How to Get Through Nutcracker Season Without Illness or Injury
Allison Miller soars though her Snow Queen performances during Houston Ballet's Nutcracker run. Over the years, she has gotten surviving the company's 34 shows down to a science. “You have to listen to your body and pay careful attention to new aches and pains," says Miller, who was a Dance Magazine 2011 “25 to Watch." Her strategy includes weekly massages, ice baths, a yoga mat in her dressing room for stretching and cat naps, fresh juices, and an occasional tasty treat in honor of the season.
Experienced dancers like Miller know they need a plan. Thanks to the sheer number of shows, repetitive use injuries run rampant during Nutcracker season. Colds are frequent too because dancers come in close contact with the children in the performance, who themselves are exposed to other sniffling kids.
Plus, some of that snow glistening in the light is actually dust. Sensitive dancers need to have allergy meds at the ready for any allergen floating through the party scene. Starting a medicine like Claritin before performances can help minimize allergic symptoms related to dust. Here are some tips for getting through Nutcracker season injury and sniffle free.
Increase your fluids. “The kidneys are the washing machine of the body. If you are well hydrated you are less likely to get sick," says Dr. Rebecca Clearman, MD, a Houston physician who specializes in rehabilitation. Miller agrees. “I rely heavily on juices, Emergen-C packets, and of course lots of water," she says. “Fresh juice with greens, ginger, and lemon are my go-to choices."
Keep your gadgets on hand. Use balls and rollers to undo some of the strain of frequent performances. “I have tennis balls and spiky metatarsal balls in my dressing room," Miller says.
Snowflakes need sleep. Sleep may be your best weapon for avoiding both illness and injury. “Fatigue increases the likelihood of injury," says Dr. Andrew Cooper, MD, a Salt Lake City orthopedist. Clearman agrees that you're more likely to get sick and injured if you are sleep-deprived. “Studies show that getting a good night's rest keeps the immune system and your body functioning optimally, so you are prone to fewer traumatic injuries," she says.
Skip the shopping. You can't expect to do all the holiday running around and dance a double Nutcracker. “Scale back on your social activities," says Clearman. Do your shopping early or online. You only have so much bandwidth.
Fuel up. Double show plus class? It can be a draining schedule, so you need to make sure you have enough calories to get through. “Before a tough performance I like to have an Odwalla juice and some nuts or peanut butter," says Miller. “And afterward, a burger is just right."
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.