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.

Health & Body
Amelia Bartlett via Unsplash

Used as a dietary supplement for centuries, honey is more than just a sweet treat. Among its natural health benefits are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and it can even fight bacteria. If you need a pick-me-up during a long day in the studio, add a spoonful of raw honey to your afternoon snack. (It's minimally processed and is more nutritious than regular honey.) Try mixing it into plain yogurt or drizzling it over fruit—the natural sugars will give you a quick energy boost. Read on to see what else honey can do.

Heal Wounds

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Honey's antibacterial properties allow it to soothe minor burns and treat skin wounds—yes, that includes marley floor burns. When applying to wounds, use manuka honey, a special variety derived from the manuka bush's nectar

Health & Body
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Dawn Smith-Theodore, a former professional dancer, is a psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders. She is also an anorexia-nervosa survivor. Here she explains how under the right circumstances, a dancer's perfectionism and ballet's culture of thinness can create a risky recipe for an eating disorder.

I grew up in front of a mirror and as a dancer it was my best friend and my worst enemy. I loved to watch myself to make sure that I had the right style, lines and technique. It was when I began comparing myself to others, and listening to the drill sergeant in my head that never stopped proclaiming that I wasn't good enough and needed to lose weight, that the mirror became my enemy.

My mom owned a dance studio, and as a result I felt a lot of pressure to set an example and perform to my potential. But I actually didn't need the additional pressure—I always pushed myself to work harder and to be "perfect."

When I was 15 and my body started developing, I thought losing a few pounds would help me jump higher and look better in my leotard. Yet the less I ate, the louder my inner drill sergeant barked negative criticism. ("Did you see how you fell out of that turn? What's wrong with you? The girl next to you has a much better body.") Soon, the drive to be perfect took over my thoughts.

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Ballet Stars
Lunkina and Harrison James rehearsing Wayne McGregor's Genus. Photo by Karolina Kuras, Courtesy National Ballet of Canada

National Ballet of Canada principal Svetlana Lunkina shares the choreographer who pushed her to the next level and secrets of her conditioning regimen.

Wayne's world: Despite being naturally limber, when Svetlana Lunkina worked with Wayne McGregor on his incredibly elastic Chroma, the rehearsal process pushed her boundaries. "Wayne told me, 'You are so flexible, but I think you can do more,'" she says. "It was amazing to see how sometimes we think we're at our limit, but we actually could go farther." Since then, she's actively been working on her flexibility.

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Health & Body
Photo by JoelValve/Unsplash

Even though it's still summer, audition season will be here before you know it. The goal is to look, dance and feel your best when auditions roll around. You're likely focused on improving as a dancer technically and artistically, but aesthetics are (unfortunately) something companies will consider as well. To look your best, healthfully and mindfully crafted body goals will make a world of difference.

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Health & Body
Photos by Jayme Thornton for Pointe. Modeled by Anna Greenberg of American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.

Planks are one of the most popular exercises for core strength, but they're not just about flat abs. Julie O'Connell, physical therapist and performing arts program manager at Chicago's Athletico Physical Therapy, says that dancers can use them to maximize their conditioning: Look at the corrections you're getting in class or the choreography you're learning and mirror those concepts in your strength work.

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Health & Body
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I've been dealing with stress fractures in my shins for several months and they just won't heal, even after taking six weeks off. I started dancing again a month ago, and it's still very painful. What can I do to speed my recovery and start dancing full-out again? —Julia

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Trending
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Finding your pointe shoe match isn't the only component that affects your dancing. Smaller, but arguably just as mighty, is the padding that goes inside. Here's what four pros have found works for them.

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Monthly periods can be a huge hassle for anyone. But donning a leotard and tights or getting through a tough barre when you're having your period can make it even harder to deal with. Dr. Lauren Streicher, clinical associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University, offers these tips for bunheads to ease pain and symptoms.

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Photo by Jess Watters on Unsplash

Depending on your level of training or what you're doing on pointe, you might need a different strength shank. Hard shanks last longer and give you more support, but they make it more difficult to roll through; soft shanks make you stronger, faster, but they're not always the right fit for weaker ankles. Master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee unpacks the pros and cons of each in the below videos.

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Ballet Training
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Results of a recent study published in the journal Psychological Bulletin found that millennials are the generation most predisposed to perfectionism. Factor in a serious study of ballet—constantly critiquing your movements in the mirror and dealing with strict instructors and talented competition—and you've only upped the ante.

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