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."