During class, you're tuned in to every aspect of your dancing. But when the day is over, you may be tempted to head home and skip out on a proper cooldown. Don't: Going from grand allégro to a full stop is hard on your muscles. Bené Barrera, an athletic trainer who works with Houston Ballet, says, "If you're doing an end-of-day cooldown, you're going to need at least 20 minutes. That allows the muscles to calm down." And your body should notice the difference: "You'll have less trigger-point pain later, and your soreness might reduce a bit." A proper cooldown may even help you sleep better.
But post-class stretching isn't about sitting in a straddle. "As a dancer, you're never truly isolating one area," says Barrera. Your cooldown should mimic that. "You want to cover the whole body altogether. You don't want to just stretch one muscle group."
Forget the heart-shaped box of chocolates. There's a healthier way to satisfy your sweet tooth for Valentine's Day. One tablespoon of cocoa powder will add a touch of chocolatey richness to your morning bowl of oatmeal or yogurt—and offers these nutritional perks:
Stretch or non-stretch ribbons? Mesh or traditional elastics? Master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop explains the differences between four different types of ribbons and two different types of elastics to make sure that you're getting the most comfort and support possible out of your pointe shoe.
Early in Carrie Imler's 22-year career with Pacific Northwest Ballet, she was excited to be cast in Balanchine's The Four Temperaments. But immediately following dress rehearsal, she was removed from her role in "Melancholic." "My artistic director at the time pulled me aside and said, 'We can't put you out there,' " she remembers. "My weight fluctuated my entire career. Just when I felt like I had figured it out, I would gain it back and have to start all over again." Despite becoming one of PNB's most celebrated principal dancers, Imler never shook the fear of what might happen when a leotard ballet was in the repertoire.
Ballet prides itself on high standards, and the classical ballet physique is not the least of those expectations. Fear of the "fat talk" still lurks in studios, but, as Imler points out, weight is a challenge that many dancers face, while others may struggle with the arches of their feet or turnout. If you are confronted about your weight, know that many talented dancers have been there. Having "the talk" doesn't mean you can't become a professional, but if you take a mindful approach to the conversation, it will show your maturity and ultimately your ability to navigate a career.
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Whether you're being lifted in The Nutcracker's grand pas de deux or doing weight-sharing in contemporary choreography, female ballet dancers can't expect their partner to do all the work. "Strength with stability is a hallmark," says Rebecca Kesting, staff physical therapist at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Health. The other person is usually moving too, she says, so you need to be able to use your upper-body strength to find stability.
Kesting recommends these three exercises, which imitate pressing into a partner. If you're just starting to build upper-body strength, practice them four days a week to develop your shoulder stabilizers and upper-back muscles. Later on, you can scale back to two or three times weekly for maintenance.
- an inflatable ball you can hold in your hand (like a kickball or smaller)
- a foam roller
Side Plank with Port de Bras
Regular and side planks strengthen the shoulder stabilizers, like the serratus anterior, along with the abdominals. Once you've mastered these basic forms, Kesting recommends a side plank with moving port de bras. Play with your own pattern, like first to fifth to second, and then reverse. "You get the stability of pressing away from the ground as you would through a partner," she says. "And you're adding that dance-specific movement."
Supermarkets and salad bars offer an abundance of leafy greens, but which choice is best for dancers? According to Marie Elena Scioscia, a dietitian nutritionist who works with The Ailey School, you don't have to stick with one option—yes, it is okay if you're not obsessed with kale. Each of her top four picks has a variety of nutrients, so change it up, buy a bag of mixed greens or create your own plate at the salad bar. "It's all good," says Scioscia. Stats below are based on the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for featured nutrients. Here's what's worth noting in a two-cup serving of each of these greens.
Vitamin A: 412%
Vitamin C: 268%
Vitamin K: 1,365%
Plus: 12% RDA of iron