Though you may not think about it much, building strength in the muscles around the hips is a must for ballet dancers. Pacific Northwest Ballet’s physical therapist Boyd Bender even likes to think of the gluteus maximus, medius and minimus and the deep external rotators of the hips as integral core muscles. “They’re as important as the abs and posterior trunk muscles,” he says.

Why? Because they give dancers a strong support base for the torso and standing leg, so the working leg can move freely. And they’re key players in petit allégro, since these muscles help create propulsion for jumps and control the hips and the rest of the legs during landing. Bender recommends the following exercises, both takes on a basic squat, for boosting overall hip strength. If you’re not injured, they can be done every other day after warming up.

You’ll need:

a Thera-Band

a clear space against a wall

(Photo by Emily Giacalone for Pointe)

Thera-Band Squat

1. Tie a Thera-Band in a loop around your thighs and position it just above the knees. Stand with both legs in a parallel position, knees slightly wider than your shoulders.

2. Lower into a squat, sinking your weight into your heels as your arms reach forward. Return to standing. The goal, Bender says, is to use your left and right legs equally. Try to counteract the resistance of the Thera-Band, which is attempting to internally rotate and adduct the hips.

 

(Photo by Emily Giacalone for Pointe)

One-legged Squat

1. Stand in parallel or with slight turnout, with your back toward the wall and one foot against it for balance. The raised shin should be parallel to the floor.

2. Keep a neutral spine as you lower into a one-legged squat. It’s okay to pitch forward slightly with your upper body. Bender says this alignment will challenge the gluteal muscles even more. Return to standing (keeping the back leg up on the wall) and repeat on the same leg. Do all reps on one leg before switching to the other.

Challenge yourself:

Once you’ve mastered this one-legged squat, Bender says you can move away from the wall to add more of a balance component. Practice the exercise in center with one leg raised behind you in the same bent parallel position.

Switch up your reps: For a balance between strength and stability, Bender recommends the following rep patterns for both exercises. On Monday, do 3 sets of 10 squats at a moderate pace. On Wednesday, do 1 set of 10, pausing 5 seconds at the bottom of each squat. (Keep alternating the sequences each time you work out.) Remember: More squats build strength, whereas longer pauses focus on stability. “The holds also give time to ensure your technique is correct,” says Bender.

Spice Up Your Life

If you’re tired of eating the same bland meals, it’s time to step up your spice game. Not only will you add more complex flavors to your diet, but you’ll get bonus nutritional benefits. Here are five common seasonings that all dancers should add to their cabinets.

Cayenne pepper: Capsaicin, which gives the spice its kick, increases your metabolism. It can also cut down cravings for salty, fatty foods.

Add a dash to: hummus, popcorn or avocado toast

Cumin: It’s high in iron, which keeps you from getting fatigued.

Add a dash to: roasted veggies or pork

Ginger: This spice can ease upset stomachs as well as muscle soreness from strenuous dancing.

Add a dash to: a green smoothie for extra zing, or pancake or muffin batter

Nutmeg: It contains antibacterial compounds that kill germs to boost oral health.

Add a dash to: coffee, cocoa or fruits like pears, bananas or apples

Oregano: It’s a source of vitamin K, which helps with blood clotting, and it’s especially high in antioxidants.

pepper

Add a dash to: pastas, soups or salads

The Upside of Stage Fright

If you’re feeling nervous before you step onstage, interpreting your anxiety as excitement—instead of telling yourself to calm down—may result in a better performance. Though it sounds counterintuitive, a study published by the American Psychological Association found that feeling excited can help you focus on positive outcomes while dwelling on your anxiety and trying to calm down usually means you’re thinking about what could go wrong.

Question: Which type of workout is best for your brain?

Answer: Cardio

Why: New research published in The Journal of Physiology suggests that when compared with weight training and high-intensity interval training (bursts of intense activity followed by a more moderate recovery period), running caused more neurogenesis—that is, the creation of new cells in the brain’s hippocampus, which plays a role in memory and learning. Running doubled and sometimes even tripled the amount of new neurons in a study using rats, though researchers expect similar results in humans.

