How Fit Are You?

Seeing a dancer effortlessly spin multiple times on one leg; hang in the air defying gravity; or pick his partner up over his head, carry her across the stage and gently set her down again is awe-inspiring to most people. It looks easy. It’s also breathtaking to see a football player evade defenders by zigzagging his way down the field, or to hear a tennis player grunt loudly as her racket connects with the ball, sending it—like a projectile—into the farthest corner of the court.


Like athletes, dancers are revered for their ability to do things that others can’t do, yet dancers are rarely considered on par with athletes in terms of physical prowess. When you think about it, though, how different is a dancer’s athletic ability from an athlete’s?


Last April, San Francisco’s ODC/Dance decided to find out. They invited student athletes—swimmers, soccer players, runners, basketball players, tennis players and gymnasts—from UC Berkeley to take part in a friendly competition, which they called Toe to Toe. The 10 events were mostly complicated obstacle courses designed to test strength, agility and flexibility (and artistry) to determine who was the more complete athlete. As the first few races took place, both teams were neck and neck. It seemed impossible to gauge who might win, until the events started requiring more than one skill (like dressing and undressing between tasks like running, climbing or crawling—while singing!). But the dancers eventually came out on top, with 123 points to the athletes’ 69. And though the competition was a bit in their favor—it was a fundraiser for ODC—it did show how physically and athletically adaptable dancers are.


Michael Leslie, a physical therapist for San Francisco Ballet, says that the specificity of a dancer’s training probably plays a big part in this adaptability. Athletes focus principally on their sport and train primarily with that in mind. Dancers, on the other hand, are taught a variety of skills. We have to balance on one leg while turning and go from moving very quickly to being completely still. This type of “cross-training” gives us, in Leslie’s words, “the ability to do advanced things with a huge range of motion and extraordinary dexterity,” which many athletes lack.


Dance Spirit wanted to pass along this cool and fun experiment so you can test your fitness and adaptability outside the studio! Grab a group of dancer friends and separate into teams—or better yet, get a group of athletes you know, like the football or basketball team, to compete with you. See how you fare against each other. Who knows? Maybe you’ll even learn from one another. Good Luck!


Here are some fun events inspired by ODC/Dance’s Toe to Toe competition. Team up with your pals to see who wins!

Ab Challenge: How many sit-ups can you do in one minute, while you recite a poem or sing a song of the opposing team’s choice?

  • The Breakdown: Talking or singing while exercising forces us to make better use of our lung capacity and makes otherwise easy exercises more difficult. Dancers tend to have what Michael Leslie calls “dysfunctional breathing patterns” from trying to make their dances look effortless and disguising the physicality of what they do.
  • Who Wins: The team with the most sit-ups and the most clearly recited poem/best sung lyrics wins.

Three-Legged Slalom Race: Set up two rows of cones (or whatever else you can find that is not easily knocked over). Pair yourselves up (within the teams) and tie one of your legs to your partner’s (left to right). Off you go! Weave between the cones as fast as you can.

  • The Breakdown: Dancers will probably dominate this race because it requires keen partnering skills, cooperation and the ability to find a rhythm (quickly!) that works for both people.
  • Who Wins: This is a time trial; the team that makes it through the course first wins.

Balance Dressing: Grab a pile of loose-fitting clothes, scarves and hats and get a couple of chairs and a stopwatch. One person from each team stands on one leg on a chair. The raised leg should be high enough to make balancing a bit uncomfortable. (Your leg can move as long as it doesn’t touch down. If you want to make the game harder, take points off for each time the leg drops below a predetermined minimum height.) The other teammates now have 30 seconds to toss clothing to the person balancing, and the balancer puts on as many items as she can. Warning: To make sure the balancer doesn’t fall, have one person from each team hold the chair!

  • The Breakdown: Points are given for speed and number of pieces worn (athletic) and for creativity in how the final outfit looks (artistic). The dancers are at an advantage here because they will be used to standing on one leg without being rigid and still.
  • Who Wins: The team with the most points tallied at the end of everyone’s turn on the chair.



Hurdles Relay: Set up hurdles at different heights. Unlike normal hurdles, racers have the option of going either over or under. One person needs to start the race and judge who finishes first. A few more people need to be placed along the course to pick up (and keep track of) the hurdles that get knocked over. For each hurdle that falls, one second will be docked from the team’s final score. Each runner needs to get all the way to the end of the course and back to tag the next runner.

  • The Breakdown: This challenge is about quick thinking and alternating jumping, crawling and sliding while keeping a fast pace. No advantage here. The quickest and most agile team will take the prize.
  • Who Wins: The team that finishes first with the least number of hurdles knocked down!

