Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

Feeling Wobbly? Try These Four Exercises for Longer, Stronger Balances

If you're feeling wobbly in adagio or wish you could hold your piqué attitude a bit longer, there are ways to assess and improve your balance. Try these four exercises, recommended by Heather Southwick, Boston Ballet's director of physical therapy.


You'll need:

  • painter's tape or masking tape
  • TheraBand
  • something sturdy to tie the TheraBand to, like a chair leg

Airplane Series

The airplane test assesses dynamic balance, or how stable you are as you move through positions. "It can be a helpful indicator of where in the chain is difficult for you," says Southwick. This progression lets you focus on balance and strength simultaneously, while preparing you for adagio.

A dancer in a purple leotard and black leggings is in a white-walled studio with a wooden floor. She stands on one leg with the other leg extended behind her. Her body is parallel to the floor, and her arms are spread to the side.

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

1. Start in parallel passé and extend to arabesque, creating a straight, horizontal line from head to toe. Hold your arms in a T, like an airplane.

A dancer in a purple leotard and black leggings is in a white-walled studio with a wooden floor. She stands on one leg, which is bent. The other leg is extended behind her. Her body is parallel to the floor, and her arms reach toward the ground.

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

2. Plié and straighten 5 times. (Work up to 10 repetitions.) If you're feeling stable, incorporate the arms, reaching toward the floor as you plié, and returning them to a T as you straighten.

Ask yourself: Can you maintain a flat line from your head to your toes and keep your pelvis even? "A lot of people will twist the pelvis or turn that leg out," says Southwick. Check your weight placement: Are you back in your heel, or are you too far forward on your toes?

A dancer in a purple leotard and black leggings is in a white-walled studio with a wooden floor. She stands on one leg with the other leg extended behind her, and her body is rotated open so that her torso faces the camera. Her arms are extended vertically.

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

Add a progression: Standing on a straight leg, rotate the torso open so one arm reaches toward the floor and the other toward the sky. Return to the flat-backed arabesque position.

Single-Leg Balance with Eyes Closed

A dancer in a purple leotard and black leggings is in a white-walled studio with a wooden floor. She stands on one leg with the other leg in passe. Her hands are on her hips.

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

"One of the main tests that we do on professional dancers is to see if they can balance for 60 seconds with their eyes closed. Everyone should be able to do it for at least 30, on one leg, in parallel passé," says Southwick. If you're having trouble balancing, this test can reveal areas of weakness, like instability in the ankle, knee or hip.

Why parallel: Testing your balance in parallel is important, she says, because your base of support is narrower versus when you're working in turnout.

Injury recovery: If you've had to scale back due to an injury, you may have lost some of your proprioceptive feedback (a sense of where the body is in space). Closing the eyes and balancing helps improve this without relying on your vision.

Make it more challenging: Stand on a less stable surface, like a memory foam pillow or a BOSU ball, and repeat the balance with eyes open.

TheraBand Clock Exercise

Tie a band around something stable, like the leg of your bed or a table. Stand in parallel with your right leg in the loop (and the support point to your right). Using both feet, relevé and lower into a plié with control. Rotate an eighth of a turn to your left, and repeat the relevé and plié. Continue working around the circle, like a clock, until you are facing backwards. (For one position, both feet will be wound up in the band. That's okay.) Repeat on the other leg. This can also be done turned out.

A dancer stands in black leggings on a wooden studio floor. We only see her legs. She is standing in relev\u00e9, and a pink elastic band attaches her ankle to the base of a white radiator.

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

A dancer stands in black leggings on a wooden studio floor. We only see her legs. She is standing in pli\u00e9, and a pink elastic band attaches her ankle to the base of a white radiator.

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

A dancer stands in black leggings on a wooden studio floor. We only see her legs. She is standing in relev\u00e9, and a pink elastic band attaches her ankle to the base of a white radiator. We see her legs in profile..

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

A dancer stands in black leggings on a wooden studio floor. We only see her legs. She is standing in relev\u00e9 turned out, and a pink elastic band attaches her ankle to the base of a white radiator.

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

Watch your alignment: "The TheraBand is pulling, so you have to work to maintain balance with good alignment," says Southwick. Make sure you don't sickle your ankle or overcompensate in the other direction.

Make it more challenging: Try the series balancing on one leg, with the other foot in coupé or passé.

Star Excursion Balance Test

A dancer in a purple leotard and black leggings is in a white-walled studio with a wooden floor with a blue tape star on the floor. She stands in pli\u00e9 with one leg in tendu to the side. Her arms are in second position.

