Career Advice

What It Takes To Warm Up For & Wind Down From Tough Performances

Every dancer has their own pre-performance routine. Photo by Lindsay Thomas

For demanding, vulnerable performances, the mental warm-up and wind-down is unique to each artist. Three dancers share how they get in the zone, and come back to normal life afterward:


Erina Takahashi, English National Ballet Principal

On performance days, Erina Takahashi (here in Akram Khan's Giselle) doesn't think about her character until she's putting on her makeup and costume. Photo by Laurent Liotardo, courtesy ENB

Takahashi prefers not to think about a character too much during the day, otherwise she can get overwhelmed. "I get into the zone when I start hair and makeup, and once the costume goes on, I am Giselle," she says. Listening to music in her dressing room keeps her relaxed.

After a show, she needs to mentally recover: In Giselle's final pas de deux, Takahashi describes her own heart physically aching, and sometimes she feels unable to smile during the curtain call. "It is such a deeply internal show—it takes a while to come back to reality."

Samantha Speis, Urban Bush Women

Spies (left) showers before and after tough performances. Photo by Nathea Lee, courtesy UBW

Spies finds a cleansing power in water. "I take a shower beforehand. It's a refreshing restart," she says. "What we do onstage can be really emotionally taxing, so I have to prepare for that." After bows, she again showers to rinse off the performance, and move into a different state. "If I don't," she says, "I feel a little off, not myself." She also gives herself at least two hours to stretch post-performance.

Tsai-Wei Tien, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch

Tien is sometimes so exhausted after emotional performances that she can barely walk. Photo via peculiarman.com.

Tien says there is surprisingly little mental transition needed after the extreme sacrifice as the Chosen One in Pina Bausch's epic Rite of Spring. "The moment I fall and die, it is over in my brain," she says. Instead, it's her body that takes a while to recover. "Sometimes I cannot walk properly because my muscles are so exhausted."

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