Obstacle Course: On this one, let your imagination run wild. First, determine an obstacle course (depending on what the nearest playground or your school gym has to offer) with all players from both teams present. Next, grab the clothes from the balance dressing challenge and ask each player to put on at least three pieces, going for either a silly or a fancy look. Then have each person create a character inspired by his or her outfit. Go through the obstacle course—staying in character! Some sample tasks: Cross a balance beam with a tray of (unbreakable) cups, climb through hoops, run backwards in a figure eight.

  • The Breakdown: This should challenge the creative streak. By adding artistic elements—like carrying a tray and playing a character—the purely athletic elements become a bit harder. As this might be the least athletic of the challenges, points should be given for how good both teams feel the “performance” was.
  • Who Wins: The team that everyone feels gave the best performance through the course wins.


Peter Brandenhoff, a former soloist with San Francisco Ballet and Royal Danish Ballet, is now a freelance dancer, teacher and writer.


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What’s in Your Dance Bag—Based on Your Zodiac Sign

Sometimes our dance bags feel like portals to another dimension—we have no idea what half the stuff buried in our bags even is. (Note to self: Clean out dance bag.)

But have you ever wondered if there's a method to the madness? We're pretty sure there is, and as always, we're pretty sure it's something to do with astrology. That's right, your resident Dance Spirit astrologers are back with our best guess at what you keep in your dance bag—based on your zodiac sign.


You're always going 100 mph Aries (or maybe even more), so it's pretty much a guarantee that your dance bag is fully stocked with snacks to power you through the day. Granola bars, trail mix, yogurt, fruit. It's like a Whole Foods in there.

You've also usually got about six different pairs of shoes in your bag. As an Aries, you love adventure, trying new things and, most of all, a challenge. So when it comes to classes, you're all over the map. Tap, jazz, ballet, character, modern—you'll try them all.

Something else you won't go without? Your signature red lipstick, obv. How else are you going to show off your fiery personality? (And look amazing while doing it, TYSM.)


As a child of Venus, you always want to look your best, Taurus. So your dance bag is a hair salon/makeup station, all in one. If your dance besties need to borrow a hair tie, or are looking for a fun accessory to spice up their bun, they know you're the one to go to.

Also important to you? Smelling your best. Taureans love comforting, luxurious scents, so your dance bag is typically equipped with a favorite perfume or deodorant. (Or both.)

But what's most important is the bag itself—admit it, you've been using the same dance bag for years. We get it, Taurus, nobody likes change, and least of all the stubborn bull of the zodiac. But if your dance bag is really starting to smell like feet (or if your bobby pins are starting to slip through the holes in the bottom), you might want to consider investing in a new bag.


Gemini, you love to switch it up. So you're pretty much guaranteed to have at least three different dance fits in your bag at any given time. And your dancewear is always on point. You love to keep up with trends and try edgy, new looks.

Ever the intellect, you usually have a book in your bag, as well. You're always making book recs to your fellow dancers, and you refuse to be bored between rehearsals or backstage.

Though you might act carefree, Gemini, we know that at heart, you're ruled by Mercury—and you have more in common with your sister sign Virgo than you'd like to admit. That's why you always have a toothbrush, toothpaste, and some floss in your dance bag. No way you're getting caught with food between your teeth (or bad breath during partnering class).


Not to be obvious, but as a water sign, the first and foremost thing a Cancerian keeps in their dance bag? A water bottle, of course. (Preferably a Hydroflask, S'well or any bottle that comes in a fun color.) No dehydration here, please and thank you.

Your dance bag also functions as a de facto vending machine for your dance besties, since you always come prepared with the best snacks, and you're always willing to share. As a bonus, your snacks are almost always homemade, since you're practically a five-star chef.

And while we're wary of zodiac stereotypes, there is a pretty good chance your dance bag is stocked with tissues. And there's no shame in that—because, really, who can get through a performance of Romeo and Juliet without shedding some tears? Props to you for being in touch with your emotions, Cancer.


We'll state the obvious, Leo. You love to look at yourself, and sometimes the studio mirrors just aren't enough. So, naturally, you always keep a compact mirror in your dance bag, just in case your makeup or your bun needs an extra touch-up.

You also love bright colors, and you're not afraid to wear more daring dancewear than any of your besties. You've usually got a couple of leotards packed in your bag, just in case you need to make a fashion statement, and they're always fun. Bright colors, loud prints, stylish necklines—you'll try anything.

But something not everyone knows about you? You're an amazing friend, and incredibly loyal, Leo. That's why you've usually got something in your bag for your dance bestie, be it her favorite brand of granola bar, a fun sparkly pin for her hair, or a note reminding her she's a star, on and off the stage.


You're incredibly hardworking, Virgo, so you've always got the tools for success in your dance bag. TheraBands, foam rollers, tennis balls—you're the one dancer your teacher can always count on to be stretching between classes.

