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Good news: Your foot strength and flexibility can improve with careful training. All photos by Jayme Thornton, Modeled by Corinne Chowansky of Marymount Manhattan College.

Maybe you weren't born with gorgeous, overarched feet, but that doesn't mean you're completely stuck with what you've got. "Strength and flexibility can improve with training, but that's within the limits of your individual anatomy," says Dr. Nancy Kadel, a Seattle-based orthopedic surgeon who specializes in dancers' foot and ankle issues. Building a balance of both will help you achieve more supple feet that can support ballet's demands. Kadel recommends the following:

Tools of the (Foot-Strengthening) Trade

Hand towel for scrunching toward you as you actively curl your toes. For a challenge, add weight, like a book, to the end of the towel.

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Ballet Stars
Madeline DeVries cultivates strength and fluidity for Alonzo King's works. Photo by Stacy Ebstyne, Courtesy LINES.

Madeline DeVries, of Alonzo King LINES Ballet, starts her days with a bike ride or strength work.

Warm-up on wheels: Madeline DeVries' commute doubles as a workout. Two or three days a week, the Alonzo King LINES Ballet dancer bikes about seven miles through San Francisco to the studio. "The hardest part is going through Golden Gate Park. There's one uphill section that's always killer," she says. She arrives ready to dance and likes how biking warms up her knees.

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Health & Body
The Stick Photo by Jayme Thornton, modeled by Kailei Sin of The School at Steps.

The Stick, a two-handled pole with rotating spindles, is the perfect massage tool for cramped quarters like waiting rooms, planes or trains, and you can use it while sitting or standing.

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Health & Body
All photos by Jayme Thornton, modeled by Kailei Sin of The School at Steps.

During class, you're tuned in to every aspect of your dancing. But when the day is over, you may be tempted to head home and skip out on a proper cooldown. Don't: Going from grand allégro to a full stop is hard on your muscles. Bené Barrera, an athletic trainer who works with Houston Ballet, says, "If you're doing an end-of-day cooldown, you're going to need at least 20 minutes. That allows the muscles to calm down." And your body should notice the difference: "You'll have less trigger-point pain later, and your soreness might reduce a bit." A proper cooldown may even help you sleep better.

But post-class stretching isn't about sitting in a straddle. "As a dancer, you're never truly isolating one area," says Barrera. Your cooldown should mimic that. "You want to cover the whole body altogether. You don't want to just stretch one muscle group."

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Health & Body
Photo by Jasmine Waheed/Unslpash

Forget the heart-shaped box of chocolates. There's a healthier way to satisfy your sweet tooth for Valentine's Day. One tablespoon of cocoa powder will add a touch of chocolatey richness to your morning bowl of oatmeal or yogurt—and offers these nutritional perks:

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Health & Body
Photo by Gregory Bartadone, Courtesy Prix de Lausanne.

Are dancers more perceptive than other people? Recent research in the journal Psychophysiology answered this question by putting 20 professional ballet dancers and 20 non-dancers to the test.

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Health & Body
Mikayla Scaife of The Ailey School's Professional Division. All photos by Nathan Sayers for Pointe.

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.

You'll need:

  • 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."


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Your Training
Photo by Jim Lafferty

I'm worried about my upcoming summer program auditions. I haven't been able to jump lately because of an injury. How can I approach the auditions so they don't think I'm lazy? —Shannon

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