After what appears to have been an emotionally draining injury-rehabilitation program, American Ballet Theatre and Bolshoi Ballet star David Hallberg has returned to the stage.
A little over a year ago, Hallberg buzzed his hair, posted a semi-cryptic message on Instagram and dropped out of the ballet world altogether. He moved to Australia to treat a lingering ankle injury, specifically seeking out Sue Mayes and the Australian Ballet's physical therapy team. Now healthy, he made his comeback in Sydney on the evening of December 13. He performed the role of Franz in Coppélia, as a guest artists with the Australian Ballet.
Hallberg tackled his therapy program with a dancer's usual determination and drive, though that didn't keep him from experiencing self-doubt. "Emotionally, some days I was just going by the words of my team and not my own self-belief," he told the Sydney Morning Herald. His pride also took a knock, when students from the Australian Ballet School witnessed him slowly working his way back from injury to peak condition.
Fortunately, those moments of struggle have paid off: Not only was Franz a brand new role for Hallberg to add to his repertoire, but the entire ballet world wished him well during his comeback performance.
Your @abtofficial family is with you @davidhallberger as you return to the stage tonight with @ausballet! Behind you always, every step of the way, on stage and off! As the Aussies say, "Chookas!" ❤️ | 📸: @rosalieoconnorphotography @abtofficial #ballet #abtballet
A photo posted by American Ballet Theatre (@abtofficial) on
“It’s changed the way I dance, but also the way I condition myself … The team really taught me the power of prevention: even if it’s a fluke accident, you can often prevent it from happening if you have this really strong, intuitive, honed-in and turned-on support system.” Principal Dancer David Hallberg @davidhallberger on working with our Rehabilitation Team. Tonight, after being away from the stage for two-and-a-half years, David will return to ballet as Franz in Coppélia, dancing with Principal Artist @amber_e_scott … Chookas! Read more about David’s rehabilitation through the link in our bio ⭐ #TABCoppélia 📷 @klongersklongers
A photo posted by The Australian Ballet (@ausballet) on
This guy is 1 of the most beautiful people inside and out, an inspiration to me, and a driving force in the dance world. All my love to him tonight as he returns to the stage in Australia. Love you so much David. Hope to see you soon!! Go get em... #Inspiration @davidhallberger #MyRomeo #Strength #NoAwardNeeded #AthleteofGod
A photo posted by Sara Mearns (@saramearns) on
— Marina harss (@MarinaHarss) December 13, 2016
Australian audiences can still catch the danseur noble on December 16, 19 and 21. We'll keep you updated on his next moves!
Have a question? Click here to send it to Pointe editor and former dancer Amy Brandt.
I’m preparing to dance my first lead and I’m worried about my stamina. Do you have any tips for keeping your energy up during a taxing role? —Kennedy
Building stamina is a gradual process—it’s not something you can whip up overnight. Ideally you should have several weeks to prepare your body and mind. When I first started learning the role of Sugarplum Fairy, I was so exhausted that I could barely feel my feet during the coda. But by the time I got onstage three weeks later, I felt in the best shape of my life.
In the early rehearsal stages, it’s natural to frequently start and stop. But once you have a grasp of the ballet, try pushing through longer passages of choreography and resisting the urge to quit when you feel tired or for minor errors. It will feel messy at first, but that’s normal—the earlier you start running through the ballet, the more opportunities your body has to build stamina. As you grow more familiar with the choreography, you’ll find places to breathe and pace yourself (allowing you to focus more on artistic details). I find it especially beneficial to run choreography twice during rehearsal, with a short break in between to troubleshoot. Then, performing it one time onstage feels like a breeze.
You may want to supplement your dancing with 30-minute, low-impact cardio sessions, such as using the elliptical, says Jennifer Green, a physical therapist at PhysioArts in New York City. To mimic a ballet, pepper your routine with short bursts of high-intensity cardio to get your heart rate up, then lower the intensity to recover before sprinting again. Pay close attention to your eating habits, too. In addition to balanced meals, make sure to consume plenty of carbohydrates, which convert into easy fuel, along with some protein two to three hours before the show.
