Maintaining Your Physicality As A Dance Pro
By Jill Wolins
Dancers in any college or studio/scholarship program are dancing constantly. Mornings are filled with warm-ups and stretching to get ready for the day. Evenings are spent in front of your phone or TV, almost always in splits or with a foam roller. It’s the life! Getting ready for the time when you are a legit professional. We all know one never “arrives” as a dancer because we will always be striving to get better: more technically sound, a more mature mover, a better-seasoned performer. But aspiring dancers do look forward to getting to the place in life where they are being paid to dance, not paying to dance. That is the table turner.
Crossing over into the professional world looks slightly different to different dancers, depending on the platform and dance genre. If a dancer gets a position as an apprentice or company dancer, depending on the company and if there is a school affiliate, they may be required to take company class. But there are thousands of other dancers in the industry that work professionally without the requirements or luxury of company class. Dancers and performers who work on Broadway, for recording artists or industrials, in a theme park or touring companies most likely have the sole responsibility of keeping their body in peak condition. In addition, all of the dancers above need to keep it together for sometimes long periods of time as they audition to hopefully get the coveted dance gigs. That’s when it gets real.
So how does a dancer look and feel as good as they did when they were training 6 plus hours a day? A few key elements: Education, Efficiency, and Discipline.
Let’s quickly take a crash course. The most important thing most dancers need for peak physical execution are long and strong muscles, a rock solid core, flexibility, and to stay lean.
Let’s first get into the fact that diet is arguably 60-70% of being healthy. That said, do the research and find out what works for you. There is so much information online, there is no excuse to back not knowing what will work for your body. It surely will take trial and error, and our bodies also change with time. Finding the right diet is essential to physical and psychological well being. Especially when a dancer is on tour, it is difficult to eat well like we do at home. In and out of hotels requires phone calls before you get to each city, to see if there are refrigerators available. Finding grocery stores and sticking to meal plans is a must.
For dancers, this can be especially emotional, especially if you have received the good old “fat chat” at any time of your life. Authority figures often do not understand the damage that can be done while addressing a dancer’s body or body type. That said, get educated on diet, and beware of over-exercising to make up for a faulty diet. Don’t think that you are the only one who does this if it pertains to you. That just can not be maintained. Some dancers will always have to work harder than others, and that will prove itself in time to be a short-term minus, long-term plus.
Dancers who have to work and learn more end up being excellent teachers and mentors.
Now let’s talk about these long, strong muscles. Spending hours pumping iron at the gym and building quadricep bulk may be contra-productive. If you are a guy trying to bulk up and build strength for partnering and aesthetics, it may be a must. But be sure your workouts are pushing your muscles down the back of your body (shoulder blades down and back, tail bone dropped) and lift up the front of your body (abdominals in and up). Workouts conducive to dancers we all know are Pilates, Gyrotonics, yoga, Pure Barre, Physique 57, Body by Simone, Tracy Anderson, floor barre, etc.
But they can be costly! Even classes are expensive nowadays! There are a few things we can do here. First off, if you are in the States, check out all of the groupons in your area. Start there. At that point, you can decide which workouts will help your body the most. Secondly, after you decide, get online to see which online memberships allow you to stream classes. This is the trend in the fitness industry for at home fitness. This is suggested because we need to be honest with ourselves; studies show that we push ourselves harder in a group activity with an instructor than we do on our own. It is easier to commit to a series of online videos than it is to ourselves after we are finished IG scrolling and having coffee on the couch. And remember: you may be on tour at some point and you can not bring your in room classes with you.
When we are professionals, either working or looking for jobs, we don’t have the time we had when we were in schools and programs. Dancers have to make a living, and this sometimes means survival jobs. Time and energy are limited. Let’s say that we are talking about the period of time in dancers’ lives when they have already learned their skills. They are not giving you a mean brisé volé combination across the floor for twenty minutes at a time. They are auditioning sometimes twice a day, and working gigs to pay the rent. Time must be used wisely, so while choosing workouts one must keep efficiency in mind. The above-mentioned workout regimens may give the most bang for the buck. If you have an hour or hour and a half a day, and you need to look as good as you did while you were dancing in college, what does that workout look like? What does your body need? If you are super naturally bendy, you need to strengthen. If you are tight, you need to stretch. Everyone needs the core strengthening. No way around that one.
Ask yourself, “If I can only do one thing or an hour or so a day, what would that one thing be?” Start there.
We are talking a different kind of discipline than the kind when your ballet teacher is telling you to hold that leg up there. This is day to day, hardcore discipline. The kind when you push yourself when you are exhausted. When everyone at home is eating loads of cake and ice cream at the birthday party because they can sit behind the desk on Monday, and you are good with the grilled chicken dinner. The kind when you haven’t booked a gig in 6 months, but you are going to class because dance is your “love.” The dig deep kind of discipline.
But wait! Discipline is one of the golden attributes that set dancers apart from the rest! Oh, yes! Get into it! Get and stay disciplined. Commit!
No seriously, anyone can be disciplined in a given structured school. Dancers need to create their own structure as professionals. Maybe this means having checklists. Checklists of which exercises get done on which days. Checklists of which days to strengthen, which days to stretch. Checklists to be sure to stick to a nutrition plan. Hold yourself accountable.
No one has nailed down that yoga mat – unroll that sucker and hit the mat! Do an Ashtanga series three times a week. Do a Pilates mat series two times a week. Get on youtube and do “Seven Minute Abs.” Do something. Do everything you can.
If you just are not self-motivated, find friends to meet at classes during the week. Make it a social occasion. Do what you need. But get it done. The end. It’s not emotional. It’s not hemming and hawing. It’s what you need to do as a professional. You will never regret hard work and discipline.
I can not help but be hyper-passionate about being a professional dancer. A dancer only gets a small window of years in life when they have the opportunity to make it happen. I believe they should be the best years of one’s life. They certainly were for me. These years provide the opportunity for so much self-growth, life realization, and the best fun ever! The time and energy put into being a professional dancer only sets the stage to be successful in many other areas of life post pro-dance. Get out of your own way and dig deep to make it happen. You won’t regret it.
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