Staying Dance-Ready in Isolation By Jennifer Milner
Colleges and universities across the country have suspended classes for weeks or even months. San Francisco Ballet canceled all remaining performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Studios nationwide move to close temporarily. As institutions and governments step up in an effort to slow down the spread of COVID-19, there’s no industry anywhere that won’t feel the consequence of these measures.
The arts, of course, will suffer. And our society will collectively suffer because of that: art lifts us up, brings us together, forces us to confront hard truths, and takes us away from harder realities. Some of the most beautiful moments I’ve seen in the midst of this world-wide crisis have been artists taking to the internet to share their beauty. Chamber orchestras playing to an empty stage in Venice as the audience tunes in remotely, enraptured; leading instrumentalists in China broadcasting free violin lessons to help pass the time in quarantine – if there’s one thing I know about a crisis, it’s that we need the arts to help us get through it with our humanity intact.
But here’s the hard part – how do you stay ready? Classes are canceled. Perhaps you’re in a cautionary quarantine in your tiny apartment. Your anxiety is on the rise, and your need for the stability of your day-to-day rehearsal life and the support of your tribe is growing, with no relief in sight. What do you do?
Let’s talk about it.
First, let’s acknowledge a hard truth. If you’re in quarantine or unable to take class because of closings, you’re not going to be in the same shape you were in when this started. And that’s okay. Life happens. No one at this point expects you to be in the same shape you would have been if this whole completely random thing hadn’t happened. People and companies will understand. Let’s start by accepting that, and knowing that it really truly is okay.
Second, we can find ways to improve who we are as a dancer – even if we’re not getting 90 minutes of technique every day. A layoff or quarantine is practically begging you to binge-watch Marquee TV or Broadway HD or your roomie’s entire Bolshoi DVD collection. Many subscription services offer a 30-day free trial – take it! Take advantage of it. Watch every scrap of Marianela Nunez and Svetlana Zakharova that you can, and absorb their artistry, their beauty, what makes them absolutely unique. Learn from their nuances. And I kid you not, watch a performance once and be moved. Watch it again and take notes. Breathe it in, write it down, be ready to take it back into the classroom with you.
Now let’s talk about what you CAN do to stay in shape. Lots of cross-training styles like Pilates or yoga have online subscriptions or apps you can use for an at-home workout. Pilates Anytime is a great one for Pilates classes, mat work to small balls to full equipment should you be so lucky. Again, they’ve got lots of opportunity to do a free trial for a couple weeks. I’m sure Yoga platforms have similar first-time offers. Or check out Core to Coeur, a new online platform with live classes and privates available in Pilates, yoga, HIIT, and more (and great teachers!) Call your friend who’s a trainer and ask him to remotely set up an at-home plan for you. Set up a remote session with me! I love doing remote workouts and will cheerfully turn your living room into a torture chamber – I mean, workout space. Download a Gillian Michaels DVD. Buy at $10 jump rope from Amazon and learn how to use it correctly. Use this time to find ways to cross-train, and when it’s over you’ll have some solid conditioning options to add into your regular schedule.
Notice we haven’t even talked about trying to dance yet? Let’s tackle that. I have two thoughts on this.
One, instead of trying to put yourself through a full technique class in your itty bitty closet of a living room on a carpeted floor, let’s limit ourselves to an easy barre in your kitchen. Trying to do a technique class on a bad floor is asking for trouble, and we want to be safe, healthy dancers, right? So limit yourself to barre work, and really work through those tendus, practice those juicy pliés, perfect that turnout from the hip. I’m fine with you working a LIGHT barre, no impact, as long as you’ve got room to do the exercises correctly without fudging your hips to get around your kitchen table or whatnot. Now’s the time to stay on top of your technique in a mindful, deliberate way.
