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Working Out With Stella Abrera
In her first season as a principal at American Ballet Theatre, Stella Abrera experienced a kind of exhaustion she'd never known before. “For 14 years, I got used to gearing up to do one pas de deux or one solo, and I would usually feel fresh beforehand," says 38-year-old Abrera, who was promoted in 2015. “It was new to be so fatigued before I had to go on for the second or third act."
Instead of fighting fatigue, Abrera, here in Le Corsaire, uses it to relax her nerves. PC Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.
She quickly learned not to freak out or fight the feeling. Instead, Abrera began to use each intermission to calmly recharge with an electrolyte-rich drink and a few bites to eat—some banana, some nut bar and a few gummy bears.
Rather than obsess over fatigue, she reframes it as a way to help her relax her nerves, trusting that adrenaline will kick in when she needs it. “Adrenaline is maybe my favorite drug," she jokes. “I don't feel any pain, just a burst of energy. It's kind of unreal. It's something I never feel until I'm onstage."
The downside of adrenaline, however, is how long it takes for the buzz to wear off. “After every big show I had this season, I didn't nod off until 4 am, and then I would wake with a jolt two hours later."
Knowing how high the risk of injury can be when she's had so little sleep, Abrera takes extra care to listen to her body: Any rehearsals the next day are just for muscle memory; none are danced full-out. She looks forward to her day off to recuperate with a massage, homemade pancakes and, ideally, nine hours of sleep.
Abrera typically visits the gym four times a week to do 20 to 25 minutes on the elliptical, plus a series of body-weight exercises like lunges, planks, calf raises and bridges. She skips the elliptical during peak performance weeks but continues her core-strength regimen. During off weeks, she ups her gym routine by adding some jumping exercises, such as jump rope, box jumps and using the jump board on the Pilates reformer.
Lessons From Injury
Abrera's career was put on hold when a back/sciatic nerve injury atrophied her calf muscle. Between the injury and a re-injury, she was offstage for two years. “After I came back, it took me a few years to trust my body again and let go with certain movements," she admits. Despite the setback, the experience taught her several lessons:
- “I'm more mindful of ramping up after time off now. I don't ever run a full variation right away—I'll do it at 50 to 75 percent energy for two days, or one section at a time."
- “I learned a lot about the nervous system. The sciatic nerve goes under the sacroiliac joint, and if that's tight, I feel weakness in my calf. The low-impact running motion of the elliptical helps me keep it well oiled and open."
- “I hydrate like crazy now. I'm obsessed with giving my muscles everything they need to fire correctly."
- “Core exercises help with everything."
A banana with almond butter, toasted almonds and honey, plus a cup of tea with half-and-half and honey. “I need the right balance of protein and carbs. If I have too much sugar, I have a horrible crash at barre, get woozy and start wandering around asking people for Life Savers."
When Rachel Hamrick was in the corps of Universal Ballet in Seoul, her determination to strengthen her flexibility turned into a side hobby that would eventually land her a new career. "I was in La Bayadere for the first time, and I was the first girl out for that arabesque sequence in The Kingdom of the Shades," she says. "I had the flexibility, but I was wobbly because I wasn't stretching in the right way. That's when I first started playing around with the idea of the Flexistretcher. It was tied together then, so it was definitely more makeshift," she says with a laugh, "But I trained with it to help me get the correct alignment so that I would have the strength to sustain the whole act."
Now, Hamrick is running her own business, complete with an ever-growing product line and her FLX training method—all because of her initial need to make it through 38 arabesques.
For the new Broadway season, Ellenore Scott has scored two associate choreographer gigs: For Head Over Heels, which starts previews June 23, Scott is working with choreographer Spencer Liff on an original musical mashing up The Go-Go's punk-rock hits with a narrative based on Sir Philip Sidney's 1590 book, Arcadia. Four days after that show opens, she'll head into rehearsals for this fall's King Kong, collaborating with director/choreographer Drew McOnie and a 20-foot gorilla.
Scott gave us the inside scoop about Head Over Heels, the craziness of her freelance hustle and the most surprising element of working on Broadway.
Dance in movies is a trend as old as time. Movies like The Red Shoes and Singin' in the Rain paved the way for Black Swan and La La Land; dancing stars like Gene Kelly and Ginger Rogers led the way for Channing Tatum and Julianne Hough.
Lucky for us, some of Hollywood's most incredible dance scenes have been compiled into this amazing montage, featuring close to 300 films in only seven minutes. So grab the popcorn, cozy on up, and watch the moves that made the movies.
