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!
As dancers gear up for year-end performances, the extra workload can take its toll. If you've pulled a hamstring, or are worried it might happen, read up on Amy's advice for proper healing.
A pulled hamstring—tears that occur in the muscle when the hamstring is suddenly overstretched or overloaded—needs to be taken seriously if you want to heal properly. I didn’t take enough precautions when I pulled mine years ago, and my flexibility in that leg has never felt quite the same.
“Hamstring injuries can take a long time to heal due to the potential accompanying injury to the nervous system,” says Andrea Zujko, PT, DPT, OCS, COMT, clinic manager of Westside Dance Physical Therapy in New York City. Recovery time depends on the severity of the strain, and Zujko discourages self-diagnosing. “A physical therapist can help you more clearly diagnose the injury and develop a prognosis and plan to return to dance.”
One thing is certain—don’t stretch a pulled hamstring too soon. For the first five days (longer for serious strains), don’t dance or stretch. Do use ice and compression during the first 72 hours. Then, you can gradually start gently releasing the soft tissue using a tennis ball, Zujko says, followed by range of motion exercises and pain-free stretches, including this one: Lie on your back with both knees bent, keeping a neutral spine and pelvis. Raise the injured bent leg to a tabletop position, with the angle of both your thigh and lower leg at 90 degrees. Holding on to your thigh, gently straighten and bend the leg through a pain-free range (keeping the foot relaxed and the leg parallel). Do 5 sets of 10 throughout the day when you’re warm. As your hamstring heals, you can progress to a sustained, passive stretch, using a yoga belt. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, doing 5 repetitions two to three times a day.
Isometric strengthening exercises can help, too, Zujko says. For example, sit comfortably on a chair, keeping the knees at a 90-degree angle. Using 5 to 10 percent of your strength, gently press your heel into the floor to create a light contraction in the hamstring, holding for 5 seconds; repeat 10 times.
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.
Stress Less for More Energy
As winter’s chill sets in, you may be tempted to fill up on comfort foods like chicken pot pie, meatloaf or cheeseburgers. Though it’s okay to indulge occasionally, new research from Ohio State University says you should pay attention to when you eat heavy, high-fat meals.
In the recent study, a group of female participants ate an identical meal of biscuits and gravy, turkey sausage and eggs for a total of 930 calories and 60 grams of fat. They were monitored for seven hours after eating, and the women who reported being stressed the previous evening burned an average of 104 calories less than the women who didn’t have any stressors.
Why? When stress and fat are combined, the body’s metabolism actually slows down, making you less effective at converting food into the dancing fuel you need. If you’re stressing about learning the role you’re understudying and you eat an unusually heavy meal, you’re likely to feel sluggish and won’t have enough energy to fully attack your next rehearsal. But when you opt for a more balanced mix of proteins, carbohydrates and fiber, you’ll have more energy when you step back in the studio.
Got Sore Heels? Try This
Until recently, stretching was thought to be one of the best ways to counter plantar fasciitis, or heel pain caused when connective tissue under the foot becomes irritated. Just mention the condition and ballet dancers are likely to groan, since it often develops as a result of tension placed on the plantar fascia when repetitively landing jumps and rolling down from relevés.
Now, new research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports singled out one specific exercise as possibly more effective than stretching. In the study, one group did a stretching regimen of pulling the toes toward the shins for 10 reps, three times per day. Only after one year of stretching did most participants find pain relief in their heels. However, the group who did the following exercise regularly reported less pain after only three months.
1. Stand on one foot on a stair or sturdy box, with the heel of the affected foot extending off the back edge and the toes resting on a rolled-up towel. Let the other leg dangle freely with a slight bend at the knee.
2. Take 3 seconds to relevé the standing foot.
3. Hold for 2 seconds at the height of the relevé.
4. Lower the heel over 3 seconds.
5. Do 8 to 12 reps on each foot every other day.
Challenge yourself: When the relevé sequence becomes easy, try doing it while wearing a backpack of books.
