Ready, Set, Places: Six Pros Share Their Preshow Rituals
From meditation to Pilates to Drake playlists, no two preshow rituals include exactly the same ingredients. But just like bakers following a recipe, most dancers follow a very specific—and very important—routine before every performance. We asked six pros to share what they do precurtain to make sure they're at their best onstage.
Lesley Rausch, Principal, Pacific Northwest Ballet
“After signing in and changing into ballet clothes, I spend about an hour doing my hair and makeup and taping all 10 of my toes. I take my time, usually listening to the Bruno Mars or Beatles channels on Pandora. If I need to get really pumped up, I'll listen to the Missy Elliott channel.
Before I warm up, I set up my paper towels, pointe shoes and clear Band-Aids in my dressing room. I usually wear a different pair of pointe shoes for each act of a full-length, or for various pieces if it's a mixed bill. I use the clear Band-Aids to keep my ribbons tucked in: the part that would cover a wound goes behind the knot, and the clear sides wrap around to keep everything in place.
That leaves about an hour to warm up, put my hairpiece in and costume on and run through any problematic steps. Even at this point in my career, performing still comes with some nervous energy, so I try not to add any extra anxieties. I don't like to be rushed."
Rafailedes in William Forsythe's "Quintett" (Laurent Phillipe, courtesy L.A. Dance Project)
Rachelle Rafailedes, Dancer, L.A. Dance Project
“Other company members like to joke about my 'oven': Before a show, I wear sweatpants and a hoodie zipped up all the way with the hood on. I put my headphones in and listen to a Drake playlist on shuffle.
The 'oven' happens because I like feeling almost completely insulated for my 90-minute warm-up. It begins with floor exercises I learned from choreographer Kyle Abraham—rolling around the floor, push-ups and psoas stretches. Then I do core exercises I learned from physical therapists, and then I transition into a series that The Juilliard School anatomy teacher Irene Dowd taught called 'trunk stabilizations.' Next, I move on to some Franklin Method work on my feet, getting them loose so they're not so crunchy. Finally, I do a quick, simple barre—unless I'm feeling great, in which case I skip the barre and move right to center, where I do what I call a 'greatest hits' of modern dance. It includes some Cunningham upper body sequences, Taylor back exercises and some Limón swings.
L.A. Dance Project does a wide variety of repertory—some require me to drop my weight, other pieces need more ballet. So I've compiled a routine that covers all of those bases."
Rafailedes in her 'oven' (Morgan Lugo, courtesy L.A. Dance Project)
Ebony Williams, Dancer, Beyoncé's Formation World Tour
“My process now is so different than it was when I worked in concert dance. I was in a company, and we did a group ballet warm-up before the show. Now, I have to do things on my own and go with the flow of the day, because it's always a little bit different.
Dancers are often required to be at the venue about five hours before the show. Once I find the dressing room (they're in different places in each city), I lay out all my makeup and lotions on the vanity, then head to catering for some food. I like eating protein and a salad, something that will give me plenty of energy for later.
Back in the dressing room, I stretch my hamstrings, do a mix of yoga and Pilates and make sure my back is warm. As it gets closer to performance time, I apply my makeup and get into costume, and head to catering one last time to grab a banana—I keep a piece of fruit in the quick-change area so I can have a bite in between songs if I'm low on energy or feel a cramp coming on.
Right before we go on, we do a group prayer. And then I absolutely have to do the first 32 counts of 'Formation' three times in a row. Otherwise, I feel like I might mess up, which cannot happen at the beginning of the show. I'm the first person onstage on my side, so I have to be strong. If I know I have the choreography in my head, then I'm cool. It feels like I'm right at home."
Williams stretching before a show (courtesy Williams)
Kleber Rebello, Principal, Miami City Ballet
“A few days before the performance, I start drinking green smoothies every day. I use pineapple, turmeric, ginger, coconut water, cayenne pepper and kale and put a bit of everything in a blender. One blender-full makes a huge jar, so I have two cups in the morning and drink the rest at the theater.
