Should I go to Ballet When I’m Sick?

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There is nothing worse than waking up in the morning with a sore throat and a full day of rehearsals ahead of you. No matter how healthy you are it is inevitable that the flu or a cold will hit you at some point during peak season. I get asked a lot by my dancer clients whether they should continue classes and rehearsals while sick. The answer truly depends on just how sick you are. Is it a cold? Allergies? The flu? Are you contagious?

In general, if you are sick you stay home and rest but with dancers it can be a really tough decision to make. If we miss a day of rehearsals, for example, our understudy will get a chance to do our part or we may lose our spot altogether. So what do you do? Be sure to talk to your studio or company director directly on the phone (so they can hear just how sick you are) and take care of YOU. Staying home may make you feel lazy, but it is an essential part of your recovery – and the faster you recover, the sooner you will be back to dancing.

The general rule is that if the symptoms are above the neck it is usually okay to exercise but at a lower intensity than you are used to. As dancers, we don’t really get the luxury of determining the pace of class and rehearsals, so If you absolutely must go through with it, alert your teacher or director that you will be taking it easy. Dancing while you are ill could also lead to injury so be cautious. The key is to listen to your body – it is definitely not a good idea to push yourself beyond your limits when you are under the weather so take it easy.

You wouldn’t want the rest of the dancers at your studio to get sick either, so be sure to wash your hands and wipe off your barre spot with disinfecting wipes. Get lots of rest when you can and be sure to drink lots of liquids whether you are at the studio or at home.

When you should definitely NOT dance while you are sick:
• When you are vomiting
• You have a fever
• Coughing or chest congestion
• Widespread body and muscle aches

When it is okay to dance with a lower intensity:
• Sore throat
• Nasal congestion
• Sneezing
• Runny nose

My hope is that you stay healthy this Fall and Winter and continue to thrive as a dancer. Be sure to stay up on your nutrition and rest to avoid getting sick!

Deadlifts for Dancers

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If you had a chance to watch any of the World Dance Day video, you saw that in addition to showing live ballet classes and rehearsals, they also showed what the dancers do to stay in shape outside of the studio. At Ballet Strength, we love that they chose to reveal dancers behind the scenes in the gym strength training. My favorite clip they showed was of National Ballet of Canada dancer, Chelsy Meiss. Pictured below is Chelsy performing an exercise called the “deadlift” from the World Dance Day broadcast. Today I am going to share with you how to do this exercise correctly so that you can maximize your Ballet Strength just like Chelsy!

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Dancer Chelsy Meiss performing deadlifts

At Ballet Strength all of our programs and DVD workouts incorporate Romanian deadlifts. Romanian deadlifts are a great way to strengthen your hamstrings and spinal erectors, the long muscles that run up and down the sides of your lower back. Our goal in using this exercise during cross training is to strengthen the core and glute/ham tie in to help take the brunt of the stress from dancing off of the ankles – helping to stay injury free. Strength and power in the upper legs will also help with jumps, balance, and turns.

Ballet Strength Deadlifts

How to do it: A.) Start with the feet hip width apart, holding a light bar or two dumbbells. Knees should be slightly bent with the weight in the heels. B.) Bend forward from the torso, sliding the bar or weights to mid-shin (do not go all the way to the floor!). Be careful that you do not bend the knees additionally and keep the weight in the heels. Do not round the back. C.) It is a good idea to even lift the toes off the ground to ensure that you form is proper with the weight in the heels. Perform 3 sets of 12 repetitions.

Any good ballet cross training program will include deadlifts such as our Sensationally Strong Jumps Program or the Power Pirouettes DVD. The dancers whom I work with in companies such as San Francisco Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and Boston Ballet all do this exercise too! Give it a try and take your Ballet Strength to a new level.

 

 

Ballet Warm-Up Exercise

Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer Arantxa Ochoa warming up by Alexander Iziliaev

Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancer Arantxa Ochoa warming up by Alexander Iziliaev

Today I want to share with you one of my favorite go-to warm up exercises to do before ballet class. I like to call this exercise the “roll up.” We have spoken before about the importance of warming up versus stretching and this exercise in combination with others will do just the trick to get you feeling loose, opened up, and ready to start class!

The Roll Up – The roll up is a beginners Pilates move created to target the core but it can do much more when added to your daily ballet warm up routine. Not only does it activate the core but it also stretches the spine. A lot of dancers will do this exercise right after getting out of bed in the morning to work the kinks out and get the body moving slowly. You can even articulate the feet while doing this exercise (if you’re not wearing sneakers like I am in this video ;).

