Insider cross-training tips direct from the ballet professionals

| August 15, 2013 | 0 Comments
Cape Town City Ballet warm-up class.

Cape Town City Ballet warm-up class. Photo by Michael Groenewald courtesy of CTCB.

Do you ever have those days where you know there is so much more you can do in ballet class, but your body stubbornly refuses to cooperate? Of course you do, silly question, pushing the body beyond its boundaries is basically the definition of ballet, right?

After all, there is no such thing as too many pirouette turns or too much elevation in jumps – dancers are always striving for more.

Elizabeth Nienaber from Cape Town City Ballet

Dramatic moment with Elizabeth Nienaber. Photo by Michael Groenewald courtesy of CTCB.

But while relentlessly pushing yourself in ballet can certainly give you results, it can also give you injuries. A better approach is to find a happy balance, where you can identify your weak areas and safely strengthen them out of class, enabling you to work harder and with more control in the class.

This is where cross-training for ballet is so valuable.

So when you’re panting after that first allegro exercise and when your feet should be doing hummingbird beats but start to resemble flopping fish instead, it’s time to add some cardio fitness workouts.

And when you’re fighting to hold (or lift) that arabesque, perhaps it’s time to include some core strength conditioning.

Following the recent cross-training article on BodyMindBallet (Best out-the-class ideas for in-the-class performance), I asked a few South African professional ballet dancers to tell us what type of ballet cross-training they do and what works best for them.

Here are some of their ideas that you can try for yourself.

[Although remember that what works for one dancer doesn’t necessarily work for another, so it’s always best to chat to your ballet teacher and physical therapist before starting any new training schedules.]

Ballet cross-training that works:

Michael Revie from South African Mzansi Ballet stretching during rehearsals.

Michael Revie from South African Mzansi Ballet stretching during rehearsals. Photo by Jurgen Badenhorst courtesy of SAMB.

Michael Revie, principal dancer at South African Mzansi Ballet says, “when I perform, it is normally for 1 and a half to 2 hours and it is a mix of everything, so training many different ways is very, very important for me.”

Michael does circuit training three times a week, mixing upper body and leg workouts, and he aims to do weight training twice a week too. However, he doesn’t stop there.

“Being a dancer, we move every day in different ways,” says Michael. “I feel if I stick to one type of training, I will be neglecting some parts of my body. I need to be fit to run long distance and do sprints, long jump, high jump, weight lifting, flexibility and strength.”

Thomas Thorne of Cape Town City Ballet (CTCB) takes a similar approach with cross-training.  He says “I don’t believe that just a ballet class is enough to keep strong. Ballet has become more athletic and bodies are more toned, so going to the pilates class or the gym is needed.”

Thomas recommends trying many different forms of exercise and he emphasizes that “male dancers also must be strong to partner a girl and get through a solo”.

Kirstel Jensen and Daniel Szybkowski during rehearsals at Cape Town City Ballet's studios.

Kirstel Jensen and Daniel Szybkowski during rehearsals at Cape Town City Ballet’s studios. Photo by Michael Groenewald courtesy of CTCB.

However, even though the physical demands and cross-training needs are different for ballet men and women, that doesn’t mean gym is only for the boys.

Kirstel Jensen, a CTCB dancer, says that gym makes her stronger too, especially helping with upper body strength and also strengthening her legs for jumping and landing. She says working out at the gym also improves her stamina and “it makes muscles not usually used stronger, which in turn improves my ballet technique”.

But when it comes to increasing core body strength, pilates pops up on almost all dancers’ cross-training schedules. Claire Spector (from Cape Town City Ballet) says pilates helps her build strong core muscles, while it’s good for preventing injuries and for general body conditioning.

Elizabeth Nienaber (CTCB) says she does pilates, yoga and gym, listing several benefits including increasing flexibility, relieving stress and she says it provides a “better understanding of the body/mind connection”.

Angela Hansford during rehearsals.

Angela Hansford during rehearsals. Photo by Michael Groenewald courtsy of CTCB.

Angela Hansford (CTCB) believes that yoga works best for her. In particular Angela says that because she’s tall, she needs a very strong core. “This helps me to move faster and be more coordinated,” she says.

Angela adds that yoga stretches are very beneficial, and “heated yoga is also great because you feel more flexible in the heat and can really push your stretches.”

But if you prefer fresh air to hot, stuffy studios, Daniel Szybkowski (CTCB) says he goes jogging and hiking, which he claims strengthens his ankles and legs and also improves his stamina.

But what about cross-training for injury rehabilitation?

Michael Revie has dealt with his fair share of injuries over his career and has developed his own injury prevention/recovery techniques. But as a starting point he says, “if I have an injury, I wait until the physio says I am allowed to train, then I train the injured area by itself (pilates, swimming, biokinetics). As soon as I feel the strength coming back, I start to lift more and train longer.”

See them in action…

Now that you have some insight into these dancers’ off-stage workouts, why don’t you see for yourself how it translates into their on-stage performance?

You can still catch the Cape Town City Ballet dancers on stage this week with their production of The Sleeping Beauty at Artscape until 18 August (tickets through Computicket here); and you can see Michael Revie and the South African Mzansi Ballet dancers in their upcoming production of Cinderella at the Joburg Theatre in September (book those tickets here).

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Category: Body

About the Author ()

Hi, I'm Robynn, and I'm a student of the potential of the body, the marvels of the mind, and the beauty of it all combined in ballet. As the editor, BodyMindBallet is where I get to learn, to share and to enjoy this wide world of dance - and with every day I gain an ever richer respect for the athleticism of dance and the skill of performance artistry.

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