Technique My Way: Amy Watson Makes Every Moment Count

February 1, 2013
Coordinating time to interview Royal Danish Ballet principal Amy Watson took careful strategy. Fortunately, 12 years of managing her taxing daily schedule have made Watson an expert planner. “I’m very structured in my daily routine. I think you have to be when you have to push so hard.” She laughs, “If you get in the way of my routine, it is not pleasant.”

Originally from Washington, DC, Watson trained at the School of American Ballet and performed with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet before joining the corps of Royal Danish Ballet in 2000. In 2003, she was appointed soloist and in 2007, principal dancer. Her principal parts have ranged from classics like Aurora, Odette/Odile, Titania, Myrtha, Effy, and Kitri to more contemporary roles including Anita in West Side Story Suite and Princess Henriette in John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid. She has also been a soloist in modernistic works like Robbins’ The Cage, Wayne McGregor’s Chroma, and Ohad Naharin’s Minus 7.

Squeezing in a chat over a croissant and coffee during one of her rare breaks, Watson outlined a typical day.

Fit for a Queen

She starts early, arriving at Copenhagen’s Royal Opera House by 8:30, giving her sufficient time to warm up prior to company class at 10:00. Fifteen to 30 minutes of cross-training are followed by Pilates on the Reformer and mat. “I always do cross-training before anything else because it gets my back going, and everything comes from the back.” While working out, she imagines Michael Phelps for inspiration. While her Balanchine training gave her a great foundation of leg strength, continuous work on her upper body helps her with the unique demands of Bournonville-style épaulement and character work. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed. The Danish queen recently awarded her a medal for her contribution to Danish culture (the Order of the Dannebrog) and made special mention of the mesmerizing way that she uses her arms onstage.

From the gym, with her foam roller under her arm, Watson dashes to the studio. She prefers taking class with the apprentices whenever possible because it is more intense and she receives more feedback. “Plus I get inspired by the next generation.” Rare among professional companies, daily class runs a full hour and a half, leaving her only 10 minutes to change her leotard and nibble a few almonds before jumping into rehearsal at 11:40. At 1:30, Watson grabs lunch from the Opera House canteen, and then at 2:15 is back in the studio for two hours of afternoon rehearsals. If she does not have a show that night, she will often agree to a couple hours of “overtime” rehearsal.

Strategic Care

Managing this schedule while maintaining her health and strength takes consistent self-care. The moment Watson gets her rehearsal schedule for the week, she books physical therapy appointments into any open slots, and, regardless of what time her dancing day ends, she goes back to the gym for at least an hour to cool down. In addition to stretching, she utilizes company privileges like access to masseuses and a full sauna. In spite of the persistent physical demands of her routine, her body has suffered little wear and tear. Since her professional career began at 18, she has been out only three weeks, and she attributes this good record entirely to her dedication to preventative work. “I’m all about maintenance,” she says, and, knocking on her wooden chair, “I have been very lucky.”

Meeting the demands of her schedule also requires proper fueling. A spinach, ginger, and fruit smoothie accompanies every breakfast, giving her the nutrient shot she needs to push through until her lunch break. For quick energy she keeps a precious stock of American Lara bars, sent by loved ones, and she indulges in two cups of coffee per day. For stamina, she incorporates dense, whole-fiber breads into snacks and meals, and she also slowly sips a natural endurance drink, Berocca. While breakfast and lunch tend to be lighter meals, her dinner is complete and focuses on protein. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that my body craves more meat.” She has red meat at least twice a week, and otherwise centers meals around chicken, fish, and fresh cheeses.

While she tries to get her vitamins from food as much as possible, she supplements her diet with vitamin D (especially important in Denmark, where there is limited daylight), B vitamins, green tea, and fish oil.

A Full Person

Watson also aims to stay nourished as a “full person.” “I believe that if you’re mentally down, you’re more likely to get injured,” she says. To keep her spirits high, she stays in close touch with her three siblings via Skype. She also spends time with artist friends for inspiration. She tries to keep up with The New Yorker and other publications but admits she often doesn’t get far before falling asleep. Watson takes pride in being a “socially aware” person and reads the world news daily, with a focus on the United States.

“Every day, I try to check my ego at the door. The dancers who grow the most are the ones who are the most open.” Watson feels strongly that there is room in the dance world for everyone who has the passion to pursue their dream. She encourages young dancers to “never let anyone tell you you can’t do it. Always keep growing!”

Johanna Kirk is a dancer, writer, and choreographer living in Copenhagen.

Luxurious Roll

Amy uses a foam roller for this satisfying Pilates exercise:

• With the roller to your right, sit on your right hip, legs folded to the left side (“mermaid” pose).

• Place the right hand on the roller and take a big breath in, lifting the left arm over the head. Exhale and arc the body to the right.

• Breath in and, with the exhale, square the chest to the floor, taking both hands to the roller.

• Keeping the torso stable and upper arms parallel, draw the roller towards the torso, bending at the elbows, and then exhale to push the roller away.

• After three reps, keep the roller close to the body and straighten the arms to lift and stretch the front body, then roll down and forward, pushing the roller away and stretching the back.

• Open the chest forward, and inhale to lift the left arm and then torso back to vertical.

• Take the left hand to the right calf and arc over to the left for a counter stretch.

• Repeat two times, then switch sides.

See a video of Amy’s favorite Pilates routine, which includes this exercise, below: