Help! I'm Too Short!

The small-but-mighty Jess LeProtto in CATS (Matthew Murphy, courtesy DKC/O&M Co)

Tired of watching your peers stretch out while you stay the same size? Here's how to take advantage of your height—or lack thereof.

(Struggling with the opposite problem? Click here!)


Why Being Short Rocks

If you're petite, chances are you excel at petit allégro. You can jump and spin—not to mention drop to the floor and get up again—much more quickly than your longer-legged peers. "Shorter dancers are usually a good fit for roles that require quick, clean footwork," says Pacific Northwest Ballet School faculty member Marisa Albee. For guys and girls alike, that can mean dazzling solo parts—think the Canary Fairy in Sleeping Beauty, or Mister Mistoffelees in CATS.

Remember that being compact doesn't have to mean taking up less space when you dance. "Our tiniest
female dancers are complete powerhouses onstage," says Giordano Dance Chicago artistic director Nan Giordano. She advises smaller performers to "dance full throttle." You can move with just as much power and confidence as your taller counterparts.

Fitness Fixes for Short Dancers

"Short dancers' muscles are often tight, in part because they tend to be cast in roles that are designed for quick, powerful movers—for instance, parts with lots of jumps," says physical therapist Michelle Rodriguez, owner of Manhattan Physio Group. "Tight feet, calves and thighs can leave you prone to certain types of injuries." Here are fitness tips for the vertically challenged.

1) Make time for stretching and rolling. This is true for all dancers, but is especially important for shorter virtuosos: If your muscles are constantly tense and engaged, a foam roller could be your new best friend. Massage will increase circulation to affected muscles and help release tension, so you'll feel better the next day. And after intense activity, stretch out your calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, hip flexors and other muscles that can get overworked by explosive jumps and sharp, fast choreography.

2) Focus on your core. To improve your lines, work not only on stretching but also on building your core strength, which will help you support higher extensions. Pilates is a great way to target those muscles.

3) Complement with cross-training. Look for activities that ask you to move slowly and smoothly, opposite to your natural tendencies. Yoga and Gyrotonic are ideal for expanding your body.

A Short Dancer's Story: Jess LeProtto, Broadway dancer

I'm five-foot-five. I learned from an early age that if you have a physical quality that makes you stand out, like my height did, you have to find other ways to set yourself apart, so you're not just the short guy. You have to find your own sense of style and technique. I had to adapt to dance alongside taller people. It's always about extension, pushing energy out through your hands and feet. My height helps me hit lines quickly, but I had to learn to hold and stretch to create the best picture.

The rockiest time I had with my height was when I was on Season 8 of "So You Think You Can Dance." I was partnering female contestants who were three or four inches taller than me, and I had to get past my insecurity and be a confident, strong and safe partner. When you're short, some elements—your pacing, your exact position as you lift—won't be the same for you as they will be for the taller person next to you. Sometimes shorter dancers simply have to work harder to match up.

On Broadway, I've been lucky to work with choreographers who want to use their dancers' individuality. In Newsies, On the Town and CATS, even when the movement was in unison, it was also about character. Next, I'll be in the ensemble of Hello, Dolly!, and I'm excited to work with Warren Carlyle. He knows how to use those debonair, long-limbed Fred Astaire–style dancers, but can also get down into the ground, which is where those of us with a lower center of gravity live.

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