Inside DM

Working Out With Li Chiao-Ping

John Maniaci, Courtesy Li

The modern choreographer/dancer builds extreme strength.

In the final moments of her piece From Grace, Li Chiao-Ping carries three dancers across the stage. At 52 years old, this Wisconsin-based dancer/choreographer is as strong as ever.

A believer in daily strength training, Li sets the bar high for both the dancers in her company, Li Chiao-Ping Dance, and her students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Regular conditioning helps her develop power for the heavy lifting, quick falls and off-balance positions she uses in her work. About 20 years ago, she codified her exercises into a cross-training program for dancers, called “Extreme Moves.”

The class begins seated on a physio ball, bouncing lightly to work on balance and alignment. Push-ups and downward-dog–like balances follow. The idea is to perform an adaptable range of progressions, from beginner movements (such as a push-up with hands on the floor and hips supported by the ball) to more advanced ones (with the body in plank position, with just the toes on the ball, for example). Li believes that working with an unstable base like the ball stresses the core and upper body, building strength more quickly.

Janson Heintz, Courtesy Li

The class then works on different kinds of inversions, such as handstands, headstands, cartwheels, shoulder stands, elbow stands, handstand forward rolls and backward rolls into handstands. (Li was a gymnast before she became a dancer.) Careful to contextualize the strengthening moves within the framework of dance, Li builds phrase-work, improvisation and choreography into the workout to remind dancers that the skills they are working on apply directly to their art. 

Everyday Tools

“You can use almost anything—cans of soup, one-gallon jugs of water—for weights and resistance. A towel or bedsheet works great for strengthening the arch of the foot.”

Nutrition Strategies

Thinkstock (3)

Pre-performance soup: “Having hot soup a couple hours before a show helps me feel grounded but not too full.”

Vegetarian compromise: “Dinner is usually rice, tofu and vegetables like broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts, green beans or asparagus. I am mostly vegetarian, but if I crave meat or fish, I eat it. The protein is especially important for strength training.”

Energy food: ”I fuel up with whole grains (pasta, rice, breads) for long-term energy. I also try to keep nuts, trail mix, granola-type bars or other snacks in my bag.”

Micronutrients: “I sometimes add Emergen-C to my water or tea as an extra precaution. I also eat bananas and other potassium-rich foods.”

Hydration: “When I’m performing a lot, I have a sports drink to restore electrolytes.”

More than fuel: “My mother gave me a more mystical sense of food. When my foot was badly injured, she prepared frog legs for me so that I could jump again.”

Show Comments ()
What Dancers Eat
Maria Kochetkova blatantly breaks the not-eating-in-your-Serenade-costume rules with a personal pint backstage. Photo via Instagram

One of the biggest myths about ballet dancers is that they don't eat. While we all know that, yes, there are those who do struggle with body image issues and eating disorders, most healthy dancers love food—and eat plenty of it to fuel their busy schedules.

Luckily for us, they're not afraid to show it:

Keep reading... Show less

Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!

Health & Body

When I wrote about my struggle with depression, and eventual departure from dance because of it, I expected criticism. I was prepared to be challenged. But much to my relief, and horror, dancers from all over the world responded with support and stories of solidarity. The most critical response I saw was this one:

"Dance isn't for everyone."

This may as well be a mantra in the dance world. We have become entrenched in the Darwinian notion that the emotionally weak will be weeded out. There is no room for them anyway.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Training
Name calling, physical intimidation and cyberbullying are all-too-common experiences among male dancers. Photo by Goh Rhy Yan/Unsplash

Growing up in a family-owned dance studio in Missouri had its perks for tap dancer Anthony Russo. But it also earned him constant taunting, especially in high school.

"There was a junior in my sophomore year health class who was absolutely relentless," he says. "I'd get tripped on my way to the front of the classroom and he'd say, 'Watch out, twinkle toes.' If I raised my hand and answered a question incorrectly, I'd hear a patronizing 'Nice one, Bojangles.' "

Keep reading... Show less
Acosta Danza in Jorge Crecis' Twelve. Photo by Johan Persson, Courtesy Sadler's Wells

What does a superstar like Carlos Acosta do after bidding farewell to his career in classical ballet? In Acosta's case, he returns to his native country, Cuba, to funnel his fame, connections and prodigious energies back into the dance scene that formed him. Because of its top-notch, state-supported training programs and popular embrace of the art of dance, Cuba is brimming with talented dancers. What it has been short on, until recently, are opportunities outside of the mainstream companies, as well as access to a more international repertoire. That is changing now, and, with the creation of Acosta Danza, launched in 2016, Acosta is determined to open the doors even wider to new ideas and audiences.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Training
University of Kentucky students travel to Arts Advocacy Day in DC each year. PC Dana Rogers Photography

There's so much more to the dance world than making and performing dances. Arts administrators do everything from raising money to managing companies to building new audiences. With the growing number of arts administration programs in colleges, dancers have an opportunity to position themselves for a multifaceted career on- or offstage—and to bring their unique perspective as artists to administrative work.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance in Pop Culture
Photo via the Hammer Museum

While Solange was busy helping big sis Beyoncé give Coachella its best performances of all time, an equally compelling project was quietly circulating on Instagram:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Voices
"There is a palpable sense of hope for the future." Photo by Devin Alberda via Instagram

New York City Ballet continues its first year without Peter Martins at the helm as our spring season opens tonight.

When he retired at the start of the new year, we plunged headfirst into unknown, murky waters. Who would the new director be? When would we know? Would we dancers get some say in the decision? Who would oversee the Balanchine ballets? Who would be in charge of casting? Would a new director bring along huge upheaval? Could some of us be out of a job?

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
Broad is Orlando Ballet's first dancer named artist in residence. Photo by Michael Cairns, Courtesy Orlando Ballet.

In the world of ballet, Arcadian Broad is a one-stop shop: He'll come up with a story, compose its music, choreograph the movement and dance it himself. But then Broad has always been a master of versatility. As a teenager he juggled school, dance and—after the departure of his father—financial responsibility. It was Broad's income from dancing that kept his family afloat. Fast-forward six years and things are far more stable. Broad now lives on his own in an apartment, but you can usually find him in the studio.

Keep reading... Show less
Alexander Ekman's Midsummer Night's Dream was created for Royal Swedish Ballet. Photo by Hans Nilsson, Courtesy The Joffrey Ballet

Bales of hay, black umbrellas, bicycles—this Midsummer Night's Dream would be unrecognizable to the Bard. Alexander Ekman's full-length, inspired by Scandinavian solstice traditions and set to music by Mikael Karlsson, is a madcap celebration of the longest day of the year, when the veil between our world and that of the supernatural is said to be at its thinnest. The Joffrey Ballet's performances mark the seductively surreal work's North American premiere. April 25–May 6.


Viral Videos



Get Dance Magazine in your inbox