Dancer Health

Why do elite dancers like Pilates?

Pilates for dancers

Professional dancers have already reached the height of physical fitness and undertake eight or more hours a day of physical activity. They scrutinise their movements in front of a mirror and hone their bodies like athletes. So why then do they need to do pilates?

Elite dancers are drawn to pilates and ignore current fitness gimmicks. They stick with what works and what has stood the test of time. Pilates is a physical fitness system developed by Joseph Pilates in the early 20th century and is currently practiced by over 11 million people worldwide. Pilates does not build bulky muscles, which is something that dancers must avoid for the most part. Instead, elite dancers seek holistic strength of their entire physical structure. Daily classes and rehearsals go most of the way to creating and sustaining a dancer’s career, but in order to help a dancer gain an edge and prolong their career, elite dancers turn to Pilates.

pilates dancer

Photo by Lynette Wills for TrueFormPilates.

Marc Cassidy was a Senior Artist with The Australian Ballet and now owns and operates TrueFormPilates in Melbourne. His wife, Leeanne Stojmenov is a consultant and Principal Artist with The Australian Ballet. Dance Informa spoke with Marc, Leanne, and some of their clients – Australian Ballet Principal Artist Lana Jones, Senior Artist Juliet Burnett, and Coryphee Jessica Fyfe, about what draws them to pilates and how it benefits them as dancers. 

Marc Cassidy

How is Pilates for dancers different to Pilates for non dancers?

“There are specific things that I would give to a dancer to support their day-to-day technical requirements. However, for dancers or non-dancers the workout that I would give may not vary that much from the point of view of repertoire but the focus of that work would be different. 

For the dancer it could be that they have just finished a long season or a particularly difficult lead up to a high pressure opening night and need to release and work through the tension in their bodies, or that they’re in a rehearsal period and want to work hard to increase their strength and flexibility. 

For a non-dancer my objective is to strengthen them and increase their flexibility. There may be work related tension in shoulders and back or sport related pain or injury. They may be trying for their own personal best in sport or they may just want to move with more ease. 

My most important focus, whether a dancer or not, is to respond to an individual based on what I see in front of me on the day.”

Why does Pilates benefit elite dancers?

“Dancers spend most of their time in the studio, dedicating themselves to their art. Ballet/dance is their real job and like any job it is a daily struggle and it takes it’s toll on the body. Pilates helps them to rectify the imbalances they tend to create in the studio (from my experience, ballet dancers are particularly asymmetrical). With choreographers and teachers demanding daily perfection, Pilates allows dancers the space they need outside of the studio and outside of class to re-balance, release and re-connect.”

Did you do Pilates when you were dancing?  What were the benefits?

“I started Pilates in my first year of the Australian Ballet School, which is around 23 years ago. Initially I found it hard to understand. Pilates is full of subtlety and nuance and it takes a long time to become familiar with it. When I was dancing my best, Pilates was for the most part a daily routine. A couple of hours of Pilates before ballet class became a necessity for me to feel good on stage. It balanced me out, helped me to rehabilitate injuries and be stronger than the challenge I faced. Simply put, it made my dancing better and more enjoyable.”

pilates machine

Pilates equipment at TrueFormPilates. Photo by Lynette Wills for TrueFormPilates.

How does Pilates improve your day to day life now that you aren’t dancing?

“Pilates is a smart series of exercises. Despite the respect that Joseph Pilates has received, I personally feel that his system of exercise is one of the most underrated methods available. We live in an age where there is a new fitness fad weekly, many of them citing Pilates as a foundation. It has been tweaked and redesigned to be more palatable to more people. The fact is, good old-fashioned Pilates works and works well. Its modifications are easily applied and when I’m doing Pilates often, my movement is efficient and strong.”

Leanne Stojmenov

How long have you been doing Pilates? 

“10 years.”

How does Pilates compliment/improve your dancing? 

“I discovered Pilates at a really good time in my career. I was at a point where I was frustrated and wanting more out of dancing. I have always loved performing but what I didn’t realise at the time was how much more I could do for myself to enhance my technique and experience performing. The Australian Ballet alongside English National Ballet performs the most out of any company in the world. I believe that Pilates has been the key to having a healthy strong body to keep up with the physical demands of my job. I have done a lot of Pilates training on top of the hours at The Australian Ballet to ensure I start each role with my body at its best physically.”

What inspired you to become a Pilates teacher?

“I have felt the benefits personally and have also seen Marc rehabilitate after knee surgery that took him out of action for nine months. A lot of people get told after a surgery like his that they won’t be able to get back to full recovery…. Marc got back to full dancing fitness and now loves to ski! I must say, it wasn’t easy getting to this point with Pilates. It is a journey of discovery and focused work and with the right intention it can give you results that far exceed your expectations.”

pilates dancer

Photo by Lynette Wills for TrueFormPilates.

Lana Jones

How long have you been doing Pilates?

“I have been doing pilates for about 18 years.”

How does Pilates compliment/improve your dancing?

“Pilates for me is the perfect marriage with ballet. The core strength with focus on alignment and length help to aid and enhance my dancing. I have more awareness and understanding of what I’m asking my body to do and it’s an all together feeling that I crave.”

Jessica Fyfe

How long have you been doing Pilates?

“Pilates has been involved in my dancing life since I was 13. I have been with TrueFormPilates for the last two years.”

How does Pilates compliment/improve your dancing?

“Pilates has helped get me to where I am today in my career and is helping to further it. It gives me a feeling of security and freedom in my dancing through strengthening my core stabilisers. Pilates helps my body to achieve length whilst being connected and having the strength to work super fast and sustain super slow movements, which is extremely important for me as a dancer.”

Juliet Burnett

How long have you been doing Pilates?

“Since I was 12. I was a late developer, so my teacher suggested Pilates to strengthen me up enough to start pointe work.”

How does Pilates compliment/improve your dancing?

“Pilates is the perfect compliment to my dancing. It strengthens and lengthens the muscles, improves coordination of breath and movement and a good teacher will encourage an holistic approach which engages the mind’s awareness of your body and its responses. With such a varied repertoire and a busy schedule of rehearsals and performances, for me daily Pilates is an integral part of maintaining my body’s equilibrium.”

Learn more about TrueFormPilates here.

By Rebecca Martin of Dance Informa.

Photo (top): A Pilates work out room. Photo by Lynette Wills for TrueFormPilates.

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