Whether you're being lifted in The Nutcracker's grand pas de deux or doing weight-sharing in contemporary choreography, female ballet dancers can't expect their partner to do all the work. "Strength with stability is a hallmark," says Rebecca Kesting, staff physical therapist at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Health. The other person is usually moving too, she says, so you need to be able to use your upper-body strength to find stability.
Kesting recommends these three exercises, which imitate pressing into a partner. If you're just starting to build upper-body strength, practice them four days a week to develop your shoulder stabilizers and upper-back muscles. Later on, you can scale back to two or three times weekly for maintenance.
- an inflatable ball you can hold in your hand (like a kickball or smaller)
- a foam roller
Side Plank with Port de Bras
Regular and side planks strengthen the shoulder stabilizers, like the serratus anterior, along with the abdominals. Once you've mastered these basic forms, Kesting recommends a side plank with moving port de bras. Play with your own pattern, like first to fifth to second, and then reverse. "You get the stability of pressing away from the ground as you would through a partner," she says. "And you're adding that dance-specific movement."
Supermarkets and salad bars offer an abundance of leafy greens, but which choice is best for dancers? According to Marie Elena Scioscia, a dietitian nutritionist who works with The Ailey School, you don't have to stick with one option—yes, it is okay if you're not obsessed with kale. Each of her top four picks has a variety of nutrients, so change it up, buy a bag of mixed greens or create your own plate at the salad bar. "It's all good," says Scioscia. Stats below are based on the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for featured nutrients. Here's what's worth noting in a two-cup serving of each of these greens.
Vitamin A: 412%
Vitamin C: 268%
Vitamin K: 1,365%
Plus: 12% RDA of iron
Ballet and baking have more in common than their first two letters. As in the studio, sometimes you attempt something new in the kitchen and it works out great.
And, sometimes, it fails spectacularly—an outcome that New York City Ballet corps member Jenelle Manzi is no stranger to in baking. "The first time I tried to make vanilla cupcakes with this strawberry rose frosting, I was using essential rose oil," she recalls, "I put two drops in an entire batch of icing and I realized I needed about a quarter of a drop. They tasted like perfume. They were completely inedible."
Podiatrist Dr. Thomas Novella weighs in with tips for new and seasoned pointe dancers.
Sometimes blisters are inevitable.
If you're just starting pointe, your feet will be especially susceptible until they naturally build calluses. Experienced dancers may develop blisters whenever there's a change in their normal routine. For example:
Bee pollen, cacao nibs, flower buds—you might expect to find these items in a gardener's hands, not a dancer's pantry. Yet if you knew New York City Ballet corps member Jenelle Manzi, you wouldn't be surprised by this odd ingredient assortment. She's become known among her NYCB peers for her baked goods; all homemade, dairy-free and gluten-free. What began as a critical health need has blossomed into a growing passion project that includes an Instagram feed full of yummy recipes.
Manzi in Balanchine's 'Symphony in C.' Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy NYCB.
Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Angelia Generosa uses cross-training to tackle the company's varied repertoire.
Cross-training philosophy: Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Angelica Generosa kicked up her workout regimen a few seasons ago when she was first dancing "Rubies," along with a lot of contemporary rep. "I realized that I couldn't afford to get hurt," she says. "I had to take time to take care of my muscles, so they could recuperate and feel good for whatever PNB asked me to do." Now in her seventh season, Generosa acknowledges that just stretching before class isn't enough. "Maintenance is really important. Know what you need before and after class."
At the gym: She starts any workout (or busy day at the studio) with a 10-minute elliptical or bike warm-up. Generosa developed tendonitis in her left knee a few years ago, so this prepares the joint for more strenuous activity. Then, she'll do 20 to 45 minutes of cardio on the treadmill or elliptical; upper-body work, like arm circles while holding 10-pound free weights; ab exercises; and stretching, especially her quads after running.
If your usual workouts are feeling stale, Benjamin Millepied's L.A. Dance Project might be able to help. The contemporary ballet troupe recently launched an online exercise platform that puts its stars in your living room.
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."
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.