By Emily Yewell Volin.
Technique classes and rehearsals are a dancer’s job and a common misconception is that this training schedule provides enough exercise and conditioning to make a dancer performance ready. Not so. Dance Informa spoke with Nehemiah Kish (Principal Dancer, The Royal Ballet), Alice Hinde (Australia’s Dancenorth) and Glenn Allen Sims (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater) to learn how they augment their workout regimes to achieve top fitness, stamina and sculpted physiques.
What type of fitness activities do you do in addition to your technique classes and why?
Nehemiah Kish – The Royal Ballet, UK
In addition to our daily ballet class, we are very fortunate at The Royal Ballet to have two sports scientists on staff as well as Pilates and Gyrotonics instructors. This season I have been working with our sports scientists. They test our strengths and weaknesses and give exercises accordingly. When I want to improve a certain area of my dancing or build a specific group of muscles they tailor the exercises to my needs. How much I do is based on my performance schedule, because some of the exercises leave me sore or fatigued. I like to take advantage of the days when I have fewer rehearsals and use those days to work on strengthening the areas I want to improve.
Alice Hinde – Dancenorth, Australia
In addition to ballet and contemporary technique classes, I cycle, do yoga and skip. I have these activities on rotation so that my body is subject to different kinds of movement patterns. I enjoy doing all of these activities because they are also a rest for the mind. I aim to reduce the noise of a busy mind and just enjoy focusing on my breath in yoga or even the scenery while riding. Cross-training is great for the body, it helps improve stamina and strength and overall shape and performance.
Glenn Allen Sims – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, USA
I am always working out, especially at the gym, when I am not in my technique classes. While at the gym my main concern is free weights, basically sculpting my upper body and breaking down muscles groups into days of the week (ie. Monday- abs and shoulders, Tuesday- back, Wednesday- abs and cardio, Thursday- chest, and Friday- abs and arms). This schedule can be altered depending on what I am dancing that evening, if there is a performance or the free time I may have during a rehearsal period. I also take Pilates classes that are generally on a private basis with a Master Trainer. I feel that a man should look like a man from the stage, not to say that someone that is slighter than I doesn’t look like a man, but it is my prerogative. As an Ailey man, it is part of the history and legacy that the men always looked great, sexy and fit. I am just trying to live up to this standard as best as possible with all the knowledge that I know about fitness. Working out really plays a huge role on how good you feel about yourself, and when you are feeling great in your skin it really shows!
What is your strategy for staying fit and conditioned during your off-contract time?
Glenn Allen Sims
I try to make sure that I am at the gym on a daily basis. When I am on off-contract time I make sure to really focus on as much cardio as possible – it’s the only way I can come back to work with the same amount of stamina that I left with. I love taking a spin class or just simply running on the treadmill. The best cardio workout that I am head over heels for is aqua aerobics! You tone and work all the muscle groups without the impact on your joints, which is a huge plus for me as a dancer. In terms of my eating habits, I eat the same for the most part. I food combine what I’m going to eat, meaning that I don’t mix proteins and carbohydrates in a meal. This really aids the digestive system in processing the food I am taking in. I’m big on eating whole foods and loads of greens (especially green juices), and making sure that what I am eating is of quality – no junk foods. I try to stay away from desserts.
During the summer holiday, I try to allow ten days to two weeks for rest. In that time I might do some gentle stretching. Swimming and biking are two of my favorite ways to keeping my body moving while I’m on holiday.
Maintaining the same level of fitness and conditioning I have on contract is very difficult when I’m off contract. It basically comes down to time allocation – how can you give at least 5 hours a day to training as you would if you were working? So, I generally lead an active lifestyle which helps maintain some level of fitness, including regularly hiking, swimming and diving. As I am constantly on the move between cities and even countries, attending regular classes becomes difficult. To remedy this I always pack a skipping rope. It is lightweight and it’s easy enough to find a space large enough to skip in. Skipping also gets your heart rate up rapidly. I set my iPod to my favourite up-beat tracks and I can skip happily for 15-20 minutes.
How do you augment your exercise regimen while touring?
Touring doesn’t affect my routine that much. I don’t use a lot of machines or props when working out. Most of my exercises are based on using my own body weight.
Glenn Allen Sims
I carry a range of travel equipment with me. I have Spree resistance straps that help tone the body, the Perfect Push-Up and a Multi-toner, which is like the Pilates magic circle, but this was designed by DLFit and is a complete body workout. Of course, there’s only so much you can do in the hotel gym so most of my workout augmentation happens either in the hotel room or at the theater, unless there is a gym nearby.
I aim to tailor any fitness activities to things that can be done in a hotel room such as skipping and yoga. I find stretching extremely beneficial when on tour because of the increased workload when performing a show. Cardio and strength are usually taken care of by actually performing! A spa or bath also works wonders in decreasing lactic acid levels and keeping the body supple.
Top photo: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Glenn Allen Sims and Antonio Douthit in Alvin Ailey’s Opus McShann. Photo by Paul Kolnik.