I’m recovering from surgery on my ankle, and I’m feeling intimidated about getting back into the studio. How do I get over feeling like I’m starting at square one? —Julia
Coming back from an injury is one of the scariest and most humbling experiences a dancer can face. But it’s also an opportunity. When else do you have the luxury to slow down and intricately analyze your technique? I had two major injuries during my career, and both times I came back stronger because I had time to correct issues with my alignment, address long-standing bad habits and strengthen weaknesses. That said, coming back to class was hard. It will feel strange and you’ll get very frustrated at times—which is perfectly valid! But try to stay focused on your ultimate goal, which is to fully recover and get back onstage. You can’t do that without going to class, so you’ll have to understand that things will be different for a while.
The fact is, you are starting from square one—and that’s okay! Accept your limitations seriously and work within them. You may feel pressure to do more than you should (especially around your uninjured colleagues), so find a place at the barre where you can drown everything out and feel comfortable working at your own pace. And remember—baby steps. Better to work slowly and safely than to push too hard, compensate and risk re-injuring yourself.
Finally, try not to assume that your colleagues are judging you. They know you’re injured—if anything, they’ll be your biggest cheerleaders. Need a little inspiration? Click here to read New York City Ballet principal Jennie Somogyi’s personal story of injury recovery.
What are compression sleeves or socks and why do dancers wear them? Do they have health benefits? —Cate
Compression garments provide light pressure to the leg and foot muscles during activity, and have become more popular in recent years. For one thing, says Green, they can help control minor swelling during injury recovery, and are commonly used for calf strains and shin splints. (Remember, compression is one of the components of RICE, the others being rest, ice and elevation.) High-quality sleeves and socks are graded, with tighter compression by the foot and ankle that gets looser as it goes further up the leg. The reason? “It’s trying to help the veins return blood back up to the heart,” says Green. “You want to train swelling to go in the right direction, and that’s up, not down.”
In addition, they help give proprioceptive feedback. “Just the tactile compression on your skin can help you be more aware of the area,” Green says. One thing to watch out for with sleeves: Because they don’t encase the foot, swelling can sometimes cause blood to pool below the ankle. “If you notice that one foot is really swollen, you should wear a compression sock instead.”
According to Green, another theory (which has not yet been proven) says that compression garments can improve performance when worn during activity. “Wearing them might help you return deoxygenated blood to your heart more quickly, so that oxygenated blood can reach your extremities faster and improve muscle performance,” says Green. “The research, though, is still catching up.”
Onstage, Miami City Ballet principal Patricia Delgado is known for her artistic range. Outside of the theater, though, she’s a bona fide cross-training queen. From hand weights to swimming to Gyrotonic, she’s tried it all, and has found the perfect mix to maintain her petite but muscular 5' 4 1/2" frame. Strange as it may sound, Delgado owes her current strength to her past missteps. “I would say that any of my cross-training was triggered by injury,” she says.
Sculpting secret: How does Delgado get those super-toned arms? With daily reps of bicep curls, overhead presses and tricep push-backs with 5-pound hand weights. “Ballet dancers are expected to look a certain way, but for me it doesn’t come naturally.” Her weight work initially began as a way to get her heart rate up when recovering from surgery on her left ankle in 2009. Now, she’s just hooked.
Triple the training benefits: She maximizes the challenge of her arm work by doing it while standing on one straight leg, standing on one leg in plié or on a Bosu ball or balance board. It strengthens her balance, quadriceps and arms. Added bonus: “?It’?s almost like a cardiovascular activity, even though you’re not running or swimming or jumping. It gets me sweating.?”
Favorite cross-training method: Delgado devotes a solid hour and a half at least three times a week to her Gyrotonic practice, and her reasons for loving it are seemingly endless: “It’s the one thing that involves fine-tuning and healing, and at the same time, alignment, strengthening and efficiency. It’s fun for me—I don’t feel like I’m taking my medicine.”
More than just a workout: Delgado describes her Gyrotonic practice as meditative and empowering. “You create your own intentions for the workout,” she says, whereas in the studio, “so much of what we do is set by someone rehearsing us.”