Broadway musicals have been on my mind for more than half a century. I discovered them in grade school, not in a theater but electronically. On the radio, every weeknight an otherwise boring local station would play a cast album in its entirety; on television, periodically Ed Sullivan's Sunday night variety show would feature an excerpt from the latest hit—numbers from Bye Bye Birdie, West Side Story, Camelot, Flower Drum Song.
But theater lives in the here and now, and I was in middle school when I attended my first Broadway musical, Gypsy—based, of all things, on the early life of the famed burlesque queen Gypsy Rose Lee. I didn't know who Jerome Robbins was, but I recognized genius when I saw it—kids morphing into adults as a dance number progresses, hilarious stripping routines, a pas de deux giving concrete shape to the romantic yearnings of an ugly duckling. It proved the birth of a lifelong habit, indulged for the last 18 years in the pages of this magazine. But all long runs eventually end, and it's time to say good-bye to the "On Broadway" column. It's not the last of our Broadway coverage—there's too much great work being created and performed, and you can count on hearing from me in print and online.
If you want to know how scary the AIDS epidemic was in the 1980s, come see Ishmael Houston-Jones' piece THEM from 1986. This piece reveals the subterranean fears that crept into gay relationships at the time. Houston-Jones is one of downtown's great improvisers, and his six dancers also improvise in response to his suggestions. With Chris Cochrane's edgy guitar riffs and Dennis Cooper's ominous text, there's an unpredictable, near-creepy but epic quality to THEM.
What is the right flooring system for us?
So many choices, companies, claims, endorsements, and recommendations to consider. The more you look, the more confusing it gets. Here is what you need to do. Here is what you need to know to get the flooring system suited to your needs.
This time last year, Catherine Conley was already living a ballet dancer's dream. After an exchange between her home ballet school in Chicago and the Cuban National Ballet School in Havana, she'd been invited to train in Cuba full-time. It was the opportunity of a lifetime, and one that was nearly unheard of for an American dancer. Now, though, Conley has even more exciting news: She's a full-fledged member of the National Ballet of Cuba's corps de ballet.
"In the school there were other foreigners, but in the company I'm the only foreigner—not just the only American, but the only non-Cuban," Conley says. But she doesn't feel like an outsider, or like a dancer embarking on a historic journey. "Nobody makes me feel different. They treat me as one of them," she says. Conley has become fluent in Spanish, and Cuba has come to feel like home. "The other day I was watching a movie that was dubbed in Spanish, and I understand absolutely everything now," she says.
Chantel Aguirre may call sunny Los Angeles home, but the Shaping Sound company member and NUVO faculty member spends more time in the air, on a tour bus or in a convention ballroom than she does in the City of Angels.
Aguirre, who is married to fellow Shaping Sound member Michael Keefe, generally only spends one week per month at home. "When I'm not working, I'm exploring," Aguirre says. "Michael and I are total travel junkies."
Akram Khan and Florence Welch (of Florence + The Machine) is not a pairing we ever would have dreamt up. But now that the music video for "Big God" has dropped, with choreography attributed to Khan and Welch, it seems that we just weren't dreaming big enough.
In the video, Welch leads a group of women standing in an eerily reflective pool of water. They seem untouchable, until they begin shedding their colorful veils, movements morphing to become animalistic and aggressive as the song progresses.
Savannah Lowery is about as well acquainted with the inner workings of a hospital as she is with the intricate footwork of Dewdrop.
As a child, the former New York City Ballet soloist would roam the hospital where her parents worked, pushing buttons and probably getting into too much trouble, she says. While other girls her age were clad in tutus playing ballerina, she was playing doctor.
"It just felt like home. I think it made me not scared of medicine, not scared of a hospital," she says. "I thought it was fascinating what they did."
It can be hard to focus when Alice Sheppard dances.
Her recent sold-out run of DESCENT at New York Live Arts, for instance, offered a constellation of stimulation. Onstage was a large architectural ramp with an assortment of peaks and planes. There was an intricate lighting and projection design. There was a musical score that unfolded like an epic poem. There was a live score too: the sounds of Sheppard and fellow dancer Laurel Lawson's bodies interacting with the surfaces beneath them.
And there were wheelchairs. But if you think the wheelchairs are the center of this work, you're missing something vital about what Sheppard creates.
A Jellicle Ball is coming to the big screen, with the unlikeliest of dancemakers on tap to choreograph.
We'll give you some hints: His choreography can aptly be described as "animalistic," though Jellicle cats have never come to mind specifically when watching his hyper-physical work. He's worked on movies before—even one about Beasts. And though contemporary ballet is his genre of choice, his choreography is certainly theatrical enough to lend itself to a musical.