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MMA Champion on Ballet Class: "It Was Harder Than Any Workout I've Ever Done"

We love hearing about professional athletes "seeing the light," a.k.a. realizing the benefits of ballet training. (We also enjoy watching them suffer while trying to learn from Miami City Ballet's Nathalia Arja.)

The latest athlete to admit to being a bunhead comes from the brutal world of mixed martial arts. According to a recent story reported by the World Series of Fighting, David Branch, the middleweight and light heavyweight champion of the world, swears by ballet classes.

“The first day I went, it was harder than any workout I've ever done," Branch told wsof.com. "I feel it in my balance. I feel it in my overall physical strength. I feel it everywhere. Just in my posture and I feel like when I get into scrambles in a fight or anything fighting wise that involves entanglement and striking, I feel so strong. It's natural strength, you know?"

His teacher is Dmitri Roudnev, a former Bolshoi Ballet soloist who gives private lessons in New York, and is mostly known for helping dancers overcome injury through his holistic approach to technique.

On Instagram, Branch writes that he was inspired to start taking dance classes after watching Alvin Ailey dancers. Though it couldn't have hurt that Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Robinson also reportedly trained in dance to improve their fighting.

Branch may still have a ways to go before he can hold his own alongside pro dancers. But if Sugar Ray Robinson's example is anything to go by, it's not out of the question. The charismatic boxing legend was a devoted tap dancer—and even left boxing behind for three years to try his luck in showbiz. In 1958, he teamed up with none other than Gene Kelly for a number called "Dancing: A Man's Game" on the TV series "Omnibus."

The Creative Process
Rehearsal of Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets. Photo by Paula Court, Courtesy Performa.

Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.

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Sponsored by NYCDA
Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

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:

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Health & Body
Getty Images

Nadine Kaslow, a psychologist who works with dancers at Atlanta Ballet, offers tips for creating a more body-positive studio experience:

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Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"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.

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