Inside PT

Simple but Effective Ankle Strengtheners

(Hannah Foster, photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe)

Even after years of pointework, ankle strengthening never stops. Freshen up your warm-up routine with these three daily exercises from Leigh Heflin Ponniah, MA, MSc, from the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries of the New York University Langone Medical Center. Although the movements are subtle, “these work on building stamina in the ankle and supporting muscles,” she says. Each should be done barefoot or in ballet slippers.

Calf Raise with Tennis Ball

1. Stand in parallel with a tennis ball between your ankles, just underneath the medial malleolus—the bony bump on the inside of the ankle.

2. Rise to relevé while squeezing the tennis ball in place and keeping the alignment of the legs.

3. Lower and repeat 20 times.

What it does: This strengthens the calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus), as well as the muscles of the inner thighs and ankles that help with stability.

 

(Hannah Foster, photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe)

Heel Walks

1. Walk on your heels with straight legs and all 10 toes off the ground.

2. Continue moving around the studio like this for 30 to 60 seconds.

What it does: The walks build strength in the tibialis anterior, located in the shin. It also helps counteract overly dominant calves, which are often seen in dancers.

(Hannah Foster, photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe)

Romberg Balance

1. Stand facing the barre and lift the left foot off the ground without letting it touch the right leg. Close your eyes and remove your hands from the barre.

2. Balance for 30 to 60 seconds, and repeat on the opposite leg.

3. As you gain stability balancing barefoot, you can progress to doing this in pointe shoes (while standing on flat) for more of a challenge.

What it does: This improves proprioception, the sense of your position in space. According to Ponniah, this plays a major role in ankle stability and overall body awareness when you’re dancing.

Wellness Tips from the Pros

If you’ve ever wanted to know professional dancers’ health secrets—or are looking for a few tips for yourself—The Whole Dancer program might be for you. Founded in 2015 by health coach and former Louisville Ballet dancer Jess Spinner, The Whole Dancer offers online programming for pre-professional and professional ballet dancers on topics like eating well, cross-training, goal setting and self-care through group phone calls, weekly worksheets and more. The next session, running June 15 to August 10, will feature three guest contributors: New York City Ballet soloist Lauren King, Boston Ballet corps dancer Shelby Elsbree and Dance Theatre of Harlem member Lindsey Croop. “The big goal in having professionals participate,” says Spinner, “is to help younger dancers realize that getting through the pressure and stresses associated with a professional dance career takes work—just like within the studio.” Programs run online for eight weeks and range in cost from $99 to $379. For more information and to register, see thewholedancer.com.

Fantastic Flaxseeds

What are they? Flaxseeds are the seed of the ancient flax plant. Through the centuries, its nutrition has been touted by East Indian yogis, the emperor Charlemagne and Mahatma Gandhi. The plant’s Latin name, Linum usitatissimum, even translates to “the most useful.”

Why they’re good for you: According to the American Nutrition Association, the tiny morsels:

are an excellent source of linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid, two fatty acids that the body needs but can’t make on its own.

contain a protein that has all the essential amino acids.

are high in fiber.

are a good source of many minerals and vitamins, including magnesium and vitamin B1.

How to eat them: Grind flaxseeds before eating to release their nutrients—if left whole, they may pass through your digestive tract without breaking down. (A coffee grinder or spice mill will do the trick.) Mix 2 tablespoons into a smoothie, sprinkle onto cereal, oatmeal or yogurt, or use as a salad topper. Adding ground flaxseed is also a great way to boost the nutrition of baked goods like breads or muffins.

The Secret to a Healthier Grocery Haul

If you want to stock your shopping cart with more leafy greens, fruits and vegetables, try this: Eat a healthy snack beforehand. According to a study in Psychology & Marketing, people bought 25 percent more produce if they had an apple before they went to the grocery store, instead of a cookie or no snack at all.

Callus Care 101

With the joy of pointework usually comes the not-so-pleasant experience of having calluses. For most dancers, the hardened patches of skin on the toes and heels come with the territory. According to Dr. Thomas Novella, a podiatrist who works with professional ballet dancers in New York City, “calluses are a natural accumulation of keratin, a protein produced by the top layer of skin to adapt to areas of pressure.” Here, he shares how calluses can be beneficial to dancers, as well as when you should be worried.

The good: Your calluses are like a customized coat of armor, one you started developing when you began pointework. The tough keratin layers may be unsightly, but they’re far better at protecting your feet than blister-prone soft skin. If your calluses don’t hurt, leave them alone; they’re probably preventing blisters.

The bad: An overly thick callus can create too much pressure, irritating the skin under or around it. Or, a harmless callus may evolve into a hard corn—also made of keratin but typically smaller and more sensitive. When experiencing pain, try to distribute the pressure and protect the area with doughnut-shaped pads and malleable lambswool. Avoid pads with uniform thickness, which will cause increased pressure.

The ugly: If you’re taking a lot of modern classes or rehearsing a barefoot ballet, a callus on the bottom of your foot may split into a painful fissure, making weight-bearing and demi-pointe work extremely painful. An untreated corn could also develop into an ulcer, an open sore on the top layer of skin. Since fissures and ulcers are open wounds, they’re prone to infection and may require a trip to the doctor and time off to heal.

Maintain Before Pain

Novella suggests using a PedEgg to safely shave your calluses to a moderate thickness; don’t overdo it.

Avoid using sharp tools or products with erosive acids to manage calluses. Both can damage healthy skin.

Monitor evolving or new calluses, which can be caused by new shoes, different choreography or even changing bone structure after foot growth or injury.

You may need to increase your pointe shoe size or rethink your toe padding to accommodate calluses. —Hannah Foster

Color Yourself Happy

Consider these new dance bag essentials: a coloring book and crayons. Why? Coloring has a calming effect similar to meditating, possibly because it helps you be present in the moment. Neuropsychologists have credited its repetitive nature, patterns and details with its positive effects, and over the past year, the popularity of adult coloring books has exploded. When you’re killing time backstage or between classes, it’s the perfect lighthearted stress reliever.

 

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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!


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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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