Give it a try as part of your warm-up routine before ballet class this week and feel what a difference it makes! I suggest 10-15 roll-ups at a time and don’t rush through it – go nice and slow focusing on rolling through the spine. Your body will thank you for it!

 

 

Plyometric Training for Dancers

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If you are a dancer who is looking to improve your jumps and stamina, plyometric training could be right up your alley. While there are many beneficial plyometric exercises for dancers, I want to discuss the pros and cons to plyometric training and the exercises that may work better for the goals that ballet dancers are trying to achieve.

When it comes to jumping, the problem usually lies in the muscle groups that are recruited during jumps and their ability to fire correctly. What does this mean in simple terms? It means that simply jumping more is not going to fix the underlying issue. Dancers looking to improve their jumps through plyometrics need to be extremely careful. If there is a weakness, imposing a new complex movement into the mix may create injury. Plyometrics can also be very hard on the knees and are usually performed in a parallel position, something that most dancers are not trained in.

Before you get started with plyometrics, you want to make sure you have the following basic exercises down to fix any potential muscular imbalances.

Squats- You need to master a basic squat before trying a plyometric exercises which will likely have you starting and ending the exercise in a squatting position. Try a basic wall squat as pictured below. Perform 3 sets of 20 repetitions paying close attention that you are keeping the weight in the heels, pushing through the heels particularly on the way up.

©balletstrength wallsquats

Lunges – You need to be able to fluidly transfer weight from one leg to the other in a parallel position before attempting plyometrics. This will challenge your lateral stability. Try 3 sets of 15-20 repetitions one leg at a time, not alternating.

©balletstrength jumpsquats

Basic Jump Squat – The first plyometric exercise that you should start with is a basic jump squat, as pictured above. Begin in your parallel squat position, jump up with the legs in parallel and return to the squat position to finish. Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions, eventually graduating to weights. *If your knees knock together when you land or your heels won’t stay down, this exercise is too advanced for you.

If you are looking to strengthen your jumps, plyometrics might be right up your alley, however as you have learned there are usually underlying issues. I work with dancers all over the world who are looking to strengthen their jumps and am happy to help you out with a program that best suits your needs. Feel free to email me or visit balletstrength.com to find the right program for you!

 

Get a Corp Worthy Core

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As dancers we need a strong core to hold our developés, nail those triple pirouettes, and leap across the stage with ease. The plank is one of the most popular core exercises and is no exception in the dance community. At a certain point the plank can get easy, (unless of course you are holding it for minutes at a time) so why not target the core muscles in a more challenging way – by taking the plank to the next level!

There are two variations of the plank that we are going to try today. Both exercises will utilize a stability ball. As always, use your best judgement with the approval of a physician before performing any type of strength training activity.

The first exercise (shown below) is a great “next step” for those of you getting bored with the usual plank. Rest the feet and ankles on the stability ball while holding a push-up position with the arms. Hold this position as long as you can without breaking form. Be sure that the glutes are not too high in the air – you want to aim for a straight line from the shoulders all the way down to the feet.

©Ballet Strength plank exercise

The second exercise is just the opposite of the last (shown below). You are going to start on your knees to position your arms correctly on the ball. Push up to balance on your feet and elbows. Be careful not to let the upper body collapse onto the ball – stay held on the shoulders. Again, you want an imaginary line running from the shoulders to the hips, all the way to the ankles.

©Ballet Strength plank on ball

Give these exercises a try as a warm-up before ballet class or as part of your cross training routine to become a stronger, well rounded dancer. I also have a program dedicated to core conditioning for dancers that you can check out HERE. Keep posted for more Ballet Strength exercises and tips!

 

 

 

Summer Ballet Intensives – Adjusting Back to Home Life

Princeton Ballet School's Summer Intensive Program. Photo Credit: Theresa Wood

If you attended a summer ballet intensive program this year, congratulations! It is such an honor and accomplishment to be accepted into a summer ballet school away from home. I remember all too well the 6 weeks of dancing bliss, meeting new friends, being away from my parents, and of course learning a ton from the wonderful ballet teachers that were on staff. Memories like these last a lifetime – I am even still in touch with some of the friends I made at summer intensives long ago.

The hardest thing for me was always adjusting back to home life after the end of a summer intensive program. I remember leaving for American Ballet Theatre, New York at age 15, living in an apartment by myself, and walking to the studios each morning by myself. It was a big responsibility but it made me feel so grown up.  It was always hard for me to leave my family and friends back home, but once I got to the summer intensive, I never wanted to leave! Chances are, you are dealing with the exact same feelings right now after returning home from your summer intensive, and I want to share some pointers with you to help you adjust and get comfortable back at home.

