(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.

 

Andersen in Balanchine's "Valse-Fantaisie." Photo by Daniel Azoulay, Courtesy Miami City Ballet.

I got my corps contract on my 18th birthday. It was such a relief. I had convinced myself that I would be okay not dancing, but inside I just wanted to get a contract with Miami City Ballet.

I'd trained at Milwaukee Ballet School pretty much my whole life, and in 2014 I went to the MCB summer program and loved it. They invited me to stay for the year, and right when I got there, they offered me an apprenticeship. I spent the next two years as an apprentice. My second year I got to tour with the company and did Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Bourrée Fantasque.

Once I was told that I had a contract, it felt like so much weight was lifted off my shoulders. Every single person came up and individually congratulated me. They were so kind, and ever since then they've been like a big family.

It's such a jump from being in a school setting to being in the company. I'm lucky that I was able to experience so much firsthand as an apprentice, but there were still some things that I couldn't get used to. As an apprentice, I would spend half my day rehearsing and taking class at the school, and the other half rehearsing with MCB. Once I got into the company, there was so much less work. It was hard to stay in shape and make sure that I was on top of my dancing. The ballet masters don't give you as many corrections, and I didn't have anybody there to discipline me. It was all self-motivation.

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Master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee is back, this time sharing her tried-and-true advice from the streets of New York City. While conducting a pointe shoe seminar at the Joffrey Ballet School's NYC Ballet Intensive, Lee put together a list of five things to keep in mind when choosing a summer program. Whether you're about to embark on this summer's intensive or are already thinking ahead for next year, these are good tips to keep in mind. And what better way to receive advice than while viewing a stroll through some of our favorite ballet-happy spots in NYC?

American Ballet Theatre's Cassandra Trenary seems to have it all—not only is our June/July 2016 cover star a dazzling soloist at ABT, she has a sunny, down-to-earth personality and a life-saving hero for a husband. But her first year in the company had its fair share of disappointments—in fact, she almost left dance altogether to pursue acting.

In May, the National YoungArts Foundation, an organization that provides scholarships and mentorship to aspiring performing artists, brought Trenary (herself a 2011 YoungArts winner) and ABT artist in residence Alexei Ratmansky together for a salon-style discussion. Together they talked about critical turning points in their careers, as well as the challenges of navigating the dance world as a young professional. Below are exclusive excerpts of their interview—we hope their words inspire you as much as they inspire us!



There's still time to enter YoungArts's national arts competition for a chance at scholarships, workshops and more. Click here for information on how to apply.

ADrian Durham in CPYB's production of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy CPYB.

As a teenager, Adrian Durham studied at his local ballet school in Lake Charles, Louisiana. "I was one of three or four guys training there, and there were no male teachers," says Durham. "Most of my partnering experience came from rehearsals for performances." But after he began training with the male scholarship program at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in 2014, he experienced a sea change. "It challenged me mentally, physically and emotionally, because it's such an intense program," he says. Now 20, he is preparing for a professional career with an integrated set of tools: ballet technique, physical strength and partnering skills.

Men's ballet technique classes have been available for decades, especially at summer intensives and urban ballet schools. Yet programs designed specifically for male dancers, often offering full scholarships, have been rarer—until now, that is. Training that allows boys to separately explore their skills, above and beyond a supplement of double tours en l'air and pirouettes à la seconde at the conclusion of a mixed class, can literally give young men a leg up as they aspire towards a dance career.

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Alessandra Ferri in "Romeo and Juliet." Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

To watch Irina Kolpakova coach Swan Lake is to witness a true artist at work. Although long retired from the stage, the American Ballet Theatre ballet mistress still possesses a commanding presence and an instinctive artistic spirit.

"Don't think about your shape when you first see Siegfried," she tells principal Isabella Boylston during rehearsal for Odette's Act II entrance. "This is not 'port de bras.' This is 'Don't touch me!' " Kolpakova demonstrates, transforming instantly into the Swan Queen. Her eyes sparkling and alive, every inch of her diminutive stature swells with a palpable energy capable of reaching the highest ring of the balcony.

Call it stage presence, call it the "it" factor, some dancers just have a natural ability to draw people in and change the atmosphere around them. Stage presence can carry a dancer to a higher artistic realm. It's the final piece of the puzzle, the emotional heart of a performance that can bring an audience to tears. Without it, even the best choreography risks falling flat.

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Via Instagram

Last fall, Diana Vishneva shocked her NYC following when she announced that she would give her final performance with American Ballet Theatre on June 23, 2017. The Russian-born dancer has been part of ABT since performing in Romeo and Juliet as a guest artist in 2003, and has held the title of principal dancer with the company since 2005 in addition to her principal role with the Mariinksy Ballet. Throughout her time with ABT, which she spoke about in the below video for The New Yorker, Vishneva has danced as a guest artist with Bolshoi Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet and Berlin State Ballet.


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Karen Kain is internationally renowned as a performer and as the National Ballet of Canada's artistic director. The former NBoC principal always carries herself with the grace and sophistication of a true leader. However, in this 1976 clip from Giselle, the distinguished ballerina is convincingly naïve and bewildered in her interpretation of the mad scene.



Kain conveys Giselle's innocence at the start of the scene with pure, unaffected gestures and facial expressions. Then, after Albrecht betrays her, her eyes stare unfocused into the distance as if she's in a trance. Although this scene is mostly acting, Kain dances dreamily to the musical motif at 5:30 and conceals her technical strength in order to show the character's frailty. It takes a true ballerina to perform this heartbreaking and beautiful role, and with performances like this and her lifelong commitment to the art form, Kain proves that she is an extraordinary one. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!

Photo by Quinn Wharton

How can I wean myself off my coffee fix without experiencing headaches and crankiness that will disrupt my rehearsal process? —Lauryn

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