Health & Body

Ballet Dancers Conquer Their Toughest Role: Running the NYC Marathon

From left: Erin Arbuckle in rehearsal for a new work by Richard Isaac. Photo by Paul B. Goode, courtesy Arbuckle; running the 2015 NYC Marathon. Photo by MarathonFoto, courtesy Arbuckle.

When Erin Arbuckle takes ballet class wearing her New York City Marathon shirt, teachers often ask her, "You didn't actually run that, did you?" She did, twice, and she's running again this year on November 5.

Arbuckle, 28, a graduate of School of American Ballet and a freelance dancer who has performed with Ballet Next and Emery LeCrone Dance among others, is a rare ballerina who not only runs but has taken on the challenge of a marathon.

"If I can run 26 miles, I can handle a two-minute variation," she says.

Ballet dancers are taught to save their bodies for dance and avoid injury from other activities. While low-impact cross-training like swimming is encouraged, running is generally considered too high impact.

"I was told it would give me huge calves and thighs and damage my knees," Arbuckle says.

Her two foot surgeries were from dance injuries though, not running, and her body is holding up well despite what she was told to expect.

Marika Molnar, director of physical therapy at New York City Ballet, generally advises dancers to run only as a warm up. "Running for 5 to 10 minutes before ballet class to move the large muscles of the body is useful," she said. "Beyond that, you start to have risks."


Given the stigma, it's not surprising that many ballerinas wait to run a marathon until after hanging up their pointe shoes.


From left: Waters and Meredith Rainey in Hawley Rowe's "#3" while at Pennsylvania Ballet. Photo courtesy Waters; Running the France Run 8k in 2017. Photo courtesy Game Face Media.

Emily Waters, 35, who danced for 10 years with Pennsylvania Ballet and Royal Danish Ballet, is running her first marathon this year. She struggled her entire career with back pain caused by scoliosis and ultimately stopped dancing because of it. She's been training for the marathon since February and says her back hasn't bothered her.

Her physical therapist Prachi Bakarania, a back-pain specialist at ColumbiaDoctors, says that running can help with pain management. "The impact of running can improve bone density, as long as training is done correctly and ramped up over time," she says.

Though Molnar agrees with this in general, she maintains that the length of a marathon can break down the bones, and isn't necessary for building the type of endurance dancers need. "You dance in spurts, not constant low-low dancing. It's more like sprinting than a marathon," she says.

Waters, who now works at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in arts and culture granting and is a graduate student in arts administration at Columbia University, says that marathon training provides the physical exertion she's missed since retiring from the stage seven years ago.

"When you're dancing, you're always taking stock of your body, noticing your aches and pains and responding to them. It feels so good to have that back again," she says.

Arbuckle finds the satisfaction of the marathon similar to performing. "When you're standing on the Verrazano Bridge, you know what's coming, it's emotional," she says, comparing the start of the NYC marathon to waiting in the wings to perform.

Peter Boal, 52, artistic director of Seattle's Pacific Northwest Ballet and former principal dancer at New York City Ballet, took on the half marathon at almost 50 years old, 10 years after retiring from the stage. He's since run three of them.


Boal after the Belligham Bay half-marathon in 2016. Photo courtesy PNB.


He says that his body wouldn't allow him to dance anymore, even just for fun, and running helped fill the void. "I feel graceful when I run, and I don't always get to feel that anymore," he says.

Boal explains that the appeal of the half marathon came from the perfectionism ingrained by ballet. "Running for fun was nice, but I wanted a goal to work toward, to continually improve and measure my progress," he says.

Asked if he'd recommend marathons to PNB company members, he wasn't sure if the ballet season was the right time to take it on. "I'd probably recommend swimming at the moment," he says.

Molnar agrees with him. "The amount of wear and tear and training required, I can't imagine you could maintain a career as a dancer and train for a marathon," she says.

Though Arbuckle is freelance, she maintains a busy schedule and said that she was in rehearsal two days after her second marathon. "I actually slipped on a banana peel toward the end of the marathon and got a little banged up, but in rehearsal two days later, I just took it a little easy on kneeling work," she says.

