Cromwell with Kelly Del Rosario in Jenkins' Gate of Winds. Photo by Margo Moritz, Courtesy MJDC

How This Dancer Trains For Her Double Life As An Assistant Boat Captain

As side hustles go, Margaret Cromwell might win the prize for most unusual.

When she's not onstage with Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, the modern dancer moonlights as a first officer on dinner cruises on the San Francisco Bay. After company class and rehearsal from 12:30 to 5:30 pm, one to two days a week she'll work on a boat from 6 pm until 1 am, pulling ropes, lifting heavy objects, running up and down stairs, and assisting the captain.


All that exertion takes a toll, so when a lingering rotator-cuff injury acted up in 2015, she turned to fellow MJDC dancer Kelly Del Rosario, a certified personal trainer.

During their weekly sessions at Rise Combat Sports, where he is the strength and conditioning coach, Cromwell performs exercises that build agility, endurance and power: everything from flipping a tractor tire to hopping over hurdles to throwing a medicine ball.

Why Cross-Training Is Key

Cromwell prepping the boat. Photo by Claudia Bauer.

Adding more physical exertion to her life might seem like overdoing it, but Cromwell believes she dances better on days that she trains before taking class. "I come in exhausted from training, and then kind of reestablish the dance pathways," she says. "I feel a deeper connection with my body." Her increased upper-body strength has remedied her shoulder pain and also helped with partnering.

Fitness training has empowered Cromwell in many ways. "As a dancer, I was taught the mentality of protecting your body, from a defensive place," she says. "I've learned that my body loves to be pushed."

Her Go-To Power Moves

Cromwell flips tires to improve her power. Photo by Claudia Bauer

Tire flipping: Squatting next to a roughly 100-pound tractor tire, Cromwell puts both hands under the tire's edge. With an explosive burst, she powers through her legs and core to lift the tire to vertical and push it over. "Imagine jumping, but with your entire body," says Del Rosario. "It teaches dancers to use all their force."

Sledgehammer: Cromwell swings a 10- or 20-pound sledgehammer at the sidewall of the tractor tire. "It feels like you're finding a really good overcurve," she says, "because you're using that weightedness to drop into a circle and give yourself momentum." She softens her upper body to absorb the rebound. "That softness combined with strength is where efficient partnering exists," says Del Rosario.

Try This: Cromwell's Rope Ladder Drills

Jump up and down the ladder, aiming for speed. Photo by Claudia Bauer.

Flipping tires and swinging sledgehammers require training and a spotter, but any dancer can try Cromwell's rope-ladder drills. Great for improving petit allégro, ladder work develops coordination, speed and control in the feet and legs.

  1. Stand at one end of the ladder, keeping legs parallel.
  2. Hop with both feet into the first square.
  3. Hop so that each foot lands outside the next square.
  4. Jump so that the legs land together into the third square.
  5. Work your way down the ladder, then turn around.

Start with 30-second intervals and increase your speed as you work up to 60 seconds. It's not about jumping high, it's about staying at the same speed, says Del Rosario. "When you do it for speed, you're getting adductor and abductor work, and also teaching the body to stay grounded."

Boost the challenge by hopping from two feet to one, alternating feet or going backwards.

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Yes, It *Is* Possible to Build Body Confidence As a Dancer. Here Are 6 Tips

It's true. Everyone's looking at your body. In performance, it's your instrument—which can do amazing and sometimes superhuman things. In an audition, it's really the only information that hiring directors and choreographers have about you. Then there are the hours of class you spend scrutinizing yourself and what your body is capable of in the mirror.

This constant focus can make it challenging to develop body confidence, says Dr. Toby Diamond, consulting psychologist for the Pacific Northwest Ballet School. "It's never easy, especially when you consider that we also value facility, like excellent turnout and perfect feet, beyond beauty, and both can be out of your control."

So how can you become resilient enough to accept all the judgment that comes with a dance career?

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