Health & Body

Miami City Ballet School Director Arantxa Ochoa's Self-Care Routine

Photo by Matthew Murphy

Since leaving the stage to become a teacher, Arantxa Ochoa says she's kept in shape by never staying still. A typical workday begins at 6 am when the former Pennsylvania Ballet principal wakes up to drop her son off at school. She gets to the Miami City Ballet School offices early to take care of administrative tasks and warm up briefly (if she's lucky) before teaching her first class at 9:45. Then it's dance and directorial duties until 8 pm. It's typical for her to pull off her ballet slippers and step into high heels for a meeting amid six hours of teaching. Luckily, she's fallen in love with the job. "You get up in the morning, and you're like, 'This is my life." It's not a job; it's a passion," she says. "When you really love it, that makes everything easier."

Passion alone can't fuel you indefinitely, however. Ochoa, a native of Valladolid, Spain, cooks hearty meals in the evenings and is strict about setting aside at least one day a week for herself and her family. She is frank that it's a struggle to care for herself as much as her students. "I have to stop and say, 'Arantxa, you have to think of yourself,'" she says. "The days pass by, and all you think of is your students."

DT caught up with Ochoa about how she takes care of her own body and mind while nurturing students, and she shared some straight talk about the challenge of making time to keep herself healthy.



Photo by Matthew Murphy

On warming up with limited time

If I have a second, I try to do a little warm-up class. Not even a center. All I do is five minutes of Pilates—rollups, the hundreds. The hundreds takes two minutes, but at least it feels like I'm centered. Then I do a little barre. I do my pliés, tendus, dégagés. And then the truth is it's time already to teach.

On staying warm

I keep myself warm by not stopping. I try to show as much as I can when I'm teaching, because I still can. I don't jump anymore or things like that. I show the barre. Then I'll run to meetings in between classes.

On healthy eating and NOT dieting

As a dancer, you have a certain way of nourishing yourself and taking care of your body. I never thought, "I'm doing a diet." As a dancer, I always ate a lot of carbs and that's what I continue to do. I like bagels. For snacks I pack mixed nuts, and I eat them throughout the day. For dinner, lentils are a good fix. Since I don't have much time, I cook them in the pressure cooker with onions, carrots and peppers. They are a good source of carbs and energy, and I can eat them as a side dish with fish or chicken, as a main dish or cold in a salad. As a favorite dish, I love to make paella, but that requires more time, so it's something that I make on special occasions.

Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, courtesy of Miami City Ballet

On the challenge of self-care

When you're a dancer, you have more time to think of yourself, because it's you dancing; it's you taking a class. You take care of yourself. Now it's all about them and what you tell them: "Did you eat well? Did you warm up? You have to ice." "Me" becomes the back end, like, "Oh, OK, if I have time." It's really hard. Like, when was the last time I went to the doctor? You can't even remember, because really it's about them. But they need you, so you have to take care of yourself. I think as a teacher and director it becomes really hard.

On getting sleep

I go to bed around 11:30, and I have to get up early. I'm so tired, though, I usually fall asleep right away.

On fighting for balance

When I come home, whatever time it is, I say, "OK, I'm home now, let's forget about work, even if it's just for two hours." I have dinner and go to bed not thinking about work. And I have Sundays off. I try to spend them with my family. My son and I spend the day together. Now that I'm here in Miami, I go biking with him, just doing the mommy thing. Plus groceries, laundry, things
like that.

On never holding back

As a dancer, I always gave 150 percent in every class, and I think that's what's helping me be who I am right now. My body was very strong—in my whole career I only got injured once—and I always thought it was the way I worked. I always gave everything I had.

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When it comes to Cynthia Oliver's classes, you always bring your A game. (As her student for the last two and a half years in the MFA program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I feel uniquely equipped to make this statement.) You never skip the reading she assigns; you turn in not your first draft but your third or fourth for her end-of-semester research paper; and you always do the final combination of her technique class full-out, even if you're exhausted.

Oliver's arrival at UIUC 20 years ago jolted new life into the dance department. "It may seem odd to think of this now, but the whole concept of an artist-scholar was new when she first arrived," says Sara Hook, who also joined the UIUC dance faculty in 2000. "You were either a technique teacher or a theory/history teacher. Cynthia's had to very patiently educate all of us about the nature of her work, and I think that has increased our passion for the kind of excavation she brings to her research."

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