Secrets From the Pros: Tips to a Long Dance Career
July 27th, 2018 by Richie Kormos
Strengthening your Weaknesses
Every dancer has a weakness—nobody’s perfect. As such, in order to withstand a long career as a dancer, you must work to counteract your weaknesses.
For example, National Ballet of Canada’s Principal dancer Xiao Nan Yu has an extra bone in her left foot, so her ankle often rolls inwards. To help with this, she practices the following exercise to build up the strength she needs to counteract her condition:
- Hold the barre with both hands. Rise to demi-pointe with both feet in parallel position.
- Next, come up onto full pointe, utilizing solely the strength of your first muscle. Then slowly roll back down.
Yu repeats this exercise on both feet, followed by a round for each individual leg, turned inwards, and turned outwards. Because her left side is her weak side, she adds an extra one to two sets on this side.
Finding Your Body’s Balance through Cross-Training
To maximize your dancing, many performers look at cross-fit as a key physical activity.
According to Yu, to sustain a longstanding, successful dance career, she emphasizes the importance of keeping your body strong, by cross-training.
“Having a flexible body is a treat, but it can sometimes be a curse,” says Yu in one interview.
To counteract her body’s flexibility, and to control her limbs, especially during her pre-class dance warm-ups, which can last as long as an hour, Yu strengthens her core with ab exercises like planks. In addition, she also participates in NBoC’s private pilates classes, in combination with practicing yoga through videos, and 30 minute floor barre, which she does from home on weekends.
Steph Lee, an NYC Renegade Performance Group dancer, credits cross-training as the answer to managing her over 10-year struggle with recurrent dance injuries.
According to Lee, as soon as she added CrossFit to her regimen, she was able to find relief, through her individualized Pilates-yoga cross-training routine.
Going to Bed Earlier
According to studies, going to bed earlier can improve quality of sleep, and may also correlate with improved heart health.
Because Yu, a mother of two, usually wakes up around 6:30 or 7:30 a.m. to tend to her daughters, ages 5 and 12, to get the sleep she requires, she goes to bed early. According to her, Yu believes doing so benefits her body.
Starting Your Day With Dance
To get your body used to dancing and the impacts of physical movement, Yu also says she must begin her day with dance, in order for her body to feel good.
“Ballet class is like brushing my teeth,” says Yu. “I have to start every day with it or else my body does not feel right.”
According to one article, even mild dehydration could be devastating to dancer performance, as it causes fatigue, and have a major effect on your balance.
To get the electrolytes and hydration needed to sustain the constant, rigorous movement required of dancers, Yu says she drinks at least three bottles of water and/or sports drinks daily.
Her favorite drink to keep her hydrated all day long? Biosteel: an electrolyte-packed, low calorie, no sugar sports drink.
Keep Calm, Dance On
Last but not least, Yu credits maintaining a calm, stress-free outlook to her 20-year long ballet career.
According to one article on the relationship between stress and dance, being stressed out can actually take a physical toll on one’s dancing abilities, some physical impacts of stress include increase in muscle tension and increase in respiration, circulation and perspiration.
Symptoms of stress like over-tense muscles and high circulation prevent dancers from reaching their peak performing abilities. In addition, these stress-caused factors are also more likely to lead to injury.
Genni Abilock is a writer for StarQuest. She loves baby carrots, SpongeBob, and playing Frank Sinatra songs on the ukulele.