Beyond the Spa
When most people think of massage, they imagine a luxurious, white-robed spa experience. But you don’t have to spend big bucks to get a good, beneficial massage. Basic massage therapy for dancers does more than relax and de-stress your body—it helps muscles recover faster by reducing inflammation and releasing tight spots. Getting massages on a regular basis will help keep your most important instrument well tuned—and all you have to do is lie there!
The different types of massage
Since dancers have unique demands placed on their bodies, they can benefit from several different types of massage. Pre-event massage, which is typically gentle and quick, is done 15 minutes to 3 hours before a rehearsal or performance, to increase circulation and warm up your muscles. Post-event massage, which may dig deeper into your sore, achy muscles, is done several hours after you dance, or even the next day. “When you do too much or overextend your muscles, having a massage can maximize how quickly you recover,” says Heather Southwick, director of physical therapy at Boston Ballet. “It also delays the onset of muscle soreness.”
Swedish massage is what you might find at a spa. It’s a relaxing style that involves a variety of light to medium touches: long strokes, kneading and tapping. “Swedish massage has a calming effect,” Southwick says. “Anything that helps your body relax is good for you. It gets you ready to meet your challenges.”
Deep-tissue massage is aimed at deeper muscles, tendons, ligaments and connective tissues. Its intense and focused pressure helps release chronic tension and promotes blood circulation. Deep-tissue massages may hurt a bit, but it should be a good pain.
Sports massage, designed specifically for dancers and athletes, uses a blend of techniques that cater to each individual. If you have a tight calf before a show, for example, a sports massage therapist will know how to target the area and get the necessary release without sacrificing your ability to perform.
The benefits and potential risks
“Active dancers experience a lot of wear and tear, inflammation and tightness due to all that hard work,” says David Brown, a licensed massage therapist who works with dancers from San Francisco Ballet and Alonzo King LINES Ballet. “Massages help maintain your body by lengthening and loosening your muscles.”
If you have an injury, massage is important for rehabilitation. But even healthy dancers need to maintain balance in their bodies so small aches and pains don’t become bigger problems. “No matter how flexible your muscles are, you still have muscle imbalances,” explains Southwick. “Preventing injury is all about keeping balance within your body.”
Yet there are times when dancers should avoid massage therapy. Getting deep-tissue work on the day of a show, for example, can tire your muscles and affect your performance. Dancers with torn muscles can actually worsen their injuries by applying too much pressure to and manipulating the painful area. Sometimes it’s hard to tell when a muscle is just tight or if it has some micro-tears. “If you get a massage and it still hurts afterward, follow up with a medical practitioner and do some icing and stretching,” says Emery Hill, athletic trainer for Houston Ballet. “Don’t keep rubbing it over and over again. The muscle is telling you it’s injured.”
The best way to find a reputable, licensed massage therapist near you is to consult websites like Yelp and check out reviews and ratings from fellow massage-seekers. For an hour-long massage, expect to pay around $60 depending on your location (big-city therapists may charge more, and massages at upscale spas can run up to a few hundred dollars).
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
The dancers who take our breath away are the risk-takers, the ones who appear completely fearless onstage. "When you see somebody trying to travel more, go farther, push the limits of their physical abilities, that's always going to be inspiring," says Ballet BC dancer Alexis Fletcher.
But dance training can feel like it's in conflict with that idea. We spend thousands of hours in the studio trying to do steps perfectly, and that pursuit of perfection can make us anxious about taking risks. What if we fail? What if we fall?
Luckily, fearlessness is a mental skill that you can work on, just as you work on your technique. Here's how you can learn to push yourself past your limits.
If you're in need of a piece that's both trendy and sophisticated, look no further than this Só Dança crop top. Featuring elegant long sleeves, a high neckline, and a delicate lace trim, it's both classic and contemporary—perfect for everything from that big audition to a long night in the studio. Enter below for your chance to win it!
Auditioning for summer intensives in person may be the ideal—but for Anna McDowell, a 16-year-old student at Juneau Dance Theatre in Juneau, AK, it's rarely possible. “Living in Alaska, it's difficult to travel to auditions," she says. “It gets way too expensive!" Instead, each year, with help from her teachers and a videographer, she puts together a well-crafted video and submits it to schools around the country. Last year, her high-quality video helped her earn acceptance to nearly every program she applied for. Most summer intensive programs, eager to attract students from far and wide, will accept video auditions from those who can't travel to take class. But major schools look at hundreds of submissions each year, which means video auditioners have just a few minutes—or even seconds—to make a great impression. If you're about to create an audition video, follow these tips from the professionals to put your best digital foot forward.
There are zillions of things to think about when choosing a summer program, but here's one you might not have considered: using an intensive as an opportunity to focus on a new style. Maybe you're a tap dancer who's ready to see where else your rhythm and quick feet can serve you, or a contemporary dancer curious about the more traditional roots of your genre. A summer program can be the perfect place to broaden your horizons, giving you the opportunity to make technical and artistic changes that stick throughout the year.
Happy birthday, George Balanchine! The great choreographer and founder of New York City Ballet would have been 114 years old today. Balanchine revolutionized ballet, especially American ballet—and he also had quite a way with words. To celebrate Mr. B's birthday, we rounded up some of our favorite iconic Balanchine quotes.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.