8 Things You Must Tell Your Personal Trainer

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A qualified personal trainer can help create a workout regimen that meets your body and classroom needs.As a teacher, you already know you need to look outside the studio for regular workouts. If you've trained primarily as a dancer, however, establishing a gym routine beyond using aerobic machines can be intimidating. It's tough to know where to begin.


Lauren McIntyre, an athletic trainer and clinical specialist at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Medical Center, recommends personal training sessions to many of her patients. A well-qualified personal trainer—whether they have a dance background or not—can help customize and streamline your strength and cardio workout to suit your body, as well as your classroom (and dance!) needs. You may discover new levels of strength, energy and even flexibility in the process.

Here are McIntyre's best tips for spotting a good trainer, communicating your needs and banishing your biases about dancers and weight lifting.

Focus on their certification along with their dance background.

There are various certifications that personal trainers can get. Having one doesn't guarantee they'll be a good fit for you, and not having one doesn't mean they won't know their stuff, but McIntyre says good education will prepare a trainer to work with anyone, including dance teachers. A few certifications she trusts are those from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), or if someone is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).

Discuss goals.

Before the first session, you and your trainer should sit down and talk about why you're there. A good trainer will customize your program accordingly. (If they don't, find a new one.) If your goal is to gain more power for demonstrating jumps, for example, McIntyre says you may do plyometrics and some heavier leg strengthening than if your goal is to improve your cardio endurance, in which case you might spend more time on aerobic equipment or doing interval training on the bike or rowing machine.

Show them what you do.

If your trainer isn't familiar with dance, or if they only know New York City Ballet or “So You Think You Can Dance," consider showing them a video of one of your classes in action. Explain how you move as a teacher; tell them what kind of combinations you demonstrate and which you don't (and maybe which you'd like to). Share information—like how you warm up, that you often need to leap into action from a standstill, and that you might only get to do one side of a combo. A good trainer can customize a program to suit your needs.

Dance teachers' schedules change constantly. A good trainer can adjust your routine accordingly. Thinkstock

Tell them about prior injuries.

Let your trainer know which injuries you've had or areas that have been bothering you lately, not because they should be diagnosing or treating you, but so they can avoid aggravating a sensitive area. They may even want to give you strength work that will prevent a recurrence. “If you've had multiple ankle sprains, maybe they would tailor your program to work on balance and core and hip stability," McIntyre says.

Share your work schedule.

Like dancers', teachers' schedules ebb and flow. As a recital approaches, you'll likely find yourself on your feet all day every day in classes and rehearsals. When the physical demands of your schedule get more intense, your gym regimen may need to be scaled back. And the opposite applies to slower times. “If you have periods where dance volume is low, that's a great chance for them to up your cross-training and make it more challenging," McIntyre says. They shouldn't give you a strength-training program and ask you to do it three times a week, no matter what. A good trainer can take your changing schedule into account and adjust your routine accordingly.

Let go of the flexibility vs. strength myth.

As a dance teacher, flexibility is important. But don't worry: You won't lose your bendiness that easily. McIntyre points to the ACSM guidelines that suggest developing three types of fitness: aerobic, strength and flexibility. Dancers are quite flexible and practiced in short bursts of aerobic activity. Adding some strength training and cardiorespiratory exercise can give you better stamina in the studio. Plus, muscle tightness can be caused by weakness, so developing more strength could actually allow some muscles to release. That said, McIntyre adds, any personal training session should start with a dynamic warm-up and end with a cooldown.

Plan to be sore.

You're going to get sore, and it's not a bad thing. “We know that in order to make gains, the training must load the body with more than what is normal," McIntyre says, explaining an exercise principle called progressive overload. Weights shouldn't be so heavy that you can't perform the moves the trainer asks you to do. You'll get frustrated or, worse, injured. It should be tough, but doable. And afterward, you're going to feel it. Expect acute soreness for a few hours after the session, followed by delayed-onset soreness within the next 72 hours. There's not much you can do about soreness, McIntyre says (which is different from muscle tension or tightness and can't be massaged away), but make sure your muscles are well-fueled for recovery with protein and carbohydrates. And don't schedule a workout right before recital weekend.

