Perfect Your Posture

When you begin your first plié combination of the day, you’re likely feeling refreshed and ready to go—not to mention standing tall with good posture. But as class goes on, and the mind fatigues, bad habits can creep in. By center, your upper back may be slumping forward, and your posture less than perfect.

Julie O’Connell, director of performing arts medicine at Athletico Physical Therapy in Chicago, says she often sees dancers standing with their shoulder blades too far forward and the chest caved in. She suggests this exercise to help correct this postural problem. Though the motion is minimal, it can have a big impact on your overall épaulement. If you feel your upper back rounding during class, you can even do a few reps in between combos, to remind your body of the proper alignment.

1. Stand straight against a wall, using it as a contact point for your shoulder blades.
2. Lift both arms in front of you to a 90-degree angle. The wrists should be in line with the shoulders and the elbows should be extended.
3. Using the serratus anterior muscles (which wrap from the upper ribs around the scapulas), slowly reach both arms forward in a punching motion, feeling your shoulder blades move away from each other as they glide along your rib cage.
4. Return to the starting position, so your shoulder blades are resting alongside the spine. This is correct, engaged alignment. Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions.



This or That?
You just finished learning a new section of choreography, and you have a 90-minute break before rehearsal starts again. If given the choice to take a power nap or catch up on Netflix, which option might help you recall more movement once you step back into the studio? The power nap. Why? According to a recent German study, psychologists found that participants who studied 120 word pairs were able to remember more during a retest if they had taken a nap than if they had watched a DVD. Power down your tablet and let the choreography sink in as you drift away.


Don’t Condemn Carbs
You may have heard of “carbo-loading,” the practice in which endurance athletes ramp up their carbohydrate intake before an event, like a marathon. Recent studies from sports and kinesiology researchers in Canada show that when runners maximized the amount of glycogen stored in their muscles by eating more carbohydrates, they improved their athletic performance and offset fatigue.

But even though a full-length ballet like The Sleeping Beauty may feel like a marathon, dancers don’t have the same energy needs as long-distance runners. However, Leslie Bonci, a dietitian who works with members of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, says that “many dancers don’t get as much as they need when it comes to carbohydrates.” She says that some even lean toward being “carb-phobic.” Though some dancers demonize the starchy stuff, carbs play an undeniably integral role in maintaining dancers’ fluid and energy levels. For optimal strength, speed, stamina and cognition in the studio and onstage, Bonci recommends balanced meals that are neither carb-loaded nor carb-devoid. “A plate shouldn’t be a 50/50 split between protein and vegetables,” she says. Instead, it might be 40 percent protein, 40 percent vegetables and 20 percent carbs.

For nutritional yet portable snacks during a dance-filled day, Bonci suggests packing food in snack-sized Ziploc bags. Fill them with a three-part trail mix of dry cereal, nuts and dried fruit. Or, try spreading nut butter on a whole-wheat tortilla with a squirt of honey for sweetness, then fold and cut into triangles for your noontime nibble.

Hannah Foster

Hug for Your Health
Whether you’re rehearsing a passionate embrace for an upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet or hugging a friend to congratulate her on a spectacular performance, it all may be good for your health. Why? A study at Carnegie Mellon University found that frequent huggers were less susceptible to illness and didn’t have as many serious symptoms when they did get sick. Over a 14-day period, 404 healthy adults were asked about the amount of hugs and support they received. Then, the whole group was exposed to a common cold virus and monitored closely. Those who had a greater sense of social support were at a lower risk for catching the cold, and out of those who did get sick, the frequent huggers experienced less-severe symptoms. While researchers aren’t sure if it’s the physical act of hugging or the support it offers that helps combat illness, we have one suggestion for you: Share the love!

Be Iron Clad
For on-the-go dancers, iron is a must. Without enough of the mineral, it can lead to fatigue and a lowered immune function. That’s why stocking your fridge with iron-rich foods is so important.

But it doesn’t stop there. You should also make sure that other healthy habits, like drinking tea, aren’t hampering your body’s ability to absorb iron. According to research from the journal Food Science and Nutrition, micronutrients in tea, known as polyphenols, have been shown to limit iron absorption to a certain extent. However, Emily C. Harrison, a dietitian at Atlanta Ballet’s Centre for Dance Nutrition, says that there are some dietary strategies that can improve iron absorption in healthy, tea-drinking dancers. Here are her top nutritional tips:

1. Stock your diet with a variety of foods high in iron, like beans, peas, leafy greens, chia seeds and meat, if you eat it. Vitamin C helps absorb iron from plant sources, so pair the two into the same meal or snack. Harrison recommends kale and red peppers gently sautéed in olive oil, with a squeeze of lemon juice as a dressing, or spinach and black bean tacos with fresh lime juice and cilantro.

2. Foods fortified with iron are also great choices. Try oatmeal, dry cereal and pasta made from red lentils or black beans.

3. Dancers drinking less than three cups of tea daily and eating iron-rich foods are at a lower risk for iron deficiency.

4. If a dancer is anemic, one to two cups of tea per day is still permissible, though they’ll need to increase their intake of foods high in iron and possibly take a low-dose iron supplement, less than 18 milligrams. If anemia continues despite a dancer’s iron-rich diet, consult a doctor to rule out other possible problems.



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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 also offers sensory-friendly versions of Jorden Morris' Peter Pan and Lew Christensen's Beauty and the Beast throughout the year.

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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Pointe Stars

At just 16 years old, the Bolshoi Ballet's Maria Alexandrova already had the makings of a great artist. In this variation from Coppélia, she portrays the carefree Swanilda with blithe, youthful ease.

When she bounds on stage in her perky pink tutu, you immediately notice her legs–they just go on forever. In the first sequence of steps she keeps her jetés and développés low, but then the phrase repeats and she lets her gorgeous extensions fly. She sails through Italian fouettés and whirls around in piqués en manège that get faster and faster. While she nails all the virtuosic movement, Alexandrova also pays beautiful attention to detail throughout the variation. Even the simplest steps become something exciting, like her precise pas de bourrées beginning at 1:03 that sing with musicality.

Swanilda has been one of Alexandrova's signature roles throughout her career. For a fun side by side, watch her perform the same variation almost 20 years later in this video. Although Alexandrova formally retired from the Bolshoi in February, she still performs frequently in Moscow and internationally as a guest artist. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!


Pointe Stars
Ingrid Silva and her dog, Frida Kahlo. Photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

You're probably already following your favorite dancers on Instagram, but did you know that you can follow many of their dogs, too? We rounded up some of our favorite dog-centered accounts and hashtags to keep you pawsitively entertained (sorry, we can't help ourselves).

Cora and Maya (American Ballet Theatre's Sarah Lane and Luis Ribagorda)

Sarah Lane and Luis Ribagorda's pups Cora and Maya update their profile pretty frequently. Often accompanying Lane to the ABT studios, they can also be seen using tutus or piles of pink tights as dog beds.

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