Compress for Recovery
If your calves are begging for relief after a hard day of pointe, compression sleeves may help speed the recovery process. Research shows that athletes who wore compression sleeves after an intense run received more oxygen to their muscles. Other studies have found that compression gear helps increase circulation, cuts down on potential muscle damage and decreases delayed-onset soreness. Visit zensah.com for a variety of sleeves suitable for slipping on when you take your pointe shoes off.
Eye on Improvement
If you’ve ever had to pick your jaw up off the floor while watching your favorite dancers perform, you’re one step closer to reaching their level. According to research in the journal PLOS ONE, just watching dance may help you improve. As part of the study, a group watched a live ballet solo. When the dancer moved her arm, activity in the spectators’ arms was also recorded. Neuroscientists attribute this reaction to mirror neurons, brain cells that show the same activity when a person does a movement and also when they’re observing someone else. Though research on mirror neurons has been ongoing since the 1990s, ballet dancers can start testing out their implications now: Try standing behind a more advanced dancer at barre; it could help improve your technique.
The Holiday Side Debate
It’s the season of Nutcracker and holiday feasts aplenty. Come dinnertime, the spread has as many choices as there are divertissements in the Land of Sweets. But when you’re dishing up potatoes, which ones should you plate and which do you pass? It all depends on the preparation.
Mashed potatoes vs sweet potato casserole: choose mashed potatoes
Why: Neither choice is low in carbohydrates, but when prepped with low-fat milk and without butter, mashed potatoes are a lighter choice. Though high in vitamin A, the empty calories from the brown sugar and marshmallows in sweet potato casserole will make your energy levels spike, only to plummet.
Medium sized baked potato vs baked sweet potato: choose baked sweet potato
Why: When both options are baked with the skin on and without salt, the sweet potato, with higher amounts of vitamins A and C and fewer carbs and calories, is the smarter choice. Though a good source of vitamins C and B6 and potassium, a regular baked potato can become unhealthy quickly when topped with add-ons like cheese, bacon bits and sour cream. If you’re eating either, don’t skip the skin. That’s where the fiber is!
The Master Healer
Blisters, bruises, aches and injuries are an unpleasant but sometimes unavoidable part of being a dancer. But when you stock up on vitamin C, you’re also promoting healing throughout your entire body. Here’s what vitamin C can do for dancers.
Got a blister (or three) from nonstop Nutcracker performances? It helps heal wounds.
If you bruise easily, C can help. It plays a role in building the collagen tissue that protects blood vessels in the skin.
When you’re recovering from an injury that has you sidelined, collagen also helps regenerate skin, tendons and ligaments.
It’s necessary for the repair and maintenance of bones and cartilage.
l Feeling sniffly? When taken regularly, it may help shorten the duration of colds and the severity of your symptoms.
Skip the Supplement
The saying “too much of a good thing” certainly applies to vitamin C. Megadoses of it in supplement form can lead to a laundry list of nasty side effects, such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headaches and abdominal cramps. Getting your C from natural food sources is much safer, and you can fulfill your daily value easily with one large orange or a cup of chopped red bell pepper, broccoli or sliced strawberries.
Have a question? Click here to send it to Amy and she might answer it in an upcoming issue!
I’m going on a month-long vacation this summer, and I’m afraid I’m going to lose my technique. How can I stay in shape if I’m not taking class? —Clara, WI
A month is a long time to go without taking class—I usually give myself a week or two after a heavy season to rest my body and heal any minor injuries. But one year I took a fabulous month-long trip to Europe and, I admit, never even thought about dancing! Coming back was tough—I was incredibly stiff and my core was mush. But if you remember to stretch and stay active every few days, you’ll have an easier time than I did.
Many hotels and resorts have exercise facilities where you can make use of the elliptical machine, stationary bike and free weights. Or you can take advantage of your surroundings—hiking trips, walks on the beach, bike rides and canoeing are some activities that will keep you moving. Personally, I love to swim, and sometimes I’ll give myself barre in the pool. And Pilates, yoga, Thera-Band exercises and stretches can be done from the comfort of your hotel room. It may be helpful to set aside a special time of the day to exercise, like in the morning before you head out to sightsee.
It’s great that you want to stay in shape while you’re away from home. But sometimes it’s good to give your body a break. Remember to relax and have fun, too—you’re on vacation, after all!