We dancers do all of these things in order to maintain our body (although the less replacing we have to do, the better), and for all of us, maintenance is a daily activity.
And it is an extracurricular activity; we generally do these things at home on our off time, and not in the studio.
When I was younger, and first in the company, I used to treat my body quite haphazardly – hardly warming up before classes or shows, taking no care to ice when a certain body part hurt – but that relationship with your body must change. And quickly, because without proper and smart maintenance, you fall apart. I have been trying to keep my body in shape during layoffs and uninjured during work. Here are a few of the routines I have been putting myself through:
Workout 1: Pilates
- Hip opener: Open one knee at a time, don’t grip back, find local stabilizers
- Sit up: Curve up, legs over a big pillow to relax them, don’t grip back
- Breast stroke: Lie on stomach, find abs, use upper back, really use right side
- Back work: Sit on lifted surface, get lumbar spine neutral w/out lifting ribs, try to move lumbar spine first w/out disrupting your spot, then move upper back into flexion w/out moving thoracic
- Practice: Lifting leg 45 degrees using abs (not back) form a surface
See a pattern here? As far as ergonomics go, I tend to use my back too much (specifically one spot in my lower back) and my abs not enough. These exercises are here to try to counteract my natural tendency and to train my body a “better” way to move. It’s not easy and it’s unnatural; imagine having to write with your left hand and you’ll understand to a certain degree. The problem is that I have been moving in a certain way for 20 years! The idea is that these exercises will eventually allow me to be more strong and coordinated in the long run, but it sure feels like the opposite when I’m doing them. I did this first workout for several weeks when we got back to work, but then an old injury started to creep up on me. I was faced with a decision: continue doing this workout, do a different one to alleviate the pain in my knee, or try to do both?
Since workout 1 takes me a good half hour or more to complete, I decided to drop it in order to focus on the current pain at hand, and try to fix up my knee so that it did not become a bigger issue. Knowing my tendencies, if I put too much on my plate, I would end up dropping both of the workouts (I’d love to be more single-minded of purpose, but I need my playtime too.) Here is a workout that Kester Cotton (former OBT dancer and current superhero physical therapist) designed to warm up, strengthen, and (hopefully) fix my knee and the areas around it:
Workout 2: Physical Therapy
- 4-6 min bike (we have a stationary one in the gym upstairs)
- 2 min tissue work just below area of pain (increasing blood flow to periosteum)
- 20 quadsets (1 min)
- Roll IT band (2 min)
- Roll glute with lacrosse ball (1 min)
- Stretch glute + calf low intensity (45 sec)
- Rocker board split squats: NO PAIN 2 sets 6 reps each foot, 4 min between (weight on ball of back foot, heel of front foot)
Luckily, this workout helped a lot. I went through it before class every day for several weeks, and it got me through many rehearsals and the performances. It is possible that without special care to this area I would have either been in a lot more pain than I was earlier, or that I would not have been able to perform at all. The physical therapy program that OBT provides to dancers is invaluable in terms of keeping dancers on their feet and not on the sidelines. Unfortunately, my knee never reached 100 percent, and the path from here is not entirely clear. In fact, after the shows I completely dropped both of these workouts since my knee was no longer improving past a certain point and since I had been unable to see Leslie Braverman, my friend and Pilates teacher who designed the first workout (check out her Pilates studio here), and have been focusing on Yoga instead.
There are so many possible avenues to follow, and I am working my way through them to find out what is best for me in the moment. Right now it feels best for me to take the Yoga class at my gym and focus on certain aspects of movement that we forget about sometimes in ballet (like breathing and our connection to the floor), but next week I might decide to take up my Pilates workout again. All of these perspectives on the body and its possibilities of movement are important and all of them contain some truth to them, and I’d like to experiment as much as possible. I want to learn how best to tune my body in order to harmonize with both my fellow dancers and my audience.