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

Tape a starburst pattern on the floor and stand in the middle of it with your supporting leg in plié. Reach the working leg out in tendu, along the tape line directly in front of you, as far forward as you can. Return to center and work your way around the star, doing a tendu along each line. (Try to keep the hips square, though this won't be possible in all positions.) Southwick recommends practicing this in both parallel (see left) and turnout.

A dancer in a purple leotard and black leggings is in a white-walled studio with a wooden floor with a blue tape star on the floor. She stands with one leg extended behind her on the floor. Her arms are in second position.

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

A dancer in a purple leotard and black leggings is in a white-walled studio with a wooden floor with a blue star taped on the floor. She stands in pli\u00e9 with one leg extended in tendu in front of her. Her arms are extended in second position.

Emily Giacalone, modeled by Elizabeth Steele of Steps on Broadway Youth Programs.

Why it's good for dancers: It requires strength, flexibility and proprioception. "The working leg is basically going on an excursion," Southwick says of the exercise's name. As you work your way around the star, you're experiencing different forces on your standing leg.

Make it more challenging: Holding the arms in second provides the most stability, but you can also try it with your arms overhead in fifth or crossed in front of you. "You're trying to simulate things you might do in adagio," says Southwick.

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Chisako Oga photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton

Chisako Oga Is Soaring to New Heights at Boston Ballet

Chisako Oga is a dancer on the move—in more ways than one. From childhood training in Texas, California and Japan to a San Francisco Ballet apprenticeship to her first professional post with Cincinnati Ballet, where she quickly rose to principal dancer, she has rarely stood still for long.

But now the 24-year-old ballerina is right where she wants to be, as one of the most promising soloists at Boston Ballet. In 2019, Oga left her principal contract to join the company as a second soloist, rising to soloist the following year. "I knew I would have to take a step down to join a company of a different caliber, and Boston Ballet is one of the best companies in the country," she says. "The repertoire—Kylián, Forysthe, all the full-length ballets—is so appealing to me."

And the company has offered her major opportunities from the start. She danced the title role in Giselle in her very first performances with Boston Ballet, transforming a playful innocent into a woman haunted by betrayal with dramatic conviction and technical aplomb. But she also is making her mark in contemporary work. The last ballet she performed onstage before the pandemic hit was William Forsythe's demanding In the middle, somewhat elevated, which she says was a dream to perform. "The style really clicked, felt really comfortable. Bill drew something new out of me every rehearsal. As hard as it was, it was so much fun."

"Chisako is a very natural mover, pliable and strong," says artistic director Mikko Nissinen. "Dancing seems to come very easy for her. Not many have that quality. She's like a diamond—I'm curious to see how much we can polish that talent."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, does a pench\u00e9 on pointe towards the camera with her arms held out to the side and her long hair flying. Smiling confidently, she wears a blue leotard and a black and white ombr\u00e9 tutu.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

A Life-Changing Opportunity

Oga began dancing at the age of 3. Born in Dallas, she and her family moved around to follow her father's job in IT. Before settling in Carlsbad, California, they landed in Japan for several years, where Oga began to take ballet very seriously. "I like the simplicity of ballet, the structure and the clear vocabulary," she says. "Dances that portray a story or have a message really drew me in. One of my favorite parts of a story ballet is diving into the role and becoming the character, putting it in my perspective."

In California, Oga studied with Victor and Tatiana Kasatsky and Maxim Tchernychev. Her teachers encouraged her to enter competitions, which she says broadened her outlook and fed her love of performing in front of an audience. Though highly motivated, she says she came to realize that winning medals wasn't everything. "Honestly, I feel like the times I got close and didn't place gave me perspective, made me realize being a dancer doesn't define you and helped me become the person and the dancer I am today."

At 15, Oga was a semifinalist at the Prix de Lausanne, resulting in a "life-changing" scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet School. There she trained with two of her most influential teachers, Tina LeBlanc and Patrick Armand. "She came in straightaway with strong basics," Armand recalls, "and working with her for two years, I realized how clever she is. She's super-smart, thoughtful, driven, always working."

She became a company apprentice in 2016. Then came the disappointing news—she was let go a few months later. Pushing 5' 2", she was simply too short for the company's needs, she was told. "It was really, really hard," says Oga. "I felt like I was on a good track, so to be let go was very shocking, especially since my height was not something I could improve or change."

