Ballet Training
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Houston Ballet principal Jessica Collado recalls dancing Giselle's Myrtha on an outdoor stage in the thick of a Texan summer. "At the beginning of the act my shoes still had some life in them, but when I bourréed off to go to my grave at the end, there was literally nothing left of them," she says. "They completely died."

While some pointe shoe brands are built with synthetic materials (making them longer lasting), most shoes are still made out of organic components like burlap and paper, which are incredibly susceptible to humidity. "The more moisture there is, either in the air or from your foot sweating, the faster your shoes will break down," says ThePointeShop founder Josephine Lee. Whether you're spending your summer performing outdoors or training in a crowded studio, muggy weather will have a huge impact on your shoes. Here are some tips to make it through.

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I got professionally fitted and my shoes were fine in the store. Now in class, the vamp is digging into my foot in demi-pointe and the heel is sliding off. Is it the size, the width or both? —Mandi

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Ballet Training
Nayara Lopez in The Nutcracker's snow scene. Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet.

Many workouts, one goal: When Nayara Lopes is asked what she does to cross-train, there's no short answer. Some days she swims laps; other days she takes yoga. And then there are her elliptical sessions, strength-training with light weights and Pilates classes. Why does she work so hard outside of the studio? "Because I want to feel good onstage," she says. "There's nothing better than going out there and having fun and knowing you're gonna get through it." Thanks to her cardio routine, stamina isn't an issue. "When I'm onstage, I feel ready for anything."

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Former Richmond Ballet dancer Shira Lanyi went through high school without getting her period. "My two older sisters had gotten theirs at 11, so my mom was so worried," says Lanyi, who didn't start her menstrual cycle until she was 26. At the time, Lanyi found her delayed puberty to be convenient. "To be honest, I was thankful because I was flat-chested, and that was great for dance."

But in fact, it's not okay for puberty and the things it brings (like your period) to be put on hold. The process is dictated by hormones that affect both your body and mind. While these hormones may be vilified for increasing the curves of your body and altering your moods, they make it possible for you to build up adequate bone mass and eventually bear children.

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Health & Body
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Female ballet dancers are often plagued by lower-extremity injuries. But why? Researchers in the U.S. and Australia recently analyzed studies published in the last 11 years to determine common risk factors for hip, knee, ankle and foot injuries in elite-level dancers. Here's what they found:

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via Burst

In December, I had pretty much every illness you can imagine: pneumonia, vertigo, flu, stomach virus. I had to drop out of Nutcracker because I kept fainting. Every time I try to come back, I take steps backwards. I've tried doing as much as I can in class, and I still almost pass out. I've lost so much strength, but dance is my life. What should I do? —Kayla

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Health & Body
David Sager via Unsplash

You spend countless hours in fifth position. But there's another position you might be just as familiar with: neck craned down, shoulders hunched and eyes on your phone. Researchers estimate that the average person spends two to four hours per day on smart devices, and this slumped posture can place up to 60 pounds of pressure on your spine.

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Ballet Training
Oregon Ballet Theatre's Kelsie Nobriga and Matthew Pawlicki-Sinclair rehearse Bournonville's Napoli. Yu Yin, Courtesy OBT.

Kelsie Nobriga's first run-through of Nacho Duato's Rassemblement was a wake-up call. Until then, the Oregon Ballet Theatre soloist had only rehearsed individual sections of the ballet, unaware that she'd have little time to recover in between each one. Discovering just how tiring the 27-minute ballet would be was terrifying. "The first time we ran it I felt like I was going to pass out or throw up," she recalls. "My quads would just give out. I was really nervous about how I was going to perform it onstage."

When you're gasping for breath, not only do the simplest steps feel impossible, but your risk of injury also increases. Stamina is a crucial part of a dancer's performance tool kit, though typical ballet classes don't do much to develop it. With some advance planning outside the studio, you can build up your cardiovascular and muscular endurance to make a marathon ballet less daunting.

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Matthew Henry via Burst

I never seem to find the right pointe shoes. I break them in very quickly, even with hard shanks. My teachers think it's because my feet lack strength. Should my shoes be more supportive? Or should my feet be strong enough to pull myself up in my pointe shoes (rather than relying on them to hold me up)? —Anna

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Iiona Virgin via Unsplash

This week, master pointe shoe fitter Josephine Lee of the California-based ThePointeShop answers another of your pointe shoe questions: "How come my pointe shoes fit perfectly at the fitting and don't anymore at home?" Lee explains the ways that your feet change throughout the day and the year, and the importance of trying your shoes on under different conditions.

Health & Body
Emily Giacalone, modeled by Nicole Kennedy of Marymount Manhattan College

We get it: Ballet is exhausting, and sometimes all you want to do during a quick break between rehearsals is, well, nothing. Bill Evans, director of the Evans Somatic Dance Institute, recommends the following options, which are both relaxing and recuperative for the stresses dance puts on your body. From energizing restorative poses to deep breathing, here are five ways to make your downtime work for you.

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Ballet Careers
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If you're about to learn a tough ballet, cross-training ahead of your rehearsal period can help you gain the extra stamina you need. Repeated short spurts of high- and moderate-intensity exercise most closely replicate the pacing of a pas de deux, variation and coda, or the "push" and "rest" sections of an ensemble piece. Kester Cotton, dance program coordinator at Spaulding Rehabilitation Network in Boston, explains how to use both interval training and steady-state endurance workouts to build the stamina that you don't get in class. This can be done on an elliptical machine, a bike or an Arc Trainer. (Be sure to clear participation in a cardio program with your physician before getting started).

1. Determine your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Then calculate your "training zone," which is between 70–85 percent of your max. Cotton strongly recommends using a heart rate monitor or fitness tracking device to accurately measure how hard you're working (and prevent overdoing it).

2. Aim for 2–3 steady-state endurance workouts per week with your heart rate at 70–80 percent of your max for approximately 30–45 minutes.

3. One to two times a week, follow the basic 2:1 work/rest ratio for interval workouts:

  • 10-minute warmup, gradually getting to 70 percent heart rate.
  • Challenging but not hard effort for 1 minute, followed by 30 seconds of easier effort. Repeat 5 times.
  • Hard effort for 40 seconds, 20 seconds easier. Repeat 10 times.
  • Very hard effort (upwards of 80 percent of your max heart rate) for 20 seconds, 10 seconds easier. Repeat 10 times.
  • Five-minute cool-down to get your heart rate well under 70 percent of your max. (Cotton emphasizes the importance of not abruptly ending your workout with your heart rate near its max.)

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