I dragged myself off the plane after the 12-hour flight to Melbourne, stiff, fuzzy-headed from jet lag, and wondering if I could ever get pointe shoes on my swollen feet again. At the same time, I was bursting with excitement. As a 20-year-old corps dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet, I was embarking on my first major tour, which would turn out to be a challenging, exhausting and thrilling 10 days in Australia.

For any ballet company, large or small, contemporary or classical, touring is a fact of life. My tour to Melbourne as a young dancer was full of ups and downs (literally—the rehearsal studio was so slippery that I fell out of a tour jeté the first day and was sore for a week), but navigating my way through it gave me both insight and a suitcase full of strategies I’d use for the rest of my career.

What took me back to those early days was a recent trip to Seoul, South Korea, with Oregon Ballet Theatre. Though now retired from performing, I went on this tour as a ballet master, charged with coaching a cast of Korean children for their roles in OBT’s production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. I had the opportunity to watch a new generation of OBT dancers confront the challenges—and reap the rewards—of touring. What does it take to not just survive a tour, but want to go on another one? Mastering the practicalities is key, of course (see the sidebar), but having the right mind-set can enrich your experience both as a dancer and as a person.

Every tour I’ve been on has inevitably hit snags, minor or major, that required flexibility and teamwork to get through. OBT’s arrival in Seoul coincided with a major storm that flooded the Seoul Arts Center, wreaking havoc and drastically reducing stage rehearsal time. After taking stock of the situation and seeing that it would require a massive team effort to prepare for opening night, the dancers adopted a can-do spirit and got to work: The corps de ballet strategized offstage how to space Snow and Flowers to save precious rehearsal time, and many soloists and principals prepared to perform without even setting foot onstage first. “Everyone cheered each other on,” remembers OBT soloist Julia Rowe. “I looked around during class one hot, miserable day in the rehearsal studio, and everyone looked just like I felt. I knew we’d all get through it together.”

That togetherness can be a positive aspect of life on tour, but the constant company that comes with sharing a hotel room, mealtimes and travel schedules can be wearing—particularly if, like many dancers, you’re something of an introvert and are used to having your own space. During my touring days, I found that spending time alone helped me clear my head and recharge. Armed with a neighborhood map, I liked to wander on my own, sit in cafés and get a feel for what life was like in every city I visited. If you need “me time” but find there aren’t opportunities for such escapes on your busy tour schedule, try getting up early before your roommate and slipping up to the hotel roof for some meditation before the start of the workday. In Seoul, I spied dancers carving out alone time in various corners of the hotel lobby, taking advantage of the free WiFi to reconnect with family and friends.

Staying in touch with home was always important to me on tour, but I also made an effort to experience local culture. It can be tough, when tomorrow’s performance is on your mind, to will yourself to break out of your familiar routine and experiment a little—but some of the best memories come from trying new things. Dancers are often (justifiably) timid about new foods, for example, but OBT soloist Javier Ubell loved sampling Korean food. “One of the best nondancing experiences was trying things I never would have if we hadn’t been on tour!” he says. In fact, so many of the OBT dancers developed a taste for Korean barbecue that a bunch of us sought out a Korean restaurant in Portland for comparison when we got home.

There will be other kinds of culture shock on tour, but don’t be intimidated. The audiences in Korea confused the OBT dancers at first because they were almost silent. But apprentice Kelsie Nobriga stayed after one performance to sign autographs and saw a completely different side of the Korean ballet fans. “It was sweet to see how excited everyone was,” she says. She realized that their behavior in the theater was actually an expression of respect. “I was happy to know all our hard work was appreciated!”

Soak up as many experiences as you can. What do I remember of that long-ago Australian trip? Going to the Melbourne Zoo with my friend Kim, tasting Vegemite for the first time, learning to love black tea with lemon and chatting with Australian Ballet dancers after watching them rehearse. And I will never forget the thrill of feeling the warm, enthusiastic Aussie appreciation come across the footlights—worth every minute of that 12-hour flight.


Practical Tips for Life on Tour
















Don’t Forget to Pack…

-Any potentially hard-to-find necessities, including things like toe tape, eyelashes and glue and hairnets. I once tried to buy hairspray in Finland and ended up with air freshener because I couldn’t read the label!
-Travel-size packets of laundry soap, in case that elusive laundromat can’t be found. Shampoo works in a pinch, too.
-Your own protein or granola bars, trail mix, crackers, instant oatmeal, cups of dry soup mix, protein powder, cans of tuna or jars of nut butter in case you’re stuck at a theater in the middle of nowhere and need nourishment.
-A portable medicine cabinet. Searching for a drugstore is not what you want to do in between performances or on your day off. Bring any prescription medication you need, of course, but also over-the-counter items like ibuprofen, cold medicine, Pepto-Bismol and antihistamines.


 

On the Plane, Bus or Train
-Traveling always hurts—but just how much depends on what you do in the air or on the road. Sleeping is good; moving around is better. Get up and stretch, wherever you can. (I’ve been known to do grand pliés in the galley of the airplane to stay loose!) Give yourself a mini leg massage to keep the blood flowing. Wearing compression stockings can also prevent swelling.
-Planes especially are notoriously dehydrating. Drink plenty of water at regular intervals as you travel. I like to take a travel mug and keep it filled up with hot tea on a long flight.