How did the other workouts stack up? Weight training showed no changes in the hippocampus, and interval training yielded far fewer new neurons than longer, steadier bouts of cardio. Although you can still increase your stamina and strength with interval or resistance training, when it comes to brain health, a constant pace on the elliptical may be a smarter choice.

Nutty Nutrition

A handful of walnuts—approximately 14 halves—may not seem like much of a snack, but this small amount boasts numerous health benefits for dancers. What’s in a handful?

4 grams of protein to fuel your dancing

monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—the healthy kinds—which have anti-inflammatory effects and can help heal microtears in the muscles

almost half of your daily requirement of manganese, a mineral that may help ease PMS symptoms

a combination of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fats that could help you recall choreography more effectively, since walnuts have been linked to better memory, concentration and processing speed

Get cooking: Aside from making a great dance bag snack, you can add walnuts to any meal of the day. Throw a handful on oatmeal or a salad, or mix into chicken salad with apples and grapes for an extra crunch. If you’re not crazy about the taste, you can still reap the benefits by blending walnuts into a fruit smoothie, or grinding them into pesto served over whole-wheat pasta.

Good News for Dancers

From radical floorwork to obscure partnering, other dance genres are increasingly influencing new ballet choreography, so it’s to your advantage to try your hand at different techniques. And if that isn’t enough of a reason to shake up your cross-training with a hip-hop or contemporary class, consider this recent study from the University of Brighton. Researchers found that 30 minutes of contemporary, street or swing dance classes burned more calories than 30 minutes of more traditional cardio work like running, cycling or swimming. Improving your stamina doesn’t have to be boring. Add in dance’s energizing powers and its ability to reduce fatigue, and you’ve got one effective workout.

San Francisco Ballet dancers backstage at Swan Lake. Photo by Erik Tomasson, via SFB.

From time to time, every dancer gets nervous before performing, no matter how well-prepared they are or how much they try to calm their nerves. And although stage fright can give you a useful adrenaline boost, if it becomes too extreme, it can get in the way of your performance.

While it can be helpful to encourage yourself with positive thoughts, a series of studies on self-talk published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology argues that how you address yourself in these moments plays a big role in the outcome. Researchers found that calling yourself by name, instead of using pronouns like "I," could significantly reduce anxiety and improve performance. (For instance, statements like "You can do it, Jen" may be more helpful than "I can do this.")

In one study, people who called themselves by name when thinking about a stressful task they had to do were not only more confident beforehand, but they also performed better when it was time to do what made them nervous. Those who used "I" tended to feel more anxious, and were more likely to think the task was impossible.

It may sound silly, but calling yourself by name may give you some distance from your own situation and all the emotions wrapped up in it. The simple switch could mean the difference between stumbling or sailing through your fouettés.

For more news on all things ballet, don't miss a single issue.

Are your spring performances coming up? Don't let stage fright get the better of you. We compiled the 9 best tips Pointe has ever run on dealing with nerves.

 

1. Don't be afraid of the butterflies in your stomach: Nerves can give you an extra shot of adrenaline which will keep you focused on stage. Think about using that giddy energy to your advantage.

 

2. Give yourself plenty of time to properly warm up, fix your hair and makeup, and rosin your shoes—rushing will only increase your anxiety.

 

3. Look for ways to relax backstage: Listen to your favorite songs on your iPod, find a quiet space to meditate or chat with a friend who makes you laugh.

 

4. “Stop thinking about the performance and focus on something completely random, like puppies.” —Hannah Bettes

 

5. Foods that are rich in carbohydrates, vitamin B or magnesium can help calm your nerves by enabling your body to produce serotonin, which makes you feel relaxed. Try snacking on things like cereal, bananas, cucumber and pumpkin seeds.

 

6. Write down a list of all the things you do well in the ballet. Can you nail a triple pirouette? Do you have beautiful épaulement? Read the list back to yourself to boost your confidence.

 

7. Close your eyes and picture yourself dancing the ballet well, visualizing your ideal performance.

 

8. Remember that your technique isn’t going to magically disintegrate while you’re onstage. Trust in the strength you’ve gained during the many hours you've spent training in the studio.

 

9. Remind yourself that this choreography is something you've done dozens of times. Let yourself go a bit so you can enjoy the moment up there—it's what you've sacrificed so much for. The best performers are the ones who can truly relish the spotlight.

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