Your Best Body

Drink Up

As a dancer, you know you should drink plenty of water, but do you know why? It keeps nearly all of the body’s major systems in working order. And if they’re not functioning properly, your dancing could suffer.

 

  • The body uses water to help you regulate your core temperature via perspiration. When you’re running back-to-back variations in rehearsal, water keeps you from getting overheated. Sweat is a good thing.

 

  • Want a better battement? All of your joints, including the hips, knees and ankles, need water to stay lubricated. Drink up to use your full range of motion.

 

  • Out of breath? Blood—which is about 80 percent water—carries oxygen and vital nutrients through the circulatory system to your cells. Plus, water moistens the air you breathe.

 

  • If you’re dehydrated, your balance is likely to suffer. That’s because the inner ear needs to maintain a fluid balance to function properly.

 

  • Feeling sore? Dehydration could be a culprit. Getting enough water can reduce muscle soreness and hasten recovery time.

 

  • Without enough water, a dancer’s healthy diet would be for naught. H2O helps dissolve minerals from food so the body can use them.

 

Beat the Heat
If you’re dancing in high temperatures, like at an outdoor summer festival, a studio without air conditioning or under searing stage lights, it’s even more important to get enough water, since your risk of dehydration and heat illness increases. Don’t wait until you’re feeling thirsty to drink liquids—that’s a sign you may already be dehydrated. Muscle cramping, dizziness, elevated body temperature, nausea, clammy skin and extreme thirst are all symptoms of heat illness—a host of conditions ranging from heat rash, caused by excessive sweating, to life-threatening heat strokes. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, Dance/USA’s Task Force on Dancer Health recommends applying an ice pack to your armpit and groin to cool your body’s core temperature.

 

By the Ounce
How much water should you drink on a performance day?

2–3 hours before: 7.5–10 ounces of cool liquids
10–20 minutes before: 6–7 ounces
While you’re dancing: 6–8 ounces for every 30 minutes of activity
Within 2 hours after the show: 23 ounces for each pound of body weight lost from sweating during dancing

 

Your Seasonal Menu
Tired of having the same bland meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Spice up your routine by adding the rich flavors of these fruits, veggies and herbs that are in season in August.

Breakfast: Boost your basic yogurt by topping it with homemade fruit salad. Try a mix of cantaloupe, blackberries and raspberries. Cantaloupe is full of vitamin A, which helps the body build and maintain healthy skin and tissues. It also promotes vision in low light—great for finding your place before the curtain goes up. Blackberries and raspberries are high in fiber, meaning you’ll sail through your morning class feeling satiated.

Lunch: Instead of grabbing a chicken salad sandwich, make your own and sub in mashed avocado instead of mayonnaise. Avocados are an all-around vitamin and mineral superstar. Plus, they’re packed with omega-6 fatty acids, heart-healthy fats that fight inflammation.

Snacks: If you’re bored with carrots, nosh on green bell pepper strips dipped in hummus. One cup has as much vitamin C as an orange with peel—200 percent of your daily value.

Dinner: Ditch basic pasta for sautéed ribbons of summer squash. Toss with extra-virgin olive oil and diced tomatoes and sprinkle with fresh basil, garlic and rosemary. Squash is extremely low in fat and has far fewer carbs than spaghetti. Basil is high in vitamin K, which helps blood clot. Aside from being good for your heart, garlic is said to help fight stress and fatigue. Rosemary is an aromatic herb that aids in digestion.

 

Power Up
If you’re heading into an audition and feeling nervous, try striking this power pose: Take a wide stance with your head held high and your arms energized and extended to form the letter T with palms facing down. Research shows that holding a high-power pose for two minutes can make you feel more confident, and it lowers your cortisol levels, meaning you’ll feel less stressed. Plus, this “fake it till you make it” strategy is a quick and easy way to strengthen your lats, deltoids and triceps, giving you more defined port de bras.

 

Danger Zone
Transitioning any ballet from the studio to the stage can be a tricky process and can put you at risk of injury. What are the biggest dancer dangers onstage? The German Social Accident Insurance Institution evaluated the injury reports of 790 professional dancers and found these trends.

  • When are you most likely to get injured? During performance. 79.4 percent of accidents happened during shows. 19.7 percent occurred during onstage rehearsals.

 

  • Where are you most likely to get injured? 63.6 percent of injuries occurred in dancers’ legs.

 

  • What are the most common causes of injury onstage? 21.7 percent of stage incidents are caused by the dancer’s partner, so be sure to run through any partnering full out during dress rehearsals. And watch out for slick or sticky floors, which accounted for 21 percent of injuries.


