Joel Prouty (far right) trains professional dancers such as James Whiteside, Katherine Williams, Lloyd Knight and Lauren Post. Photo courtesy Prouty

Cross-Training Tips from Joel Prouty, Trainer to the (Ballet) Stars

A good personal trainer can coach you through a challenging, safe workout. A great one understands the unique demands dance places on your body and helps you correct specific weaknesses to make you an even stronger performer. Enter Joel Prouty.

Before his passion for fitness took over, he was a member of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Houston Ballet and Boston Ballet, toured with Twyla Tharp and performed in Broadway's Come Fly Away. When he retired from the stage in 2010, he dove into exercise physiology courses at New York University, captivated by the idea of dancers as athletes. "My main focus and obsession was how to train like an athlete—strong, powerful, quick and resilient—while still maintaining the long, lean aesthetic required to be a dancer, and perhaps more specifically a classical ballet dancer."


Today, he provides one-on-one training to students and pros alike, though his client list reads like a Who's Who's in Dance in New York City. Sara Mearns, James Whiteside and Lloyd Knight are just a few of the performers who seek out Prouty's expertise at a gym in Manhattan. Not in NYC? No worries. We picked his brain for the best workout tips for dancers.

"It Either Is or It Isn't"

Prouty, seen here training dancer Alesia Astashonok, has plans to open his own Manhattan gym this summer. Photo courtesy Prouty .

If you want to make your cross-training worthwhile, using a "50-percent approach" won't cut it, says Prouty. "You're either working hard or you're not," he explains. "You leg is either straight or it's not. You're either on relevé or you're not. You're either jumping high or you're not. Even if you are coming back from an injury, you can work 100 percent on a different focus."

It's Not About Adding More

You may need to rethink your approach to working out. "Cross-training for dancers is not about adding more hours to an already grueling work or training schedule. Nor is it necessarily about sweating it out in a bootcamp environment or going through a routine meant to beat you up or burn extra calories," says Prouty. "It's about strengthening weaknesses from a different point of view than what you're doing in the studio."

Examine Your Rep

Prouty trains dancers from a variety of companies, and he's found that each company tends to have unique dancer weaknesses. "It's based on their rep and the way that they rehearse and their schedules," he says. Consider how you've been trained and the styles you're dancing when devising a workout plan.

Turnout Is Great But...

ABT's Lauren Post works on an exercise in parallel. Photo by Jon Ragel, Courtesy Prouty

A common issue Prouty sees is dancers walking like a "proud duck." If this sounds like you (raise your hands, bunheads!), cross-training in parallel could help reiterate the natural alignment of your body and correct muscular imbalances.

Don't Be Afraid of the Gym

When it comes to exercising, the biggest issue dancers have to overcome is less physical than it is mental, says Prouty. "We've been taught from Day 1 that we shouldn't go in a gym, that we should stay away from weights. Especially the women with this strong aesthetic requirement of being thin." But in recent years, he's seen that attitude slowly change as pros like Misty Copeland and Sara Mearns have emphasized that dancers are athletes. "Now that we have that reputation, we've got to prove it," he says.

You Might Cry—and That's Okay

"It's hard all day, every day to stare at yourself in the mirror and go through a long list of things that are wrong," says Prouty. Instead, he encourages dancers to reconsider their reflection. "Their biggest cheerleader, their biggest support group is that reflection in the mirror."

And he doesn't say that just as a platitude. "I have clients that break down and sob in sessions. Almost all my clients, in fact, have done that—men and women—and it's a constant battle for perfection. We're finding weaknesses, and it's important to appreciate those as a challenge and not as a failure."

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"To have them be like 'We want to help you with this and we love this idea and what you're doing is amazing,' that was really exciting to me," she said. "It was very heartwarming."

Jordan Reed, the creator of custom dancewear brand Lone Reed Designs, said she has donated seven items to Peace Love Leotards with plans to donate more consistently every quarter. Custom leotards often retail at higher prices, but Reed, a former Houston Ballet corps member, said the one-of-a-kind clothing offers an "extra bit of confidence, which can go more than a long way in a dancer's journey of training."

Paul Plesh, a sales director for Wear Moi in the United States and Canada, said the company donated 11 leotards after finding Peace Love Leotards' mission to be "commendable." Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh, the founder and creative director of Jo+Jax, said dancewear "can make a significant impact on a student's confidence, as well as how much they enjoy the process of learning dance."

De Roos has worked to expand Peace Love Leotards, Inc. rapidly in the past few months, but she first created the organization at eight years old after participating in a mentorship program with competitors in the Miss Florida and Miss Florida's Outstanding Teen pageants. The pageants, which are part of the Miss America Organization, require competitors to have personal platforms they advocate for as titleholders. As a competition dancer, de Roos instantly thought about the cost barriers to dance when wondering what her own future platform would be.

De Roos said she and her young classmates often outgrew nearly brand-new dancewear, so she approached her studio's owner about placing a collection box at the studio.

Barbara Mizell, who owns Barbara's Centré for Dance in Florida, said she was unsurprised by de Roos' proposal. De Roos always had "such a way of pushing herself and she never forgot those around her," Mizell said. As the box filled up, she distributed the dancewear to others at the studio, local schools with dance programs, and the local YMCA.

"When they could start to see that it was providing happiness for others, then it was almost like the kids couldn't wait to donate," Mizell said.

Nearly a decade after the Miss Florida organization inspired her to launch Peace Love Leotards, de Roos is now a titleholder herself, as Miss Gainesville's Outstanding Teen 2020. Her new mission for Peace Love Leotards is applying for grants, and she has already received a $1,000 grant from the Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund that will be used to fund a Title 1 school class.

"The whole organization behind Peace Love Leotards is the dancers," de Roos said. "Being able to help the dancers that are in need and being able to think about the dancewear that they're going to be receiving or have received has been truly amazing."

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