Working Out With Mathilde Froustey
The San Francisco Ballet principal revamped her body philosophy after leaving France.
PC Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB
When Mathilde Froustey joined San Francisco Ballet after 12 years with the Paris Opéra Ballet, she felt like she'd stepped into an entirely new body. “In Paris, I felt a lot of pressure to be really slim and I was afraid to have big muscles," says Froustey, now 31. “At San Francisco Ballet, they don't make you feel guilty about your body. They see that if you have more muscle, you can jump higher and do roles like Kitri. If you have less, you'll be more of a lyrical dancer and that's great, too. I became so much more relaxed about my image."
In San Francisco, Froustey began strength-training with Gyrotonic classes, and soon discovered the technique helped her manage a career-long foot injury that had started as a stress fracture when she was a teenager. “Gyro helps me find the muscles to be stronger throughout my body so there's less pressure on my foot," she says. “I have less pain now—and more turnout!"
Watching the SFB dancers, she's also realized one of the limits of French training: “We didn't stretch at all in the school." To increase her flexibility in her hips and hamstrings, she's started taking Bikram yoga, where the heat helps loosen her muscles. She also stretches regularly, not only at the studio and after shows but also on her day off.
As for her diet, Froustey enjoys all of the healthy, organic options available in California, particularly Asian cuisines like Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese. (Her typical rehearsal-day lunch is bo bun, a Vietnamese noodle dish.) But she's noticed that in San Francisco, people eat for vitamins and healthy nutrients. “In France, we eat because we like it—and for that I'm still French," she says, laughing. After a good show, she still celebrates the way she always has: with red wine and camembert cheese.
To deal with recurring complications from a stress fracture in her foot, Froustey relies on:
• Gyrotonic exercises
• Ice/hot contrasts after shows
• Slowing down whenever she notices inflammation
• Being strategic about footwear. “Whenever I wear heels, I bring sneakers in my bag to put on when no one's looking!"
1. Full ballet class with jumps and pointe shoes. “I need to sweat before a show."
2. Gyrotonic chair sequence on her own backstage.
3. Five minutes to stretch, close her eyes and think through all her coach's notes on the ballet. “Nobody can talk to me right then; I don't care about anything else. It's my own moment."
“I bike 20 minutes each way to the ballet every day. It's a little cardio warm-up and a gentle cooldown. Luckily I live in the flat part of the city!"
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"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.