Let your trainer do their job.

Don't try to do kettle-bell goblet squats like a ballerina. Strength training is not dance, and you're not the instructor this time. Once you are confident in your trainer's qualifications and their understanding of your goals, injuries and concerns, you need to trust them. “You know dance, you know your body in dance, but you may not know anything about lifting weights," McIntyre says. It's almost like you're a nondancer going to her first ballet class. If you feel confused or nervous about a move, ask. If your instructor is good, they are going to be attentive to your lack of experience and take extra time teaching you the language and making sure your form is correct and safe.


Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.


"I like to give dancers a phrase of music and choreography and have them reinterpret it," she says, "to be thinkers and creators and not just replicators."

Osato learned this approach—avoiding the natural temptation of the music always being the leader—while earning her MFA in choreography at California Institute of the Arts. "When I was collaborating with a composer for my thesis, he mentioned, 'You always count in eights. Why?'"

This forced Osato out of her creative comfort zone. "The choices I made, my use of music, and its correlation to the movement were put under a microscope," she says. "I learned to not always make the music the driving motive of my work," a habit she attributes to her competition studio training as a young dancer.

While an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Osato first encountered modern dance. That discovery, along with her experience dancing in Boogiezone Inc.'s off-campus hip-hop company, BREED, co-founded by Elm Pizarro, inspired her own, blended style, combining modern and hip hop with jazz. While still in college, she began working with fellow UCI student Will Johnston, and co-founded the Boogiezone Contemporary Class with Pizarro, an affordable series of classes that brought top choreographers from Los Angeles to Orange County.

"We were trying to bring the hip-hop and contemporary communities together and keep creating work for our friends," says Osato, who has taught for West Coast Dance Explosion and choreographed for studios across the country.

In 2009, Osato, Johnston and Pizarro launched Entity Contemporary Dance, which she and Johnston direct. The company, now based in Los Angeles, won the 2017 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, and, in 2019, Osato was chosen for two choreographic residencies (Joffrey Ballet's Winning Works and the USC Kaufman New Movement Residency), and became a full-time associate professor of dance at Santa Monica College.

At SMC, Osato challenges her students—and herself—by incorporating a live percussionist, a luxury that's been on pause during the pandemic. She finds that live music brings a heightened sense of awareness to the room. "I didn't realize what I didn't have until I had it," Osato says. "Live music helps dancers embody weight and heaviness, being grounded into the floor." Instead of the music dictating the movement, they're a part of it.

Osato uses the musician as a collaborator who helps stir her creativity, in real time. "I'll say 'Give me something that's airy and ambient,' and the sounds inspire me," says Osato. She loves playing with tension and release dynamics, fall and recovery, and how those can enhance and digress from the sound.

"I can't wait to get back to the studio and have that again," she says.

Osato made Dance Teacher a Spotify playlist with some of her favorite songs for class—and told us about why she loves some of them.

"Get It Together," by India.Arie

"Her voice and lyrics hit my soul and ground me every time. Dream artist. My go-to recorded music in class is soul R&B. There's simplicity about it that I really connect with."

"Turn Your Lights Down Low," by Bob Marley + The Wailers, Lauryn Hill

"A classic. This song embodies that all-encompassing love and gets the whole room groovin'."

"Diamonds," by Johnnyswim

"This song's uplifting energy and drive is infectious! So much vulnerability, honesty and joy in their voices and instrumentation."

"There Will Be Time," by Mumford & Sons, Baaba Maal

"Mumford & Sons' music has always struck a deep chord within me. Their songs are simultaneously stripped-down and complex and feel transcendent."

"With The Love In My Heart," by Jacob Collier, Metropole Orkest, Jules Buckley

"Other than it being insanely energizing and cinematic, I love how challenging the irregular meter is!"

For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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