Which brings me to my second thought. This is a great opportunity to become a better dancer. I don’t mean practice your triple tours – I mean deal with the stuff you keep meaning to deal with and just never get around to. Go back through my entire #footcarefriday series on Instagram to review how to properly use and strengthen your feet. Find your favorite dance scientist or trainer or dance medicine specialist on social media and go through her tutorials. I have colleagues like Ellie Kusner who are putting up mini-tutorials to help dancers through this hard isolation time. Take advantage! Look up Lisa Howell and The Ballet Blog and buy or download her books! She’s got easy-to-use books on working on turnout, core control, foot health, and more. She’s also got a ton of free articles and videos on her website – start poring through all this wealth of knowledge and find ways to address your issues right where you are. Need help? Drop me a line– I’m always full of ideas!
And speaking of becoming a better dancer, take this time to geek out on whatever aspect of dance really thrills you. Dive into podcasts – I obviously love co-hosting Bendy Bodies, but I am a huge fan of DanceWell podcast as well, which is all things dance medicine and science. Get lost in the fascinating world of dance science; do a deep dive on dance history; read that Vaganova syllabus cover-to-cover! Podcasts and books are your friend here and you finally have time to absorb!
Finally, take care of your mental health. Perhaps you really need this time to address some disordered eating habits or deal with ongoing anxiety issues. Again, I’ve got great friends! Kristin Koskisen is a registered dietician who’s a whiz with helping dancers fuel better. Monika Saigal is also a nutritionist who specializes in working through eating disorders. Terry Hyde is a psychotherapist who’s counseled dancers for years. ALL of them do remote sessions and would be happy to Skype in with you! Need some other kind of specialist? Check out the Doctors for Dancers website to find someone that can help you with your issue.
Even if you don’t have anything specific that needs addressing, make sure you nourish yourself emotionally. Facetime with friends and loved ones. Find beauty on the internet – or better yet, create some yourself when you take up knitting or finger painting or baking. Fuel your body with nourishing, delicious foods, and fuel your spirit with relationships, prayer or meditation time, fabulous books, or simply doing nothing at all. On purpose. I find my favorite scripture verses and cling to them. I count the things I’m grateful for. I rest in peace for deliberate moments of time. Then take that one step further and pour into someone. Post old videos of you dancing to inspire the next generations. Write a blog that encourages others going through the same thing. Reach out to friends and be that encouragement for them.
This can be a time of isolation, anxiety, and downward spiraling. Or it can be a time of cocooning, of nascent changes, of restoring your soul. It can be a time of deconditioning or a time of transformation – as an artist, as an athlete, as a person. Do not despair, and do not ever think that what you have to contribute does not matter. Be ready. Be a light. When the time comes, you will be ready.
“Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.” – L.R. Knost
About Jennifer Milner
Jennifer Milner is a certified Pilates trainer specializing in dancers and post-injury recoveries. As a classical ballet dancer, Jennifer danced with several companies across the country, then moved to New York for musical theatre. After a knee injury ended a successful performing career, Jennifer became determined to use her experiences to help other dancers and performers. She became certified in the Pilates method of exercise, graduating from the Kane School of Core Integration under the renowned Kelly Kane and immersed herself in the world of dance rehabilitation as the on-site Pilates trainer for Westside Dance Physical Therapy (the official physical therapists for New York City Ballet and SAB), quickly developing a reputation as a knowledgeable, thoughtful, and compassionate trainer.
Jennifer has trained a wide variety of clients, from young dancers and gymnasts to Olympic medalists, Oscar winners, and world-famous dancers from New York City Ballet, the Kirov Ballet, ABT, San Francisco Ballet, Royal Ballet, and more. Jennifer mentored under the dance medicine pioneer Marika Molnar and earned a Certificate in Dance Rehabilitation Training through Ms. Molnar. Jennifer is certified in Mari-Jose Blom’s Smart Spine techniques, has studied with Erik Franklin, and is well-versed in anatomy and physiology, a number of adjunct rehabilitation and training methods, and health and nutrition.
Find her on Doctors For Dancers at: https://doctorsfordancers.com/directory/jennifer-milner-bodies-inmotion/