Going with the Flow

-Dancing in a new place will be disorienting. Even if you hit the jackpot and tour to a place where the theater, studio and stage are ideal for dance, you will still need to adjust quickly to the unfamiliar surroundings. Try not to break in brand-new pointe shoes until you’ve tested the studio or stage and know if the floor is hard, slippery, sticky or uneven.



LADP's Rachelle Rafailedes leading a workout. Photo by Studio 6, Courtesy Sunshine Sachs.

If your usual workouts are feeling stale, Benjamin Millepied's L.A. Dance Project might be able to help. The contemporary ballet troupe recently launched an online exercise platform that puts its stars in your living room.

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Training
Video still by Nel Shelby Productions, Courtesy Dancio.

"What if you could learn from the world's best dance teachers in your living room?" This is the question that Dancio poses on their website. Dancio is a new startup that offers full length videos of ballet classes taught by master teachers. As founder Caitlin Trainor puts it, "these superstar teachers can be available to students everywhere for the cost of a cup of coffee."

For Trainor, a choreographer and the artistic director of Trainor Dance, the idea for Dancio came from a sense of frustration relatable to many dancers; feeling like they need to warm up properly before rehearsals, but not always having the time, energy or funds to get to dance class. One day while searching the internet for a quick online class, Trainor was shocked to not be able to find anything that, as she puts it, "hit the mark in terms of relevance and quality. I thought to myself, how does this not exist?" she says. "We have the Daily Burn for Fitness, YogaGlo for yogis, Netflix for entertainment and nothing for dancers! But then I thought, I can make this!" And thus, Dancio (the name is a combination of dance and video), was born.


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New York City Ballet in "George Balanchine's The Nutcracker." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy Lincoln Center.

Nutcracker season is upon us, with productions popping up in on stages in big cities and small towns around the country. But this year you can catch New York City Ballet's famous version on the silver screen, too. Lincoln Center at the Movies and Screen Vision Media are presenting a limited engagement of NYCB's George Balanchine's The Nutcracker at select cinemas nationwide starting December 2. It stars Ashley Bouder as Dewdrop and Megan Fairchild and Joaquin De Luz as the Sugarplum Fairy and Cavalier.

While nothing beats seeing a live performance (the company's theatrical Nutcracker run opens Friday), the big screen will no doubt magnify some of this production's most breathtaking effects: the Christmas tree that grows to an impressive 40 feet, Marie's magical spinning bed, and the stunning, swirling snow scene. Click here to find a participating movie theater near you—then, go grab some popcorn.

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Artists of Pennsylvania Ballet rehearsing for "The Sleeping Beauty" for the 2017/18 season. Photo by Arian Molina Soca, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet.

Today the Pennsylvania Ballet's board of trustees announced the appointment of Shelly Power as its new executive director. Having been involved in the five-month international search, company artistic director Angel Corella said in a statement released by PAB that he's "certain Shelly is the best candidate to lead the administrative team that supports the artistic vision of the company." Power's official transition will begin in February. This news comes at the end of a few years of turmoil and turnover at PAB, including the departure of former executive director David Gray in June.

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Pointe Stars
Tiler Peck with Andrew Veyette in "Allegro Brillante." Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy New York City Ballet.

"I was particularly excited when I saw my name on casting for Allegro Brillante in 2009," remembers principal dancer Tiler Peck. "Balanchine had said Allegro was, 'everything I know about classical ballet in 13 minutes,' and of course that terrified me." To calm her fear, Peck followed her regular process for debuts: begin by going back to the original performers to get an idea of the quality and feeling of the ballet and ballerina. "It is never to imitate, but rather to surround myself with as much knowledge from the past as I can so that I can find my own way," says Peck.

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Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'The Nutcracker.' Photo by Rich Sofranko

Catching a performance of The Nutcracker has long been a holiday tradition for many families. And now, more and more companies are adding sensory-friendly elements to specific shows in an effort to make the classic ballet inclusive to children and adults with special needs.

While the accommodations vary depending on the company, many are presenting shorter versions of the ballet with more relaxed theater rules. Additionally, lower sound and stage light levels during the performance, as well as trained staff on hand, make The Nutcracker more accessible for those on the autism spectrum and others with special needs.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's performance will take place on Tuesday, December 26th, and they are one of the pioneer companies in presenting sensory-friendly performances of The Nutcracker (their first production was in 2013). PBT has also offered sensory-friendly versions of Jorden Morris' Peter Pan and Lew Christensen's Beauty and the Beast in the past.

See our list of sensory-friendly performances, and check out each site for all of the details regarding their offerings.

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Your Best Body
Pilates hundred intermediate set-up, modeled by Jordan Miller. Photo by Emily Giacalone.

The Pilates hundred is a popular exercise used by many dancers for conditioning and warming up, but it's also one of the most misunderstood. Pumping your arms for 100 counts sounds simple enough, but it requires coordinated breathwork, a leg position that suits your abilities and proper alignment. Marimba Gold-Watts, who works with New York City Ballet dancers at her Pilates studio, Articulating Body, breaks down this surprisingly hard exercise. When done correctly, the benefits are threefold: "If you're doing it before class," she says, "the hundred is a great way to get your blood flowing and work on breath control and abdominal support all at once."

To Start

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Nod your chin toward the front of your throat, and reach your fingertips long.

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