Blog Archives

Cross Training for Ballet Strength

Improve your technique by cross training.

As Summer approaches, many Dancers will embrace a much needed three or four month layoff. Some will vacation, some will continue to obsessively take class day after day. The smart Dancer Cross Trains. To continue Dancing with the intensity you had during the season is like beating a dead horse. Our bodies need time off in order to make important gains and improvements. Yes, you can actually improve by taking some time off!

Here is the Cross Training Plan that I recommend;

Right after the Performance Season is over, take at least 2 weeks off! Upon returning to class, this will give you a clear signal as to what “pains” are actual injuries and which were just symptoms of overuse. During that first class back (typically after a 2 to 6 week break) take note of certain areas and muscle groups in the body that feel weak. If you feel that you have a serious injury this is a great time to see a Doctor, get an MRI, and get it fixed in time for the season to start.

After taking note of those weak areas, consult a Ballet Strength Expert such as myself for Dance Specific exercises that you can do in the gym.  On Ballet Dancers, for example, the “turn-in” or legs in a parallel stance is usually weak. I would then recommend some basic strength training techniques involving one-leg squats and exercises on the Bosu. Dancers also tend to favor one side of the body. This is a great time to strengthen your weak side!

As far as taking class goes, I recommend no more than 3 days per week during your time off.  The other 2 days should be dedicated to your Cross Training program!

Feeling out of breath during that variation? Don’t forget about cardio. What better time than Summer to go for a run, hike, or bike ride in your favorite park. You may be surprised at how much better you feel and how much more you are able to do pain free!

How do I Cross Train? To ensure that my trouble areas stay injury free, I take class only twice per week during the off season and weight train three times per week. I also focus on keeping my core strong with lots of unique abdominal exercises. For Cardio, I do chasse’s on the treadmill, front and side!

Still confused? I have taken all of the guess work out of it with my new book, Beginning Ballet Strength©. You can get your own copy at www.balletstrength.com!

Happy Dancing,

Nikol Klein, Professional Ballet Dancer/ Certified Personal Trainer/ Author/ Certified Nutritionist

Ballet Summer Program 101

If you are like the majority of young ballet dancers right now, you are getting ready to go away for a summer program soon. You worked so hard to prepare for your auditions. You even got in to the summer program of your dreams, but the preparation doesn’t end there. You want to take as much away from that summer intensive as possible and come back a new and improved dancer in the fall! So what can you do to maximize your ballet summer intensive experience?

The following are the things that the best dancers do to maximize their summer intensive progress;

1.) Listen– I know that it may sound simple, but you must listen and absorb everything that the instructors are saying. Most ballet summer intensive programs have guest teachers like Gelsey Kirkland or David Howard who are fountains of knowledge and experience. You don’t want to miss a word that they are saying as one small correction could make a world of a difference in your dancing!

2.) Write it Down– I talk about the “dance journal” a lot in my previous posts and in my book, but I can’t stress enough just how important it is for you to write down all of your corrections. This is something that I did in my professional career as well as when I was a student. Years later you can look back at all of your corrections and see how much progress you have made.

3.) Focus– Let’s face it, your parents are paying all of this money for you to go away to a summer intensive for you to dance. They are not paying for you to go goof around or worse yet, get in trouble. Share experiences, have fun, and make friends with the fellow dancers but don’t let it get in the way of your education. Remember, you are there to dance!

4.) Embrace Change– Sometimes we go to a summer program and find that it’s not the perfect fit and we don’t like the technique or the teachers. In this case, do your best to stay positive and learn what you can from the experience. Sometimes it is beneficial to learn other styles or techniques to make you stronger in the technique that you do best. (example: classical dancer going to a Balanchine summer intensive)

Absorb everything you can from the new teachers you will be meeting and learning from this summer! Come back to your year round ballet school confident and as the best dancer that you can be. Keep these tips in mind as you head out to your ballet summer intensive!

Happy Dancing,

Nikol Klein Author/Professional Ballet Dancer/ Ballet Strength Coach

Summer Program Audition Tips

If you are like most young dancers,  you are gearing up for 2010 Summer Intensive Program Auditions. You have been taking class every day and working on the corrections that your ballet teachers are giving you. You have been putting 100% into every ballet class, but you still feel unprepared. Does this sound like you?

Here are a few simple tips to help with the success of your 2010 Summer Program Auditions;

1.) Smile- No auditioner wants to look at a dancer who doesn’t look like he/she is enjoying themselves. Don’t plaster a fake cheesy grin on, but do make sure to look pleasant. This is the time when you need to use your acting skills the most. Even if you mess up, keep that positive and confident mindset. If you can keep that attitude, your face will show it!

2.) Don’t sweat the small stuff- Be your best you. Don’t look around you and size up the competition…this will only discourage you and make you feel less confident. Instead focus on yourself and think about how well prepared you are! Again, your confidence in yourself will shine through to the auditioner!

3.) Everyone makes mistakes- Yes, it is true that no one will have a perfect audition. The difference is that the best dancers are the ones who don’t let the auditioner see the mistakes. Stay poised even if you mess up instead of frowning or making a face. The auditioner doesn’t want to watch a dancer who is hard on herself. Save that for the classroom.