Unfortunately, even the most well rehearsed dancers run into problems. The study found that 59.3 percent of injuries arose from factors outside of a dancer’s own control.

 

Feeling Less Than Inspired?
Daily class is part of every professional ballet dancer’?s routine. But after so many pliés and tendus, you may glaze over at the thought of doing another barre. If you need some inspiration for your next class, try going for a short stroll beforehand. Researchers at Stanford University found that participants were able to come up with more creative ideas after they’d taken a walk. You may see barre work in a whole new light, enabling you to really dance it instead of just sinking into an old routine.

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Chisako Oga photographed for Pointe by Jayme Thornton

Chisako Oga Is Soaring to New Heights at Boston Ballet

Chisako Oga is a dancer on the move—in more ways than one. From childhood training in Texas, California and Japan to a San Francisco Ballet apprenticeship to her first professional post with Cincinnati Ballet, where she quickly rose to principal dancer, she has rarely stood still for long.

But now the 24-year-old ballerina is right where she wants to be, as one of the most promising soloists at Boston Ballet. In 2019, Oga left her principal contract to join the company as a second soloist, rising to soloist the following year. "I knew I would have to take a step down to join a company of a different caliber, and Boston Ballet is one of the best companies in the country," she says. "The repertoire—Kylián, Forysthe, all the full-length ballets—is so appealing to me."

And the company has offered her major opportunities from the start. She danced the title role in Giselle in her very first performances with Boston Ballet, transforming a playful innocent into a woman haunted by betrayal with dramatic conviction and technical aplomb. But she also is making her mark in contemporary work. The last ballet she performed onstage before the pandemic hit was William Forsythe's demanding In the middle, somewhat elevated, which she says was a dream to perform. "The style really clicked, felt really comfortable. Bill drew something new out of me every rehearsal. As hard as it was, it was so much fun."

"Chisako is a very natural mover, pliable and strong," says artistic director Mikko Nissinen. "Dancing seems to come very easy for her. Not many have that quality. She's like a diamond—I'm curious to see how much we can polish that talent."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, does a pench\u00e9 on pointe towards the camera with her arms held out to the side and her long hair flying. Smiling confidently, she wears a blue leotard and a black and white ombr\u00e9 tutu.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

A Life-Changing Opportunity

Oga began dancing at the age of 3. Born in Dallas, she and her family moved around to follow her father's job in IT. Before settling in Carlsbad, California, they landed in Japan for several years, where Oga began to take ballet very seriously. "I like the simplicity of ballet, the structure and the clear vocabulary," she says. "Dances that portray a story or have a message really drew me in. One of my favorite parts of a story ballet is diving into the role and becoming the character, putting it in my perspective."

In California, Oga studied with Victor and Tatiana Kasatsky and Maxim Tchernychev. Her teachers encouraged her to enter competitions, which she says broadened her outlook and fed her love of performing in front of an audience. Though highly motivated, she says she came to realize that winning medals wasn't everything. "Honestly, I feel like the times I got close and didn't place gave me perspective, made me realize being a dancer doesn't define you and helped me become the person and the dancer I am today."

At 15, Oga was a semifinalist at the Prix de Lausanne, resulting in a "life-changing" scholarship to the San Francisco Ballet School. There she trained with two of her most influential teachers, Tina LeBlanc and Patrick Armand. "She came in straightaway with strong basics," Armand recalls, "and working with her for two years, I realized how clever she is. She's super-smart, thoughtful, driven, always working."

She became a company apprentice in 2016. Then came the disappointing news—she was let go a few months later. Pushing 5' 2", she was simply too short for the company's needs, she was told. "It was really, really hard," says Oga. "I felt like I was on a good track, so to be let go was very shocking, especially since my height was not something I could improve or change."

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

Moving On and Up

Ironically, Oga's height proved an advantage in auditioning for Cincinnati Ballet, which was looking for a talented partner for some of their shorter men. She joined the company in 2016, was quickly promoted to soloist, and became a principal dancer for the 2017–18 season, garnering major roles like Swanilda and Juliet during her three years with the company. "There were times I felt insignificant and insecure, like I don't deserve this," Oga says about these early opportunities. "But I was mostly thrilled to be put in those shoes."

She was also thriving in contemporary work, like choreographer-in-residence Jennifer Archibald's MYOHO. Archibald cites her warmth, playfulness and sensitivity, adding, "There's also a powerful presence about her, and I was amazed at how fast she was at picking up choreography, able to find the transitions quickly. She's definitely a special talent. Boston Ballet will give her more exposure on a national level."

