Ballet Training
Advanced girls at the School of American Ballet summer course. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy SAB.

Summer intensives can be a shock. Switching from five classes a week to five a day is a big jump—especially if you spent a month relaxing after the school year ended. “Unfortunately, many students come out of shape, and they suffer because of that," says Pacific Northwest Ballet School principal Abbie Siegel.

To get the most out of an intensive, you need to arrive prepared. Fine-tune your body strategically by taking a play from the sports world: Use periodization, an approach to training and cross-training that relies on defined periods of rest and activity. It helps athletes make sure they're in top form at the height of their season. Megan Richardson, MS, ATC, who works with the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at New York University Langone Medical Center's Hospital for Joint Diseases, explains: “Periodization is training intensively, taking rest time and then building back up to elite performance level. The cyclical training and cross-training allow the body's tissues to repair and become stronger in a balanced way." By following this timeline, you will reach your peak fitness just in time for your summer program.

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Ballet Training
Simon Ball instructing CPYB student Braden Hart. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy CPYB.

As a teenager, Adrian Durham studied at his local ballet school in Lake Charles, Louisiana. “I was one of three or four guys training there, and there were no male teachers," says Durham. “Most of my partnering experience came from rehearsals for performances." But after he began training with the male scholarship program at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet in 2014, he experienced a sea change. “It challenged me mentally, physically and emotionally, because it's such an intense program," he says. Now 20, he is preparing for a professional career with an integrated set of tools: ballet technique, physical strength and partnering skills.

Men's ballet technique classes have been available for decades, especially at summer intensives and urban ballet schools. Yet programs designed specifically for male dancers, often offering full scholarships, have been rarer—until now, that is. Training that allows boys to separately explore their skills, above and beyond a supplement of double tours en l'air and pirouettes à la seconde at the conclusion of a mixed class, can literally give young men a leg up as they aspire towards a dance career.

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Everyone wants more air-time. Whether you're going for explosive jetés or crisp battu (or both!) there are specific ways to train. We break it down below:

  1. First, read Amy's extensive breakdown on how to improve your petit allégro. Some of her tips, like adding plyometrics to your cross-training regime, apply to big and small jumps. Her key points are: Use your plié, feel your whole leg, connect to your center and anticipate your landing.
  2. You may think that because you're on your feet all day in class and rehearsal you don't need to cross-train the large muscles in your legs and hips. Wrong! Those muscles need to be activated in a parallel position to generate propulsion for jumps and to control your landings. Here are two exercises.
  3. Here's everything you need to know about plyometrics for dancers. These kinds of exercises are utilized by hurdlers and high jumpers. Enough said.
  4. If possible, use men's class as an opportunity to work on your timing. The slower music will force you to hang in the air, and you might just learn a few new steps.

New York City Ballet principal Ashley Bouder, known for her buoyant jump (photo by Paul Kolnik)

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

 

Photo by Nathan Sayers for Pointe. Modeled by Hannah Seiden.

Photographed by Nathan Sayers, modeled by Hannah Seiden.

As choreography becomes increasingly demanding, dancers must adjust their flexibility and strength to match. One major aspect of 21st-century ballet is a pliable back. Michelle Rodriguez, MPT, OCS, CMPT, founder and director of Manhattan Physio Group, and her colleague Sarah Walker, DPT, recommend these exercises to build a balance of fluidity and support in the spine. If you dream of dancing work by the likes of William Forsythe and Wayne McGregor, these are for you.

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Julie Kent working with students at ABT. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT.

When I was about 10, I auditioned for New York City Ballet, to be in their Harlequinade. I got to the final round and then wasn't selected. Of course I was disappointed, but my mother just said, “Julie, your time will come." And I think understanding that is a part of growing up.

As a young dancer, you're wondering what your life is going to be. Especially as you become a teenager, people are asking you “What are you going to do?" and you're asking yourself the same thing. The reality is, it's a beautiful unknown. It's an exquisite mystery. You have to embrace that and understand that you don't know—nobody knows—and as soon as a decision's made, whether it's an audition or an acceptance letter from a university or a job that you land, the work begins in a whole different way.

When I talked to young people at American Ballet Theatre's summer program when I was teaching, I liked to start conversations about the artist's pursuit. What I love so much about being a dancer is that every day, all of us start in first position, and we build on what we've accomplished the hour before, the week before, the year before, the performance before. We're in a constant pursuit of beauty, musicality, clarity, specificity, power, delicacy—you can fill in the blanks endlessly. And if you embrace the notion that it is an endless pursuit, you eliminate a lot of frustration. It's not that what you did the day before wasn't good enough. It's that you're building on it and you're always moving forward.

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Summer intensive students at the School of American Ballet. Photo by Rosalie O'Conner, Courtesy SAB.

As a young student, Shea McAdoo's classes at the Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona, were “strict, straightforward, very classical and purely Vaganova." She appreciated the Russian rigor and precision, but when she was accepted to the School of American Ballet's summer course at 13, she leapt at the chance to learn something new. The vastly different emphasis on Balanchine technique at SAB was illuminating: “It changed my whole way of thinking about musicality and accents. I'd never known there were so many ways to do a tendu! And the épaulement—I loved how they talked about light hitting your face, tilting your chin to show off your diamond earring."