Water ballet: For cardio, Delgado hits an outdoor public pool near her Miami apartment. During 20 minutes of nonstop laps, she cycles through speed intervals that mimic the pacing of a pas de deux: five minutes of gliding, two minutes sprinting, a minute of slow recovery and two more minutes at full speed. “Someone once told me to pretend that you’re going through a ballet,” she says, so to combat boredom, she imagines that she’s Juliet or dancing a dramatic piece like Agon. And it works. She says that, as dancers, “we’re artists. We don’t necessarily like working out, so we have to find the artistic side of it.”
Protein-packed days: Delgado bookends her days with a balanced breakfast and dinner, but she’s always snacking throughout her dance day. “I jam-pack my breakfast with goodness,” she says, mixing almond milk, bananas, flaxseeds, chia seeds, blueberries and walnuts into her oatmeal. Her favorite snacks include Clif Builder’s protein bars in cookies and cream flavor, as well as carrots, hummus, yogurt, nuts and raisins.
Mid-season meal: During busy performance weeks, her go-to dinner is usually salmon, greens and a grain. But these menu items are less than plain with faves like kale sautéed in sesame oil and quinoa with nuts and dried fruit.
As a dancer, you know you should drink plenty of water, but do you know why? It keeps nearly all of the body’s major systems in working order. And if they’re not functioning properly, your dancing could suffer.
- The body uses water to help you regulate your core temperature via perspiration. When you’re running back-to-back variations in rehearsal, water keeps you from getting overheated. Sweat is a good thing.
- Want a better battement? All of your joints, including the hips, knees and ankles, need water to stay lubricated. Drink up to use your full range of motion.
- Out of breath? Blood—which is about 80 percent water—carries oxygen and vital nutrients through the circulatory system to your cells. Plus, water moistens the air you breathe.
- If you’re dehydrated, your balance is likely to suffer. That’s because the inner ear needs to maintain a fluid balance to function properly.
- Feeling sore? Dehydration could be a culprit. Getting enough water can reduce muscle soreness and hasten recovery time.
- Without enough water, a dancer’s healthy diet would be for naught. H2O helps dissolve minerals from food so the body can use them.
Beat the Heat
If you’re dancing in high temperatures, like at an outdoor summer festival, a studio without air conditioning or under searing stage lights, it’s even more important to get enough water, since your risk of dehydration and heat illness increases. Don’t wait until you’re feeling thirsty to drink liquids—that’s a sign you may already be dehydrated. Muscle cramping, dizziness, elevated body temperature, nausea, clammy skin and extreme thirst are all symptoms of heat illness—a host of conditions ranging from heat rash, caused by excessive sweating, to life-threatening heat strokes. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, Dance/USA’s Task Force on Dancer Health recommends applying an ice pack to your armpit and groin to cool your body’s core temperature.
By the Ounce
How much water should you drink on a performance day?
2–3 hours before: 7.5–10 ounces of cool liquids
10–20 minutes before: 6–7 ounces
While you’re dancing: 6–8 ounces for every 30 minutes of activity
Within 2 hours after the show: 23 ounces for each pound of body weight lost from sweating during dancing
Your Seasonal Menu
Tired of having the same bland meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Spice up your routine by adding the rich flavors of these fruits, veggies and herbs that are in season in August.
Breakfast: Boost your basic yogurt by topping it with homemade fruit salad. Try a mix of cantaloupe, blackberries and raspberries. Cantaloupe is full of vitamin A, which helps the body build and maintain healthy skin and tissues. It also promotes vision in low light—great for finding your place before the curtain goes up. Blackberries and raspberries are high in fiber, meaning you’ll sail through your morning class feeling satiated.
Lunch: Instead of grabbing a chicken salad sandwich, make your own and sub in mashed avocado instead of mayonnaise. Avocados are an all-around vitamin and mineral superstar. Plus, they’re packed with omega-6 fatty acids, heart-healthy fats that fight inflammation.
Snacks: If you’re bored with carrots, nosh on green bell pepper strips dipped in hummus. One cup has as much vitamin C as an orange with peel—200 percent of your daily value.
Dinner: Ditch basic pasta for sautéed ribbons of summer squash. Toss with extra-virgin olive oil and diced tomatoes and sprinkle with fresh basil, garlic and rosemary. Squash is extremely low in fat and has far fewer carbs than spaghetti. Basil is high in vitamin K, which helps blood clot. Aside from being good for your heart, garlic is said to help fight stress and fatigue. Rosemary is an aromatic herb that aids in digestion.
