Technique My Way: Jessica Daley

Philly's homegrown performer

 

In class at the Koresh Dance Company studios

Photo by Bill Hebert for DM

 

Onstage, Jessica Daley is a firecracker.  Petite and wiry, she performs Koresh Dance Company’s signature modern jazz style with emotional intensity and sheer athleticism. Offstage, she’s a fun-loving jokester who thrives on live music and making her friends laugh.

A Philadelphia native, Daley graduated from the University of the Arts with a BFA in modern dance and performed with the city’s NBA dance team before joining Koresh in 2004. Now one of only 11 dancers in the Philly-based troupe, Daley gets very few breaks during performance—she’s often onstage an hour and 45 minutes of every two-hour show. And with director Roni Koresh’s full-bodied, sometimes punishing choreography, cross-training to maintain stamina and power is a high priority. The company also tours for some of its 10-month season, which makes it all the more challenging for her to stay healthy and injury-free. Dance Magazine spoke with Daley during her summer break to learn how she handles the workload.

 

CONSTANT CONDITIONING

To say Daley stays active is an understatement. Biking to rehearsals and walking almost everywhere else, she makes a point of taking the stairs instead of an elevator. In addition to running, swimming, and practicing yoga and Pilates, she also teaches a dance fitness class at a nearby studio.

 

“Adrenaline is a form of release for me,” she says. “But I’m not 22 anymore; I’m 30. My body has changed.” And though Daley often reserves Sundays for self-care, she is altogether more conscious about her actions inside the studio as well as out. “When you are younger, you just go and go. You’ll do something a hundred times until you get it. Now, I’m like, ‘Let me think about this first.’ ”

 

Though she has remained relatively injury-free, a sprained ankle four years ago marked a turning point in her career. “I missed one show and that was enough,” she remembers. She was back in the rehearsal studio after only three weeks of physical therapy, but her warm-up regimen changed. Daley now arrives to class at least 15 minutes early for sit-ups and light stretching, always applying Tiger Balm to her feet and calves before any physical activity.

 

In Philly, Daley typically takes an 8:00 a.m. ballet class at her alma mater, followed by a 10:00 a.m. class at Koresh. “I can never have enough ballet,” she says. “If I don’t take class, my body and my head aren’t speaking to each other.”

 

When on tour, Daley pulls out her iPhone to search online for a studio in each destination where she can take class.

 

She tries to leave any outside hang-ups at the studio door to remain focused and in the moment. “I remember being distracted when I injured myself. I was jumping and my ankle rolled,” she says. “There were lots of things going on in my life, but now I try to concentrate more on what I’m doing.”

 

Walking the perimeter of the stage to remember “where I am and why I’m there” is part of Daley’s pre-performance ritual. Post-show, Daley hits the showers immediately after leaving the stage. “Everyone teases me, but I can get offstage, shower, pack up my stuff, and get out to the lobby while the boys are still in the dressing room,” she says. “It helps my body relax.” She is also careful not to dwell on what she considers bad days—rehearsals or performances. “For today, you won,” she’ll say. “But I’m going to be back tomorrow!”

 

FOOD FOR FUEL

Daley’s typical breakfast consists of a banana and toast. Because the company rehearses until 4:00 P.m. each day, she typically nibbles on something light for lunch, such as tuna or yogurt and nuts. Dinner is her one big meal: veggies, rice, and some sort of protein, often fish.

 

Though she loves vegetables—kale, broccoli, and spinach are favorites—she allows herself the occasional indulgence. “If I want to eat that whole bag of popcorn, I’m gonna eat that whole bag of popcorn,” she says. “My body needs it, and that’s what it deserves.”

 

She doesn’t drink soda, but like many Koresh dancers, Daley starts the day with a cup of coffee at the ballet barre. Her beverage of choice, however, is one she makes herself. “I used to juice, but with a juicer you’re just getting the juice, not the fiber.” Now she swears by her NutriBullet, a late-night infomercial gadget purchase that allows her to combine all of her favorite foods into a single drink. “When we’re traveling, we don’t have lots of time to prepare a meal,” she says, noting that she relies on homemade smoothies for nutrition on the fly. Check out the recipe for Daley’s go-to concoction below.

 

Jessica’s Signature SMOOTHIE

1 cup water or soy milk

1 handful whole almonds

1 cup raw spinach or kale

1–2 carrots

1 apple

2–3 strawberries

 

Toss the ingredients into a high-powered blender, like a NutriBullet or Vitamix, and blend until smooth. You can still enjoy it with a regular blender—skip the almonds and be sure to dice all ingredients first.

 

Kat Richter is director of The Lady Hoofers, Philadelphia’s only all-female tap company.

Broadway
The "Merde" bag. Courtesy Scenery

Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.

But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"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.

Keep reading... Show less
News
Photo by Gabriel Davalos, Courtesy Valdés

For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.

Keep reading... Show less
Health & Body
Sara Mearns in the gym. Photo by Kyle Froman.

New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.

"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "

She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox