Summer Cross-Training

Encouraging students to stay active during vacation will help them smoothly return to dance in the fall.

Running keeps Ailey’s Alicia Graf Mack strong during off-season.

The leggy and lean Alicia Graf Mack needs to keep herself in top form when Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has time off. When she returns to rehearsal in the fall, her body must be prepared for a jam-packed season that lasts nearly seven months. “Ailey is an extremely athletic company,” she says. “I have been jogging for over 10 years, and it definitely keeps my stamina strong.”

It’s tempting for dancers to cut all physical activity out of their summer break plans. But while students don’t necessarily have to continue taking regular classes, they should consider taking up activities that will keep them in shape. If stamina and muscle strength aren’t maintained during these months off, it may be physically difficult—and dangerous—to jump into a full dance schedule in the fall. Working out during the summer helps dancers safely transition back into class, while giving them the opportunity to get out of the studio.

Running

Jogging is a simple and free way to burn calories and build stamina, but dancers have to be careful. Running puts pressure on the hips, knees and ankles—joints already overworked in dance training. Because of this, Los Angeles Ballet physical therapist Susanne Thom advises against running until bone structures have matured (typically between ages 17 and 19). She also cautions those who are extremely hypermobile or have a history of stress fractures, knee pain or eating disorders, because they are more susceptible to recurring injuries and stress fractures.

Wearing shoes specifically for running and running on a track will help absorb some of the impact. “Dancers should never run on concrete,” says Thom. The hard surface often slopes slightly, throwing off correct running form. Regardless of surface, dancers should watch that they’re running in parallel position, not turned out, and end all jogs with stretches for the quadriceps and calves. Ultimately, a dancer should listen to her body as intently as she does in the studio. “If my knee is hurting or my hip is tight, I will walk,” says Graf Mack. “I will still get the same benefits.”

Biking

Although it may not always burn as many calories, biking has many of the same cardiovascular benefits as running, but it “puts less stress on the ankles, feet and knees,” says Thom. Her clients use indoor training bikes so they can adjust the machine’s measurements to their bodies. But Julie O’Connell, director of Performing Arts Medicine at Athletico Physical Therapy in Chicago, prefers outdoor bikes for dancers. She finds that stationary bikers are tempted to set the resistance level unnecessarily high, which leads to bulky thighs. Working on a regular bike removes this temptation and gives dancers a chance to exercise outdoors. Finding a bike suited for the dancer’s body will allow her to exercise safely—good fit means the knee isn’t hyperextended when the pedal is in its lowest position. And like with running, the quadriceps should be stretched out afterward to avoid overbuilt muscles.

Swimming

O’Connell strongly recommends swimming to her dancing patients. Unlike running and biking, which mostly work the lower body, swimming activates all of the major muscle groups, including the arms, legs and core. It also puts little weight on the joints, which makes it especially safe for dancers coming back from injury or those who have musculoskeletal problems, says Thom. To promote healthy bone density, it should be paired with exercise that does put some weight on the joints, such as yoga, Gyrotonic and Pilates. And as with most sports, dancers should be aware of their alignment, since swimming movements are very repetitive. Thom advises taking a lesson with a coach to learn correct technique. DT

Tess Jones is a freelance writer and certified yoga instructor in Seattle.

Safe Summer Training

DON'T EXERCISE EVERY DAY: The body needs a break from physical activity. “There should be at least one day of rest per week,” says Julie O’Connell of Athletico Physical Therapy. “They need time to let their bodies recover.”

STAY HYDRATED: Summer heat and sun will increase water loss. O’Connell recommends drinking 15–20 ounces of water 2–3 hours before exercise, and 8–10 ounces every 15 minutes of aerobic activity.

LEARN WHAT YOUR BODY CAN HANDLE: One of the biggest mistakes Los Angeles Ballet physical therapist Susanne Thom sees is overtraining. Pay attention to what your body can take in terms of mileage, time and intensity, and listen intently.

