Words of wisdom: As a morning mental warm-up, Stephanie Rae Williams, of Dance Theatre of Harlem, recites an affirmation, like "Today is a great day" or "You can and you will." After she suffered an injury onstage, she also started saying a mantra in the wings, such as "I am strong. I am healthy. I am capable." It helps quell her nerves backstage.

DTH's Stephanie Rae Williams shares her smart conditioning tips. Photo by Rachel Neville, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem.


Keep it moving: "I like to think of stretching as a circular, more rounded motion than 'I'll do the splits!' " says Williams. Extreme stretching has never worked for me—I've gotten more injuries, like pulled hamstrings, from stretching the wrong way." Instead of forcing her body into static positions, she gently moves through them. To release her calves, for instance, she faces the barre, leans into it and does a continuous sequence of plié, straighten, relevé. For her psoas, she rocks back and forth in a deep lunge, with her back knee on the ground.

Choreographed cardio: If she's dancing an exceptionally demanding ballet, like Balanchine's Valse-Fantaisie, Williams might run at the gym to build stamina. But most of her aerobic work happens during rehearsals. "If you choreograph your breath and really work smart, stamina is pretty easy to achieve," she says. "Pace yourself and know what steps are the resting steps and what steps are the more physical ones."

Williams with Choong Hoon Lee in "Return." Photo by Rachel Neville, Courtesy DTH.

Insta inspiration: "I tighten up quickly, so a nice cooldown at night through yoga poses usually helps me feel better the next day." She turns to Instagram for ideas on mixing up her sequencing and poses, often taking inspiration from former DTH dancer Paunika Jones, who posts clips of herself doing yoga.

Off-season action: During company breaks, Williams stays in shape through gigs with other troupes. When at home in New York City, she'll switch things up with contemporary class at Peridance Capezio Center.

Brushing your teeth can even be a chance for conditioning. Thinkstock.

Quirky balance trick: While recovering from a Lisfranc sprain in her right foot, Williams started doing this exercise suggested by her physical therapist: To rebuild her balance, she brushes her teeth while standing on one foot with her eyes closed. "It's really hard, actually!"

And don't forget...

The body's deep core muscles tend to get forgotten, says Williams, but those are the stabilizers that are so integral to dance. She likes this strengthener for her pelvic floor.

● Lie on your back with your feet off the floor and knees bent at 90 degrees in a tabletop position. Make sure your lower back is touching the floor.

● Keeping the same angle behind your knee, slowly lower one leg until the toes tap the floor.

● Return with control. Switch legs, and continue alternating for several reps.

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Ballet Training
Anna Greenberg of ABT's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, photographed by Jayme Thornton for Pointe.

All dancers have their go-to tension area: shoulders that creep up towards the ears, a hand that becomes a claw, or feet and ankles that grip. Yet "Just relax" can be the hardest correction to apply. We spoke with four teachers for their tips on releasing tension throughout the body—and how it's all connected.

The Face

A dancer's face is a frequent tension trouble spot, as eyebrows lift or furrow, jaws clench and tongues peek out. Hilary Cartwright, international guest teacher and creator of Yoga Narada, notices that, for many students, "all the tension goes into the face in their effort to achieve and please their teacher." Similarly, Seattle-based ballet instructor Stephanie Saland observes that dancers "demonstrate" their focus with their face instead of actually being attentive. "Does 'focus' mean bug your eyes and shove your chin forward to show interest, enthusiasm, volition?" she asks. "Or can you just be present and take the information in?"

Cartwright recommends taking a moment to "turn it around" and find your inner smile. "When you're feeling tense, think of something—a smiley face, your dog or cat—that brings back reality a little bit. Remember the good things in the rest of your life." If your inner smile turns into an outward one, even better. Smiling is a simple way to alleviate tension in your face and convey your joy of dancing.

Saland suggests visualizing a mask that's painted onto your face dripping off "almost in puddles down the front of your body." This relaxes facial tension and sends your focus inward. Remember that in class, sometimes, you can just make the effort without feeling that you have to project out.

News
Ballet Austin's Aara Krumpe in The Firebird. After 20 years, this is Krumpe's final season with the company. Photo by Tony Spielberg, Courtesy Ballet Austin.

Wonder what's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.

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Trending
Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe.

Over the past year, the #MeToo movement has helped spotlight sexual harassment, as well as verbal and emotional abuse, in the ballet industry. Most recently, a lawsuit filed by Alexandra Waterbury against New York City Ballet and principal dancer Chase Finlay, who has since resigned, revealed particularly chilling behavior. Earlier this week, we posted an article that struck a nerve with our audience. We've received some heated responses about the story's prompt and tone. We hear you, and we want to take this opportunity to give you a voice to address concerns and ask questions about recent claims of abuse in the ballet world.

Dancers, students and dance parents: how have these revelations shaped your view of the dance industry, and what worries you most? What changes do you want to see from leadership to address them? Professional dancers, what advice or insight would you give students and those in their early career about what to expect in the professional world?

