Cross-Training Tips from Joel Prouty, Trainer to the (Ballet) Stars
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.
Before his passion for fitness took over, he was a member of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Houston Ballet and Boston Ballet, toured with Twyla Tharp and performed in Broadway's Come Fly Away. When he retired from the stage in 2010, he dove into exercise physiology courses at New York University, captivated by the idea of dancers as athletes. "My main focus and obsession was how to train like an athlete—strong, powerful, quick and resilient—while still maintaining the long, lean aesthetic required to be a dancer, and perhaps more specifically a classical ballet dancer."
Today, he provides one-on-one training to students and pros alike, though his client list reads like a Who's Who's in Dance in New York City. Sara Mearns, James Whiteside and Lloyd Knight are just a few of the performers who seek out Prouty's expertise at a gym in Manhattan. Not in NYC? No worries. We picked his brain for the best workout tips for dancers.
"It Either Is or It Isn't"
Prouty, seen here training dancer Alesia Astashonok, has plans to open his own Manhattan gym this summer. Photo courtesy Prouty.
If you want to make your cross-training worthwhile, using a "50-percent approach" won't cut it, says Prouty. "You're either working hard or you're not," he explains. "You leg is either straight or it's not. You're either on relevé or you're not. You're either jumping high or you're not. Even if you are coming back from an injury, you can work 100 percent on a different focus."
It's Not About Adding More
You may need to rethink your approach to working out. "Cross-training for dancers is not about adding more hours to an already grueling work or training schedule. Nor is it necessarily about sweating it out in a bootcamp environment or going through a routine meant to beat you up or burn extra calories," says Prouty. "It's about strengthening weaknesses from a different point of view than what you're doing in the studio."
Examine Your Rep
Prouty trains dancers from a variety of companies, and he's found that each company tends to have unique dancer weaknesses. "It's based on their rep and the way that they rehearse and their schedules," he says. Consider how you've been trained and the styles you're dancing when devising a workout plan.
Turnout Is Great But...
ABT's Lauren Post works on an exercise in parallel. Photo by Jon Ragel, Courtesy Prouty
A common issue Prouty sees is dancers walking like a "proud duck." If this sounds like you (raise your hands, bunheads!), cross-training in parallel could help reiterate the natural alignment of your body and correct muscular imbalances.
Don't Be Afraid of the Gym
When it comes to exercising, the biggest issue dancers have to overcome is less physical than it is mental, says Prouty. "We've been taught from Day 1 that we shouldn't go in a gym, that we should stay away from weights. Especially the women with this strong aesthetic requirement of being thin." But in recent years, he's seen that attitude slowly change as pros like Misty Copeland and Sara Mearns have emphasized that dancers are athletes. "Now that we have that reputation, we've got to prove it," he says.
You Might Cry—and That's Okay
"It's hard all day, every day to stare at yourself in the mirror and go through a long list of things that are wrong," says Prouty. Instead, he encourages dancers to reconsider their reflection. "Their biggest cheerleader, their biggest support group is that reflection in the mirror."
And he doesn't say that just as a platitude. "I have clients that break down and sob in sessions. Almost all my clients, in fact, have done that—men and women—and it's a constant battle for perfection. We're finding weaknesses, and it's important to appreciate those as a challenge and not as a failure."
As you're prepping your Thanksgiving meal, why not throw in a dash of dance?
This year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is stuffed (pun intended) with performances from four stellar Broadway shows, the Radio City Rockettes and students from three New York City dance institutions.
Tune in to NBC November 28 from 9 am to noon (in all time zones), or catch the rebroadcast at 2 pm (also in all time zones). Here's what's in store:
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:
Last week, Variety reported that Sergei Polunin would reunite with the team behind Dancer for another documentary. "Where 'Dancer' looked at his whole life, family and influences," director Steven Cantor said, " 'Satori' will focus more squarely on his creative process as performer and, for the first time ever, choreographer." The title references a poorly received evening of work by the same name first presented by Polunin in 2017. (It recently toured to Moscow and St. Petersburg.)
I cannot be the only person wondering why we should care.
"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.