Chisako Oga, an Asian-American ballerina, poses in attitude derriere crois\u00e9 on her right leg, with her right arm out to the side and her left hand grazing her left shoulder. She smiles happily towards the camera, her black hair blowing in the breeze, and wears a blue leotard, black-and-white ombre tutu, and skin-colored pointe shoes.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

That was Oga's plan. She knew going in that Cincinnati was more stepping-stone than final destination. She had her sights on a bigger company with a broader repertoire, and Boston Ballet seemed ideal.

As she continues to spread her wings at the company, Oga has developed a seemingly effortless artistic partnership with one of Boston Ballet's most dynamic male principals, Derek Dunn, who Oga calls "a kind-hearted, open person, so supportive when I've been hard on myself. He's taught me to believe in myself and trust that I'm capable of doing whatever the choreography needs." The two have developed an easy bond in the studio she likens to "a good conversation, back and forth."

Dunn agrees. "I knew the first time we danced together we had a special connection," he says. "She really takes on the artistic side of a role, which makes the connection really strong when we're dancing onstage. It's like being in a different world."

He adds, "She came into the company and a lot was thrown at her, which could have been daunting. She handled it with such grace and confidence."

Derek Dunn, shirtless and in blue tights, lunges slightly on his right leg and holds Chisako Oga's hand as she balances on her left leg on pointe with her right leg flicking behind her. She wears a yellow halter-top leotard and they dance onstage in front of a bright orange backdrop.

Oga with Derek Dunn in Helen Pickett's Petal

Liza Voll, Courtesy Boston Ballet

Perspective in a Pandemic

The pair were heading into Boston Ballet's busy spring season when the pandemic hit. "It was really a bummer," Oga says. "I was really looking forward to Swan Lake, Bella Figura, some new world premieres. When we found out the whole season was canceled, it was hard news to take in."

But she quickly determined to make the most of her time out of the studio and physically rest her body. "All the performances take a toll. Of course, I did stretches and exercised, but we never give ourselves enough time to rest as dancers."

She also resumed college courses toward a second career. Oga is one of many Boston Ballet dancers taking advantage of a special partnership with Northeastern University to help them earn bachelor's degrees. Focusing on finance and accounting, Oga upped her classes in economics, algebra, business and marketing. She also joined Boston Ballet's Color Our Future Mentoring Program to raise awareness and support diversity, equity and inclusion. "I am trying to have my voice inspire the next generation," she says.

Jayme Thornton for Pointe

One pandemic silver lining has been spending more time with her husband, Grand Rapids Ballet dancer James Cunningham. The two met at Cincinnati Ballet, dancing together in Adam Hougland's Cut to the Chase just after Oga's arrival, and got married shortly before her move to Boston. Cunningham took a position in Grand Rapids, so they've been navigating a long-distance marriage ever since. They spend a lot of time texting and on FaceTime, connecting in person during layoffs. "It's really hard," Oga admits, but adds, "We are both very passionate about the art form, so it's easy to support each other's goals."

Oga's best advice for young dancers? "Don't take any moment for granted," she says without hesitation. "It doesn't matter what rank you are, just do everything to the fullest—people will see the hard work you put in. Don't settle for anything less. Knowing [yourself] is also very important, not holding yourself to another's standards. No two paths are going to be the same."

And for the foreseeable future, Oga's path is to live life to the fullest, inside and outside ballet. "The pandemic put things in perspective. Dancing is my passion. I want to do it as long as I can, but it's only one portion of my life. I truly believe a healthy balance between social and work life is good for your mental health and helps me be a better dancer."

Tanya Howard in rehearsal Trase Pa. Photo by Karolina Kuras, Courtesy of NBoC.

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Students of Canada's National Ballet School. Bruce Zinger, Courtesy Ballet Unleashed.

Ballet Unleashed Aims to Connect Emerging Dancers From 11 Academies With Freelance Opportunities

To any pre-professional dancer vying for a company position, auditions are a familiar and often dreaded scene: Hundreds of hopeful young graduates flock to an audition site, pin a paper number to their dance clothes and try their luck. But only a few will receive full-time contracts with companies—the rest will go home disappointed, potentially facing a gap year as they try to figure out next steps.

Mavis Staines, artistic director and CEO of Canada's National Ballet School, became frustrated with this flawed system years ago. Why were so many talented dancers not being rewarded with work opportunities? And why was the only acceptable form of work a full-season contract, when in the music and theater industries, project-based employment was a legitimized way to build careers?

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