Health & Body
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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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).

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I'm preparing to dance my first lead and I'm worried about my stamina. Do you have any tips for keeping your energy up during a taxing role? —Kennedy

Building stamina is a gradual process—it's not something you can whip up overnight. Ideally you should have several weeks to prepare your body and mind. When I first started learning the role of Sugarplum Fairy, I was so exhausted that I could barely feel my feet during the coda. But by the time I got onstage three weeks later, I felt in the best shape of my life.

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