STRENGTHEN AND STRETCH: Alternate cardio with targeted, low-impact activities like Pilates, Gyrotonic or yoga, which promote lean muscle by using the body’s own weight and stretching throughout. Some studios offer outdoor yoga or stand-up paddleboard yoga (yoga on a paddleboard in water) as a fun summertime activity.

Photo by Andrew Eccles, courtesy of Ailey

To Share With Students
Performing with Honji Wang at Jacob's Pillow; photo by Christopher Duggan, courtesy of Jacob's Pillow

Celebrated New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns has recently been exploring collaborative possibilities with dance artists outside ballet. Just this year she was guest artist with Lori Belilove & The Isadora Duncan Company, and performed on Broadway in her husband Joshua Bergasse's choreography for I Married an Angel. This summer she appeared in a highly anticipated series of cross-genre collaborations at Jacob's Pillow, titled Beyond Ballet, with Honji Wang of the French hip-hop duo Company Wang Ramirez, postmodern dance artist Jodi Melnick, choreographer Christopher Williams and more. Here she speaks with DT about the effects of her explorations.

Keep reading... Show less
Studio Success with Just for Kix
Courtesy Just for Kix

As a teacher or studio owner, customer service is a major part of the job. It's easy to dread the difficult sides of it, like being questioned or criticized by an unhappy parent. "In the early years, parent issues could have been the one thing that got me to give up teaching," says Cindy Clough, executive director of Just For Kix and a teacher and studio owner with over 43 years of experience. "Hang in there—it does get easier."

We asked Clough her top tips for dealing with difficult parents:

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Photo by Aidan Gibney, courtesy of Lanzisera

Walking into Millennium Dance Complex in Los Angeles at 11:30 am on any given Tuesday or Thursday, you're likely to find a large group of dancers flocking to take Nick Lanzisera's class. Millennium's staff says his contemporary class is so popular, he often fills their rooms with up to 80 students.

Lanzisera, whose professional credits include The Oscars, The Grammys, the MTV Video Music Awards, High School Musical 2 and 3, Fame, Footloose and more, got his teaching start as a substitute for one of his mentors, Erica Sobol, at Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio. Though he didn't expect to become an educator until later in his career, Lanzisera enjoyed the experience so much that he began to sub in regularly. One of those classes was attended by a manager at Millennium, who invited him to teach their new contemporary class, and he has maintained the same Tuesday/Thursday slot for nearly eight years.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored by Dean College
Amanda Donahue, ATC, working with a student in her clinic in the Palladino School of Dance at Dean College. Courtesy Dean College

The Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College is one of just 10 college programs in the U.S. with a full-time athletic trainer devoted solely to its dancers. But what makes the school even more unique is that certified athletic trainer Amanda Donahue isn't just available to the students for appointments and backstage coverage—she's in the studio with them and collaborating with dance faculty to prevent injuries and build stronger dancers.

"Gone are the days when people would say, 'Don't go to the gym, you'll bulk up,'" says Kristina Berger, who teaches Horton and Hawkins technique as an assistant professor of dance. "We understand now that cross-training is actually vital, and how we've embraced that at Dean is extremely rare. For one thing, we're not sharing an athletic trainer with the football players, who require a totally different skillset." For another, she says, the faculty and Donahue are focused on giving students tools to prolong their careers.

After six years of this approach, here are the benefits they've seen:

Keep reading... Show less
To Share With Students
Photo by Tony Nguyen, courtesy of SAYE

The Shawl-Anderson Youth Ensemble, a key component of Shawl-Anderson Dance Center's youth program in Berkeley, California, strives to develop the whole person, not just improve dance technique. And its caliber of performance has made SAYE visible and respected in the San Francisco Bay Area over the past 13 years.

