Ballet Careers
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Some days, your to-do list might seem like it's a mile long: On top of your dance commitments, do you really have time to sew new pointe shoes, squeeze in cross-training, tweak your resumé for audition season, meal-prep and clean your apartment? Trying to stuff too many things into one day can only leave you frustrated when every item doesn't get crossed off.

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Health & Body
Emily Giacalone, modeled by Nicole Kennedy of Marymount Manhattan College

We get it: Ballet is exhausting, and sometimes all you want to do during a quick break between rehearsals is, well, nothing. Bill Evans, director of the Evans Somatic Dance Institute, recommends the following options, which are both relaxing and recuperative for the stresses dance puts on your body. From energizing restorative poses to deep breathing, here are five ways to make your downtime work for you.

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Everything Nutcracker
Atlanta Ballet in Nutcracker. Photo by C. McCullers, Courtesy AB.

Battling sore muscles during a lengthy Nutcracker run? Add these three items to your grocery list for easier recovery between shows.

Eggs

Danielle MacInnes via Unsplash

These protein superstars contain all the essential amino acids, making them helpful for building and repairing muscle.

Health & Body
All photos by Jayme Thornton for Pointe, modeled by Payge Lecakes of Manhattan Youth Ballet.

A shallow plié can be frustrating for any dancer. But even if you think you've reached your limit, a deeper, juicier plié may be achievable, says Karen Clippinger, professor at California State University, Long Beach, and author of Dance Anatomy and Kinesiology. "Many dancers can improve the depth of their plié through persistent stretching and careful attention to optimal body alignment," she says. Barring any structural issues that would shorten your plié, such as bone spurs at the front of the ankle, these three exercises will help you access your full range.

You'll need:

  • a 1/2- to 1-inch thick book
  • a Thera-band
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Health & Body
Photos by Jayme Thornton for Pointe. Modeled by Anna Greenberg of American Ballet Theatre's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School.

Planks are one of the most popular exercises for core strength, but they're not just about flat abs. Julie O'Connell, physical therapist and performing arts program manager at Chicago's Athletico Physical Therapy, says that dancers can use them to maximize their conditioning: Look at the corrections you're getting in class or the choreography you're learning and mirror those concepts in your strength work.

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Health & Body
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Yoga has become a popular form of cross-training for ballet dancers, thanks to its stretching, strengthening and stress-relieving benefits. But it also poses challenges: How do you adapt your flexibility and turnout and shed your competitive nature to get the most out of class? Jennifer Goodman, a Chicago-based yoga instructor, freelance dancer and former Joffrey Ballet member, shares her tips for what you should and shouldn't be doing when you roll out your mat.

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Health & Body
Nathan Sayers, modeled by Nicole Buggé.

You may not understand exactly what causes a tight IT (iliotibial) band, but you've probably experienced that uncomfortable tension along the outside of your thigh. While it's not actually a muscle, the IT band may require daily stretching, says Suzanne Semanson, physical therapist at New York University Langone Medical Center's Harkness Center for Dance Injuries. The IT band is made of fascia, or tough connective tissue, that attaches to the pelvis through the tensor fascia lata (or TFL)—a small muscle between the pelvis and femur—and runs down to the outside of the knee.

When you're dancing with a fully extended knee, the IT band stabilizes the knee so that it doesn't move sideways out of alignment. However, “it is commonly tight in dancers due to compensatory patterns and overuse of the TFL," says Semanson. For example, if you force your turnout too much from your knees or rely on the TFL (instead of muscles in the hip) for développés to the front or side, this area might be too tight. The IT band and TFL can also build up excess tension from the demands of dancing several hours a day.

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Health & Body
Photos by Nathan Sayers, modeled by Gabrielle Andriello of The School at Steps.

Think fast: Would you like a few more degrees of turnout? If your answer is a resounding “yes" (perhaps even punctuated by a grand jeté), you're not alone. Although natural turnout is largely dictated by the anatomy of your femur and hip socket, if your turnout muscles are weak, you could be missing out on those highly coveted extra degrees of rotation.

But there's good news: According to Shannon Casati, a former Miami City Ballet dancer who's now a physical therapist assistant at Reavis Rehab and Wellness Center in Round Rock, Texas, strengthening the muscle groups that aid in external rotation and hip stabilization, such as the inner thighs, glutes and piriformis, can make a difference. Casati recommends these three exercises to help you access your full turnout. Try them daily after warming up, or two to three times a week when your rehearsal or performance schedule is intense.

You'll need:

  • a Thera-Band
  • a soft, soccer-sized ball
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Health & Body
Photos by Nathan Sayers, modeled by Hannah Foster.

Even after years of pointework, ankle strengthening never stops. Freshen up your warm-up routine with these three daily exercises from Leigh Heflin Ponniah, MA, MSc, from the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries of the New York University Langone Medical Center. Although the movements are subtle, “these work on building stamina in the ankle and supporting muscles," she says. Each should be done barefoot or in ballet slippers.

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Health & Body
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Abdominal strength is essential for any ballerina. A connected core can turn an otherwise wobbly dancer with arms and legs askew into one with supported extensions and smooth movement. But ab work is about more than just standard crunches and planks. The internal and external obliques, which wrap around the sides of the abdomen, are often neglected, though they're some of the most valuable muscles dancers can develop. Leigh Heflin Ponniah, MA, MS, from the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at New York University's Langone Medical Center, suggests these three exercises. Try the whole series three days a week on alternating days.

You'll need:

  • a 5–8-pound medicine ball or free weight
  • a physio ball

Seated Twist

Getty Images

1. Sit on the floor with knees bent and feet on the ground. Hold the medicine ball or weight in both hands, slightly in front of the body at belly-button height. Lean back a bit with the torso, so your abs feel engaged.

2. Twist side to side, allowing the weight to drop toward the floor as you reach left and right. Move slowly, exhaling each time you return to the starting position.

Repetitions: 10–20 sets

Health & Body
Photo by Max Delsid via Unsplash

For on-the-go dancers, iron is a must. Without enough of the mineral, it can lead to fatigue and a lowered immune function. That's why stocking your fridge with iron-rich foods is so important.

But it doesn't stop there. You should also make sure that other healthy habits, like drinking tea, aren't hampering your body's ability to absorb iron. According to research from the journal Food Science and Nutrition, micronutrients in tea, known as polyphenols, have been shown to limit iron absorption to a certain extent. However, Emily C. Harrison, a dietitian at Atlanta Ballet's Centre for Dance Nutrition, says that there are some dietary strategies that can improve iron absorption in healthy, tea-drinking dancers. Here are her top nutritional tips:

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Health & Body
Photos by Nathan Sayers, modeled by Marisa Trapani of Ballet Academy East.

When you begin your first plié combination of the day, you're likely feeling refreshed and ready to go—not to mention standing tall with good posture. But as class goes on, and the mind fatigues, bad habits can creep in. By center, your upper back may be slumping forward, and your posture less than perfect.

Julie O'Connell, director of performing arts medicine at Athletico Physical Therapy in Chicago, says she often sees dancers standing with their shoulder blades too far forward and the chest caved in. She suggests this exercise to help correct this postural problem. Though the motion is minimal, it can have a big impact on your overall épaulement. If you feel your upper back rounding during class, you can even do a few reps in between combos, to remind your body of the proper alignment.

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