If you’re heading into an audition and feeling nervous, try striking this power pose: Take a wide stance with your head held high and your arms energized and extended to form the letter T with palms facing down. Research shows that holding a high-power pose for two minutes can make you feel more confident, and it lowers your cortisol levels, meaning you’ll feel less stressed. Plus, this “fake it till you make it” strategy is a quick and easy way to strengthen your lats, deltoids and triceps, giving you more defined port de bras.
Transitioning any ballet from the studio to the stage can be a tricky process and can put you at risk of injury. What are the biggest dancer dangers onstage? The German Social Accident Insurance Institution evaluated the injury reports of 790 professional dancers and found these trends.
- When are you most likely to get injured? During performance. 79.4 percent of accidents happened during shows. 19.7 percent occurred during onstage rehearsals.
- Where are you most likely to get injured? 63.6 percent of injuries occurred in dancers’ legs.
- What are the most common causes of injury onstage? 21.7 percent of stage incidents are caused by the dancer’s partner, so be sure to run through any partnering full out during dress rehearsals. And watch out for slick or sticky floors, which accounted for 21 percent of injuries.
Unfortunately, even the most well rehearsed dancers run into problems. The study found that 59.3 percent of injuries arose from factors outside of a dancer’s own control.
Feeling Less Than Inspired?
Daily class is part of every professional ballet dancer’s routine. But after so many pliés and tendus, you may glaze over at the thought of doing another barre. If you need some inspiration for your next class, try going for a short stroll beforehand. Researchers at Stanford University found that participants were able to come up with more creative ideas after they’d taken a walk. You may see barre work in a whole new light, enabling you to really dance it instead of just sinking into an old routine.
Injuries can be devastating to a dancer. How do you survive when you can't perform or even take class?
The Dancers' Resource, part of The Actor's Fund in New York City, is offering a support group for injured dancers. The eight week program, led by The Dancers' Resource social worker, offers a space for professionals to confidentially discuss the emotional issues that accompany an injury.
Dates: Tuesdays, January 11 to March 1
Times: 2:00 to 3:30 pm
Location: The Actors Fund, 729 Seventh Avenue, 11th Floor
Qualifications: A pre-attendance interview is required
Contact: Alice Vienneau 917-281-5977, email@example.com
I’ve always told myself that when my ankle swells, that's just my body attempting to heal itself. I'm not completely wrong: Inflammation—and the swelling, heat, pain and redness that comes with it—is our body’s first response to injury. However, sometimes this attempt to destroy the damaged tissue goes a little too far and our body starts attacking healthy tissue, too. That's where anti-inflammatory medications come in, preventing the negative consequences of inflammation. The only problem? According to Lauren Whitt, Ph.D., the director of Employee Wellness at University of Alabama at Birmingham, these drugs can go too far, and also dampen the healing properties of inflammation. She recommends a more balanced approach: By simply altering our diets to include more natural anti-inflammatory foods, Whitt says that we can prevent ever needing anti-inflammatory medication.
Whitt's go-to natural anti-inflammatory foods:
- Citrus fruits
- Dark and leafy greens
- Wild-caught salmon
When you get sidelined by an injury, you try physical therapy, Pilates, swimming—anything that might get you back onstage ASAP. But when you return, something always seems a little different. Maybe that right knee doesn't feel as secure when you're jumping, or your left hip grips a little more during développé. It's hard not to wonder: Was there something else you should have been doing while you were out?
Sports scientist Patrick Rump is trying to change the way dancers approach injury prevention and recovery. His greatest success story? Alina Cojocaru. By recording every detail of Cojocaru's life after her back injury in 2008—what she ate for breakfast, how much weight she could lift, the angles of her legs when she took off for a jump—and creating a computer profile, he helped her return to the studio much faster than doctors predicted.
Much of the dance world is hesitant to welcome his method, which is based on the theory that a dancer's recovery must be approached as you would an athlete's, with training that is unconventional for ballet dancers, like weight lifting. Want to form your own opinion? There's a documentary, Dance, Sports Science and Patrick Rump, out about how he rehabilitates dancers. (It premiered at the Prix de Lausanne.) Read more in this CNN story.