Have a question? Click here to send it to Pointe editor and former dancer Amy Brandt.

 

At my last checkup my doctor said I needed to gain weight. I’m 91 pounds and 5' 3". I understand the health risks of being underweight, especially since I’m 17 and haven’t gotten my period yet, but I like my body the way it is. What is the best way to gain weight without overdoing the ice cream? —Sarah

 

Even though you’re happy with your body as is, your doctor is right—you’re underweight. And the fact that you haven’t had your first period yet is a serious concern. A delayed first period, called primary amenorrhea, is often accompanied by low estrogen levels and frequently occurs in athletic teenagers because they exercise heavily, eat too few calories or both. As a result, you’re at a greater risk for low bone density—which can mean stress fractures and osteoporosis down the line.

According to Emily Harrison, MS, RDN, LD, registered dietitian for the Centre for Dance Nutrition at Atlanta Ballet, gaining 7 to 12 pounds is a good start toward being in a healthier weight range. She recommends slow, steady weight gain of about one pound every one to two weeks. “It’s best to achieve this by eating regularly throughout the day in smaller but frequent meals and snacks,” says Harrison.

Since individual needs are different, it’s a smart idea to meet with a registered dietitian in your area for a personalized plan. Here are some of Harrison’s recommendations for snacks containing healthy fats and protein, which will help you achieve your weight goal: Add 1/4 cup of nuts to your oatmeal for breakfast; top salads with three slices of avocado; eat 1/2 to one cup of high-protein red-lentil pasta before or after class, or hummus with crackers or veggies. You can also increase your portion sizes of healthy foods such as soups, wraps and salads—Harrison offers a variety of recipes on her website, dancernutrition.com.

Is working out in a pool a good way to cross-train? If so, can you describe some of the strengthening exercises that dancers can do in the water? —Karen

 

If you’re looking for a cardiovascular workout, swimming laps can be a great option. But it shouldn’t be your primary source of cardio exercise, says Michael Velsmid, DPT, MS and owner of Boston Sports Medicine, a clinic that provides aquatic therapy to Boston Ballet dancers. “The dancer’s body needs to have a certain amount of stress imparted on it,” he says. “But if you’re recovering from a heavy workout, the pool is great. Where you might typically want to skip a day to rest and recover, you can go in the pool without any additional delay in your recovery.”

The pool is also an excellent environment to rehabilitate, especially if you have difficulty with weight-bearing exercises like relevé and petit allégro. I spent an entire summer doing aquatic therapy when I was recovering from a stress fracture in my ankle. But according to Velsmid, “If you’re not recovering from an injury, the pool probably isn’t the best place to strengthen because it’s a gravity-minimized environment.”

However, simply taking barre underwater can do wonders to improve your alignment and balance. Suddenly, exercises that are simple on land, such as passé or grand rond de jambe, become much more difficult. “It helps create a better mind-body connection of how to activate those muscles,” says Velsmid. If you have access to a pool, try going through a ballet barre using the ledge or wall to balance. For an even greater challenge, try it without holding on.

I’m flexible and good at traveling across the floor, but I can’t seem to get any height or extension on my sauts de chat. What should I focus on to get that powerful grand allégro jump? —Mary

 

I sometimes see dancers with beautiful extensions struggle to get off the ground in grand allégro. While flexibility helps with splitting the legs, you also need proper strength in your hamstrings, back and abdominals to push off the ground and hold the position.

For saut de chat, multiple components must be perfectly timed. As you move through fourth position during your preparation, think of gathering your energy together, making sure your plié is deep and substantial so that you have more power to push off. When you jump, you want to carve an arc through the air—not stay the same level horizontally—so think of lifting your hips as you développé to propel yourself in the right direction (I always imagine a horse rearing on its hind legs). Then, push through the toes of the back foot and think of doing a grand battement derrière. To achieve a nice split, imagine an explosive energy underneath your back thigh. I also try to inhale at the height of the jump—it helps me to hold on to the air a little longer.

Try doing some daily exercises (such as plank poses and modified bridges) or taking a weekly Pilates class to help strengthen your core and hamstrings. And at barre, pay close attention to your fondus and grand battement. The deep plié action of fondu and forceful brush of grand battement are tools you’ll need to utilize later in grand allégro.

If you're in the NYC area and are in need of weekend plans, you might want to consider heading to the Film Society of Lincoln Center to see Jean-Stéphane Bron's documentary, The Paris Opéra. While the film was originally released in France this past spring, it just made its way to the US on October 18th, and it chronicles the 2015-2016 season at the Paris Opera.

Encompassing the entire institution (which was founded in 1669 by King Louis XIV!), dancers will particularly enjoy an inside look at the Paris Opéra Ballet—both in rehearsals and onstage. Most notably, Bron captures the then POB director Benjamin Millepied as he decides to leave his position with the company barely a year after his appointment.

Check out the full trailer below, and the Film Society of Lincoln Center's full listing of showtimes here.

Your Training
Thinkstock.

Bianca Bulle was always prone to ankle sprains. When she was 18, her recoveries became more complicated: She started experiencing Achilles tendonitis due to muscle weakness and fluid buildup in the ankle. "The last thing to get back to normal would be my Achilles, which was so incredibly tight and painful," says Bulle, now a principal at Los Angeles Ballet.

