I dragged myself off the plane after the 12-hour flight to Melbourne, stiff, fuzzy-headed from jet lag, and wondering if I could ever get pointe shoes on my swollen feet again. At the same time, I was bursting with excitement. As a 20-year-old corps dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet, I was embarking on my first major tour, which would turn out to be a challenging, exhausting and thrilling 10 days in Australia.
For any ballet company, large or small, contemporary or classical, touring is a fact of life. My tour to Melbourne as a young dancer was full of ups and downs (literally—the rehearsal studio was so slippery that I fell out of a tour jeté the first day and was sore for a week), but navigating my way through it gave me both insight and a suitcase full of strategies I'd use for the rest of my career.
Don't Forget to Pack…
- Any potentially hard-to-find necessities, including things like toe tape, eyelashes and glue and hairnets. I once tried to buy hairspray in Finland and ended up with air freshener because I couldn't read the label!
- Travel-size packets of laundry soap, in case that elusive laundromat can't be found. Shampoo works in a pinch, too.
- Your own protein or granola bars, trail mix, crackers, instant oatmeal, cups of dry soup mix, protein powder, cans of tuna or jars of nut butter in case you're stuck at a theater in the middle of nowhere and need nourishment.
- A portable medicine cabinet. Searching for a drugstore is not what you want to do in between performances or on your day off. Bring any prescription medication you need, of course, but also over-the-counter items like ibuprofen, cold medicine, Pepto-Bismol and antihistamines.
On the Plane, Bus or Train
- Traveling always hurts—but just how much depends on what you do in the air or on the road. Sleeping is good; moving around is better. Get up and stretch, wherever you can. (I've been known to do grand pliés in the galley of the airplane to stay loose!) Give yourself a mini leg massage to keep the blood flowing. Wearing compression stockings can also prevent swelling.
- Planes especially are notoriously dehydrating. Drink plenty of water at regular intervals as you travel. I like to take a travel mug and keep it filled up with hot tea on a long flight.
- Dancing in a new place will be disorienting. Even if you hit the jackpot and tour to a place where the theater, studio and stage are ideal for dance, you will still need to adjust quickly to the unfamiliar surroundings. Try not to break in brand-new pointe shoes until you've tested the studio or stage and know if the floor is hard, slippery, sticky or uneven.
A version of this article was originally published in November 2011.