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. —Jenny Ouellette
Rausch, with Jonathan Porretta in Balanchine's Prodigal Son (Photo by Lindsay Thomas, courtesy PNB)
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 (photo by Laurent Phillipe, courtesy LADP)
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' (photo by Morgan Lugo, courtesy LADP)
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.
Williams stretching before a show (courtesy Williams)
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.”
Rebello in Balanchine's Symphony in Three Movements (photo by Daniel Azoulay, courtesy MCB)
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.”
(photo by Jeremy Jackson, courtesy Sullivan)
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.”
Petinaud, center, in costume (courtesy Disney Theatrical Group)
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.”