The Achilles is the body's largest tendon, attaching the bottom of the calf muscles to the back of the heel. It contracts and releases as you relevé and plié, as well as when you jump and even walk. Tendonitis, or inflammation, of the Achilles is one of the most frequently reported overuse injuries among active people, according to the American Physical Therapy Association. You'll know it by the pain or tightness at the back of the heel. If the condition gets bad enough, the tendon can rupture, which requires surgery to fix.

Achilles tendonitis is especially common among dancers on pointe, but it's not inevitable. With rest and proper conditioning, you can work to avoid it with careful technique and a commitment to cross-training.


Boston Ballet School pre-professional students. Photo by Igor Burlak Photography, Courtesy Boston Ballet.

What Causes It?

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New York City Ballet in Marc Chagall's costume designs for Balanchine's "Firebird."

I am a self-confessed costume nerd who really needs little persuasion to travel nearly 3,000 miles to see a costume exhibition—which is what I did when I set off for California for the new exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art: Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage. I knew Marc Chagall primarily for his sumptuous blue swirling paintings featuring violin-playing goats, his incredible ceiling at the Paris Opéra's Palais Garnier, and murals at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, so I was intrigued to see his work with ballet.

Marc Chagall (1887–1985), was born Moishe Zakharovich Shagal in Belarus. He later moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, to study art, apprenticing under famed Ballets Russes designer Leon Bakst. Chagall's work in ballet and opera, however, did not begin until he and his wife Bella arrived in the U.S. as World War II refugees in 1941.

Chagall: Fantasies for the Stage, adapted from an earlier exhibition at the Montreal Music of Art and curated by Yuval Sharon and Jason H. Thompson, is an exciting opportunity to see 41 costumes and nearly 100 designs. But it is the costumes that really steal the show. You won't see any tutus here, but instead amazing, almost cartoon-like realizations of Chagall's artwork. LACMA's exhibition runs through January 7, 2018. For those of you who can't make the trip like I did, here's a rundown of highlights.

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Tiler Peck in "Who Cares?". Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.

New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck and Emmy-winning actress Elisabeth Moss (of Mad Men and Handmaid's Tale fame) may seem like unlikely friends, until you dig a little deeper into their backgrounds. Both attended Westside School of Ballet in Santa Monica and spent summers at the School of American Ballet in their youths. Moss and Peck's career paths diverged when the former fell in love with acting and Peck went on to study at SAB full time, eventually becoming the star we know today. Now, the pairs' artistic pursuits are uniting in an exciting new project.

According to Deadline.com, Moss will produce a documentary featuring Peck and her work curating BalletNOW, last summer's star-studded, critically acclaimed program at Los Angeles's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Peck was the first woman to lead BalletNOW's programming, and she brought together dancers from companies including The Royal Ballet, Miami City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and the Paris Opéra Ballet, putting them on stage with tappers, clowns and break dancers (sometimes simultaneously).


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Your Best Body

Looking for creative and healthy ways to get your pumpkin fix this fall? First, back away from the pumpkin-spiced latte—the season's unofficial drink is often laced with sugary syrup and comes with a complimentary mid-rehearsal crash. Instead, try these simple snacks with puréed pumpkin. It's high in beta-carotene, which converts to immunity-boosting vitamin A, and is a good source of vitamin K, iron and fiber. You can buy it canned or make the purée from a "sugar" or "pie" pumpkin (they're commonly available at grocery stores or farm markets).

Fruit-and-Spice Toast

- Spread purée onto whole-grain toast.

- Top with sliced pear.

- Add a dash of cinnamon.

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Pointe Stars

When Maya Plisetskaya first toured abroad with the Bolshoi Ballet, she stunned the world. Her dramatic and technical abilities were far beyond what anyone outside the Soviet Union had seen before. She quickly became an icon, symbolizing Russian ballet.

Plisetskaya was the perfect ballerina to play the Tsar Maiden in The Little Humpbacked Horse when choreographer Alexander Radunsky and composer Rodion Shchedrin recreated the classic Russian folktale in the 1960s. This vintage clip of the ballet offers a glimpse into an era gone by. Although ballet technique has advanced since then, Plisetskaya's performance is still electrifying. She is daring and agile in her manèges and fouettés, while she shows gentle purity and authentic emotion in the pas de deux with the wide-eyed Ivan. Even half a century later, this magnificent artist continues to transfix us with her radiant presence onstage. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


Pointe Stars
P.O. Alienz in Lavender Leotard; Paulina Waski modelling a Kreature Kulture t-shirt. Photos Courtesy Paulina Waski.

Walk into any ballet class and you're bound to see a row of dancers clad in leotards patterned with dainty flowers and lace. But nearly three years ago, American Ballet Theatre corps dancer Paulina Waski wore a very different kind of leotard to class—and her colleagues loved it. Now an average day at ABT includes any number of dancers in leotards featuring angry aliens, detached eyeballs and grinning monsters.

"My dad, John, is an artist, and he draws all these crazy creatures," Waski explains. "One year he did what he called his paper plate project; he drew a new creature onto a paper plate every single day for 365 days. I thought, 'he should put one on a leotard!' He screen printed one onto one of my old leotards himself, and when I wore it to class everyone was wowed." And so, Kreature Kulture was born.


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