As a pre-professional, audition-based, modern performance group for ages 14 to 18, SAYE has its dancers co-create at least six pieces with professional choreographers each year. These dances explore relevant topics for teens, like bullying, coming-of-age and claiming identity.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Risa Steinberg (center); photo by Alexandra Fung, courtesy of In the Lights PR

In an adult ballet class, Kimberly Chandler Vaccaro noticed a woman working so hard that her shoulders were near her ears. "I was going to say something about her tension, but I didn't want her awareness to go there," says Vaccaro, who teaches at Princeton Ballet School. Instead, she told the dancer to remember that breathing muscles are low, below her sternum. "Then we talked about moving from the shoulder blades first, and how they're halfway down your back. She started this lovely sequential movement, and it eventually solved the problem."

Drawing attention to symptoms, such as tense shoulders, might create more issues for a dancer if the cause of the problem remains unaddressed. Simply saying "shoulders down" might compromise alignment as the dancer tries to show a longer neck or forgets to breathe, jeopardizing movement quality. Teachers can be strategic and communicate information in a way that doesn't aggravate the situation. "Dance will never be easy," says master teacher Risa Steinberg, "but it can be easier if you're not folding new problems on top of old ones."

Keep reading... Show less
Site Network
Lindsay Martell at a class performance. Photo courtesy of Martell

More than once, when I'm sporting my faded, well-loved ballet hoodie, some slight variation of this conversation ensues:

"Is your daughter the dancer?"

"Actually," I say, "I am."

"Wow!" they enthuse. "Who do you dance with? Or have you retired...?"

"I don't dance with a company. I'm not a professional. I just take classes."

Insert mic drop/record scratch/quizzical looks.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Getty Images

Any teacher who works with little ones knows that props can make class time run much more smoothly. That said, it's often difficult to find the right mix of tools that will both capture a child's attention and are manageable enough to carry around from one location to another—or pack up and store easily. Anything too big or too heavy is out, and some of the props you love to use with little ones may not be the most practical choice if you're a freelance teacher traveling to multiple studios throughout the week.

We asked two experienced teachers to share a couple of their favorite tips for easy-travel props for those who teach young ones. Here are five solid suggestions you can choose from, to incorporate into your overall teaching plans.

Keep reading... Show less
Instagram
Paige Cunningham Caldarella. Photo by Philip Dembinski

It's the last class of the spring semester, and Paige Cunningham Caldarella isn't letting any of her advanced contemporary students off the hook. After leading them through a familiar Merce Cunningham–style warm-up, full of bounces, twists and curves, she's thrown a tricky five-count across-the-floor phrase and a surprisingly floor-heavy adagio at the dancers. Now, near the end of class, she is reviewing a lengthy center combination set to a Nelly Furtado song. The phrase has all the hallmarks of Cunningham—torso twists atop extended legs, unexpected timing, direction changes—which means it's a challenge to execute well.

After watching the dancers go through the phrase a couple of times, Caldarella takes a moment to troubleshoot a few sticky spots and give a quick pep talk before having them do it again. "I know it's fast," she tells them. "I know it's a lot of moves. And you're hanging in there! But stick with the task of articulating everything—try to hyper-explore that."

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Thinkstock

Q: What tips do you have for creating end-of-year performances that teachers, students, parents and administrators will all be happy with?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teachers Trending
Savion Glover instructs students in rehearsal for NJPAC's revival of The Tap Dance Kid; photo by Yasmeen Fahmy, courtesy of NJPAC

Tony Award–winning tapper Savion Glover is giving back to his hometown community in Newark, New Jersey, by directing and choreographing New Jersey Performing Arts Center's revival of the Broadway hit that launched his career, The Tap Dance Kid.

September 13–15, you can see the group of young dancers Glover handpicked from throughout the New Jersey and New York areas, as they bring the 1983 story to life in a new and modern way. Here, Glover shares a bit about creating movement inspired by the show's original Tony Award–winning choreography by Danny Daniels, as well as what it's like to revisit the show that changed his life.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Teacher Tips
Via YouTube

For all the time we spend talking about feet, we think it's time we did a deep dive into toes. Those little piggies bear a lot of weight, endure painful blisters and help your students soar across the classroom day after day.

So, to show our toes the love they deserve, here are five exercises that are all the self-care you need this week.

You're welcome!

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get DanceTeacher in your inbox