Even a 10-minute nap can give you a performance boost. Photo by Getty Images

Could a Pre-Show Nap Help You Perform Better?

On busy performance days, international guest artist Joy Womack always makes time for one activity after class and rehearsals: a nap. "I like to feel well-rested when I need to be in the spotlight at night, not dragging at the end of the day," she says. "It helps me recover and refocus."

With her earbuds tuned to a guided medi­tation app, she can squeeze in a nap wherever she needs to. "One time I even took a nap on the floor of the tour bus in Siberia," she says. "Dancers can sleep anywhere."

Joy Womack prioritizes napping before a show. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe magazine.

As research has revealed the benefits of short daytime naps, power-napping advice has proliferated, and more dancers are choos­ing to include a nap in their pre-performance routines. Approaching napping strategically will help you get the most out of an afternoon snooze.


The Benefits

"When you are sleep-deprived, your attention, concentration and acuity decrease," says Alcibiades Rodriguez, MD, medical director of the Comprehensive Epilepsy Center–Sleep Center at NYU Langone Health. "Not only mentally, but motor-wise, too."

Depending on how sleep-deprived you are, even a 10-minute nap can give a measurable performance boost, from heightened alertness, mood, cognitive performance and memory to increased grip strength and sprint time. Making a nap a regular part of your routine may boost these benefits further. "There is research to say that regular nappers actually benefit more from napping," says Lauren McIntyre, ATC, a clinical specialist at NYU Langone's Harkness Center for Dance Injuries. "Our bodies like schedules."

Both Rodriguez and McIntyre emphasize that quality nighttime sleep cannot be replaced by daytime naps. But getting all your sleep at night can be tough, acknowledges McIntyre: "If you're working another job on top of performing, or if you're performing late into the night, that nap could potentially be really beneficial."

How Long Should It Be? 

Some experts recommend keeping naps under 30 minutes to avoid sleep inertia, the groggy feeling that can follow a longer nap. But there are benefits to sleeping longer, too. "One study shows that a 45-minute nap, taken six hours after waking, can help boost alertness for another eight hours," says McIntyre. In other words, a performer who wakes up at 9 am and takes a 45-minute nap at 3 pm could stay boosted until midnight.

A 2013 study at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research supported the use of caffeinated gum—which can be found in athletic stores—to quickly dispel the grogginess of sleep inertia.

Should You Try "The Coffee Nap"?

When it comes to shorter power naps, one research-backed and expert-approved trend is the "coffee nap." Because it takes about 20 minutes for caffeine from a beverage to be absorbed into the body, drinking a caffeinated beverage just before a 20-minute nap gives a double boost upon waking.

A pre-nap coffee will wake your body in about 20 minutes. Photo by Tyler Nix/Unsplash

Ways to Fall Asleep Faster

These four strategies can help you nod off more quickly:

  • Follow your biological rhythm by napping between 2 and 5 pm, when your body naturally gets sleepier.
  • Cool your body first by taking a lukewarm shower, or napping in a cool room.
  • Turn out the lights or use an eye shade.
  • Use music, white noise or a guided meditation to get ready to sleep. "I highly recommend meditation before a nap to re-center," says Womack. "The Calm app is my go-to!"

And If You Can't Fall Asleep?

If sleep won't come, don't force it. "Exerting effort to try to sleep rarely ends in a good sleep situation," says McIntyre. Try using the time as a quiet moment to relax, reflect or meditate. "There's probably some benefit in closing our eyes for all of us."

Find Out What's Right For You

Trial and error can help determine your ideal nap length and strategy—and whether a pre-performance nap is right for your body. "Try it out before show day," Womack suggests, "and see if it's something that works for you."

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021