Health & Body

How Boston Ballet Principal Derek Dunn Retrained His Body With Gyrotonic

Derek Dunn in George Balanchine's Prodigal Son. Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet

A new way of working: Derek Dunn may be known for his explosive jumps and strings of pirouettes, but the powerhouse dancer admits that he wasn't always working inthe smartest way. When he developed hip issues last year, he was forced to shift from "giving 150 percent all the time" to a subtler approach. "I'd been muscling through every- thing and tucking and cranking," he says. "But I've realized that my energy can be used in a much more effective way."


Dunn in August Bournonville's La Sylphide

Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy of Boston Ballet

The results: Through his sessions with Kerri Williams, a physical therapist and Gyrotonic trainer at Boston Ballet, Dunn says he's already noticed a huge difference. "I'm always mixing up the rep with classical and contemporary and putting my body into crazy positions. Doing Gyrotonic puts me back into alignment." His workouts focus on finding more space in his hips, recruiting smaller muscles, engaging his core and creating long lines as he moves. "It's really taken a load off my hips and legs."

Morning must-dos: Around the time he was promoted to principal, Dunn crafted a pre-class warm-up, echoing principles from his Gyro work. He starts each day with bridges to activate his gluteus medius, then abdominal work and an exercise for stability and turnout. After a side-lying series of clamshells and leg lifts, plus a hamstring strengthener, he caps off his routine with stretching.

For partnering work: "With my body type, I build muscle pretty quickly, but that's not always the goal," says Dunn. "I just want to make sure that I'm strong enough to support my partner." Instead of lifting weights, he prefers upper-body exercises using a TheraBand or his body weight. To strengthen his shoulders, for instance, he'll tie a TheraBand to the barre at his left side and hold the band in his right hand. Keeping his elbow pinned to his body, he'll pull the band away from the barre and return, focusing on correct alignment of the shoulder joint.

Spinning his wheels: When he's getting in shape for challenging rep, Dunn's cardio of choice is 20 minutes on a stationary bike. "I try to keep the same pace, but I'm pushing myself, not going for a stroll."

Visualize It: To engage the deepest layer of abdominal muscles, the transversus abdominis, Dunn imagines he's walking into cold water.

Derek's Daily Diet

PactoVisual via Pixabay

"It's taken me a while to learn what to eat to feel energized without feeling overly full," says Dunn, who worked with a nutritionist to identify meals and snacks that click with him.

Breakfast: Three eggs with spinach; coffee; and water with a splash of apple cider vinegar. He'll add toast on busy days.

After class: An energy bar, "to get more carbs before rehearsals."

Lunch: A homemade bowl with spinach, quinoa, a vegetable ("usually butternut squash or roasted beets") and chicken.

Snack: Peanut butter pretzels, for quick carbs mixed with protein. "I eat a handful if I need a pick-me-up."

Dinner: Fish with roasted vegetables and a carb, like rice, couscous or pasta. If he's performing, he'll have another bowl instead.

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Lenai Alexis Wilkerson. Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Michelle Tabnick Public Relations.

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Tzu Chia Huang, Courtesy Ballet Arizona

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Without proper training, these demands can take a toll on both the mind and the body. But students can start preparing for them early—with the right summer intensive program.

The School of Ballet Arizona's summer intensive takes a well-rounded approach to training—not just focusing on technique and facility but nurturing overall dancer growth. "You cannot make a dancer just by screaming at them like they used to," says master ballet teacher Roberto Muñoz, who guests at the program every summer. "You have to take care of the person as well."

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Courtesy School of Pennsylvania Ballet

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