You also love to be prepared, so you've usually got a makeshift first-aid kit in your bag. The thought of suffering a blister or floor burn without the appropriate salves or bandages makes you shudder, and, hey, it's always better to be overprepared, right?

What's most noticeable about your dance bag, though, isn't what's inside of it. It's what it looks like—your bag is pristine. It never smells like feet, and you've got a hard-core system for what you keep in each little zip pocket or compartment. And TBH, all of your dance friends are jealous, though they'd never admit it.


Like your sister sign Taurus, appearances are important to you, Libra. You like to look good (no shame in that), so your dance bag is always stocked with the essentials: extra hair spray, lip gloss, concealer, bobby pins and a spare leotard, in case you get just a bit too sweaty.

You also love to socialize, so if this were the 1950s, we would say that you always keep your date book in your dance bag. As it is, you always have your phone with you, and it's usually blowing up with texts from your dance besties asking to make plans.

Your dance bag wouldn't be complete without your secret supply of chocolate. But to be clear: This isn't your average Hershey's bar. Libras aren't afraid to indulge, so you keep a bar of luxury dark chocolate tucked away for when the cravings hit.


You can't fool us, Scorpio—the contents of your dance bag aren't some big mystery, like you'd like us all to believe. In fact, they're pretty basic: For starters, you always have a black leotard or two in your bag. After all, black is your signature color.

One thing that isn't in Scorpio's dance bag? Toe pads. You love to look tough, so you'd never be caught dead wearing toe pads with your pointe shoes. However, this does mean you need a hefty supply of Band-Aids for the inevitable blisters.

You also love all things mystical and, dare we say, witchy. You're the Halloween queen of the zodiac, after all! So it's no surprise you always have a crystal or two in the front pocket of your dance bag. Let us guess…moldavite?


You're an explorer, Sagittarius, and that applies to your dancing. You're always trying new dance styles, and that's reflected in your dance bag. You always have the trappings of your latest obsession in your bag: heeled shoes for ballroom, kneepads for contact improv, sneakers for breaking, the list goes on and on.

But on all of your adventures, there's one consistency: You love making memories. And that means literally—you document everything. At each performance or recital, you're bound to be the one with a Polaroid or disposable camera in your bag, and you can usually be found snapping backstage candids of your dance besties.

Your other favorite form of documenting? Writing it down. You love to learn, so you're always taking notes. You can usually be found after class scribbling down your dance teacher's latest piece of wisdom. Your dance bag is crammed with half-filled notebooks, and you wouldn't have it any other way.


You like to be prepared, Capricorn. And we mean prepared—for every bad scenario imaginable. That's why your dance bag is a mini survival kit. The first Capricorn dance bag guarantee? A stitch kit, of course. Losing a ribbon on your pointe shoe mid-rehearsal is your worst nightmare.

You also always have at least three spare leotards handy. After all, what if you spill something, or get too sweaty or, worst of all, show up to an audition in the same leotard as your dance rival? No, thank you. As a Capricorn, you're expecting the best and preparing for the worst.

Another key to your survival kit? Headphones, so you can drown out the noise around you and focus on your dancing. And before anyone asks, the answer is yes, you have the perfect playlist—for each and every occasion.


Aquarius, you love helping others. That's why it sometimes seems like your dance bag isn't even for you—it's filled with stuff you bring for your friends. Snacks for one dance bestie, Band-Aids for another, and tampons, of course, just in case anyone needs one.

But when it comes to you, you're all about originality. That's why you always have tons of fun accessories in your bag: striped legwarmers, colorful socks, tie-dyed sweats and more than a couple of fun additions to your ballet bun, just to make it a little more interesting.

You're also a rebel at heart, Aquarius, which is why there's usually something in your dance bag that just borders on breaking the rules. Maybe your studio is strictly black leotards only—and yours is gray. Or phones are completely banned—and you just put yours on vibrate. We see you.


Like your fellow water sign Cancer, you're big on hydrating during dance class. But as a Pisces, you're a little more imaginative (and a little less practical), meaning you're usually carrying your water in something aesthetically pleasing, like a mason jar, a tumbler, or one of those fancy water bottles with a crystal in the base.

Unlike Cancer, you're a mutable sign, meaning you can adapt to just about any situation. Counterintuitively, this actually means your dance bag is pretty sparse. Unlike other zodiac signs who feel the need to overprepare in case of disaster, you're comfortable in most situations, and your dance bag reflects it. You like the basics, nothing else.

Something most people might not know about you, though, is that you get cold easily. We're not sure why, but it's a Pisces staple. That's why if you keep anything in your dance bag, it's the coziest of warm-ups.

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