McAdoo's experience was transformative, even when she returned home. “Of course, I lowered my arms back down in second and didn't cross my wrists," she says, “but there were stylistic choices I brought back with me." Today, as an apprentice with Oregon Ballet Theatre rehearsing Balanchine's Serenade, she credits her ease with the ballet's fluid port de bras to her summer at SAB.

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Photographed for Pointe by Nathan Sayers, Modeled by Petra Love

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Lesley Rausch says she did plenty of curls to tone her arms ahead of her summer wedding, but her physical therapist gave her another way to use those light free-weights that had a major impact on her jumps in the studio. "I stand in parallel first position and hold a weight in each hand with my arms at my sides, then engage my core and glutes to hinge forward at the hips with a neutral spine, before slowly raising my upper body back to standing," says Rausch. It's essentially a dead lift using your torso but also your hamstrings and all-important glutes, which power jumps. "Even though I'm not a natural jumper, I noticed after a few weeks that my petit allégro was faster and more effortless."

While new fitness products and doodads are always coming to the market, there are myriad ways to use the fitness props you already own to revive a tired workout or stretching regimen. We asked Rausch and two physical therapists to share some inspiration for repurposing your foam rollers, Thera-Bands, physio balls, and other old standbys in the New Year.

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Caralin Curcio at the International Summer Course for Professional Dancers. Photo Courtesy Kathleen Breen Combes.

While New York City Ballet was off last August, corps member Sasonah Huttenbach was hard at work at the Danish Ballet Masters program, a two-week Bournonville workshop in New York City led by former Royal Danish Ballet dancers Mogens Boesen and Linda Hindberg. While they have always offered a student intensive, last summer Boesen and Hindberg added a program for working dancers. “A lot of professionals just lean toward open classes or giving themselves class during layoffs, but sometimes you need the basics because you're rehearsing and performing so much," says Huttenbach, who attended the student intensive twice before joining NYCB. “It was great to spend time off perfecting my alignment and technique."

Wondering about how to spend your summer layoff weeks this year? While teaching or performance gigs are good ways to stay busy, off-time can also be perfect for brushing up your technique, exploring another style and networking with a broader range of dance professionals. From big cities to the beach, programs geared towards professionals can help reinvigorate your career and remind you that you can always go back to summer camp.

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Vaganova Academy rehearsal with rector Nikolai Tsiskaridze. Photo by M. Logvinov, Courtesy Vaganova Academy.

As told to Nicole Loeffler-Gladstone and Madeline Schrock


What was life like at the Vaganova Ballet Academy?

Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

Gabrielle Perkins, ABT Studio Company member: I lived with about 30 other international students in the dorm, but all of our classes—except two hours of Russian language Monday through Thursday mornings—were with the Russian students. At first, it was stressful because I didn't really know what any of the other girls were saying—or even the teacher. But it was cool just to associate ourselves with them, and it helped us get more into the culture and language.

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New York City Ballet principal Ashley Bouder, known for her buoyant jump (photo by Paul Kolnik)

I can't seem to get off the ground in petit allégro. Help! —Sara

Developing ballon begins with basic technique: correct alignment throughout the body, strong core and leg muscles, a deep plié, and proper articulation of the feet during push- off and landing. Then, of course, there's coordination and timing. Here are some basic things to think about:

Plié, plié, plié. Much of your power stems from having a deep plié from which to push off. It should feel elastic and juicy. If you're stingy with your plié, or hold lots of tension in your feet and Achilles tendon, you have less of a foundation to spring from.

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National Ballet of Canada's Emma Hawes swims to strengthen her loose shoulder joints (photo by Daniel Neuhaus)

Every dancer has their own cross-training regime, tailored to their workload, injury prevention, rehab or particular roles. It's up to you to talk to a physical therapist about what exercises you should be doing to meet your own technical goals. But in the meantime, here are some of our best tips for effective cross-training:

  1. Do it in the morning. There are lots of reasons why AM workouts can be more beneficial, but we're most compelled by evidence that morning workouts might be easier to stick with.
  2. Scale your approach up or down depending on what you're training for. When it's summer intensive time, gradually work your way up to peak intensity.
  3. Try something new to keep yourself inspired. Ever heard of aerial yoga? What about TRX suspension training?
  4. Pools are an amazing training resource for everything from cardio workouts to fine-tuning your alignment.

And if that's not enough #fitspo for you, dig into our Workout archive to find out how the pros keep their bodies in peak condition.

Harper Watters with Houston Ballet in Stanton Welch's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy HB.

Deciding to pursue a career in dance is huge. But even with your eyes firmly on your goal, figuring out the best track to get you there can be confusing and stressful. What school to go to, which teacher to follow, and when or whether to leave home are questions all ambitious dancers face, and there's no right answer for everyone. Behind every successful dancer lies a path riddled with difficult decisions and moments of doubt. Often, coming to a fork in the road means making a realistic assessment of what your needs truly are. These three dancers faced tough choices at crucial moments in their training years, but pushed outside their comfort zones and took risks that ultimately paid off.

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