Working Out With Cynthia Koppe
Koppe in Shen Wei’s Undivided Divided. Photo by Stephen Xue, Courtesy Shen Wei Dance Arts.
Cynthia Koppe is searching for “dynamic fullness and an integrated whole.” Through a multifaceted, holistic approach to cross-training, which includes running, yoga and bodywork, she tries to find connectivity throughout her body—on physical, energetic and emotional levels.
Koppe, who teaches Pilates and yoga in addition to dancing for Shen Wei Dance Arts in New York City, began working this way while earning her Pilates certification almost 10 years ago at the Kane School. “The thinking there was very much open to other systems of the body beyond the strictly biomechanical ones,” she says, adding that the philosophy focused on listening to and communicating with the body.
Today, Koppe visits an energy worker with a background in craniosacral and somato-emotional release therapy. Sessions last anywhere from 45 minutes to more than an hour and a half. They generally start with the energy worker placing her hands on Koppe’s feet to get a sense of her body, followed either by hands-off work, in which the energy worker concentrates on the surrounding energetic field, or by touching individual parts of the body to focus attention there. The energy worker then facilitates a conversation, both verbal and physical, between Koppe and her body. “There’s a lot wrapped up in performing for dancers,” says Koppe. “This work helps me to understand my own relationship to that in a way that allows me to let go of the concern over looking ‘correct.’ ”
Although company class and rehearsals prepare Koppe for Shen Wei’s detail-oriented physicality, they don’t build the stamina necessary for pieces like his Map or Rite of Spring. As a result, she runs as often as five times a week when her schedule allows. In particular, she’s found that interval training—alternating between accelerated and comfortable paces for jaunts of one to two minutes—mirrors a show’s demands on her endurance. “During performances I’m now more quickly able to come back to a baseline after my heart rate has ratcheted up,” she says. Koppe also sees running as a kind of meditation: “It’s about being present with each moment and watching your brain, especially when you get tired.”
Ultimately, Koppe’s cross-training serves her work onstage: “The more you can listen to what your body is doing—not just any body but your body—the more honest you can be in your dancing.”
Koppe recommends this qigong exercise, which she often does in class or before shows, to “vitalize the body—skin, organs, muscles and fascia—and to get your energy flowing.”
• Stand in a comfortable position.
• Using both of your hands, gently tap your head with light slaps.
• Work your way down, tapping your neck, out onto your arms and back onto your chest and belly.
• Continue down your outer legs and up your inner legs, and end with your back.
Photo by Nathan Sayers, modeled by Stephanie Troyak of NYU/Tisch School of the Arts.