4.) Make Eye Contact- Look them in the eye, I dare you to! Laugh at their jokes. It’s okay to be human and show emotion. In fact, this will make you more likeable to the teachers.

I hope that these simple tips help you go confidently into that Summer Program Audition! If you are interested in learning more in-depth tips that will get you noticed in auditions, be sure to check out my eBook, The Ballet Audition Preparation Guide. You can download it instantaneously right to your computer without having to wait to go to the book store!

Merde in your auditions!

Nikol Klein Professional Ballet Dancer/ Certified Personal Trainer & Nutritionist

P.S. You can purchase The Ballet Audition Preparation Guide HERE!

Performance Nervousness-Part 2

In the Wings

Now that you have identified the type of performance nervousness you are feeling from Part 1 of my Performance Nervousness series, it is time to come up with a solution. In the book I wrote, The Ballet Audition Preparation Guide, (www.balletaudition.com) I outline the types of techniques that can be used to get rid of Audition nerves. The same concepts can be applied to backstage nerves.

Here are some of the long-term things you can do prior to the show to ensure that you are feeling confident going into theatre week.

Set Goals- Write out your goals ahead of time, starting with your first rehearsal. If you set realistic performance goals and work on them throughout the weeks of rehearsals leading up to the show, you will feel more confident.

Mental Preparation- Mentally prepare yourself through imagery. This is something that I have gone into extensively in The Ballet Audition Preparation Guide. If you can visualize yourself performing a role perfectly, you can take that same feeling into the real performing situation.

Here are some of the short-term things that you can do to help with pre-performance butterflies.

Avoid Caffeine & Sugar- I remember sugaring up before shows when I was in school and it always turned out disastrous. Either you feel like you’re going to jump out of your skin while you’re onstage or your sugar high crashes right before the show and you are left feeling tired and lethargic.

Eat and Hydrate- No one performs at his or her best on an empty stomach. To ensure that you won’t energy bonk before the show, eat at least 1 hour prior to call. Sip on an electrolyte enhanced beverage throughout the day.

Listen to Music- Listening to your favorite tunes on your iPod before the show can have a huge calming effect on your nerves. Most Professional Dancers practice this technique pre-performance.

Warm-up- Warming-up before the show will give your body the peace of mind it needs to successfully execute choreographic demands.

Focus in the Wings- Think positive before you are about to make your stage entrance.

Breathe- Don’t forget to breathe and relax before going onstage. If you’re holding your breath, all of the movements that you have been working so hard on in rehearsal will feel lot harder and more taxing on the body.

Try some of these techniques before your Nutcracker performances this month! If you are looking for more techniques to try pre-performance, check out the eBook I wrote at www.balletaudition.com. The techniques outlined in that book aren’t just for auditioners!

Happy Dancing,

Nikol Klein, Professional Ballet Dancer / Author

Performance Nervousness Part 1

 

Intermission-during one of my pre-performance rituals.

 

 

Through my extensive career as a professional dancer, I have observed some pretty strange pre-performance rituals. I have seen it all, and tried it all. So what works?

The truth is, not everyone is the same. There is no magic cure for nervousness, but there are things that you can do to calm yourself in the wings.

In Part 1 of Performance Nervousness, we will take the first step. Identifying the type of nervousness you are feeling.

Here are the categories of nervousness that I have defined through my years of dancing. See which category you best fit into or have felt in the past.

Prepared Nervousness– You feel well rehearsed, excited, pumped up. Maybe your family is out in the audience. You have a positive outlook on the upcoming performance.

Unprepared Nervousness– It feels like you are going into unfamiliar territory. You are doubtful, almost fearful. Maybe you were thrown into a role last-minute or were an understudy.

Combination of both– You are prepared but doubting yourself and your abilities. Even though you feel ready to perform a role, you are worried about uncontrollable factors.

Over-Prepared– You have rehearsed perfectly every day. Maybe you have even performed this role consecutive years. You are not nervous. After the performance you may even feel let down, although your performance went well.

Competitive Nervousness– You feel pressure. If you can perform well you will get a promotion. You want to outshine other dancers. Maybe your director or teacher watches the show from the wings.

Now that you have identified the type of nervousness you are feeling or have felt, we will move on to the solution. Stay posted for Part 2 of my Performance Nervousness series! As always your comments are greatly appreciated.

Stay tuned…

Nikol Klein, Professional Ballet Dancer/ Author

Abdominal Conditioning for Dancers

Today I gave myself barre at my home just for fun to test out a few of the theories I’ve been working on for my next book. I wanted to focus on something technical that only a Professional Dancer with a Certification as a Personal Trainer would know. Something that your Dance teachers don’t know. (they don’t know everything, trust me)

Now I haven’t been taking class consistently by any means, but would still consider myself to be in good dancing shape. I noticed that my balance was very strong whether in passe, arabesque, attitude or the basic positions. I suddenly realized the correlation between my solid balance and my abdominal strength. See, I’ve been working very hard on my abdominal strength lately for my fitness TV appearances.

