Ask Amy: I'm Preparing to Dance My First Lead and Worried About Stamina

September 30, 2015

This story originally appeared in the October/November 2015 issue of Pointe.

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.

Have a question? Send it to Pointe editor in chief and former dancer Amy Brandt at askamy@dancemedia.com.