This story originally appeared in the February/March 2015 issue of Pointe.
Though Aspen Santa Fe Ballet has dual homes in Colorado and New Mexico, Emily Proctor clearly draws inspiration from Aspen's mountain culture for all things fitness. From acclimating to high-altitude dancing to ski-inspired physical therapy, the Juilliard graduate, who's currently in her eighth season with ASFB, infuses the company's athletically charged repertoire with her mountain-made strength.
In December 2012, Proctor underwent major surgery to correct a worn-down right big toe joint that kept her from going on demi-pointe. Post-surgery, her PT rigged up a special apparatus to retrain her to turn. "We live in a ski town," Proctor says, so she used a frictionless slide board, which skiers use to practice side-to-side movement, and TRX suspension straps hung from the ceiling. "I was able to hold on to those straps and do pirouettes on the board, so my toe wasn't getting stuck on the ground. Whenever it felt like there was too much weight on my joint, I would lift myself up using the straps while I turned."
Proctor in Stomping Ground. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ASFB.
When Proctor moved from New York to Colorado to join ASFB in 2007, dancing at such a high altitude proved challenging. "It took two years to feel comfortable. Something as small as talking while doing a barre exercise even showed shortness of breath." The solution? Persistence, and staying hydrated, since the body loses water more quickly in the dry mountain air. "You have to drink a lot of water and just keep practicing dancing at that altitude."
To beat an afternoon energy dip between class and rehearsal, Proctor likes organic energy chews from Honey Stinger. "They're little gummy candies. I like the Pomegranate Passion Fruit flavor," she says. Added bonus? They're packed with vitamin C.
"I'm weak in my turnout and way too tight in the front of my legs," says Proctor. So before technique class or at the gym, she does a 10-minute sequence of mat exercises to isolate and strengthen her turnout muscles. "I sit back into my knees a bit, but this series brings me forward onto my weight and I'm able to access the muscles I need to stay on top of my legs." To counter chronic tightness in her quads and IT bands, Proctor loves the simple heel-to-butt stretch, as well as the pigeon pose from yoga. "I really try to think of lengthening in the front of my hip."
Proctor in Fold by Fold. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ASFB.
When it comes to abdominal work, Proctor likes to get an extra bang for her buck. Lying on her back, with her head and chest lifted into a slight crunch and legs several inches off the floor, she'll beat her heels, changing fifths 100 times—all while holding 3-pound hand weights with her arms in second position. "It completely targets the core, but it gives me a little extra strength-training."
Outdoor Recovery Strategy
After performances or long days in the studio, Proctor does "icing damage control" on her right foot. Though she often uses bags or buckets of ice, she favors this remedy from Mother Nature: "Since I live in Colorado, there are ice cold rivers. The spring, summer and fall are good opportunities to stick your foot in a river. There's one right near my house."