Working Out With Connor Walsh

The Houston Ballet principal focuses on functional fitness.



Walsh in Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.


Connor Walsh never used to cross-train. But a torn meniscus in February 2013 transformed his outlook. “It made me realize I needed to improve my ‘regular person’ strength, which meant working in parallel position,” says the Houston Ballet principal. He started adding in functional fitness training—working the muscles in everyday ways—on top of daily class and rehearsals. “I’m so much stronger now because of it.”

The stationary bike became his go-to method of building stamina. He hops on a few times a week and increases that to daily when he’s preparing for an intense performance. He rides for an average of 25 minutes, with several one-minute all-out intervals at 110 to 115 RPM with relative rests between 90 and 100 seconds long. On the weekends, he bikes outside (“with a helmet, in case my mother is reading this”).

After biking, he strength-trains for about an hour, working his upper body three days a week and lower body every day. He often balances on unstable surfaces, like the foam square, exercise ball or BOSU, to challenge his core and more closely simulate what’s required onstage. “When you lift a girl, she is in motion,” says Walsh. “Using unstable surfaces feels much more like what I experience in dancing.” It has also helped improve his ankle strength, an area where he’s always had trouble.

Walsh’s regimen includes squats starting on a stable surface, adding the unstable surface, then adding weights, making the exercise increasingly challenging. “Adding weights really prepares your body to absorb the shock from landing jumps,” he says. “I sometimes start as small as 1- or 2-pound weights and go up to 10 or 15. Form is so important, so I pay attention to doing each exercise correctly before adding more weight. Many of these exercises are not just about building strength, but about retraining the mechanics of how my body works.”



Connor Walsh’s Single-Leg Squat


One of Walsh’s go-to functional-strength builders is the single-leg squat. He tries to do three sets of 10 a few times per week and finds it helpful to do at least one set of 10 before class or during the early stages of barre to make sure his body is balanced as he starts the day.

1. Start by standing on one leg in parallel, with your weight equally distributed throughout your foot. Your knee should be in a neutral position without hyperextending or locking, and your hips should face straight ahead without tucking or arching in the lower back. Let your other leg hang underneath you.

2. Bend at the knee, keeping your kneecap over the center of your foot. Do 10 reps.

3. Once this becomes easier, challenge yourself by adding an unstable surface, such as a pillow or an Airex Balance Pad to increase results.

In Memoriam
A flyer showing Alberto Alonso, Fernando Alonso, Benjamin Steinberg and Alicia Alonso. Photo courtesy the author

Alicia has died. I walked around my apartment feeling her spirit, but knowing something had changed utterly.

My father, the late conductor Benjamin Steinberg, was the first music director of the Ballet de Cuba, as it was called then. I grew up in Vedado on la Calle 1ra y doce in a building called Vista al Mar. My family lived there from 1959 to 1963. My days were filled with watching Alicia teach class, rehearse and dance. She was everything: hilarious, serious, dramatic, passionate and elegiac. You lost yourself and found yourself when you loved her.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Harlequin Floors
Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"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.

Keep reading... Show less
Hansuke Yamamoto in Helgi Tomasson's Nutcracker at San Francisco Ballet, which features an exciting and respectful Chinese divertissement. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

It's Nutcracker time again: the season of sweet delights and a sparkling good time—if we're able to ignore the sour taste left behind by the outdated racial stereotypes so often portrayed in the second act.

In 2017, as a result of a growing list of letters from audience members, to New York City Ballet's ballet master in chief Peter Martins reached out to us asking for assistance on how to modify the elements of Chinese caricature in George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. Following that conversation, we founded the Final Bow for Yellowface pledge that states, "I love ballet as an art form, and acknowledge that to achieve a diversity amongst our artists, audiences, donors, students, volunteers, and staff, I am committed to eliminating outdated and offensive stereotypes of Asians (Yellowface) on our stages."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance & Activism
Allegra Bautista in Nevertheless, by ka·nei·see | collective. Photo by Robbie Sweeny

An audience member once emailed Dallas choreographer Joshua L. Peugh, claiming his work was vulgar. It complained that he shouldn't be pushing his agenda. As the artistic director of Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Peugh's recent choreography largely deals with LGBTQ issues.

"I got angry when I saw that email, wrote my angry response, deleted it, and then went back and explained to him that that's exactly why I should be making those works," says Peugh.

With the current political climate as polarized as it is, many artists today feel compelled to use their work to speak out on issues they care deeply about. But touring with a message is not for the faint of heart. From considerations about how to market the work to concerns about safety, touring to cities where, in general, that message may not be so welcome, requires companies to figure out how they'll respond to opposition.

Keep reading... Show less


Get Dance Magazine in your inbox