dancers, the ups and downs of a menstrual cycle can be inconvenient, to say the least. But learning how the monthly hormone fluctuations affect you can help you understand your mood, energy and appetite, and even your focus, coordination and confidence in the studio. It also makes your cycle that much easier to manage—and even embrace.
It doesn't have to be diagnosable by the DSM-5 to be dangerous to your health. Photo by Dominik Martin/Unsplash
When the cat food started smelling good, I knew I had a problem.
I'd always considered eating disorders to be extreme. Someone who never eats. Someone who weighs less than 100 pounds. Someone who gets hospitalized.
My behavior didn't fit the mental health definition of an eating disorder. I ignored it because I didn't know how to articulate it. It took me several years after the cat food smelled good to have the language to describe what was going on.