Bringing dance to new audiences across the country and around the world is exciting for touring dancers. But whether you’re dancing at a nearby school or as far away as Australia, you’ve traveled there in cramped quarters on a plane, train, or bus. And while you probably won’t leap from the runway directly to the stage, it’s best to arrive at your destination as supple, energized, and ready to move as possible.
But keeping your joints oiled during travel requires some ingenuity. So Dance Magazine spoke to several performers and experts who are pros at fighting touring trauma. Read their tips and stay loose!
Virginia Wilmerding, past president of the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science, says that when flying, the altitude creates conditions that can promote dehydration, which puts you at risk for swollen legs and creaky joints. Drinking lots of water, and even electrolyte-carbohydrate beverages like Gatorade, may help keep swelling at bay. And staying away from alcohol, which is dehydrating, is a must. Wearing compression stockings (found in hospital supply stores) may help relieve swelling. So can performing relevés, which are easy to do while standing in narrow aisles.
Tamara Riewe, of the Trisha Brown Dance Company, has her travel routine down to a science, as the company tours an average of two weeks every other month. When flying, she drinks 20 oz. of water every two hours, and orders a vegetarian meal. “It has less fat content and more fiber, so it keeps the system regulated,” she says. She also makes sure to pack fresh fruits and veggies to snack on.
Paul Taylor Dance Company veteran Robert Kleinendorst also says that dehydration is the number one body wrecker. Dancers’ overstressed muscles need water to release lactic acid, so they don’t become stiff. Kleinendorst recommends taking ibuprofen, since it thins the blood and increases circulation, helping to flush out toxins.
Riewe makes sure to book an aisle seat so she can stand up easily. “I am that dork who’s actually doing a little yoga in the bulkhead space,” she says. And since planes now supply pamphlets and videos that give passengers limited-space exercises, Riewe’s noticed more and more “civilians” working out while flying.
“Even though we try to keep a low profile, on long flights we’ll go to the galley and stretch,” says Kleinendorst. “I loosen my hamstrings and lower back by hanging over, because there’s not a lot of room. You want to stay out of the way of the other passengers and crew.” He’ll also try to work in shoulder circles, contractions, pliés, and quad stretches to keep him from “fusing into solid bone.”
Massage therapist Russ Beasley has worked with many dancers. He says that you should get up and walk the aisle every hour to counterbalance the time you’re seated. He also suggests calf stretches and pulling the knee up to the chest while standing. “Even standing and reaching for the ceiling can provide lengthening movement,” says Beasley. And some trains have larger bathrooms, where Beasley suggests carefully engaging in standing stretches. “Just be aware there can be sudden stops,” he says.
John Michael Schert dances with LINES Ballet and the Trey McIntyre Project (see “On the Rise,” Nov. 2007). “I don’t think air travel is natural. The pressure is brutal on joints. My ankles swell, and when I land they’re not aligned,” he says. He performs lots of ankle rotations and suggests manually manipulating the foot by moving the metatarsal in a circular motion with your hand.
While seated, Riewe uses softball-sized body balls with rubbery spikes to self-massage. “This applies pressure to my back. And rolling balls with my feet keeps them more active than they normally would be while flying,” she says. Lots of her touring buddies use them too.
Beasley says the seats in planes, trains, buses, and cars tend to pitch the pelvis backwards, causing undue stress on dancers’ hypermobile joints. He recommends traveling with inflatable lumbar and cervical (head/neck) support pillows for long trips. These can be found at most luggage shops and some drug stores. If you don’t have time to search them out, rolled up towels can provide support too.
On the Ground
As soon as Schert boards a flight of 12 hours or more, he adjusts the time on his computer, cell phone, and watch to mentally prep for his new time zone. Before the meal, he’ll take a sleeping pill prescribed by his doctor. Then he eats, goes to the bathroom, and hits the hay. “I try to get a solid block of sleep on the plane, because it helps my body to behave like it would in the time zone I’ve landed in,” he says.
When traveling by bus or car, use rest stops to stretch and move as much as you can. Try developing a supported stretch routine with another dancer, or walk around and shake out the kinks. Just make sure to dress comfortably so your movement choices aren’t restricted.
Nancy Alfaro lives (and stretches) in New York.