Be Easy on your Parents – Your parents have missed you so much during the duration of the summer intensive. After all, their little one has been away for 6 weeks and they can’t wait to see you and spoil you when you get home. While their overly-affectionate attitude may be annoying, don’t fight it – embrace it. It is often hard to adjust back to the boundaries and rules that your parents have set at home. Sit down with them and explain your new found confidence rather than breaking the rules and getting in trouble. The key to dealing with your parents is working with them, not against them!

Keep in Touch – Do be sure to keep in touch with all of the new friends you met at your summer intensive. Social media like Facebook makes it super easy these days. Not only is it a great way to keep each other updated as to what is going on in your lives, it can also be a great connection for the future – Say if you’re looking for a roommate for next year’s summer intensive.

Respect your Ballet Teachers – You want to show off your new skills and technique, but don’t do it at the cost of making your ballet teacher angry. This is probably one of the hardest things to adjust to. For example: you go to a Balanchine summer intensive but return to a classical school. Your teacher back home definitely will not appreciate your new hands and over-crossed fifths ;) Do your best to honor their corrections and chat with them after class. They will help you understand why they don’t like some of your new habits, but will also tell you which new habits they appreciate in a good way!

Adjusting back to home life can be tough after attending a summer ballet intensive program. Communicate with your loved ones, friends, and ballet teachers and you will be back on track in no time!

* Photo Credit Princeton Ballet School’s Summer Intensive Program. ©Theresa Wood

 

 

 

Hydration for Dancers

©BalletStrength

If you are dancing for long periods of time, it is important to replace the fluids lost from sweating. If you become dehydrated while dancing, especially in the heat, it can cause fatigue, dizziness, decrease in coordination, and even muscle cramping. Examples include forgetting combinations, the inability to physically complete long segments of choreography due to fatigue, and legs cramping in the middle of a piece. We’ll talk more about how you can hydrate yourself during the dancing day to prevent some of the awful consequences of dehydration.

Chances are, you’ve probably experienced one of the three symptoms I mentioned above. Dancers are sometimes at a disadvantage here, as teachers are not all educated about the importance of hydration in the classroom and do not allow water or sports drinks to be brought into the studio. You can work around this by making a conscious effort to drink water and/or a sports beverage throughout the day, at home or at school, and in the morning before ballet.

Adequate hydration is an essential part of your ballet nutrition. Water makes up almost 60% of our body weight. Water is the most important nutrient for your body. Its functions include lubricating joints, regulating body temperature, and transporting nutrients through the body. We lose water during the day through sweating, respiration, and through urinary and fecal output.

lemonwater ©BalletStrength

Electrolytes-

When you hear the word “hydration” you immediately think of water, but being hydrated sometimes means more than simply drinking more water. Dancers who spend more than 3 hours rehearsing per day can be at risk for dehydration and fluids need to be replenished in the form of electrolytes. Electrolytes are minerals that are essential to the human body.(examples: sodium, potassium, magnesium) Electrolyte beverages utilize these minerals to restore the body’s water levels.

When I was dancing with a ballet company that required 8 hours per day of class and rehearsals, I sipped on an electrolyte beverage all day long. Many of my friends didn’t even drink as much as water during the long rehearsal days and let me just tell you – it is part of the reason why their performance in class and rehearsals suffered day to day.

Choose your “sports drink” wisely – although some may taste like kool-aid this is likely due to the fact that they contain too much sugar. My favorite brands of electrolyte hydrators such as the brand Vega, are found at natural health food stores.

I hope this blog will help you understand hydration and how it effects your ballet performance and recovery. For more information please be sure to subscribe to this blog and join us on Facebook or check out my eBook, Ballet Nutrition. Happy Dancing!

 

Setting Ballet Summer Intensive Goals

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As the end of June approaches many of you will head off to your very first summer ballet intensive program. With your suitcases packed have you left anything behind? You have surely packed enough leotards and pointe shoes to get you through the 3-6 weeks that you will be away from home. Have you forgotten the most important thing you will need for your summer intensive?

The most common thing that dancers forget to do before leaving for a ballet summer intensive program is set goals. Why are you doing this summer intensive program? To improve, right? But what exact areas of your dancing are you looking to improve? Let’s face it, without setting goals what exactly will you get out of your summer intensive experience?

Before you leave home (or even if you are in your first few weeks of the intensive) write down the following questions in your ballet journal.

What do I feel that I most need to improve on this summer? This could be anything from pirouettes to technique.

