Technique My Way: Belinda McGuire
In rehearsal for a new piece by Sharon Moore, freelance artist and Limón Dance Company member Belinda McGuire twists, jolts, and angles into strange shapes.
When she attacks a turn, energy shoots from her sinewy limbs in all directions, but in moments of stillness, she controls her body so completely that not even a pinky moves.
While this dynamism is a style all her own, her technique is a solid blend of modern and ballet, which she studied at the Canadian Children’s Dance Theatre and later at Juilliard, where she earned her BFA in 2006. The Toronto native also choreographs and produces her own solo projects, including the upcoming “HEIST” (which features Moore’s work and two other pieces). DM talked with McGuire about how she uses her ballet and modern background, along with somatic investigation, to keep her body healthy and pliable.
The Teacher Within
McGuire, who danced for Doug Varone and Gallim Dance before joining the Limón company in 2009, takes either a ballet or modern class almost every morning. Her favorite teachers in New York include Zvi Gotheiner and the Corvino sisters (Andra and Ernesta) for ballet and Risa Steinberg for Limón technique.
While she looks for classes that “inform the way I move,” McGuire adds that she has “the gift of the internal teacher. I can make a lot of classes work for me based on how my past teachers helped me learn to correct myself.” Often, that internal teacher “points out blind spots and the things I don’t naturally want to look at,” she says. “Becoming aware of those things helps me develop a strategy for my day of dancing. I can find out, ‘Today, my knee doesn’t want to track correctly, so I need to be aware of landing on that side.’ ”
Dawn to Dusk
Before taking class, McGuire starts even earlier with either floor barre, a yoga class, or the elliptical at the gym. “I used to swim for cardio,” she says, “but you don’t get the connection of your legs to the core that you do from running. The elliptical does the same thing—it creates exhilaration as if you’re in the thick of choreography—without impact on your joints.” If she chooses to do floor barre, McGuire devises her own routine, using ideas learned from Irene Dowd at Juilliard, as well as an approach called Conditioning-with-Imagery, developed by Limón teacher Donna Krasnow. When pressed for time, she tries to briefly target her ankles and feet, pelvis, core, and shoulder girdle. “If I can hit those places at least once before I start my day, I’m set,” she says.
As she winds down after rehearsal, McGuire likes to roll out her IT bands and stretch her calves, quads, and hip flexors. “As other parts of my body get tired, these areas take on more work, so they need attention at the end of the day.”
On performance days, McGuire tailors her morning to that evening’s repertoire. Occasionally company members will lead a spontaneous warm-up class, which she particularly enjoys. “It helps us band together and reinforce our group energy,” she says.
To prepare herself mentally for a performance, McGuire sometimes looks outside of dance for inspiration. “In a recent run, we were performing a Jirí Kylián piece I hadn’t done in a while. I was nervous,” she says. “Two weeks prior, I stumbled upon a piece of music that made me get excited about the Kylián piece. I could imagine myself dancing it with joy when I heard the song. So I listened to that music before performing to get my head in the game.”
On days off, McGuire relaxes. “I allow myself to focus on something else completely, like sewing or cooking,” she says. She also might go to a tango milonga, a side passion that works a different part of her dance persona.
As for aches and pains, McGuire sees them as “a source of discovery. Something always has to go first, and as dancers we all develop issues. By looking at a small issue, you can shed light on something bigger and avoid other injuries.”
For a recent ankle impingement, McGuire is doing physical therapy to re-pattern her use of the joint. “I’m working on pointing and flexing with a ‘gummy’ Achilles tendon,” she says. “If you can point the foot without activating the muscle that becomes the Achilles, you work the deeper layers of the calf.” She is always searching for clues to help her better understand her body: “When I’m doing typical Thera-Band work, my foot wavers. That explains why landing from jumps sometimes inflames my tendons: Clearly my ankle isn’t strong enough!”
McGuire’s awareness of her body extends into everything she does. “Sleeping, breathing, walking, drinking water—if there’s an issue in the way we do any of those things, it affects our whole body,” she says. “A Feldenkrais instructor noticed that my hips were locked, not swinging side to side in the natural way when I walked. Working on that helped my hips both in and out of the studio. Breathing is huge, too! Irene Dowd talks about how we don’t just breathe in our front, we breathe through our whole rib cage. The mechanics of each of these activities really affect your body as a whole, and then, your dancing.”
Lauren Kay, a Dance Spirit contributing editor, is a dancer and writer in NYC.
All About Arches
To work on her formerly flat feet, McGuire likes this exercise:
• Lie on your back, legs in parallel in the air, knees bent at 90 degrees.
• Point your feet. Then slowly unfurl them into a flex, curling your toes as if you are using them to pull a towel toward you, before reaching a full flex.
• For variation, repeat this exercise, but as you point your feet, straighten your legs (still in parallel) towards the ceiling. Then slowly bend your knees as you flex. “This gets the smaller muscles of the feet moving, which I really need to focus on,” McGuire says.
Attacking the space: McGuire in her self-choreographed
Fable. Photo by Jubal Battisti, Courtesy McGuire.