What is it? Does it really help? Why do it?
Have you ever wondered…. what is dance conditioning? Why do dancers do conditioning? And essentially, does it really help?
Let me help you understand a little bit better. If you google the word “Conditioning”, one of the definitions says “To make a person/animal fit and healthy”
Ballet dancers are not only artists but are also athletes. Their bodies are constantly pushed to the limit. Personally, I think dancers have one of the toughest professions in the world. You have to be so physically and mentally strong! Physically,dance is very demanding but dancers are still required to perform. Performance in this regard means mastering the ballet technique, as well as being able to express the underlying message and emotions that makes dance performance expressive. Whether it’s a good day or a bad one, they must always be able to execute steps and artistry effortlessly.
You may ask, how does “Conditioning for dance” help in this aspect? Well,to keep up with the physical demands of dance, most dancers do extra work outside the studio to help them maintain the stamina they need in sometimes a 3 hour ballet or long show days.
From personal experience when I was a full time student at the New Zealand school of dance, I found Pilates to be the best conditioning for me. It really helped me engage the muscles I needed for the demands of ballet and correct my alinement. Most importantly, it kept my body healthy and strong as I was rarely injured considering I was dancing 6x a week for almost 5 or more hours each day. I also saw improvements in my dancing! Because I was physically stronger, I was not as worried about doing the exercises and could focus more on my artistry in class. It is important to have a balance. The things that make up a good dancer are technique and artistry. Both must be complete in order to make a one stand out in a crowd.
As I mentioned before, a dancer must be physically and mentally strong. This is a balance too. The dance world is madly competitive and if you are not mentally prepared, it is a very difficult journey. One has to always be disciplined. That often means more time practicing in the studio or spending more time doing conditioning. Dancers have to make sure they are always in their best form. You want to always be ready and prepared.
Two of my very good friends, George Liang and Emma Rose Barrowclough have offered to share their experiences of their life as a professional ballet dancers, their thoughts on conditioning and how important it is to find a balance, in dance or life.
What age did you start dancing and why did you decide to make it a career?
I started dancing when I was 13. I think joining a ballet school, having friends beside you that are all striving for the same goals really inspired me that this is a career that I would like to pursue.
I know that as a male dancer you do things like partnering and pas de deux. Is it difficult to do partner work? How do you manage it?
As a male dancer, you are required to lift women in ballets. Although it is a partnership, the male dancer is mostly responsible. It’s definitely a difficult art to master. It requires strength and coordination. I’m really grateful to have had a wonderful teacher- Qi Huan who gave me the foundation of this skill.
What does dance conditioning mean to you and do you think it’s important?
Dance conditioning is very crucial for me. Our body is our instrument and we have to really take care of it if we want to use it however we want. You always want to present to the audience at your peak, so this is where “Dance Conditioning” really help us in many ways. Normally I do a gym workout to condition my body. However, I still often do a bit of mat work pilates exercises before our morning class and in-betweens rehearsals since the rehearsing and performing schedule is quite tight at Northern Ballet.
Do you have any advice you would like to share for aspiring ballet dancers especially ballet boys?
Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Be open to anything. Make yourself an open-minded person.
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When did you start dancing and why make it a career?
I started dancing at the age of four. I vividly remember how excited I was when I heard my mum talking to my kindergarten teacher about enrolling me in ballet classes. It wasn’t until I was 11 that I thought I might like to try and dance professionally. I had a teacher who came from Switzerland as an ex-ballerina to coach us; and I thought that she was the most incredible human. Heidi had legs that still touched her head in a grande battement and immaculate posture. She was the reason I wanted to become a “ballerina”. The deeper into the ballet world I got, the more I loved it. I met inspiring people and had so many ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences. I knew that I had a goal to inspire others through dance and to enjoy this beautiful art form for as long as I could.
What does dance conditioning mean to you and do you think it’s important?
Dance conditioning… I can’t stress enough how much it means to me! (And all others). My natural physique is quite lean and doesn’t build muscle easily. Therefore, to be able to dance well and uninjured I have to keep my body strong and mobile at all times. Personally, I cross train by doing yoga, cardio workouts, gym exercises and walking or biking on weekends; and I get “ballet strong” by doing pilates. I find that a combination of exercises that are hard and work my body in the opposite way to my everyday movement, and pilates which mirrors what I actually do in rehearsal and performance, keeps me in the best shape. Doing conditioning before class everyday helps me to actively engage the muscles I am about to use. It allows me to focus on more important things for the rest of the day like correct technique, artistry and learning new choreography without having to worry about whether or not I’m using my inside thighs and glutes to turn out.
We talked about having a balance in dance & life. Why do you think it is important to be physically and mentally strong as a dancer?
We know how important it is to have strong bodies for dancing and we also need strong minds. Our measurement of self-worth and self-esteem comes from a mix of internal and external beliefs and influences. As a dancer, it can be easy to let the external sources (such as people’s opinions of you, how many contracts or roles you may get and how often you perform) guide your feelings of self-worth. This unfortunately does not always equal good mental health.
It is more important to draw on internal sources for our self-esteem. Secure self-esteem is related to your long-term well-being. By believing in yourself and maintaining a dance/life balance you will be more likely to keep a healthy mind. With a happy healthy mind, you will be more resilient and enthusiastic in your pursuit of your goals.
Dancers are also artists, not just athletes. Remembering to balance out your dancing life by spending time with family and friends, learning new skills and enjoying your other hobbies, you will grow and mature as a human and an artist. An artist who makes people feel emotions and can wow them with their technique is a valuable find in any dancing world.
What is your advice for aspiring dancers who wish to pursue dance/ballet as a career?
Be resilient. It will be hard, but worth it. If you love dancing and you believe in yourself and your abilities, you should try your best to make it happen. Work hard. Learn as much as you can from as many people as you can and enjoy as much of it as possible. Keep a healthy balance of life and training. Look after your body as it’s the only one you’ve got! (And roll out your muscles… With a spikey ball or foam roller… it’s life changing).
Photos & article by:
Lydia Tan , @the__exhibition