Should Dancers Lift Weights?
During his dancing days, Jared Kaplan used to look down on strength training. “I was a snobby dancer," he says. “I thought, Why would I need to lift weights?" Then Kaplan, 6' 2", was cast in a role originated by a shorter dancer, and realized he needed more power to move as quickly and explosively as someone smaller. He became a weight-room convert, and quickly saw a difference: Once he started a strength-training routine, his body felt less “strained" during demanding performances, and he grew aware of imbalances resulting from repetitive rehearsal of one-sided movements.
Many dancers are intimidated by weight training—or even think it is detrimental. According to Dr. Brent Brookbush, a trainer, physical therapist and president of the Brookbush Institute, they are missing out. “Just think of the relationship between strength and your performance," he says. “Jumping, lifting, holding positions. Resistance training can help with all of that." Whether you call it weight training, strength training or resistance training, exercises that increase your strength by lifting weights (or even just your own body weight) could take your dancing to the next level.
Myth: It will make me “bulky"
This myth is one of the most pervasive misconceptions about weight training. “Nobody gets bulky by accident. Putting on muscle takes a lot of work. A lot of work," says Brookbush. Supplemental weight lifting once or (ideally) twice a week is enough to make you stronger, but will not cause huge gains in muscle size.
Aesthetics are not the main reason experts recommend dancers strength train. Kaplan, who is now a personal trainer and Pilates instructor, suggests using workouts to reconnect with how your body feels, not just how it looks. “Gym time doesn't have to be about an externally motivated form," he says.
Myth: It will make my body stiff
“Research shows that resistance training has no negative effect on flexibility, and may even improve it," says Brookbush. The key, according to Kaplan, is working within a full but safe range of motion. A 2011 study found similar flexibility gains between people who followed a full-range-of-motion resistance-training program and those that followed a static stretching routine.
However, any form of exercise can exacerbate musculoskeletal problems, warns Brookbush. For example, dancers tend to be tight in their thoracic spines, calves and deep external rotators of the hip. If any of those areas feel stiff after your workout, seek guidance from a physical therapist about how to correct that dysfunction.
Myth: It will work the “wrong" muscles
“Dancers tend to go to Pilates and yoga because they are similar to dance," says Kaplan. While there are benefits to these forms, that similarity has a downside. Any kind of repetitive movement can lead to imbalances in the body that can cause overuse injuries. Use strength training to work muscles in a different way than you do when dancing. “The weight-training room should be for corrective exercise. You need to balance your body out," says Brookbush. “Weight train for strength and endurance. Dance will train you for dance."
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
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:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"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.