Happy Mother's Day! We are so grateful for all of the mamas in the dance world. Whether related by blood or not, we mother each other, and we are lucky to be a part of such a generous and nurturing community.
As a special treat today, we caught up with three professional ballerinas across the country who are also new mothers. We got the ins and outs on the joys and challenges that come with motherhood and a top-of-your-game career. Check it out!
Q: I have a ballet student who feels a click in her working knee every time she does a fondu in any direction. It happens just as she straightens it, and it seems to be relatively painful. What do you think is happening?
Ashley Wegman, Atlanta Ballet; courtesy of the author
Working as the physical therapist for the Atlanta Ballet, Amanda Blackmon often sees dancers who report hip pain, high hamstring strain or sacroiliac sensitivity and soreness. And while there are a host of reasons for such pains, including the often discussed gripped glute and hip flexor muscles, there is one overlooked culprit: dysfunction in the pelvic floor muscles. Though pelvic floor health has become a hot topic for women postpartum who often need to strengthen weakened and compromised muscles, there is a different set of concerns when it comes to athletes and dancers. "I often see a hypertonic pelvic floor," says Blackmon, "meaning the muscles are overactive or gripped and tight. Also, the obturator internus muscle is an external rotator that is also part of the pelvic floor. When that is gripped (particularly in turnout), it can refer pain to several places around the hip and high hamstring."
Nikki Calonge at Jaya Yoga Center in Brooklyn. Photo by Rachel Papo
The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously asserted "Life is flux." Dancers most certainly know this to be true. Whether they are early in their training or seasoned professionals, change is your students' persistent companion. Dancers must nimbly adjust to shifting expectations, choreography and opportunities, as well as to transformation within their very own bodies, the instrument of their art. Physical change occurs, for example, as young dancers come into physical maturity and as adult dancers meet the natural process of aging. Dancers of any age may face change in their bodies due to injury.
Q: My daughter was recently told that her hyperextended knees are causing her hips to sway out, which is inhibiting her ability to get over on the box of her pointe shoes. She had a significant growth spurt in the past year, could this be part of the problem? Can things be corrected, and what kind of time frame am I looking at?
To a certain subset of the New York City dance community, Gail Accardi is known as the Body Whisperer. For her part, Accardi calls her work "creative physical problem solving." Whether she's leading her Anatomy Awareness class for dancers, substitute-teaching Simonson Technique, or working with a private client one-on-one, Accardi has a clear vision: "I want people to gain insight into and learn to celebrate their individual structures," she says. "When I was young, a teacher referred to my weak arches as a horrible defect! I never want a student to experience that. When it comes to anatomical variations, this is who you are, so let's figure out how to work with it."
Susannah Israel-Marchese with students at School of Ballet Hartford; photo by Frank Marchese, courtesy of SBH
At Michigan Ballet Academy, artistic director Irina Vassileni meets with a group of eager young students and their parents. She holds a shiny new pair of pointe shoes in one hand and an old, worn pair in the other. "I show them all the details, inside and out, and how working on pointe for hours will break down the shoe," says Vassileni. "I might even bring in different models and talk about how they're made. Parents need a lot of information to make them feel comfortable about their children going on pointe."
Pliés shouldn't be excruciating. As a ballet conservatory pre-professional student, Taylor Gordon knew this, but when the back of her left heel began aching during pliés and jumps in 2007, she didn't think it was a big deal. She was dancing more than 20 hours a week and couldn't imagine pain bad enough to keep her from it. "I never understood why people I'd seen who were injured had to sit down and watch class," she says, remembering her determination. "Why can't you just push through it?"