Have a question? Click here to send it to Pointe editor and former dancer Amy Brandt.
I’m preparing to dance my first lead and I’m worried about my stamina. Do you have any tips for keeping your energy up during a taxing role? —Kennedy
Building stamina is a gradual process—it’s not something you can whip up overnight. Ideally you should have several weeks to prepare your body and mind. When I first started learning the role of Sugarplum Fairy, I was so exhausted that I could barely feel my feet during the coda. But by the time I got onstage three weeks later, I felt in the best shape of my life.
In the early rehearsal stages, it’s natural to frequently start and stop. But once you have a grasp of the ballet, try pushing through longer passages of choreography and resisting the urge to quit when you feel tired or for minor errors. It will feel messy at first, but that’s normal—the earlier you start running through the ballet, the more opportunities your body has to build stamina. As you grow more familiar with the choreography, you’ll find places to breathe and pace yourself (allowing you to focus more on artistic details). I find it especially beneficial to run choreography twice during rehearsal, with a short break in between to troubleshoot. Then, performing it one time onstage feels like a breeze.
You may want to supplement your dancing with 30-minute, low-impact cardio sessions, such as using the elliptical, says Jennifer Green, a physical therapist at PhysioArts in New York City. To mimic a ballet, pepper your routine with short bursts of high-intensity cardio to get your heart rate up, then lower the intensity to recover before sprinting again. Pay close attention to your eating habits, too. In addition to balanced meals, make sure to consume plenty of carbohydrates, which convert into easy fuel, along with some protein two to three hours before the show.
I’m recovering from surgery on my ankle, and I’m feeling intimidated about getting back into the studio. How do I get over feeling like I’m starting at square one? —Julia
Coming back from an injury is one of the scariest and most humbling experiences a dancer can face. But it’s also an opportunity. When else do you have the luxury to slow down and intricately analyze your technique? I had two major injuries during my career, and both times I came back stronger because I had time to correct issues with my alignment, address long-standing bad habits and strengthen weaknesses. That said, coming back to class was hard. It will feel strange and you’ll get very frustrated at times—which is perfectly valid! But try to stay focused on your ultimate goal, which is to fully recover and get back onstage. You can’t do that without going to class, so you’ll have to understand that things will be different for a while.
The fact is, you are starting from square one—and that’s okay! Accept your limitations seriously and work within them. You may feel pressure to do more than you should (especially around your uninjured colleagues), so find a place at the barre where you can drown everything out and feel comfortable working at your own pace. And remember—baby steps. Better to work slowly and safely than to push too hard, compensate and risk re-injuring yourself.
Finally, try not to assume that your colleagues are judging you. They know you’re injured—if anything, they’ll be your biggest cheerleaders. Need a little inspiration? Click here to read New York City Ballet principal Jennie Somogyi’s personal story of injury recovery.
What are compression sleeves or socks and why do dancers wear them? Do they have health benefits? —Cate
Compression garments provide light pressure to the leg and foot muscles during activity, and have become more popular in recent years. For one thing, says Green, they can help control minor swelling during injury recovery, and are commonly used for calf strains and shin splints. (Remember, compression is one of the components of RICE, the others being rest, ice and elevation.) High-quality sleeves and socks are graded, with tighter compression by the foot and ankle that gets looser as it goes further up the leg. The reason? “It’s trying to help the veins return blood back up to the heart,” says Green. “You want to train swelling to go in the right direction, and that’s up, not down.”
In addition, they help give proprioceptive feedback. “Just the tactile compression on your skin can help you be more aware of the area,” Green says. One thing to watch out for with sleeves: Because they don’t encase the foot, swelling can sometimes cause blood to pool below the ankle. “If you notice that one foot is really swollen, you should wear a compression sock instead.”
According to Green, another theory (which has not yet been proven) says that compression garments can improve performance when worn during activity. “Wearing them might help you return deoxygenated blood to your heart more quickly, so that oxygenated blood can reach your extremities faster and improve muscle performance,” says Green. “The research, though, is still catching up.”