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

Moving On and Up

Ironically, Oga's height proved an advantage in auditioning for Cincinnati Ballet, which was looking for a talented partner for some of their shorter men. She joined the company in 2016, was quickly promoted to soloist, and became a principal dancer for the 2017–18 season, garnering major roles like Swanilda and Juliet during her three years with the company. "There were times I felt insignificant and insecure, like I don't deserve this," Oga says about these early opportunities. "But I was mostly thrilled to be put in those shoes."

She was also thriving in contemporary work, like choreographer-in-residence Jennifer Archibald's MYOHO. Archibald cites her warmth, playfulness and sensitivity, adding, "There's also a powerful presence about her, and I was amazed at how fast she was at picking up choreography, able to find the transitions quickly. She's definitely a special talent. Boston Ballet will give her more exposure on a national level."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, poses in attitude derriere crois\u00e9 on her right leg, with her right arm out to the side and her left hand grazing her left shoulder. She smiles happily towards the camera, her black hair blowing in the breeze, and wears a blue leotard, black-and-white ombre tutu, and skin-colored pointe shoes.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

That was Oga's plan. She knew going in that Cincinnati was more stepping-stone than final destination. She had her sights on a bigger company with a broader repertoire, and Boston Ballet seemed ideal.

As she continues to spread her wings at the company, Oga has developed a seemingly effortless artistic partnership with one of Boston Ballet's most dynamic male principals, Derek Dunn, who Oga calls "a kind-hearted, open person, so supportive when I've been hard on myself. He's taught me to believe in myself and trust that I'm capable of doing whatever the choreography needs." The two have developed an easy bond in the studio she likens to "a good conversation, back and forth."

Dunn agrees. "I knew the first time we danced together we had a special connection," he says. "She really takes on the artistic side of a role, which makes the connection really strong when we're dancing onstage. It's like being in a different world."

He adds, "She came into the company and a lot was thrown at her, which could have been daunting. She handled it with such grace and confidence."

Derek Dunn, shirtless and in blue tights, lunges slightly on his right leg and holds Chisako Oga's hand as she balances on her left leg on pointe with her right leg flicking behind her. She wears a yellow halter-top leotard and they dance onstage in front of a bright orange backdrop.

Oga with Derek Dunn in Helen Pickett's Petal

Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Perspective in a Pandemic

The pair were heading into Boston Ballet's busy spring season when the pandemic hit. "It was really a bummer," Oga says. "I was really looking forward to Swan Lake, Bella Figura, some new world premieres. When we found out the whole season was canceled, it was hard news to take in."

But she quickly determined to make the most of her time out of the studio and physically rest her body. "All the performances take a toll. Of course, I did stretches and exercised, but we never give ourselves enough time to rest as dancers."

She also resumed college courses toward a second career. Oga is one of many Boston Ballet dancers taking advantage of a special partnership with Northeastern University to help them earn bachelor's degrees. Focusing on finance and accounting, Oga upped her classes in economics, algebra, business and marketing. She also joined Boston Ballet's Color Our Future Mentoring Program to raise awareness and support diversity, equity and inclusion. "I am trying to have my voice inspire the next generation," she says.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

One pandemic silver lining has been spending more time with her husband, Grand Rapids Ballet dancer James Cunningham. The two met at Cincinnati Ballet, dancing together in Adam Hougland's Cut to the Chase just after Oga's arrival, and got married shortly before her move to Boston. Cunningham took a position in Grand Rapids, so they've been navigating a long-distance marriage ever since. They spend a lot of time texting and on FaceTime, connecting in person during layoffs. "It's really hard," Oga admits, but adds, "We are both very passionate about the art form, so it's easy to support each other's goals."

Oga's best advice for young dancers? "Don't take any moment for granted," she says without hesitation. "It doesn't matter what rank you are, just do everything to the fullest—people will see the hard work you put in. Don't settle for anything less. Knowing [yourself] is also very important, not holding yourself to another's standards. No two paths are going to be the same."

And for the foreseeable future, Oga's path is to live life to the fullest, inside and outside ballet. "The pandemic put things in perspective. Dancing is my passion. I want to do it as long as I can, but it's only one portion of my life. I truly believe a healthy balance between social and work life is good for your mental health and helps me be a better dancer."

Michael Cairns, Courtesy Orlando Ballet

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Performing in front of live audiences again has been every ballet organization's goal since the COVID-19 pandemic began more than a year ago. With vaccinations on the rise and light appearing at the end of the tunnel, companies are slowly starting to come back to in-person shows.

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