Letter to My Teenage Self: PeiJu Chien-Pott

With every signature Graham contraction, Martha Graham Dance Company principal PeiJu Chien-Pott’s power emanates from her core and ripples through her body, to the point that you start to feel your own breath stop and start with hers. Add her picture-perfect lines and classical technique, honed at the Taipei National University of the Arts, and it’s no wonder she also thrives in the company’s contemporary repertory. Originally from Taiwan, Chien-Pott joined MGDC in 2011 and has also performed with Taipei Royal Ballet, Morphoses and the New Jersey–based Nimbus Dance Works, directed by her husband, Samuel Pott. Together they have a daughter, Sofia. —Jenny Ouellette

In costume for Echo, by Adonis Foniadakis (photo by Hibbard Nash, courtesy Martha Graham Dance Company)

Dear PeiJu,

You’re about to start on a path of finding yourself and loving your life—a path you’ll never regret. Along the way, remember to believe in yourself. You’re a talented dancer and, if you keep working hard, you’ll become a great artist. But don’t be easily satisfied.

Great dancers challenge themselves and always push for more. Challenge is what makes you grow and become stronger.Competition, stress and injury are the three most difficult struggles you’ll face. Keep your spirits up! You’ll gradually learn how to adjust. You’re unique—just be yourself.

At age 17 (photo courtesy Peiju Chien-Pott)

I know that preparing for performances is stressful for you. Try to find simple ways to help yourself feel better. Little treats may do the trick. Keep some dark chocolate in your dance bag, and when you’re stressed, have a bite—you’ll instantly feel like you’re in heaven.

Dealing with injuries will also be frustrating. Think about it like this: Musicians take care of their instruments and painters keep their brushes in good shape. All artists have to keep their tools in good condition to produce fine work—and that includes dancers. Your tool is your body, and respecting your body is the first step in minimizing injury. It requires discipline. Eat a healthy diet and always warm up before class and rehearsal.

But most importantly, enjoy dancing and stay positive.

Much love,

Pei

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For the young child, it was love at first sight.

"I saw a beautiful, black Clara," Ashton says, "and I wanted to be just like her."

Ashton has dedicated 14 years of ballet training in pursuit of that childhood dream. But all the technical prowess in the world can't help Ashton surmount the biggest hurdle—this aspiring dancer was assigned male at birth, and for the vast majority of boys and men, performing in pointe shoes hasn't been a career option. But Ashton Edwards, who uses the pronouns "he" and "they," says it's high time to break down ballet's gender barrier, and their teachers and mentors believe this passionate dancer is just the person to lead the charge.

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Don't worry—you won't have to shoulder the load alone. Dance Spirit spoke with two physical therapists who specialize in working with dancers to find out what dance bag is best.

What should dancers look for in a dance bag?

Dr. Meghan Gearhart, physical therapist and owner of Head2Toe Physical Therapy in Charlotte, NC, recommends dancers opt for a backpack-style dance bag rather than a duffel or cross-body bag.

"A bag that pulls the weight all to one side creates a side bend and rotation in the trunk," Gearhart says. "That is going to lead to muscle imbalances that will affect dancers while they're dancing, as well as just in regular everyday life." Muscle imbalances can mean limited mobility on one side of your body, as the muscles on one side are overly contracted and the other side is overly extended to compensate.

Gearhart suggests dancers pick a backpack made from a lightweight yet durable and breathable material, such as cotton, linen, nylon or polyester. Straps should be wide enough to not dig into your shoulder muscles, so avoid drawstring styles with rope straps. Adjustable and padded straps are best, so you can wear the straps at a length where the bag rests at the middle of your back.

Dr. Bridget Kelly Sinha, physical therapist and founder of Balanced Physical Therapy and Dance Wellness in Matthews, NC, emphasizes the importance of finding an even weight distribution when choosing a dance bag.

"If a dancer has a lot to bring, like when heading to the theater for a full day of rehearsals and performances, then I recommend a rolling suitcase to offset the load," Sinha says.

How should dancers wear their bags?

Even if you've selected the perfect dance bag, it's important to be mindful of how you wear it.

Gearhart advocates wearing both straps when carrying your backpack. She also suggests placing heavier items towards the back of the bag, where they will sit closer to your body. A bag with straps that are too loose (or a bag that is too heavy) can create an increased arch in the lower back or cause a dancer to compensate for the weight by leaning forward. Ideally, Gearhart recommends a dancer's dance bag weighing no more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight.

"I usually tell dancers to use their common sense. If you don't have tap today, you don't need to bring the tap shoes," she says. "If your water bottle makes the bag too heavy, just carry it." If your studio offers lockers, take advantage of that storage space to lessen the number of clothes, shoes, and dance accessories that live in your dance bag.

And if you think your bad dance-bag habits have given you alignment issues, seek out a dance physical therapist to prevent further injuries.

"As a dancer, your body is working so hard all day," Sinha says. "It does not need excess strain from your bag."

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