Oregon Ballet Theatre's Kelsie Nobriga and Matthew Pawlicki-Sinclair rehearse Bournonville's Napoli. Yu Yin, Courtesy OBT.
Kelsie Nobriga's first run-through of Nacho Duato's Rassemblement was a wake-up call. Until then, the Oregon Ballet Theatre soloist had only rehearsed individual sections of the ballet, unaware that she'd have little time to recover in between each one. Discovering just how tiring the 27-minute ballet would be was terrifying. "The first time we ran it I felt like I was going to pass out or throw up," she recalls. "My quads would just give out. I was really nervous about how I was going to perform it onstage."
When you're gasping for breath, not only do the simplest steps feel impossible, but your risk of injury also increases. Stamina is a crucial part of a dancer's performance tool kit, though typical ballet classes don't do much to develop it. With some advance planning outside the studio, you can build up your cardiovascular and muscular endurance to make a marathon ballet less daunting.
I never seem to find the right pointe shoes. I break them in very quickly, even with hard shanks. My teachers think it's because my feet lack strength. Should my shoes be more supportive? Or should my feet be strong enough to pull myself up in my pointe shoes (rather than relying on them to hold me up)? —Anna
Some days, your to-do list might seem like it's a mile long: On top of your dance commitments, do you really have time to sew new pointe shoes, squeeze in cross-training, tweak your resumé for audition season, meal-prep and clean your apartment? Trying to stuff too many things into one day can only leave you frustrated when every item doesn't get crossed off.
Working with dancers in the pre-professional division at Ballet West Academy, master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop shares all of her best tips for fitting dancers with long, tapered toes.
Emily Giacalone, modeled by Nicole Kennedy of Marymount Manhattan College
We get it: Ballet is exhausting, and sometimes all you want to do during a quick break between rehearsals is, well, nothing. Bill Evans, director of the Evans Somatic Dance Institute, recommends the following options, which are both relaxing and recuperative for the stresses dance puts on your body. From energizing restorative poses to deep breathing, here are five ways to make your downtime work for you.
I'm in my second year as a trainee. I like the company, but it's hard to tell if the director sees a place for me here long-term. I don't want to waste my time hoping for a contract that may never come. Any advice? —Eryn
Don't pin all your hopes on one company. A traineeship is a very vulnerable position, and the director is under no obligation to hire you. Several times I've seen young dancers, even those who've been verbally promised a job, end up empty handed. Budgets change, sometimes causing rosters to shrink, or directors hire an outside dancer instead of promoting from within. I'm not trying to scare you—I just want to encourage you to protect yourself and be proactive about your future.
If you're about to learn a tough ballet, cross-training ahead of your rehearsal period can help you gain the extra stamina you need. Repeated short spurts of high- and moderate-intensity exercise most closely replicate the pacing of a pas de deux, variation and coda, or the "push" and "rest" sections of an ensemble piece. Kester Cotton, dance program coordinator at Spaulding Rehabilitation Network in Boston, explains how to use both interval training and steady-state endurance workouts to build the stamina that you don't get in class. This can be done on an elliptical machine, a bike or an Arc Trainer. (Be sure to clear participation in a cardio program with your physician before getting started).
1. Determine your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Then calculate your "training zone," which is between 70–85 percent of your max. Cotton strongly recommends using a heart rate monitor or fitness tracking device to accurately measure how hard you're working (and prevent overdoing it).
2. Aim for 2–3 steady-state endurance workouts per week with your heart rate at 70–80 percent of your max for approximately 30–45 minutes.
3. One to two times a week, follow the basic 2:1 work/rest ratio for interval workouts:
warmup, gradually getting to 70 percent heart rate.
but not hard effort for 1 minute, followed by 30 seconds of easier effort.
Repeat 5 times.
effort for 40 seconds, 20 seconds easier. Repeat 10 times.
hard effort (upwards of 80 percent of your max heart rate) for 20 seconds, 10
seconds easier. Repeat 10 times.
Five-minute cool-down to get your heart
rate well under 70 percent of your max. (Cotton emphasizes the importance of
not abruptly ending your workout with your heart rate near its max.)
Working with dancers in the pre-professional division at Ballet West Academy, master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop shares all of her best tips for fitting dancers with short toes and short feet.
Xiomara Reyes, head of The Washington School of Ballet, describes grand battement as "a very important base step that helps with flexibility, jumps and stability. It's the beginning of a grand jeté, the farthest push of your body in space and movement." Here, she shares how she works on this essential building-block step.
This week, master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop answers another of your pointe shoe questions: "I personally don't have very flexible feet. I started pointe a year ago, so I was wondering if you could talk about fitting for inflexible/beginner feet?" Lee explains the importance of ankle verse foot flexibility, and tips on what to do if you're not getting all the way over the platform of your shoes.
Dancers prepare before a Ballet West open audition. Jim Lafferty.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre corps member Victoria Watford recalls the first time she auditioned for the company: Even though she had attended PBT's summer intensive several times, the Cleveland native felt completely unprepared. "I was treating it like a summer intensive audition," she remembers. "There was an energy in the room of a lot of people who are ready to be professionals and are confident in their dancing. If you're not ready, you will feel it." Watford wasn't offered a job, so she took a place in the school's graduate program. Over the next two years she pursued company auditions until she ultimately landed her spot at PBT.