What have my teachers been encouraging me to improve on? This would be the corrections that you get in class or at the school year-end conference.

What do I need to do to make these corrections over the summer? Listen to the teachers, focus, etc

Why did I choose this summer intensive? List the key reasons that you decided to go to this particular summer program. Anything from teaching staff to city.

What do I most want to accomplish this summer at (fill in your summer intensive name) ? What is your ultimate goal in attending this particular summer program? Do you perhaps want to be asked to stay for this school’s year-round program?

By answering these questions and looking them over every few days, you will stay on track at your summer program. I know it sounds kind of dorky but if you really want to become the best dancer you have to set goals and remind yourself of those goals consistently. Have fun and make friends but remember, you are there to dance!

How to Get Beautiful Ballet Feet and Arches

©Ballet Zaida

A beautifully pointed foot is the finishing touch to any dancers physique. Sure, not everyone can attain the extreme arches of Beckanne Sisk, but with the right exercises, you can achieve the best foot for your body. With all of the complicated foot stretchers and contraptions these days, it is hard to know what to trust or what really works. The good news is that you don’t have to spend a ton of money on a fad product to get beautiful ballet arches – there are simple exercises that you can do at home to get those fab feet!

Exercise 1 – Flex and Pointe – This sounds simple, but I want you to try this exercise (video below) while lying on your back. This exercise will not only strengthen the arches of your feet, but also the muscles in the ankles and the calves. I recommend starting with 10 repetitions of each part, there are 4 parts to this exercise.

Exercise 2 – Towel Scrunch – This is a secret go-to exercise for dancers who are injury prone in the ankles and metatarsals. I recommend doing this at least three times per week for 15 minutes at a time. Video can be found here –> http://balletstrength.com/Ballet_Strength/intrinsic.html

Exercise 3 – Thera-band – While you may not have a thera-band lying around the house, they are not hard to find. You can get off brand versions at Walmart and sporting goods stores now. Give these basic exercises a go before class or as a cool down in the evening.

Give these three exercises a try and you will be well on your way to having your best feet and arches! As always, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions regarding these exercises. I have also designed a 6 week Perfect Pointe Program to take the guess work out of foot and ankle training for you. Available exclusively at Ballet Strength –> http://balletstrength.com/Ballet_Strength/powerpointe.html

Stretching vs Warming-Up for Dancers

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If you are like the majority of dancers, your daily routine begins by showing up 30 minutes or so before ballet class starts to warm-up. The keyword here is “warm-up.” What most of you end up doing is stretching as a warm-up which may be causing more harm than good. Read on to find out the proven reasons why you should not be stretching before class.

If you are stretching in an effort to increase or enhance performance prior to ballet class or the big show, you are really doing yourself a great disservice. Static stretching results in a decrease in performance while dynamic stretching results in an increase in performance (*see reference 1 below).

Some of us don’t really know why we stretch before class…we just do it because we saw someone else doing it. I don’t know about you, but I never had a ballet instructor suggest stretching before class. They did however suggest warming-up. There is a big difference.

Your pre-ballet class ritual should consist of a dynamic warm-up done in an effort to specifically turn-on and activate muscles through heightened neurological communication between the brain and muscle motor units. Stretching will not achieve this. Stretching should be done in an effort to recover and restore fatigued muscles after ballet class or performance. The goal of post class/ performance stretching would be to restore range of motion and/or to release tight muscle fibers to provide efficient blood flow which brings essential nutrients into the muscle to repair, restore, and recover.

A great dynamic warm-up for example would consist of high knee lifts (think marching in place), torso twists, arm circles, and believe it or not a jog around the ballet classroom to elevate the heart-rate and get the blood moving. How many of you have seen girls jogging around the room in auditions to warm-up and laughed at them for doing so? (now the joke is on you!) Below are a few good warm-up exercises to try before class:

1.) The Plank – hold this position for 30-60 seconds. Warms up the core muscles and really, the whole body.

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2.) Hi Knee Marches – Do 20 or so of these to warm-up the hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings.

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3.) Calf Raises- This is a great way to warm-up the feet, ankles and calves. Perform 15-20 of these along with some ankle rolls.

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If you are looking to maximize those splits or extension, work on your deep stretching after class from now on. Also, be sure to give a dynamic warm-up a try before class this week and notice the difference in the way your muscles feel during class. I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences with this!

*Resources:[1]  L. Parsons, N. Maxwell, C.Elniff, M. Jacka, and N. Heerschee Static vs. Dynamic Stretching on Vertical Jump and Standing Long Jump (2006), Greg Romero Coaching (2011)

 

 

 

 

 

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