Getting rid of the MN freeze

Isabella Boylston, Principal Dancer with the American Ballet Theatre

Ms. Alexandra here. It’s January in Minnesota, and needless to say, it is COLD. As many of you know, I moved from my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA to Minneapolis in 2016 to dance for Black Label Movement. Besides learning how to navigate a grid-system (which felt both complex and straight forward), I had to learn how to navigate warming up for 8 am rehearsals. Over the years I’ve tried a couple of approaches: 6 am yoga, arriving an hour early, a nightly routine + sleeping in, etc. When changing my approach to my warmup I consider these things:

  1. What problem am I solving? Was I too tired? Cold? Stiff?
  2. What does the day before look like for me? Is it an off day? A 12 hr work day?
  3. What are we working on in rehearsal? Are we doing full runs in preparation for a performance? Or are we creating a new work?

Here’s what I know about each of my approa ches:

6 am Yoga :

  • This one gets me the warmest because it is a full practice that targets all the muscles I need for dancing.
  • I am not overly tired before rehearsal.
  • I am mentally present for rehearsal.
  • I have time to do additional exercises before rehearsal to target any muscles that I need for injury prevention.

Arriving an hour early:

  • This one is the most inconsistent. Although I arrive early, I typically end up with only a 20 minute warmup rather than 60.
  • I need to roll out a lot before I feel ready to do my injury prevention exercises, meaning that I typically run out of time to do all of my exercises before rehearsal starts.
  • Being successful at this warmup approach takes the most pre-planning because I need to have everything ready to go the night before so I can get out the door ASAP, and I’m only waking up 45 min later than I would to go to yoga.

Nightly Routine + Sleeping In:

  • This is the middle of the road one for me. I wake up less sore and stiff, which means I need to spend less time rolling out once I get to the studio.
  • Spending an hour in the evening taking care of my body relaxes me mentally and physically. This helps me get a good night’s sleep.
  • Although I am not as warm as I am when I take yoga in a hot studio, I am able to quickly get into my exercises and build heat.

HOW THIS APPLIES TO YOUR DANCER

Your dancer dances hard. They have the difficult task of needing to be flexible, strong, and consistent. The best way to accomplish this is:

  1. To be fully physically warmed up.
  2. To be mentally prepared.
  3. To be properly dressed.

Sara Mearns, Principal Dancer with the New York City Ballet

At PDC I’ve seen more injured dancers than at any other studio I’ve taught at, which means that there is something missing from your dancer’s preparation for class. Some simple tips and tricks to best prep them for class are:

  1. Warm down after dance. Take a hot shower, soak your feet, and throw on sweats (or a ballet warmup like THIS ONE ) before rolling out and stretching. I keep a basket of various spikey balls, foam rollers, and hand held rollers in my living room for easy access.
    • Start small. Roll out your feet. I like to start with a tennis ball, then a harder ball like a golf ball or squash ball or THIS ONE, then finally a spikey ball like THIS ONE.
    • Grab your foam roller and hit the bigger muscle groups. Roll out the front/back of your thighs, calves, back, and hips (a softball is also great for your hips). Lululemon sells an amazing one that really gets deep into your back, and is great for your feet too (hint: great to bring to comps).
    • I also have this Yoga Wheel Stretcher, that I love to use to open up my chest.
  2. Do strengthening exercises. After you roll out, now is the time to do your strengthening exercises. Abs, planks, resistance bands, etc.
    • I like to use a resistance band like THIS ONE to strengthen my feet and ankles. I also use it for an arm workout, and to do resistance exercises to increase my range of motion (i.e. flexibility).
    • I like to use my Flexistretcher at the end to do the second set of my range of motion exercises. It provides more resistance and leads me right into my stretching sequence.
  3. Only AFTER you’ve warmed up should you do your stretches. NEVER STRETCH COLD. I repeat. NEVER STRETCH COLD. Doing that leads to injury. 
    • Do smaller stretched first. Do your calves, arms, quads, feet, hips, etc first. Once you’ve done all your preparatory exercises then do your splits.
    • Getting all the smaller muscles long and lengthened prepares them to be ready to do full body stretches.
    • Always stretch in alignment, and when possible, turned out. 
  4. As you do your warm down concentrate on your breath. Close your eyes, take deep breaths, concentrate on what you’re doing.
    • Take this time to reflect on your day. What went well? What do you need to work on?
    • Go over your corrections, and use these corrections to inform your warm down. What do you need to stretch? What do you need to strengthen?
    • Think about what you have coming up tomorrow. Is tomorrow a rest day? Your long day? What styles will you be working on? Is there anything you specifically have to do to be ready? Do it now.
  5. Arrive to dance properly dressed. You want to arrive physically prepared and mentally focused.
    • Coming directly from school? Do you bun in the morning so you don’t have to do it in the car. Use the drive from school to the studio to relax.
  6. Wear your warmups. NEVER arrive to dance with just a coat over your leo and tights.
    • Keep your whole body warm. Legs, arms, back, feet. They all need to be warm and ready for class. Checkout the offerings from Discount Dance for options to wear to class.
  7. Take a few minutes before class to take a few breaths by yourself. Circle back to your cool down the night before. Go over choreography in your head. Envision yourself doing that trick, turn, or grand jété perfectly.
  8. Lastly, be consistent and don’t forget to get enough sleep. Dance is a daily practice. Our bodies are constantly changing. Having a routine helps your body and mind recover and prepare. It also helps you notice IF and WHEN anything changes. This is important in injury prevention (so you know when something started to not feel right), but also for you to re-asses if you should be challenging yourself more (a stretch starting to feel easy? Go deeper). Remember, when you’re tired you’re more injury prone. So rest up, take care of yourself, and get a good night’s rest.

Kathryn Boren, Corps de Ballet at the American Ballet Theatre