We want to hear from you. Please feel free to comment or to send your thoughts to abrandt@dancemedia.com.

News
Ramasar and Catazaro, via Instagram

New York City Ballet fired principal dancers Amar Ramasar and Zachary Catazaro on Saturday. Both had initially been suspended until 2019 for engaging in "inappropriate communications," while principal Chase Finlay, who was the instigator of those communications, resigned. (Although, in a statement on Saturday, NYCB made it clear they had decided to terminate Finlay prior to his resignation.)

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Ballet Careers
Nevada Ballet Theatre. Still Courtesy Lee.

Earlier this summer, we followed master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based The Pointe Shop as she made her on a pointe shoe fitting tour around the West Coast and California. Now she's back, this time on a 45-day tour from California to Chicago, educating students on all things pointe shoes and helping them to find their perfect fit. Lee's making stops at top ballet companies and academies across the country, interviewing school directors and chatting with professional ballerinas to find out how they customize and break in their pointe shoes. Below, check out Lee's first stop: Nevada Ballet Theatre. She touches base with company dancer Caroline MacDonald, and academy director Anna Lantz. Stay tuned for more!

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Editors' List: The Goods

Longer ballet skirts are having a major moment. We've seen them popping up in the Instagram studio clips of dance fashionistas around the world—from American Ballet Theatre's Isabella Boylston to The Royal Ballet's Beatriz Stix-Brunell to Berlin State Ballet's Iana Salenko. And with cooler weather on the way, we have a feeling we'll be seeing even more calf-length skirts.

Beyond being trendy, long ballet skirts give any studio ensemble a sophisticated prima ballerina vibe (hi, Natalia Makarova). Try out one of these long skirt options.

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Viral Videos
Tricia Albertson kisses Didier Bramaz after finding the perfect hat in The Concert. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Miami City Ballet.

Tricia Albertson, as told to Gavin Larsen.

I like to make people laugh, so I was excited to be cast as the Mad Ballerina in Jerome Robbins' The Concert. But the character herself didn't feel like me. She's so bubbly and excited, and I'm a bit more pensive (when it comes to ballet, at least). I didn't want her to come across as stupid—she's still thoughtful. I guess you could say she's flighty, but it's just that she's so excited about the music at the concert that everything else is a blur to her.

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Ballet Stars
A portrait of Fanny Elssler, Courtesy Olga Smoak.

This Thursday, we're throwing it all the way back to Fanny Elssler, one of the most famous ballerinas of the Romantic period. Elssler may have graced stages far before the age of reality TV and Instagram, but her story is anything but dry. Last week, the Historic New Orleans Collection put on a symposium on the history of dance in New Orleans, of which Elssler played a pivotal role. We spoke with dance historian Olga Smoak to find out more about why this ballerina is still so exciting... nearly 200 years later.

But first, watch a recreation of Elssler's famous "La Cachucha," which she performed in New Orleans in 1841, danced by Rebecca Allen at the HNOC last week. Note the extreme tilts of the torso; they're part of what made Elssler such a captivating dancer in her day.

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Ballet Training
Thinkstock

I've noticed that my progress has plateaued. Class starts out pretty well, but once we get to center, it seems like I am not improving whatsoever. Help! —Sade

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Yuli looks like the ballet biopic of our dreams. Screenshot via YouTube

We admit it. We're picky about dance movies. They don't always represent our beloved art form accurately, or use real dancers to play the main roles.

But we just watched the first trailer for the new Carlos Acosta biopic, Yuli, and we're kinda speechless:

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Trending
Katherine Williams as Myrtha. Photo by Quinn Wharton for Pointe.

With a large exhale, Katherine Williams steps into a series of arabesque chugs, as if the force of her breath is propelling her forward. "Big step out, big," coaxes ballet mistress Irina Kolpakova, watching from the front of a small studio at American Ballet Theatre in May. It's a big step indeed for Williams—after 10 years in the corps de ballet, the 29-year-old is preparing for her debut as Myrtha in ABT's production of Giselle, her very first principal role. One month after the premiere, Williams was promoted to soloist.

"Myrtha is the hardest thing I've ever done," Williams admits. "By the end you feel like you're going to throw up. I was using my breath as much as I could to help me get through it."

While Williams is tall and a natural jumper, she was surprised when artistic director Kevin McKenzie cast her in such a fierce and powerful role. "Generally they give me the happy peasant girl, something softer," she says. "I think it was a leap of faith for Kevin to allow me to embrace a totally different side of myself."

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Trending
Misty Copeland models her fall collection for Under Armour. Photo courtesy of Under Armour.

Fall is fast approaching, and American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland has your back-to-dance wardrobe (and beyond) covered. The Under Armour spokesmodel debuted her Fall 2018 Misty Copeland Signature Collection earlier this week, playing off her first collection with another set of looks that work just as well in the studio as they do hanging out with friends.

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