by Alessa Rogers
That is what people think of when they think of ballet. And that is what we strive to be, with our tutus and tiaras and sweat and…wait what? Yes, dancers sweat, and we also curse sometimes too. Ballet is hard work after all!
But–back to effortless grace.
Yes, that is what we are. At least- that is–until halfway through Tharp’s In the Upper Room or maybe David Parson’s Caught or the Don Quixote third act pas de deux, when we are gasping for air like a fish out of water, with a variation and a coda left to go (and don’t forget those pesky bows that are next to impossible after a three hour long ballet).
No one wants to be that dancer that is visibly out of breath and increasingly out of control, making the audience worry if they need to call a doctor. But dancers for the most part tend to forget about stamina, focusing instead on technique and shape and choreography and musicality–and even injury prevention. These are all very important to consider, of course, but if a dancer is too exhausted to get through a piece then technique just isn’t going to be useful. Actually, as a dancer gets more tired, technique gets sloppy, choreography becomes harder to learn, and it’s definitely the time when injuries happen.
So a few years ago I set out to consciously improve my stamina. It was mostly out of necessity; a high-profile world premiere was looming where I would be onstage for all but four minutes of the entire full-length, no intermissions, ballet (and those off-stage minutes were for stressful costume changes!). A lot of the work was running and jumping. The first time I ran through the full ballet in the studio I went home and passed out at about 7 o’clock. I knew I had to get myself in shape.
Wouldn’t it be nice if dancers had trainers the way professional sports stars and Olympics athletes do–with scientists, analysts, nutritionists and trainers at our disposal? But we don’t. We only have ourselves, and our acute sensitivity to our bodies, to decide what works for us individually and what doesn’t. We have only ourselves to maintain accountability, to customize a plan that works for us and turn our bodies into fine-tuned machines.
Fast forward a few years and I’d say my stamina is now one of my strengths as a dancer. Other dancers often note how when they are bent over and panting I am still standing up and smiling. None of what I do now is scientifically proven–but they are the practices I’ve discovered that work for me.
See for yourself if some of these work for you: [Read more…]