Mirror is an in-home workout designed by former New York City Ballet dancer Brynn Putnam.

What Are the Best Digital Workout Options for Dancers?

Today, you no longer have to head to a gym or a fitness studio to get a heart-pumping workout. (Or rely on rewinding old VHS tapes of Jane Fonda.) Online workouts have never been easier for dancers to fit into their lives, whether you're on tour or want to squeeze in a warm-up at home before class. But with a seemingly endless scroll of options, which are best?


Virtual Personal Training

Virtual personal trainers can cost a fraction of what traditional in-person trainers charge. Photo by Mohammed Awami/Unsplash

The good: A virtual personal trainer—someone who can be there for you without physically being there with you—can help address your specific needs, regardless of where you are located. You can work together via Skype, FaceTime or customized platforms like TrainingPeaks. In most cases, a virtual trainer is a cost-effective option for personalized attention: possibly $100 a month online versus $100 an hour for an in-person session.

The risky: "Hands-on correction is part of the learning process, and that's not something you can get in a virtual training session," says Brynn Putnam, a former New York City Ballet dancer who founded Mirror and Refine Method.

Live Online Classes

Live online classes let you be part of a bigger fitness community. Photo via Unsplash

The good: A group fitness class, even a live-streamed one, lets you be part of a larger fitness community. Peloton's popular spin classes, for example, live-stream from Peloton's flagship, so while riders are in the studio, you can watch and ride along from the screen on your at-home bike. Other programs, like Putnam's newly launched Mirror, are even more integrative: The instructor can actually see all the students and offer personalized feedback.

Initial equipment investments can be steep (a Peloton bike costs about $2,000), but the classes themselves are relatively economical. For example, ClassPass offers unlimited online classes for $15 a month, compared to $160 a month for 13 in-person classes.

The risky: Most classes are geared toward the average population—and dancers are not average exercisers. "You may find that things that are taught are either not relevant, or they're potentially a bad fit," says Putnam. For example, barre classes might overwork the same muscles dancers already use daily. If you're unsure, check in with your dance teacher or a physical therapist to discuss which classes are best for you, and which movements to avoid or adjust.

Fitness Apps

Following along on a phone can be awkward. But it can also be free. Photo by Alexander Mils/Unsplash

The good: With an app on your phone, you can easily work out backstage or on the road, says Putnam. You can find everything from quick stretches to full-body workouts. A class, subscription or membership can cost as little as 99 cents—or nothing at all.

The risky: Trying to follow instructions on a tiny phone screen can feel clunky, says Putnam. But once you get used to the exercises that a particular workout calls for, you'll rely less on the screen.

No Matter What You Choose, Keep in Mind: 

Be careful when adding intensity, frequency or duration on your own. Photo courtesy Mirror.

At first glance, the convenience of online cross-training seems pretty unbeatable: You can fit your workout in wherever, whenever. "Consider the access," says Will Zinser, athletic trainer at NYU Langone Health's Harkness Center for Dance Injuries. "If you don't live somewhere like New York City, but you've always wanted to try a Gyrotonic class, you can find it online when you can't find it nearby."

The downsides? "What makes cross-training great is that you're doing things outside your area of expertise," says Putnam. "That helps prevent injury and improve performance, but it also means you're doing things you're less familiar with and less conditioned to do." You have to be careful when adding intensity, frequency or duration to these activities without an expert's eye.

And while dancers tend to pride themselves on being perfectionists, that drive can be a drawback. "It's common to end up overdoing it," says Zinser. "You need to be careful not to overuse certain parts of the body."

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021