Technique My Way: Sarah O'Gleby
This busy dancer knows when her body needs a break.
Left to right: Charlie Williams, Rob Ashford, Stephen Sposito (seated), and O’Gleby in rehearsal for
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Photo by Ari Mintz, Courtesy Hartman Group.
With her explosive movement and sassy spark, British-born Sarah O’Gleby is a Broadway favorite. She currently serves as both a swing and dance captain in Rob Ashford’s revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. How does O’Gleby balance the pressures of performing in a high-powered show with the responsibilities of being a dance captain? Dance Magazine chatted with the New York City transplant about how she takes care of her body and keeps herself grounded.
O’Gleby studied intensively at the Ann Oliver Stage School in Leicester, England. “Where I grew up, you had to take ballet, modern, tap, and Greek folk dancing,” she says. “You progressed through the grades by taking difficult exams. Because of that, I have a really solid foundation at my fingertips.” Her painstaking training has paid off. “If you’re tired, your underlying technique kicks in. It’s there automatically when you need it.”
Because of her hectic schedule as part of the How to Succeed team, O’Gleby relies heavily on that underpinning. “We’re going at it right away from 9 in the morning,” she says. “If you’re in the ensemble and you start at 9:30, you can take a half-hour for yourself to warm up. But I don’t get that luxury, so I have to work my warm-up into my day as we go along.”
For O’Gleby, this means getting up early enough to have a cup of English Breakfast tea and a hot shower before heading to the studio. As the team gets going, she finds moments for basic stretching, like tilting her head to each shoulder and down to her chest, while breathing into tight areas, or sitting in second position, reaching forward and over each leg. To combat the tight calves and lower back caused by wearing four-inch heels in the show, O’Gleby also likes to stand in a wide parallel and stretch over her legs, shifting to each side and back to center. For overall strength and warmth, she uses the plank position.
After intense periods of dancing, rolling out her legs with a foam roller is a must, “especially for a Rob Ashford show,” she says. “You need to get your IT bands stretched out after all that leg work.”
Never a Dull Moment
O’Gleby spends many of her daytime hours in rehearsal preparing new company members for the show, so she often goes straight from rehearsal to the theater at night. If she isn’t needed as a swing, she says, “I’m usually running around giving notes. But if I’m on that night, without fail, I need five minutes to myself.” In that brief time, O’Gleby repeats her stretching regimen. “The girls do two layouts in the first two minutes of the show, followed by fouettés with your partner, so we have to be warmed up from the top. After the number ‘Coffee Break,’ our show slows down. But it’s full throttle until then.”
O’Gleby says that her body has a natural affinity for partner work—and there’s plenty of that in How to Succeed. “I’m small, so partnering has always been a big part of my career,” she says. “You have to make yourself light as a feather, but also have immense core strength. Fortunately, since Rob creates the partnering on me, I have the privilege of saying, ‘It feels like I could throw my leg over his head here.’ I know which part of the body needs to be warm for each lift, and I can communicate that to the rest of the girls.”
If she can find time to cool down at the end of the day, O’Gleby feels much healthier. “I wish I had known this at a younger age,” she says. “It is so helpful to cool down as much as you warm up. Unfortunately, that wasn’t part of my training. And since I’m so exhausted at the end of a show, it’s hard to fit in. But if you can get in an Epsom salt bath for 20 minutes and repeat your stretches, you will be in much better shape going forward the next day—and for the rest of your career.”
On days off, O’Gleby indulges with Vinyasa yoga. “I love how you have to stay present in the moment,” she says. “It makes me feel open, strengthens my core, and helps my muscles stay long and lean.” She tries to take a ballet class every week, too (a New Year’s resolution).
O’Gleby also uses time away from the theater for acupuncture, chiropractor sessions, and massage. “Since I’ve come into my 30s, maintenance has become a big part of my life,” she says. “You know your weaknesses. Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, you have to be more preventative. For example, my neck is very temperamental, so I found the perfect pillow; I wear medicine patches; and I stretch it constantly.”
To get through whiplash-speed days, O’Gleby counts on small, nutrition-dense meals. “I eat little amounts, but very often: Big meals slow me down when I’m running around.” After battling a “constantly sore and bloated stomach” for 15 years, O’Gleby switched to a gluten-free diet at her acupuncturist’s suggestion. (See “Your Body,” March, for more on going gluten-free.) “It has worked wonders and completely changed the way I eat,” she says. “Now, I always have a Lara Bar and water in my bag. I love sweet potatoes and coconut water, too, for energy-rich foods.”
To keep her mind as stable as her body, O’Gleby relies on small pockets of calm similar to her small meals. “On top of a good eight hours of sleep, if I can just take five minutes with a cup of tea to slow down every once in a while during the day, I’m good. To be quiet and regroup for a moment lets me jump back in with renewed energy.”
Lauren Kay is a NYC dancer and writer.