Working Out With Sara Esty
From Miami City Ballet to Broadway—and the steam room
For most dancers, performing six nightly shows and two matinees a week would be the ultimate test of stamina. But for former Miami City Ballet soloist Sara Esty, she’s actually dancing less now that she’s an ensemble dancer in An American in Paris on Broadway. “I used to spend six to seven hours a day just rehearsing,” Esty says. “I never had to pay much attention to keeping myself in shape because I was dancing so much.” But while the hours may be fewer, the intensity remains. “The show is so physically demanding,” she says. “And it’s not just the dancing—the dancers do all the set moves ourselves, and the sets are heavy!”
Esty, 29, handles one of the show’s most demanding dance tracks and understudies the lead role. Though unlike preparing for a ballet performance, where “you’re jumping, jetéing and bouncing all over the stage,” Esty says she now just has to focus on having a strong core and progressively warming up throughout the day, leading up to the climax of the show: a 17-minute ballet.
On days without a matinee, Esty usually has a four-hour rehearsal before her evening performance, so she doesn’t always make it to a ballet class. Instead, she uses her two-hour break after rehearsal to rest and eat, then arrives at the theater 90 minutes before curtain to give herself a pre-show warm-up, which includes light yoga, stretching and a ballet barre (“it’s like breakfast—I can’t function without it,” she says).
In particular, Esty makes sure her ankles and calves are warm and loose in order to handle the show’s many shoe changes. “My physical therapist suggested a regimen to keep my Achilles tendons elongated so they don’t get tight going from pointe shoes to heels to tap shoes and back again,” she says. It includes pliés and tendus, and stretching her calves on a set of stairs, standing in parallel and letting her heels hang off the edge of a step.
Esty also tries to hit the gym about once a week. She warms up on the elliptical for 20 to 30 minutes, followed by planks, calf stretching and foam rolling. She started focusing on planks the summer before the show opened in Paris to build core strength, and has stuck with them. Her go-to move: holding a plank on her forearms or hands for one minute, then resting for one minute, and repeating three to four times. But Esty’s real motivation for hitting the gym? The steam room. “I’ll even go in between matinee and evening shows just to sit and loosen everything up,” she says. “Because by the end of the show, my body is in total shock.”
Breakfast: Hard-boiled eggs, fruit and toast with peanut butter. “And coffee, of course.”
Pre-Matinee Snack: A green juice from Jamba Juice
Lunch: A healthy sandwich, trail mix and dried fruit or peanut butter on a granola bar. “I love the trail mixes from Trader Joe’s—there’s one with almonds, cashews, cranberries and mini peanut-butter cups.”
Dinner: A salad with romaine, spinach, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, chicken or steak, and feta or cheddar cheese, with crispy onions on top. “I make sure there’s an equal balance of dark-green vegetables and good-tasting stuff.” She’ll also have a cup of soup, usually chicken noodle, kale quinoa lentil or beef stew.
Post-Show: “I give my body something it will love, like a Clif Bar, almonds, flavored ice-cold coconut water, or even leafy green vegetables and some steak, pork or chicken.”
Sweets: “I’m a sucker for a cookie or cake.”
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.
We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:
"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.
The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.
Launching a dancewear line seems like a great way for professional dancers to flex new artistic muscles and make side money. Several direct-to-consumer brands founded by current or former professional dancers, like Elevé and Luckleo, currently compete with bigger retailers, like Capezio.
But turning your brand into the next Yumiko is more challenging than some budding designers may realize.
When I first came to dance criticism in the 1970s, the professional critics were predominantly much older than me. I didn't know them personally and, as the wide-eyed new kid on the block, I assumed most had little or no physical training in the art.
As slightly intimidated as I felt at the time—you try sitting around a conference room table with Dance Magazine heavy hitters like Tobi Tobias and David Vaughan—I smugly gave myself props for at least having had recent brushes with ballet, Graham, Duncan and Ailey and more substantial engagement with jazz and belly dance. Watching dancers onstage, I enjoyed memories of steps and moves I knew in my own bones. If the music was right, my shoulders would wriggle. I wasn't just coolly judging things from my neck up.