Waters is undecided on marathon training while performing. "It's not that it would've been bad for me, I just wouldn't have had time," she says. After a pause she adds, "But my body feels better than ever now, so who knows?"

Show Comments ()
Trending
Rachel Hutsell Photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton.

This is Pointe's June/July 2018 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

"I'm very cautious by nature," Rachel Hutsell says over herbal tea at Lincoln Center between rehearsals. You wouldn't think so from the way she moves onstage or in the studio. In fact, one of the most noticeable characteristics of Hutsell's dancing is boldness, a result of the intelligence and intention with which she executes each step. (What she calls caution is closer to what most people see as preparedness.) She doesn't approximate—she moves simply and fully, with total confidence. That quality hasn't gone unnoticed.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Looking for your next audition shoe? Shot at and in collaboration with Broadway Dance Center, Só Dança has launched a new collection of shoes working with some pretty famous faces of the musical theater world! Offered in two different styles and either 2.5" or 3" heels, top industry professionals are loving how versatile and supportive these shoes are! Pro tip: The heel is centered under the body so you can feel confident and stable!

Ballet Stars
Jacques d'Amboise and Adrian Danchig-Waring in conversation at the National Dance Institute. Photo Courtesy NDI.

"Jerry, throughout his life, wanted a world where races, cultures and people came together without conflict and hate and anger, but lovingly, to make a community." These words were spoken earlier this week by Jacques d'Amboise at an event titled Upper West Side Story: A Celebration of Jerome Robbins, hosted by National Dance Institute, which d'Amboise founded in 1976 to provide free arts education to children in New York City and beyond. D'Amboise then reiterated his point by quietly singing the famous refrain from West Side Story, which Robbins choreographed and directed for both screen and stage: "There's a place for us."

Keep reading... Show less
Editors' List: The Goods
Courtesy Soffe, Dicsount Dance Supply, Danskin. LeaMarie leotard photographed by Jayme Thornton

Considering we practically live in our dance clothes, there's really no such thing as having too many leotards, tights or leggings (no matter what our mom or friends say!). That's why we treat every sale as an opportunity to stock up. And thanks to the holiday weekend, you can shop all of your dancewear go-tos or try something totally new for as much as 50% less than the usual price.

Here are the eight sales we're most excited about—from online options to in-store retailers that will help you find the perfect fit. Happy Memorial Day (and shopping)!

Keep reading... Show less
News
Joffrey Ballet dancers Christine Rocas and Dylan Gutierrez in "Giselle." Photo Courtesy Spring to Dance Festival.

For the first time since its inception 11 years ago, Dance St. Louis' annual Emerson Spring to Dance Festival — May 25 and 26 at the University of Missouri–St. Louis' Touhill Performing Arts Center — will be curated by someone other than festival founder Michael Utoff. That job fell to newly hired programming consultant Terence Marling.

Hailed as "arguably the best dance buffet in the Midwest" by the Chicago Tribune, the popular festival is known for championing lesser-known regional dance artists and companies. It will retain that focus under Marling, along with representation by more familiar names such as Houston Ballet, Joffrey Ballet and Marling's former company, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Stars

La Fille Mal Gardée, or in English "The Wayward Daughter," is one of the oldest story ballets still in modern repertoire. The tale's enduring magic lies in themes of youth, following your heart and true love, along with playful bits of entertainment, like the clog dance and ribbon pas de deux. As Lise, Russian-born ballerina Valentina Kozlova captures the character's spirited innocence. Dancing alongside her as her beloved Colas is Chris Jensen, star of Switzerland's Basel Ballet. This clip of their ribbon pas de deux from Basel Ballet's 1986 film is as lighthearted and charming as it is technically brilliant.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Training
Thinkstock

I'm 15 and want to be a professional ballet dancer. I have ballet five times a week, contemporary once a week and rehearsals year-round. It is 15 to 20 hours a week. When I hear about dancers doing 30-plus hours a week, I worry that I dance too little. Is my schedule enough? —Caroline

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Videos

Sponsored

mailbox

Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox

Sponsored

Win It!