I like getting to the theater about two hours before a show. After an hour-long warm-up, which includes barre work, Pilates, planks and push-ups, I get in costume and do my makeup before heading back to the stage to meditate.
The stage is such a sacred place, and I take into consideration all the energy that's been there before me, and all the dancers who've performed there. Right before 'places,' I lie on the floor, put my forehead and hands on the floor and sort of bless the stage. Then, for good luck, I knock on the floor three times and give it a little kiss."
Rebello in Balanchine's "Symphony in Three Movements" (Daniel Azoulay, courtesy Miami City Ballet)
Melinda Sullivan, Freelance tap dancer
“If I'm performing at night, I tend to warm up more vigorously during the day by teaching or taking class. Then I do a slower warm-up right before the show—like a tune-up. I do some Pilates, especially the Hundreds, and stretch my calves. And no matter where I perform, I always bring a foam roller with me. It's crucial for us tap dancers to roll out our IT bands.
I listen to music while I warm up and apply makeup—Stevie Wonder is my go-to. Right before I put my costume on, I try to pee. I always think I have to go to the bathroom as I'm about to go onstage, but it's just butterflies.
I've gotten more nervous about performances as I've aged, so I try to keep moving as much as I can to keep my mind focused. I always review the beginning of the choreography, especially the opening phrase. Muscle memory tends to take control from there."
Melinda Sullivan (Jeremy Jackson, courtesy Sullivan)
Khori Petinaud, Ensemble, Aladdin
“Each day I head to Broadway Dance Center and take the theater dance class from about 4 to 6 pm. From there, I walk to the theater, or take a Citi Bike if I'm running behind schedule.
In the girls' dressing room, we play a '90s music playlist on Spotify while getting our hair and makeup ready. At five minutes to curtain, about six of us meet for a group prayer, which is often led by James Monroe Iglehart, who plays Genie, or Clifton Davis, who plays the Sultan. We pray for everyone's safety in the show, sending that energy not only to the cast but also to the crew and everyone in the audience. We remind ourselves to be grateful that we are working, and that we're in a show that's been open so long. It's such a blessing."
Petinaud, center, in costume (courtesy Disney Theatrical Group)
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.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
Summer intensive auditions can be nerve-racking. A panel of directors is watching your every move, and you're not even sure if you can be seen among the hundreds of other dancers in the room. We asked five summer intensive directors for their input on how dancers can make a positive impression—and even be remembered next year.
We always love a good halftime performance. And we LIVE for halftime performances involving talented kids. (Fingers and toes crossed that Justin Timberlake follows Missy Elliott's lead and invites some fabulous littles to share his Super Bowl stage.)
So obviously, our hearts completely melted for 5-year-old Tavaris Jones. Tavaris may have just started kindergarten, but during Monday night's game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the Detroit native danced with the panache of a veteran pro at halftime.
The coolest place she's ever performed:
I'd have to say the Super Bowl. The field was so cool, and Katy Perry was right there. And there were so many eyes—definitely the most eyes I've ever performed for!
Something she's constantly working on:
My feet. I'm flat-footed, so I'm always hearing, 'Point your toes!' And I'm like, 'I am!'
My hair! That, and a pair of leggings with a T-shirt or tank top.
In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured!
For a long time, I was the strongest dancer at my studio. But this year there's a new girl in my class who's very talented, and my teacher's attention has definitely shifted to her. I'm trying not to feel jealous or discouraged, but it seems like my whole dance world has changed. Help!
In the dance world, Mandy Moore has long been a go-to name, but in 2017, the success of her choreography for La La Land made the rest of the world stop and take notice. After whirlwind seasons as choreographer and producer on both "Dancing with the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance," she capped off the year with two Emmy Award nominations—and her first win. Dance Magazine caught up with her to find out how she's balancing all of her dance projects.