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.

The Conversation
Ballet Stars
Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Your teacher at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Marcia Dale Weary, recently passed away. What impact did she have on you?

I feel deeply indebted to her. She shaped my life's course, and I know that were it not for her, I would not be living out my dream today. She led by example through her remarkable commitment to her work, as well as her genuine kindness and generosity.

You were a trainee with San Francisco Ballet. What was that experience like?

It was an exposure to different schools of thought. We were mostly in the full-lengths, and watching run-throughs of Sleeping Beauty and Don Quixote was revolutionary for me. But I was young and far away from home. That transition was hard. My body started changing. It wanted to be fleshy. Biology is cruel in that way. I desperately wanted to fit in, but it wasn't meant to be.

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The Royal Ballet's Vadim Muntagirov and Marianela Nuñez in La Bayadère. Photo by Bill Cooper, Courtesy ROH.

Do you ever wish you could teleport to London and casually stroll into The Royal Opera House to see some of the world's best-loved ballets? Well, we have a solution for you: The Royal Ballet's 2018-19 cinema season.

Whether live or recorded, the seven ballet programs listed below, streaming now through next October, will deliver all of the magic that The Royal Ballet has to offer straight to your local movie theater. Can you smell the popcorn already?

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Site Network
Left: Misa Kuranaga in The Veritginous Thrill of Exactitude. Gene Schiavone, Courtesy Boston Ballet. Right: Sasha Mukhamedov in Apollo. Altin Kaftira, Courtesy Dutch National Ballet.

San Francisco Ballet just announced some major news: longtime Boston Ballet star Misa Kuranaga will be joining the company as a principal dancer for the 2019-20 season, while Dutch National Ballet principal Sasha Mukhamedov has been hired as a soloist. They join a slew of newly promoted SFB principals and soloists, announced earlier this year.

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Ballet Stars
Xiao Nan Yu in company class. Aaron Vincent, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada.

On June 22, National Ballet of Canada principal Xiao Nan Yu will retire from the stage after 22 years with the company. Originally from Dalian, China, Yu studied at the Shen Yang School of Dance and the Beijing Dance Academy before coming to Canada's National Ballet School at age 17. She joined the National Ballet of Canada less than two years later, and was promoted to principal in 2001.

"She is a supreme dance actress with an innate ability to bring the audience into her world," says NBoC artistic director Karen Kain. "Nan has always brought such a calm confidence into the studio and has been a role model for so many dancers I will miss her generosity both inside the studio and out." We spoke with Yu as she prepared for her final week of performances. She opened up about her initial culture shock upon moving to Toronto, her thoughts on artistry and why she chose Hanna Glawari in The Merry Widow as her final role.

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