by Cara Marie Gary
As a dancer with The Joffrey Ballet I spend countless hours in the studio rehearsing and preparing for upcoming productions. Often times I will be required to rehearse multiple ballets at the same time. Our company returned from summer break in late July and in the past three months we’ve already worked on seven different ballets! We’ve performed at the Chicago Dancing Festival and Dance for Life performances with Alexander Ekman’s Episode 31, Lar Lubovitch’s Othello pas de deux, Christopher Wheeldon’s After The Rain pas de deux, and Gerald Arpino’s Round of Angels. We’ve learned Myles Thatcher’s Body of Your Dreams, which is a ballet that we won’t perform until the spring. We began “cracking nuts” early in August as Christopher Wheeldon started choreographing his world premiere of The Nutcracker. However, in the past two weeks we’ve taken a pause from rehearsing multiple ballets to focus on our fall production of Krzysztof Pastor’s Romeo & Juliet.
The Company performed this version of Romeo & Juliet back in 2013, so some members of the Company were already familiar with the choreography and demands of this ballet. In this production, I have the opportunity to perform as one of Juliet’s friends and a Montague woman. Every full-length ballet consists of several sections that, when put together, develop an intricate story. Each section consists of certain characters or roles so the amount of people on stage is constantly changing depending on the progression of the story. When putting a ballet back together, the ballet masters must focus on teaching small sections at a time until all of the material is covered. Only after the learning process is complete can the dancers run the entire ballet from start to finish. Although there is a fair amount of dancing for the roles that I cover, there have been some rehearsal days during this learning period where I’m not needed for a section of the ballet and I’ve ended up with some free hours. In my opinion, this is what I consider having a “lighter load.” During times like these, I try to challenge myself to cross-train with other activities.
I’ve found that my body benefits from cross training and yoga is my activity of choice. It’s become my diversion from a tedious rehearsal routine. I’m very fortunate that I can take as many yoga classes I want because The Joffrey Ballet provides a gym membership to Chicago Athletic Clubs and we’re also sponsored by 105F Chicago’s Original Hot Yoga. These locations have allowed me to explore various styles of yoga, but my favorites are Bikram and Vinyasa Flow. A Bikram class runs for 90 minutes and consists of a series of twenty-six postures and is practiced in a room heated to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. My face turns bright as a firetruck and I sweat buckets, but I feel that the heat helps build stamina and soften my muscles for a deep stretch. Vinyasa is a term used to describe a specific sequence of poses (plank, chaturanga, upward facing dog to downward facing dog). A Vinyasa Flow class allows for a lot of variety, but focuses on coordinating movement with breath to flow from one pose to the next. I feel that this style of yoga helps me focus on breathing and toning my upper body.
I’ve experienced several benefits by cross-training with yoga. One benefit is that it has made me more aware of my alignment because the majority of the poses are in parallel positions. Since this is the exact opposite of ballet, I really have to focus on keeping certain points in line and not relax into my habits of being a dancer. Developing a keen sense for proper yoga alignment has refreshed my outlook of alignment during ballet class. This cross-training activity is also beneficial because it helps strengthen and elongate your muscles. Several poses focus on balancing and rooting down into the floor, which strengthens the intrinsic muscles of the feet that are necessary for strong pointe work. I feel that yoga has also helped me determine which parts of my body are weak or tight. This knowledge has made me more aware of my body so I can work to prevent injuries. Yoga is beneficial because it helps build core strength and stability, increases flexibility, and relieves muscular tension. It also requires mindful breathing. This development of focus acquired during class helps remind me to also be mindful of my breathing when dancing. I find the meditative aspect of yoga beneficial in helping relieve stress and bring a sense of calmness.
In addition to yoga, there are several alternative forms of cross-training activities dancers can utilize, like using the elliptical machine, running, biking, swimming, and Pilates. It’s important to work smart and cross-train in a way that compliments your dancing. Above all, you should strive to stay safe, and choose a workout carefully based on the intensity of your dance schedule. Cross-training can benefit you as a dancer, but you must find the activity that suits you best!
The Joffrey Ballet performs Krzysztof Pastor’s Romeo & Juliet at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University October 13th through October 23rd.
Contributor Cara Marie Gary is a native of Belton, South Carolina. She joined The Joffrey Ballet in July 2012. Prior to joining The Joffrey Ballet, Ms. Gary danced with American Ballet Theatre’s ABTII and was an apprentice with Orlando Ballet. Ms. Gary began her formal ballet training at International Ballet Academy in Greer, South Carolina, under Hennadii Bespechnyi and Vlada Kvsselova. Ms. Gary received additional training at summer intensives with American Ballet Theatre, Brianskv Saratoga Ballet Center, Ukrainian Academy of Dance South Carolina Governors School, Ballet Spartanburg, and Chautauqua Institution. Ms. Gary graduated with honors from Belton-Honea Path High School and is currently pursuing a Business Administration degree online through North Greenville University.
In 2010, Ms. Gary was a competitor in the IX USA International Ballet Competition held in Jackson, Mississippi. She was a top twelve finalist in the Youth America Grand Prix National Finals in 2008 and 2009. She also received the overall Grand Prix Award in the 2009 YAGP regional semi-finals. In 2006, she was awarded a Diploma of Laureate at the VI Serge Lifar International Ballet Competition held in Kiev, Ukraine.
Ms. Gary has had the opportunity to tour throughout the United States and Europe. Ms. Gary has performed the title role in classical ballets such as The Nutcracker, La Sylphide, Don Quixote, Paquita, Markitanka pas de six, and Coppelia. Her repertoire with ABT II includes roles in the Flame of Paris pas de deux, Jerome Robbins’ Interplay, Antony Tudor’s Continuo, George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante and Stars and Stripes pas de deux, Jessica Lang’s Vivace Motifs, Roger Vanfleteren’s Pavlovsk, Jodi Gate’s A Taste of Sweet Velvet, Aszure Barton’s Barbara, and Edward Liang’s Ballo Per Sei. Ms. Gary has performed roles in new choreography by Robert Hill. Her repertoire with Orlando Ballet also consists of Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, and Swan Lake.