Abdominal strength is more than just Pilates. Dance teachers always try to push Pilates on students to improve their “core” strength. While Pilates is great, it’s not the solution to the problem. Abdominal strength through strength training is!

NKleincrunch

This exercise incorporates an element of instability

Take the oblique abdominal crunch bringing the knee to elbow on a physio-ball for example. (pictured above) This exercise engages the hip flexors in addition to the oblique abdominals in an active position. This exercise requires extreme core strength.

I could go on to tell you why this exercise will benefit you more than Pilates for example, but I’ll save that for the book! There are hundreds of exercises that you can do through strength training that will leave you feeling strong and energized as opposed to tired and lazy like Pilates can sometimes do.

Most of the exercises I have my Dancer clients do are standing up. Since you dance standing up, doesn’t make much more sense to strengthen you core muscles standing up rather than lying down like Pilates?

By the way, I don’t want you to think I’m knocking Pilates. In fact, I have a Pilates Mat Certification so I’ve been there, done that. Pilates is a wonderful way for injured dancers to stay limber while in a resting state. But eventually they have to translate all of that knowledge to standing.

Stay tuned for more information. In the meantime, you can purchase my Ballet Strength book that contains exercises just like the ones described above! Find out more HERE.

Happy Dancing,

Nikol Klein, Professional Ballet Dancer/ Certified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist

Falling off Pointe

I’m hearing a lot about retirement lately from a lot of my young dancer friends. There is a common question whispered throughout the ballet community; How do you know when to retire?

I had a conversation with an old friend of mine, Matthew, who dances with Kansas City Ballet a few weeks ago and he brought up a few valid points concerning retirement. Would you rather go out with a bang, at the height of your career? Or be caught “falling off pointe” at 40?

When he said the “falling off pointe” I completely lost it in laughter. How many of us have seen this exact thing. A dancer hanging on to her career by a thread (or toenail), all the while doing the audience a huge disservice. How does an Artistic Director go about telling this once magnificent dancer that it’s time to hang it up?

Is your company’s principal dancer holding the rest of the company back? There is a company here in Southern California that has a dancer like this, and I could name about ten other companies with the same problem. While this forty-something Principal Dancer may have artistic qualities to add to roles, she needs to channel her passion in another way…perhaps through coaching.

Although dance is an illusion, when ticket sales start to plummet, you know that your loyal ballet-goers have seen through the illusion. Does anyone even realize that Darci Kistler is still dancing, for example? (I’m not knocking Darci in any way, just stating a fact)

On the flip side of the coin, dancers are retiring a lot younger than they used to. For many, the economy has made it so that ballet companies are having to make cutbacks. This is making the job search hard for young dancers and even for dancers who are experienced. Principal and soloist caliber dancers are being turned down by companies because they can use young, inexperienced dancers for free.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this post other than asking one question;

Do you want to be caught on stage falling off pointe?

Happy Dancing,

Nikol Klein, Professional Ballet Dancer/ Certified Personal Trainer

Author of The Ballet Audition Preparation Guide

How to Prevent Ballet Injuries

Ballet injuries are common career ending catastrophes for dancers of all ages. What may seem like a small ache or pain could turn into a serious injury if you are not making the proper adjustments to your technique. There are a lot of solutions offered that just mask the pain. If you do not get to the bottom of the issue that is causing the injury, it could be a life long struggle.

The following are a list of steps you can take to ensure you are doing the right things to prevent career ending injuries.

1.) See a Doctor- I know this may seem like a no brainer, but going to a doctor is one of the most important things you can do if you are experiencing abnormal pain. If you are attending a good ballet school, they should be affiliated with a Sports Medicine department or physical therapist in your city.

2.) Rest- You’ve heard this one before too. If you are experiencing abnormal pain, you need to stop dancing until you have the issue identified by a physical therapist. I know, you’re afraid that you will lose your part to your understudy, but how would if feel if you kept dancing and tore or broke something? Do your career a favor and take a much needed rest.

3.) Therapy- Once you have seen a physical therapist and they have diagnosed the problem, you need to follow through with your treatments. Your physical therapist may have you doing some strange exercises, but if you don’t follow through with them the injury will come back.

4.) Investigate- After you are finished with physical therapy and your injury seems to have healed, start investigating your ballet technique. Are you rolling in on your ankles? Are you gripping your hips? You might even want to see a Ballet Strength & Conditioning Coach like myself to help you work on technical weaknesses based on your anatomy and body mechanics. (Keep in mind that these are things that most ballet teachers are not qualified to recommend)

Sometimes your Ballet instructors, though they have your best interest in mind, will continue to tell you to force your turnout, etc. so that your body looks aesthetically correct for ballet. While this may look good, it may be doing disastrous things for your body and your career.

Take these simple precautions to prevent long lasting injuries and never be afraid to ask questions. You can try out one of my Ballet Strength programs HERE.

Nikol Klein, Certified Personal Trainer/ Professional Ballet Dancer/ Certified Nutritionist