What Benefits Can Meditation Actually Offer Dancers?
When Alonzo King LINES Ballet dancer James Gowan started meditating in early 2017, he was seeking a more mindful approach to his dancing. "I was trying to be more aware of what I was doing inside the studio, so that it could help me be more positive with myself and my work," he says. He found it so helpful that he now does breathing exercises and visualizations for 45 minutes a few mornings a week. On rehearsal breaks, he'll take five minutes to do a body scan or calm his mind.
But he finds the benefits go far beyond the studio. "Meditation has provided me a new perspective," he says. "It really does bring a heightened awareness of what's going on around you."
Science shows that meditation's myriad benefits range from physical health to emotional well-being. Meditation's popularity has risen to trend level, and savvy entrepreneurs have caught on, capitalizing on the wave of interest with subscription-based meditation apps, exotic retreats and $29-a-pop classes. But what are the benefits for dancers specifically?
It has healing effects.
The technique works by calming the brain's limbic system, explains physical therapist Brent Anderson, PhD. "The limbic system is where we get fight, flight, freeze," he says. Even brief meditation triggers the relaxation response, which boosts well-being, cognition, immunity and more. A 2013 study by the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center showed that the relaxation response actually changes how genes involved in immunity, metabolism and insulin are expressed.
Ballet West demi-soloist Chelsea Keefer credits her seven-year meditation practice with helping her avoid injury. Since she has better awareness of her body, she's able to take care of anything that hurts right away. "It doesn't progress to the point where I have to see the physical therapist all the time," she says.
"A lot of the meditations I listen to have this ball of light that travels through your body," adds Gowan. "I'll visualize it in places where I'm feeling a little hurt or achy, and let it break up the tension I'm holding."
It can help you learn rep.
In your mind, you can do mental rehearsals, practicing things in slow motion and fast motion, says Anderson. "There are studies that show this can significantly improve performance."
James Gowan. Photo taken by Michael O'Neal at the De Young Museum
It can calm pre-performance jitters.
Being in the present moment has helped calm Keefer's stage fright. She uses compassion meditation backstage. "Watch the people who are performing before you, and send them love and compassion for what they're doing out there, because you're about to do the same thing," she says.
Jim Lafferty for Pointe
It can change your relationship to dance.
Keefer feels meditation has transformed her dancing. "It gives me a balance when I go into rehearsals or classes. I'm not constantly critiquing myself," she says. "When you have meditation as your stability, you're able to go into roles more objectively. It allows you to know your worth."
Chelsea Keefer. Photo by Beau Pearson, courtesy Ballet West.
Capezio, Bloch, So Dança, Gaynor Minden.
At the top of the line, dancers have plenty of quality footwear options to choose from, and in most metropolitan areas, stores to go try them on. But for many of North America's most economically disadvantaged dance students, there has often been just one option for purchasing footwear in person: Payless ShoeSource.
When Sonya Tayeh saw Moulin Rouge! for the first time, on opening night at a movie theater in Detroit, she remembers not only being inspired by the story, but noticing the way it was filmed.
"What struck me the most was the pace, and the erratic feeling it had," she says. The camera's quick shifts and angles reminded her of bodies in motion. "I was like, 'What is this movie? This is so insane and marvelous and excessive,' " she says. "And excessive is I think how I approach dance. I enjoy the challenge of swiftness, and the pushing of the body. I love piling on a lot of vocabulary and seeing what comes out."
Back when Robbie Fairchild graced the cover of the May 2018 issue of Dance Magazine, he mentioned an idea for a short dance film he was toying around with. That idea has now come to fruition: In This Life, starring Fairchild and directed by dance filmmaker Bat-Sheva Guez, is being screened at this year's Dance on Camera Festival.
While the film itself covers heavy material—specifically, how we deal with grief and loss—the making of it was anything but: "It was really weird to have so much fun filming a piece about grief!" Fairchild laughs. We caught up with him, Guez and Christopher Wheeldon (one of In This Life's five choreographers) to find out what went into creating the 11-minute short film.
When Hollywood needs to build a fantasy world populated with extraordinary creatures, they call Terry Notary.
The former gymnast and circus performer got his start in film in 2000 when Ron Howard asked him to teach the actors how to move like Whos for How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Notary has since served as a movement choreographer, stunt coordinator and performer via motion capture technology for everything from the Planet of the Apes series to The Hobbit trilogy, Avatar, Avengers: Endgame and this summer's The Lion King.
Since opening the Industry Dance Academy with his wife, Rhonda, and partners Maia and Richard Suckle, Notary also offers movement workshops for actors in Los Angeles.